I decided to pick up a copy of Also Known As by Robin Benway because it sounded like a quick, cute read and I wanted to add some more books to my YA Contemporary Reading Challenge. I got exactly what I expected, but what knocked me off my feet was how much I enjoyed it…so much, that I’ve already read it three times! In a week!
What I Loved
A Spunky Heroine: I totally got Maggie the moment I “heard” her voice in my head. Spunky, confident, with a humorous and positive outlook, she grabbed my attention and kept me entertained through every page. She is just the type of lead character I adore. I loved how determined she was to perform her first solo assignment – get close to the cute and charming Jesse Oliver – to the best of her ability, and how quickly she found herself sidetracked by her own emotions. I loved her sense of humor and the funny comments she made about such things as the “scandalous” school uniform she was required to wear and her complete inability to accessorize it. Here is one of my favorite moments, as Maggie walks into the administrative offices of the school to see about changing her schedule so she can have more classes with Jesse:
This is always my favorite part of the job.
The administrative office smelled like old paper and burned coffee and looked like the kind of room where dreams go to die. There was a halfhearted GO HARPER! sign stretched across one wall, but it just looked ambivalent. It could have said, WE LOVE CHEESE! for all it seemed to care. (Chapter 4)
Seriously, a sign looked “ambivalent”?!? This paragraph has me chuckling every time I read it, because I’VE BEEN IN ROOMS LIKE THIS! Love it. Oh yeah, and Maggie’s the best darn safecracker in the world.
Characters That Pop: In addition to the incomparable Maggie, I was treated to her new BFF Roux (pronounced “roo”), a former “mean girl” who has fallen off her pedestal and is now ostracized by everyone at school. She is the type of character who would be exhausting if she was real, but is laugh-out-loud funny on the page. She is definitely NOT a good example for teens since she drinks, swears and is a pariah for sleeping with her former best friend’s boyfriend, but I love her anyway. Her interactions with her building doorman Harold are a riot!
Before Roux Maggie’s world was filled with adults, including her active-duty spy parents and professional forger Angelo, who provided Maggie with lock-picking tips. Maggie’s mom and dad are cute, but Angelo is the standout here with his perfectly cut suits, matching tie and pocket-handkerchief, and sympathetic nature. When Maggie is falling apart, he is there with coffee or ice cream to help her through. And when he and Roux meet…priceless.
Of course I cannot forget the “mark” in this story, Jesse Oliver, a seriously adorable young man who matches Maggie perfectly. He’s been through a bad breakup and his mother just left, so inside he’s a hurting pup, but Maggie is just the girl to give him the confidence to try again. I loved their first official date – very romantic and funny – and his devastated reaction late in the book when he thinks Maggie wants to break up with him. Soooo cute! I think his character could have used a smidge more development, but overall I loved him.
What I Liked
A Bit Of Mystery: There is actually a little mystery at the heart of this story (after all, Maggie is assigned to Jesse for a reason), which I enjoyed. It wasn’t very deep, but it did its job of moving the story along and giving Maggie a purpose. It also led to a little excitement at the end that had Maggie, Jesse and Roux running for their lives through the streets of Manhattan, so I have to give it points for that. Of course, author Robin Benway could have added some real thrills to her story by amping up the mystery, but since the focus appears to be more on a fun, light read I’m not going to knock down my rating.
Narrative Style: Robin Benway has a nice, relaxed style that showcases a dry sense of humor. By making Maggie, Jesse and Roux lean towards “drama queen” status (yes, even Jesse has his moments), she is able to give the style full rein and just have fun with the story. Fast-paced and entertaining, I ripped through Also Known As in a matter of hours. The style, wit and charm of Benway’s writing – along with Maggie’s “voice” – keep bringing me back to this story and have me reading it over, and over, and over…I think I have another “comfort read” to add to Hannah Harrington’s Speechless and Abby McDonald’s Getting Over Garrett Delaney. :)
What I Didn’t Like
I Want More: It’s not so much that I disliked anything, it’s more a case of wanting more - deeper character development with Jesse, more moments of suspense with the mystery, a bit more information on Maggie’s parents. Also Known As is a light and bubbly confection, and I just want a little more fizz.
Robin Benway’s Also Known As is a quick, light read about a teenaged safecracking spy that is told with wit, charm and plenty of laugh-out-loud humor. Maggie is an entertaining and relatable heroine determined to prove she can be an asset in the field – if only she doesn’t get sidetracked by her emotions first. With secondary characters that pop and a bit of mystery mixed in, Also Known As is a fun story that has already become one of my favorites.(less)
I’m going to revert to my old style of reviewing for The Tragedy Paper because it feels much easier to try to express my thoughts in a more narrative style than my normal breakdown of what I loved, liked and didn’t like about this story. First, I just want to say there is nothing I didn’t like about this story…nothing! Elizabeth LaBan has written a debut novel that has set an incredibly high bar to meet in future books. It’s that good. Secondly, I know that we still have 11 months of the year left for me to discover some incredible stories, but I believe this will rank as one of the best books I’ll read in 2013. It’s that powerful, it’s that emotional…it hit me that hard.
The Tragedy Paper is told from dual viewpoints, as a first-person narrative by Tim (who has left a batch of CD’s for Duncan to listen to and discover the story behind a tragic event that happened the year before at school) and in a third-person format from Duncan’s POV as he tries to come to terms with the tragedy and his feelings for fellow student Daisy. I loved the way this was handled by LaBan and felt I was part of the story, sitting in with Duncan as he listened to each CD and learned how events really unfolded the previous year. Just knowing that Tim’s romance with Vanessa would end in tragedy ratcheted up the tension from the start. Adding to the tension was the sense that Duncan was inextricably part of whatever occurred, from the way he shied away from attention and hints he dropped as he tried to have a normal year as a senior at the academy. I was drawn deeply into both stories, although there was a bit of relief whenever Duncan’s story took center stage as the third-person narrative gave me a chance to step back from things a little.
Elizabeth LaBan masterfully builds that tension, and I found myself both anxious to find out what happened but nervous, as well. She takes her time to build the characters, to slowly piece the situation together, and to let events play out. What really surprised me though is how it played out – the actual tragedy that occurred. I was devastated right along with Tim and Duncan by the events, yet they weren’t quite what I expected…especially Tim’s ultimate confession. Which is a GOOD thing, because it is hard to come up with an original twist on things as LaBan has done. And I’ll say it again – it was powerful, it was emotional, and it was tragic. Like any tragedy, it didn’t have to happen. If even one person had made a different move – even the most minor character – things would have turned out differently. Yet somehow I still felt a ray of hope at the end.
The structure of the story is strong, the narrative flows smoothly, and most of the characters are well-developed. Daisy is probably the weakest, simply because she has minimum page time; the focus is on Tim and Vanessa’s romance, and Duncan’s guilt. There is also a wonderful Q & A at the end of the book with author Elizabeth LaBan where she discusses how she came up with this story, and the process of developing Tim. I appreciated this, because it actually answered some of the questions I had (and, frankly, I love extras like this).
The Tragedy Paper is a powerful, well-written, and gripping young adult contemporary debut novel from Elizabeth LaBan. With its engaging characters, carefully built tension, and stunning revelations, it grabbed my emotions and left me wrung out at the end - yet somehow still hopeful. It delivers heartbreak and romance, and I truly feel it will prove to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.(less)
Actual rating: 4.5 stars Review coming soon; just wanted to get a "wow" in here right now!
Update 1/20/13: I am way behind on my reviews, so it doesn't...moreActual rating: 4.5 stars Review coming soon; just wanted to get a "wow" in here right now!
Update 1/20/13: I am way behind on my reviews, so it doesn't look like I'll be getting a formal one up for Opal. I did want to say, however, that the "wow" definitely applies and I enjoyed this installment a LOT more than Onyx. The ending was absolutely crazy and left me screaming several bad words since book four isn't due until later this year! Exciting, action-packed, twists/turns, betrayals, romance...and Daemon Black. Incredible. (less)
When I developed a hankering a few months ago for young adult contemporaries, I suddenly fou...moreOriginally posted at YA Book Crush
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
When I developed a hankering a few months ago for young adult contemporaries, I suddenly found Huntley Fitzpatrick’s début novel My Life Next Door on several recommendation lists. I finally took the plunge and purchased it to see what all the excitement was about and if the raves were deserved. My conclusion? One of the best YA debuts of 2012 had found its way onto my eReader.
What I Loved
The Romance: Building slowly and steadily, the romance feels realistic and the characters have a lovely chemistry. Jase is the boy-next-door type of boyfriend – sweet, steady, and loving, with no bad-boy vibes. Sam is totally intrigued by his calm demeanor in the midst of his energetically outgoing family, and it is his solid presence that gives her a feeling of security and safety. Though these characteristics may seem bland, when Jase and Sam are together they strike plenty of sparks. I chuckled sympathetically as they found themselves overwhelmed during their little trip to the drugstore for protection, and hurt for them when their romance hit the rocks. Their entire relationship is beautifully constructed.
Secondary Characters that Pop: My absolute favorite character in this category was Jase’s little brother, George, who is quite simply awesome. George is full of little terrors and doomsday facts, but is still so happy that he is totally adorable. Any time this kid appeared I found myself in my own little happy place, wishing I had one just like him. A surprising hit with me was Tim, the twin brother of Sam’s best friend Nan, who experiences tremendous growth in the story – from a drug and alcohol-addicted mess to someone who can actually be depended upon in a crisis. Fitzpatrick has done a tremendous job giving everyone a distinct personality; only two characters are a little vague – Jase’s younger brothers Duff and Harry – but they don’t have a big enough presence in the story for it to make a difference. The entire Garrett family is so boisterous it would be surprising if there weren’t a couple of kids who tended to fade into the background!
What I Liked
The Conflicts: As the relationship between Sam and Jase deepens over the summer, the little rough spots the characters encounter keep things from being too perfect. Changes in Sam’s mother add tension to her relationship with Sam, a sudden rift occurs in an old friendship and, finally, the tragic circumstances that bring Sam and Jase closer together before suddenly tearing them apart – all the conflicts add interest to the story and help Sam discover her own strengths and weaknesses. These little twists and turns kept everything from being too sweet and helped move the narrative along.
The Technical Stuff: Pacing, an easy-breezy style, even Sam’s present tense first-person narrative voice (present tense is not normally a favorite with me), all worked together to hold me firmly in the story and make me feel like it was flying by. Everything felt very natural and relatable; there were no sharp edges or jarring moments anywhere. Very, very nice to see in a début.
What I Didn’t Like
There really isn’t anything I can pick on here, other than a slightly abrupt ending which left me wanting a quick glimpse at how Sam and Jase were going to handle their relationship when Sam’s mother revealed a big decision she had made. I figure their relationship is solid enough by the end of the story they will be together no matter what life throws at them, but I just wasn’t ready for it to end.
Author Huntley Fitzpatrick has made an outstanding début with her young adult contemporary romance, My Life Next Door. Chock-full of relatable and interesting characters, featuring a romance that builds naturally and steadily, and throwing in some well-placed conflicts to keep the narrative moving along, the grass really is greener in My Life Next Door.(less)
I completely fell in love with Amy Plum's Revenant world! Since I reviewed UNTIL I DIE in combination with book 1 of the series, DIE FOR ME, at Riffs...moreI completely fell in love with Amy Plum's Revenant world! Since I reviewed UNTIL I DIE in combination with book 1 of the series, DIE FOR ME, at Riffs And Reviews I'm just going to provide a link to that review for both books here on Goodreads.
Tammara Webber’s young adult/new adult contemporary romance Easy is, easily, one of my favorite reads this year....moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Tammara Webber’s young adult/new adult contemporary romance Easy is, easily, one of my favorite reads this year. Highly recommended by fellow bloggers and other reviewers here on Goodreads, Easy has been on my wishlist for a couple of months. Finally, Thanksgiving weekend, I took the plunge and purchased it. After only a few chapters I was engrossed in a story that resonated strongly with me, and when I finished I knew this novel would be on a couple of my Top 10 Lists at the end of the year.
Easy jumps right into deep waters, opening with Jacqueline being sexually assaulted by Buck, who she thought was a friend. Only a timely intervention by a young man named Lucas saves her from actual rape but, shaken by what has occurred, she refuses to file a report (she does have her reasons, even though I can’t agree with them). Suddenly she is seeing Lucas everywhere – working at the campus Starbucks, sitting in the back row of her econ class, etc. – and finds herself intrigued by him. But Lucas has some secrets of his own that have him blowing hot and cold, leaving Jacqueline uncertain if a relationship between them is even possible. As their relationship slowly deepens, however, Jacqueline finds herself harassed by Buck who is determined to finish what he started. It is up to Jacqueline to learn how to defend herself before it’s too late.
What I loved most about this book is that while an extremely serious subject matter is the spark for this story the focus is really on Jacqueline – moving on with her life, starting a new relationship, finding support in unexpected places, and gaining inner strength. She’s learning and growing throughout, starting with the realization that she is where she is because she followed someone else’s dream and not her own. Now she has to find a way to navigate her life and school without her ex-boyfriend Kennedy beside her. The relationship she embarks on with Lucas has twists and turns, builds slowly, and ultimately makes her stronger because he has no interest in making her an “accessory” the way Kennedy did. While I didn’t agree with Jacqueline’s reasons against reporting the attack, I could understand how a 19-year-old would feel the way she did. She learns a lot over the course of the novel, including solid self-defense techniques (something every young woman should learn) so that by the end she can stand strong and fight – both against assault and for a relationship with Lucas.
And then there is Lucas – secretive, sexy, and supportive. I fell for him just like Jacqueline did. Understanding, artistic, intelligent, and apparently holding every job available on campus (Lucas’s multiple job titles are almost a running joke by the end) – I mean, what’s not to like? I loved that he had secrets and that, while I was able to figure out the smaller one he had, I had no clue about the major one he was still carrying – a secret that ends up defining his character and is the basis for all his actions throughout the story. I loved his hesitancy when he and Jacqueline finally became intimate, and I adored the way he was always encouraging her to be her best. His relationship with Jacqueline is so balanced; she draws strength from him and, by the end, he is drawing strength from her. It is a relationship worth fighting for.
Webber paints a very realistic picture of campus life with its sororities and fraternities – and those students who are outside of those rarefied organizations – which brought back memories of my college days and dorm mates. I even had a roommate who had some similarities to Jacqueline’s roommate Erin, including the same name (yes, my name is Erin, as well, which always led to confusion when the phone rang in our room and the caller asked for “Erin” without knowing our last names ). Speaking of Jacqueline’s Erin, she is an awesome character. Like Lucas, she supports Jacqueline and encourages her to stay active in college life; not to sit around and mope after her break-up with Kennedy. When Jacqueline finally breaks down and informs her of what happened the night of the party, Erin is fierce in Jacqueline’s defense. Seriously, the support system she provides Jacqueline is fantastic and made her one of my favorite characters this year.
As the description above states, Easy is geared to mature young adults/new adults (the publisher recommends 18+) due to the subject matter; if you have a younger teen interested than I would suggest you read it first to gauge if your teen is ready (read it anyway – you’ll love it). I will note, however, that this book is not too graphic and the way Jacqueline handles herself as the story progresses (taking a self-defense course, for example) is something many young women will connect with. While I don’t approve of her initial reaction NOT to report the crime, the majority of sexual assaults and rapes do go unreported so her reaction is, unfortunately, all too natural. A list of assault and rape victim resources are provided at the end of the book, as well.
Tammara Webber’s contemporary romance Easy threw me back to my college days with the story of a young woman who grows stronger and finds a healthy, loving relationship after a bad break-up and an assault leave her shaken. Told in a relaxed, natural style by Webber and featuring well-defined, relatable characters, Easy is a very easy book to fall for.(less)
Speechless is my first book by Hannah Harrington, but it definitely won’t be my last. After breezing through this story of a girl whose penchant for divulging secrets almost gets someone killed I’ve decided Harrington is on my must-read list. While not without its faults, Speechless is one of my favorite books this year and definitely one I’ll be reading again and again (I’ve already read it twice this month!).
When Chelsea Knot exposes one secret too many, two teenagers end up under arrest while a third is in a hospital fighting for his life. Devastated by what has happened, she takes a vow of silence to avoid any further tragedies, but soon finds herself on the receiving end of a concentrated attack of bullying and harassment from her former friends who blame her for the arrests. When Chelsea is taken under the wing of a new friend, freshman Asha, she begins to question who she really is – and what is worth fighting for.
In all the books I’ve read this year, I think Chelsea is probably the character who experiences the most growth. She questions everything she has done – from revealing the secret to taking the story to the police – and has many moments of doubt and uncertainty. Yet she keeps moving forward, stubborn and determined to prove that she can be a better person than she was in the past. Along the way she finds out the type of person she doesn’t want to be and makes great strides in becoming who she wants to be. I absolutely loved Chelsea’s character development and the opportunities it opened up for her with new friends and a new romance.
All the secondary characters are well-developed and interesting. It intrigued me that it was the friends of the boy who is almost killed who end up taking Chelsea in, supporting her against the bullying in school and recognizing how she is trying to change. Asha, especially, is a great character with her big heart, math smarts, and love of knitting. She is joined in greatness by the owners of Rosie’s Diner, Dex and his girlfriend Lou, who give Chelsea a place to feel safe outside of her home. Even the bullies are developed, including Chelsea’s former best friend Kristen (a gorgeous mean girl) and Derek and Lowell (two basketball players). All three of them do everything they can to make Chelsea miserable, and I was a little nervous about how far they would go.
And then there is Sam – best friends with the boy who has been hospitalized, friend to Asha, and Chelsea’s new art project partner. He listens to NPR, reads actual books (!?!), and knows how to make a mean tuna melt. He is also protective about those he cares about, such as Asha – he emphasizes to Chelsea what a good person she is and how he doesn’t want her hurt if Chelsea isn’t serious about being her friend. I really liked this about him; that he isn't immediately drawn to Chelsea and that their relationship builds gradually as they are thrown together with Asha at Rosie’s Diner and through art class. It was very cute, too, how Chelsea recognized the differences between them and how concerned she was that they didn’t have enough in common to have a long-term relationship.
And now for those faults. The biggest problem I had with Speechless was actually a logistical problem regarding high school. When Chelsea decides to take her vow of silence and shows up with a note for her teachers advising them of the vow, my first thought was, “How is she going to get through a language class?” Chelsea is a sophomore in high school, and every high school I know requires a language class; it’s even mentioned that she switched from French to Spanish at one point so she could take the class with Kristen. Yet, now, she is apparently not studying any languages since it is never mentioned again.
I was also bothered by the fact that she didn’t want to tell her parents the reason behind her silence and get them on board so they could help her navigate the pitfalls of school. Having parental support – or at least attempting to get it – seems like a logical move. Lastly, it really felt like Chelsea and all the teenagers involved should be juniors or seniors instead of sophomores; everyone came across as older than the 15- to 16-year-olds they would be as sophomores. While all of these points nagged at me a little, none of them was enough to throw me out of the story; I was too caught up in the characters and plot to put it down.
Speechless is a fascinating story of a young girl whose inability to keep a secret leads to tragedy and the attempt she makes to turn her life around as a result. Chelsea’s vow of silence uncovers a new path, with supportive friends and a romance with one of the last boys she ever expected. Even with its faults, Hannah Harrington has crafted a story that is engaging, thought-provoking, and addictive with a lead character who shows tremendous growth. Speechless is a keeper.(less)
Writing about a teenager with a disability is risky. Is the author treating the subject...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
Writing about a teenager with a disability is risky. Is the author treating the subject with dignity? Are they the voice of experience? Can they write about it in a realistic and accessible manner? In the case of Keary Taylor’s novel What I Didn’t Say the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Jake Hayes lost his heart to Samantha Shay the moment he first set eyes on her freshman year of high school. The smartest girl in school, Sam has always seemed just out of reach. But after winning the homecoming game and downing some liquid courage, Jake and his friends head off to find Sam so Jake can tell her how he really feels. A deer in the roadway, an overturned vehicle, and a t-bar in his throat end Jake’s chances of ever telling Sam how he feels. Now Jake has to learn how to communicate without speech, and readjust all his plans for the future. With the help of family and friends – including Sam – Jake is about to discover that even in silence a lot can be said, and losing the power of speech isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you.
I was a little nervous starting this book thinking that with its subject matter it might be dark or depressing, but instead found a story that was engaging, emotional, and so realistically told I felt like I knew these characters personally. The serious issue of drinking and driving is handled delicately, but not glossed over, and there are consequences to the poor choices that are made. I think Keary Taylor made a smart move setting her story in a small community where it is easy to see how one wrong decision can affect others. She also has Sam facing important issues of her own, but since I don’t want to spoil that part of the story I can’t say much except that I thought it was well-written and really made me think about what could happen to kids caught in her situation – most of it pretty frightening.
Jake is written as a solid, well-adjusted teen with a big family who loves him wholeheartedly and friends who are behind him when times are tough. I like that he consciously makes a decision not to let his speech loss ruin his life, but then has moments of despair and anger. Like a typical teenager he is both mature (loving Sam’s intelligence as much as her looks) and immature (striking back in a stupid manner when she accidentally hurts him). Sam is sweet, smart and determined to help Jake with his communication issues. She handles everything with a quiet strength that is appealing, but also shows frustration and worry when things seem overwhelming. Together she and Jake are a perfect match.
Many of the secondary characters – such as Jake’s parents and friends – were fleshed out enough to have personality and keep things interesting. I liked the way Kali, an island resident who helps Jake learn sign language, uses everyday tasks and sports as learning aids and the way Jake’s mom is portrayed as a woman with a big heart who refuses to have a curse word spoken in her presence. Little details help make these characters seem like they could be my friends and neighbors.
I picked up the epub edition of What I Didn’t Say, and there were positives and negatives with the format of the story. On the plus side, I liked the way Taylor titled the chapter headers as a countdown to or from an important moment of Jake’s life instead of the traditional number system. Unfortunately, there is no Table of Contents and chapters run together with only the chapter headings giving them definition. There are a few editing issues here and there, with a couple of missing words, some odd changes in verb tense, and a consistent misuse of the word “passed” instead of “past.” None of this detracts from the story; I obviously noticed the problems, but the power of the narrative overcame them.
Keary Taylor has a very natural writing style that makes it easy to get lost in the narrative. Pacing throughout is steady yet quick; I would have had it finished the day I started if I didn’t begin reading right before bed. The way she is able to write so realistically from Jake’s point of view (this is a first-person narrative) is explained in the Author’s Note at the end of the story, which is a must-read if you pick up this book.
Keary Taylor’s What I Didn’t Say tells an engaging and heartwarming story about a teenager who has lost the power of speech and learns that silence can speak louder than words when it comes to love. With realistic characters, an easy pace, and a light touch on some very serious issues, What I Didn’t Say is a wonderful young adult contemporary romance that makes you realize if you have something important to say then don’t delay – say it before it’s too late.(less)
****Contains some spoilers of Beautiful Chaos, so if you haven't read that yet - stay clear****
I can’t believe it is over! Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl present a stunning finale to their Beautiful Creatures series with Beautiful Redemption – final sacrifices are made, dark secrets are unearthed, and Ethan and Lena struggle to overcome (view spoiler)[death itself (hide spoiler)] to be together once more. It is storytelling at its finest and a fitting end to this magical series.
After Ethan’s sacrifice in Beautiful Chaos, the world has righted itself and life has moved on in Gatlin – except for Lena and Amma who will do anything to get Ethan back. Ethan is just as determined to return, but he is going to need some powerful casts to get him back to Gatlin. There is something terribly wrong with the world of Casters and Keepers and unless Ethan can uncover the answer he will never find his way home. With the help of the Greats on one side and Lena and Amma on the other, Ethan will get only one shot at returning to everyone he loves – but it will be a dangerous journey to get there, with his very soul hanging in the balance. It is time to discover if love truly does conquer all.
Beautiful Redemption jumped right in with both feet and started ripping into the story. Picking right up where Beautiful Chaos left off, we get to see where Ethan ended up after his sacrifice and get an intriguing look at the other side. Old friends show up (including all the Harlon Jameses) and they still have a lot to say when Ethan advises them of his intention to return to Lena. We also get some interesting new characters as Ethan meets the Greats, the River Master, and the odd gatekeeper of Far Keep – Xavier. There is a wonderful balance of old and new here, and nothing feels overwhelming or out-of-place. There are enough twists and turns to keep the most jaded reader satisfied, as well a plenty of emotion to grip the heart. It is clean and clear storytelling from beginning to end and everything is tied up in a beautiful bow.
Split into three sections that switch points of view between Ethan and Lena, Beautiful Redemption starts off at a slightly slow pace and then just builds and builds. By the time part three is reached, everything is moving swiftly as Ethan finishes his journey and takes his stand. There was a nice change of tone between Ethan in part one and Lena in part two that made the two sections very distinct and highlighted the differences between the Otherworld and the mortal realm. The more deliberate pace in section one is gradually increased as Ethan gathers information and sets out on his journey, then becomes even swifter as we switch to Lena in Gatlin. At this point the story really takes off, as Lena realizes Ethan needs her help and does everything she can to assist him on his quest. Reeling in Link, John Breed, Liv, Ridley, Amma and Uncle Macon to her cause, Lena has to take on the most powerful Dark caster of all – Abraham – if she and Ethan are to succeed. Everything comes to a head in part three, and by this time I was so engrossed in the story I wasn’t able to put it down. I was going to finish it if if was the last thing I did – and was rewarded with an emotional conclusion that had me in tears. Have your tissue ready!
There are no negatives that I can point to in Beautiful Redemption and say, “If only…” or “I wish they had…” Ok, maybe one…I would have liked a little more Linkubus. But that’s it! And when Link WAS present he was totally Link – a little clueless, a little frustrated with Ridley, and a whole lot of awesome. Link finally has his big moment in the spotlight (thankfully not with his music), and performs flawlessly. We even discover the secret Amma has been holding over his head all these years, and for a Southern boy it’s a doozy. So, overall, there just isn’t anything I would have liked Garcia and Stohl to do differently; this story is done right.
The magic and mystery of the Beautiful Creatures series comes to an end with one last cast from Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl in Beautiful Redemption. It is hard to say good-bye to mortal Ethan, caster Lena, and the magic of Amma, but with every thread tied up and every question answered there is nothing left but the fond recollection of a well-told story, the sacrifices made, and a love that took on death itself. Beautiful indeed.(less)
In this short novella by Chelsea Fine, Sophie and Carter are two high school students de...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
In this short novella by Chelsea Fine, Sophie and Carter are two high school students dealing with serious problems at home while leaning on each other for support. As their high school careers are coming to a close, however, they struggle with the idea that their friendship may be deeper than either suspected.
I was amazed at how quickly Fine managed to draw me into the story and make me connect with these two characters. She is a master at snagging your attention fast and not letting it go (her “Archers of Avalon” series had me at the first paragraph). Fine also likes to alternate the narration of her stories between characters, and with Sophie and Carter she is extremely successful with this style. Changes in font help indicate the shifting points of view, with each chapter providing a first-hand look at the difficulties each teen is experiencing on a daily basis. Carter is taking care of his mentally impaired mother, both of them victims of his missing father’s abuse, while Sophie is dealing with an absentee, drug-addicted mom and raising her three younger siblings the best she can. The only relief each of them finds is at school – where they try to act as normal as possible – and on the swing on Sophie’s porch each night where they meet to discuss their day and draw strength from each other. After years of this support, however, Sophie and Carter begin to realize that friendship may no longer be enough.
This is such a difficult story to describe because it sounds so very grim, but both characters hold out so much hope for each other’s future that it brightens the narrative. While neither feels worthy of the other, their love is the foundation of each of their lives. Fine tells this story simply and in a straight-forward fashion, making it incredibly accessible to pre-teens and up. Seeing how these two cope with keeping Carter’s mother calm through her hallucinations or getting Sophie’s siblings off to school in the morning, you feel they are each other’s REAL family and that nothing will tear them apart. Now they just have to find the courage to recognize their love for themselves.
The only thing I wish was that this story was a little bit longer; I was so connected with Sophie and Carter that I hated to let them go at the end. At the same time, though, I don’t know how Fine would have been able to lengthen the story without weakening it, since brevity is also one of its strengths. The story jumps right into the middle of Sophie and Carter’s lives and provides just the right amount of information at just the right time to keep your attention riveted. Because these characters are dealing with some very serious issues, dragging the story out could have taken it to some really dark places. As it is, Fine treads lightly over this troubled ground and manages to keep the focus on the relationship instead of the tragedies that made it necessary.
With a simple narrative, engaging characters, and an emotionally satisfying conclusion Chelsea Fine’s Sophie and Carter is a powerful, moving novella about the support two teens provide each other as they struggle through their troubled lives and how that relationship is on the edge of changing into something even deeper. While the difficulties Sophie and Carter face on a daily basis are upsetting, each character has such hopes and dreams for the other that their loving optimism manages to break through the grimness and leave the reader with the feeling that they are going to be all right – as long as they have each other.(less)
Julie Kagawa revisits the land of Faery with The Lost Prince, an exciting introduction t...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
Julie Kagawa revisits the land of Faery with The Lost Prince, an exciting introduction to her newest YA paranormal/fantasy series The Iron Fey – Call of the Forgotten. This time focusing on Ethan Chase, younger brother of Iron Queen Meghan Chase, The Lost Prince brings in a new batch of fey that threaten the entire faery population – including Ethan’s family. With danger around every corner, Ethan will need all his knowledge of the fey to survive what is to come – the rise of the Forgotten.
Traumatized by his previous experiences with the fey (and the loss of his sister to their realm), Ethan is just trying to keep his head down and get through each day without being driven crazy by the faery creatures who live to torment him. Unfortunately he has not always been successful, giving him a bad reputation. This bad-boy image turns out to be a challenge at his new high school and living a quiet life looks farther away than ever when he catches the eye of two fellow students, school journalist Kenzie St. James and half-breed faery Todd Wyndham. When Todd goes missing, however, it is up to Ethan and Kenzie to discover the cause. What they find will shake the world of Faery – and could get them killed.
The Lost Prince is a first-person narrative from Ethan’s point of view, which I loved. Ethan is very different from my favorite Iron Fey character, Ash, yet he grabbed my imagination and heart almost immediately with his fighting spirit and unexpected compassion. An unwilling loner due to his ability to see the fey, Ethan has done everything possible to protect himself and those he cares about against their tormenting ways. From learning kali (a form of martial art involving the use of sticks and blades) to wearing as much iron as possible to repel the fey, Ethan is a walking encyclopedia of faery knowledge. I loved that he is torn in his feelings for his sister Meghan due to the choices she has made, and how reluctant he is to get involved when Todd tries to gain his attention. He is surly, he is rough – and he has an unexpected soft center of vulnerability that is very attractive. He is also extremely protective of those he cares about – from his parents to Kenzie and even, begrudgingly, Todd.
It is this protectiveness that leads him to investigate Todd’s disappearance, only to find Todd is not the only half-breed – or even full-blooded faery – to fall victim to a race of fey unlike anything encountered before. Kagawa has created a nasty group of fey called the Forgotten that are creepy, vicious and a force to be reckoned with…and their hunting ground is the mortal realm. The story is set up in three parts, with sections one and three grounded in the real world and section two focused on the Nevernever. Basing the majority of the book in the real world gives the series a slightly different feel than the previous one, but the switch to the Nevernever in the middle provides opportunities to see favorite characters from the past like Grimalkin (the all-knowing and mysterious cat fey) and some nice fight sequences with fantastical creatures.
Kenzie is a kick-ass heroine, which really comes out once she and Ethan enter the Nevernever. Not in the sense that she can beat up the competition (although if she has to fight she will), but in her guts and determination to live life to its fullest. Where Ethan sees the fey as dark and dangerous, she only sees magic and possibility. She can swing a stick at a goblin if necessary (it is) and wants to protect Ethan as much as he wants to protect her. Her ability to see the good all around helps balance Ethan’s more negative outlook, and the chemistry between these two is palpable. Kenzie has a deep secret of her own, however, that will shake Ethan to his very foundation and test his protective instincts to their limits.
Assisting in Ethan’s investigation is Keirran, a young faery Ethan meets in Meghan’s Iron Court. Keirran is going to be pivotal to the series, so it is a good thing I loved him as much as Ethan! Polite, sweet, an able fighter and totally devoted to a Summer faery, Keirran is not the typical fey in Kagawa’s mythology – a fact which helps shake Ethan out of his long-held beliefs that faeries are bad. Ethan, Kenzie and Keirran make a great team, but with the way events unfold with the Forgotten – and the dark prophecy that was foretold in the novella Iron’s Prophecy - I have a feeling these loyalties will be tested in the novels to come.
With its change in focus from the Nevernever to the land of mortals and an engaging narrator in Ethan Chase, Julie Kagawa’s newest young adult paranormal/fantasy series is off to a very promising start. With strong characters, a new breed of creepy fey, action, romance, and plenty of questions to be answered, The Lost Prince jumps right back into the dangerous world of Faery and takes us on a ride not soon to be forgotten.(less)
Since Stephen Chbosky’s début novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is premiering in theaters on September 20t...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Since Stephen Chbosky’s début novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is premiering in theaters on September 20th, I thought it was time I read the book and see what to expect. What I found was a novel that spoke to me on all levels and is destined to be one of my favorites.
The story is told from the point of view of 15-year-old “Charlie” in the form of letters to a “Dear Friend.” In the first letter, Charlie explains that he is writing to this person because he has heard he/she is very understanding and, though they do not know each other personally, he feels the “Dear Friend” is someone he can talk to. He also explains that he is changing the names of everyone involved so that everything he discusses can remain anonymous. He then proceeds to write letter after letter detailing his first year of high school and his family life – the highs and the lows – to this friend and we are drawn into a story about the pangs of adolescence. Touching on such hot-button topics as abortion, drug use, homosexuality, suicide and mental illness, Charlie tells us how high school senior Sam and her stepbrother Patrick took him under theirs wings and showed him how to become a part of life – not just a wallflower on the fringes.
From the first letter to the last, I found myself relating to Charlie in a way I have never done with another character. I was irresistibly drawn into his world and could feel all of it on the deepest level. Chbosky has done an amazing job with the narration, making everything feel immediate, real and personal. This book is all about emotion for me; I don’t really have a picture of any of the characters in my head, yet I feel like I know them all. I recognize bits of them in people from my own school days – the football players, the outcasts, the popular kids, etc. And that one teacher who stands out to you, the one who took an interest and encouraged you in some manner that you have never forgotten, that teacher is here as well. For Charlie, it is his English teacher Bill giving him The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, and other classics; for me it was my second grade teacher Mrs. Frank. She was the one who let me borrow an entire box of mystery books – Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton – that she was saving for her own daughter, thereby encouraging my love of books that has continued to this day.
Beyond the characters, though, are the situations that Charlie describes in his letters, touching delicately on some extremely serious matters. (view spoiler)[ Starting with the suicide of his friend Michael just before leaving middle school for high school, to seeing his sister’s boyfriend hit her, and discovering that Patrick is having a secret relationship with the school’s star quarterback – (hide spoiler)] Charlie is witness to everything. He is also dealing with issues of his own, from first love (Sam) to clinical depression and everything in between. Through it all, Charlie tries to see the bright side of things and to point out the good as well as the bad – the holiday dinners with the traditional arguments and breakdowns, the quiet moments of a family contentedly watching TV together, that all-important “I love you” in the midst of an argument, etc. The epilogue had me both in tears and smiling as he assured his “Dear Friend” that there was no need to worry about him – he would be okay no matter what. Charlie grows through this novel from a shy introvert with no real friends, to a young man who is beginning to “participate” in life – building friendships, trying new things, even dating. It is a funny, heartbreaking and beautiful coming-of-age tale.
I found it fascinating to see Charlie’s friends and family through his eyes, and to see their strengths and weaknesses right along with him. There is a naiveté and innocence to Charlie that shines brightly, even as he struggles with his feelings for Sam and tries to be supportive to everyone around him as their relationships develop or implode. Supporting others and trying not to hurt their feelings brings its own problems, however, which Charlie discovers first-hand while trying to navigate the pitfalls of his first romantic relationship. The backlash that Charlie encounters (and writes about) gives us our first solid look at his depressive tendencies, so that when an even more serious mental break occurs late in the book it is not a total shock – unlike the secret it reveals.
Reading Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower turned out to be an incredible experience for me. I found myself relating deeply with the character of Charlie, and struggling along with him as he tried to come out of his shell and participate in life. The pangs of adolescence and learning to live in the moment are at the heart of this tale, and I highly recommend it to anyone who ever felt – even for a second – like they were living life on the sidelines instead of in the middle of the dance.(less)
It’s official. With two strong books such as Anna Dressed In Blood and Girl of Nightmares, Kendare Blake proves she is a force to be reckoned with in the YA paranormal/horror genre and has managed to carve out a place for herself on my “must read” authors list. Blending horror, action, romance and friendship (never underestimate it!) in a tightly paced story with terrific characters, Girl of Nightmares is a book I’ll be going back to time and again.
Told once again from the perspective of Theseus Cassio Lowood, or “Cas” as he likes to be called, Girl of Nightmares picks up several months after Anna Dressed In Blood ended. Cas, his best friend Thomas, and their friend Carmel are finishing up their junior year of high school and working together to eliminate murderous ghosts. With Thomas’ voodoo skills, Cas’ magic athame, and Carmel’s sheer guts and determination they make a great team. But Cas is starting to see Anna when he is both awake and asleep – and the visions are nightmarish. The ghost he loves, and who sacrificed herself for him, is going through tortures unimaginable at the hands of the very fiend she brought down. To save Anna and bring her back from Hell, he is going to need the help of the mysterious Order that created his athame and the support of Thomas and Carmel. Too bad the Order can’t be trusted and his team is falling apart!
Once again, Cas is an easy character to relate to. He is strong, determined, caring, sarcastic and intuitive. I love his point of view, and the little observations he makes: “Jestine introduced them as Hardy and Wright. I guess junior members go by their last names. Either that or their parents are jerks.” (Chapter 25) Even though he claims to not really understand much about friendship, he’s turned out to be pretty good at it – having Thomas’ back when he needs it, and recognizing and understanding a change in Carmel before anyone else sees it. But he’s not perfect, which is fine. There are times he freezes when he needs to take action, a moment with his mother in which he has one of those typical childish reactions – “if she tries to do this, then I’ll leave” – and is even a jerk to a girl on a date. Over it all, however, is his love for Anna and his determination to make sure she is okay. One of the things I really like about Cas is that Anna is beautiful to him no matter what – he loves her when she looks like a normal teenage girl, and when she is in full horror mode: “She’ll see her dressed in blood, her hair floating like it’s suspended in water, eyes black and shining. And when she does, she won’t be able to catch her breath.” (Chapter 24)
Thomas is getting stronger and more confident with his magic while quietly settling in with the girl of his dreams, Carmel. He is still an outsider at school, while she is the queen bee, but their relationship seems to work for him. Carmel, however, is beginning to question what she is doing with Cas and Thomas and I was rather upset with the way she handled the situation. She continues to be a strong character, though, so when she visits Cas to explain herself I found myself respecting her position. Thankfully, she is not out of things for long and is a nice counterpoint to the new girl who shows up to challenge Cas – Jestine.
Jestine is a fighter like Cas, and has been trained to take out ghosts like he has. A member of the secret Order that created Cas’ athame thousands of years ago, she believes that no ghost is a good ghost and that the athame must be used to destroy them all. Contrast this attitude with what Cas learned from his father – not all ghosts are bad, so just take out the ones causing misery – and you have two teens who strike sparks. Like Cas, I found myself liking certain things about Jestine – her strength, determination, skills, etc. – but regretting the way she had been raised. With the events that occur in the finale of Girl of Nightmares there is definitely the opportunity to explore these two different ghost-hunting viewpoints if Blake feels the urge to continue the series.
Everything is taken to the next left in this book, with more horror, more danger, and increased twists and turns. Relationships are challenged and strengthened, new ones are made, and old ones are let go. Through it all, Cas’s sarcastic take on things adds moments of humor to dark situations. And there is some dark stuff here. One of the most disturbing sequences has Cas, Thomas, Carmel and Jestine traversing the Suicide Forest – and the visuals it invokes are not pleasant. I found myself very glad I had managed to put the book down and sleep before reaching this part of the story! Pacing is outstanding, tight and controlled, building to a final confrontation between Cas, Anna, and the nightmarish Obeahman that is gripping, nerve-racking and emotional.
Here is what I love most about Blake’s writing – she avoids the clichés. There are points in the book where I expected her to take the easy way to call up my emotions, and she didn’t. This can be seen particularly in the final battle in the shadowy realm of Hell, and its aftermath. I am so glad that Blake allowed a scene of possible closure to pass on by, with only Cas’ regret acknowledging it. Add in the unexpected, but perfect, resolution to the relationship between Anna and Cas and you have an ending with so much natural emotion that clichés aren’t necessary and would have cheapened the moment. Even with the way she ties up the story of Cas and Anna, so much is left open that Blake could spin off the series and move it in any direction she desires. I really hope she does continue, because I’m not ready to give up these characters – Cas in particular – any time soon.
Kendare Blake’s Girl of Nightmares is a gripping, tightly paced YA horror story that manages to include moments of humor and romance to round it out. With enough twists, turns and chills to keep you on the edge of your seat, Girl of Nightmares is even stronger than its predecessor and provides a satisfying (and emotional) conclusion to the romance of Anna and Cas.(less)
Chelsea Fine’s Awry picks up immediately from the cliffhanger ending of Anew, taking Sc...moreFull review posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
Chelsea Fine’s Awry picks up immediately from the cliffhanger ending of Anew, taking Scarlet’s curse in a new direction and putting someone else’s life in jeopardy. Awry turned out to be just as fast-paced and exciting as Anew, with the added benefit of giving us a look at how the entire curse started.
Once again told from multiple points of view – Scarlet’s, Tristan’s and Gabriel’s – Awry also shoots us backward in time, showing how Tristan and Scarlet met, Gabriel’s relationship with witch Raven, and how Gabriel and Scarlet became engaged. I must admit that at first I wasn’t that caught up in the past-life drama, but as the book progressed and the relationships developed I was drawn in hook, line and sinker. I was devastated right along with Tristan as his life unraveled. I found myself liking Scarlet’s mother Anna, who did everything she could to protect her daughter (just as her daughter protected her), and really disliking Tristan’s and Gabriel’s father, the Earl, as he went about ruining his sons’ lives.
The romance and drama continued in the present, as Scarlet revealed her semi-immortal status to best friend Heather, attacks continued from the “Ashmen”, and the Archer brothers stepped up their efforts to break the curse. The relationship between Tristan and Scarlet heats up tremendously in this book as the curse takes a serious turn. Heather continues to be the best BFF Scarlet could ever have, while the Archer brothers’ best friend Nate has a bit of an interesting background of his own that I did not expect. The dynamics between all the characters seemed amped up in Awry, and I think the decision to move the story back and forth between the time periods helped with this.
As stated above, the pacing remained brisk throughout – once I started this book I couldn’t put it down. Dialogue is snappy, and Heather’s way of talking in acronyms (OMG, WTH, etc.) felt natural for her character.
But nothing could match the sparks that fly when Tristan and Scarlet are on the page. I fell in love all over again with Tristan as his back story was revealed, while Scarlet continued to impress with her confidence and intelligence. Scarlet and Tristan are completely intertwined with each other, and having the curse twist between them ramps up the heat. These two are meant to be together, so finding out how Scarlet ended up engaged to Gabriel was an important reveal here.
The change in the curse is seen in the very first chapter as Scarlet returns from her most recent death experience with all of her memories intact – except for everything she had just remembered prior to jumping in front of an arrow meant for Tristan. Initially I was hesitant about this selective memory loss, since it seemed just too convenient and like an excuse to stretch the story into a third installment. However it works out fine, requiring the characters to continue their search for hard evidence and, in the process, providing them with answers about the actual mechanics of the curse. Everything they discover on their quest leads to a twist at the end of the story that is not completely unexpected, but is handled well. Another huge cliffhanger will leave you screaming for the next book.
Chelsea Fine is creating a riveting series with the Archers of Avalon, including plenty of character development and an interesting take on the Fountain of Youth legend. A fast pace, sizzling romance, dynamic characters and plenty of emotional moments make Awry an exciting read for lovers of YA paranormal romances.(less)
Well, with a title like Anna Dressed In Blood you have to expect a bit of horr...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Well, with a title like Anna Dressed In Blood you have to expect a bit of horror, but…romance? Surprisingly, yes. Kendare Blake’s novel tells the story of a young ghost hunter who ends up falling for one of the spirits he was ready to kill – and I loved it.
Anna is told from the point of view of our classically named hero, Theseus Cassio Lowood (or “Cas” for short) a ghost exterminator. He inherited the family business when his father was brutally murdered by a ghost that was never found. Cas has been building his skills in preparation for tracking down and destroying the monster that killed his father. When he learns of a violent teenage ghost with the descriptive moniker “Anna dressed in blood,” he and his mother move to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to track her down. Cas ends up finding much more than he bargained for – including love.
Horror and mystery are the focus here, while the romance is a bonus. Blake wastes no time throwing us into Cas’ world by opening with him in the middle of a hunt for a murderous ghostly hitchhiker. We get to see Cas in action before the story settles down for a bit with the move to Thunder Bay. Cas talks us through his methods of finding violent spirits to exterminate and along the way we learn more about the nomadic life he and his mother lead. The horror and violence in this book are definitely geared to the young adult crowd, so I did not expect it to be at the level of someone like Stephen King. Since I am a scaredy-cat who has never been able to finish one of King’s novels due to sheer terror, the level of horror was just right for me. Anna provided enough shock value to make me gasp a few times, but not enough to give me nightmares (although I am very glad I no longer live in a house with a basement after reading this). I didn’t know romance was going to play a part in the story, so Cas falling for Anna was a pleasant surprise.
Cas was an entertaining narrator with a dry sense of humor and a strong sense of his place in the world. He wasn’t cocky when confronting violent spirits since he looked at each encounter as a necessity; he was not in it for the glory, but because he felt it was a job that needed doing. His approach to school was interesting, the way he dissected the various cliques and focused on “the queen bee” as the person most plugged in to the gossip and rumors any ghost might generate. When he meets queen bee Carmel he discovers a girl with brains, guts and a good heart – someone who becomes just as good a friend as an information resource. He also ends up connecting with fellow student Thomas, a loner who has his own links to the supernatural. For the first time, Cas is not alone on the hunt and has friends who have his back.
I did not expect to sympathize with a murderous spirit, but Blake has presented an intriguing mix of innocent young girl and violent killer in Anna. Suspense is gradually built as Cas delves deeper into his research of Anna, so when she finally appears – and tears a character apart – it is shocking. For some reason, though, she spares Cas which makes him all the more determined to find out what happened to her. The mystery surrounding Anna’s death was nicely paced, and turned out to be pretty horrifying itself. As I learned what actually happened the night Anna was murdered, I was saddened and couldn’t help but feel she deserved a better fate.
Blake then deepens the mystery and horror by adding some gruesome deaths which seem to point to Anna. Or is something more sinister happening in Thunder Bay? I was surprised at the turn the story took with these deaths, especially when I discovered what was going on. I did pick up on some foreshadowing that occurred, but I didn’t anticipate the way things would play out – which I appreciated. Sometimes an author can give too much away too soon, but I think Blake did a great job at giving just enough to make me ask questions without jumping immediately to the conclusion.
The only weaknesses I found in the story were relatively minor. First, Cas’ mother is surprisingly supportive of her son’s endeavors which I thought was odd, especially when her husband was gruesomely murdered by a ghost. She was a little too willing to let Cas continue his father’s work and to follow him wherever he wanted to go. I would expect her to fight to protect him from his father’s world – not encourage it. Secondly, it was never really explained why Anna spared Cas from her murderous rage the moment they met. I suspect it may have something to do with his father’s athame that he carried on him, but I’m not really sure. Otherwise, I thought the story was very solid.
With its gradually building tension, moments of violence, and nicely paced mystery, Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake is a surprisingly entertaining read for those who enjoy a bit of romance mixed with their horror. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you wanting more of these memorable characters.(less)
Artemis Fowl’s last stand? Can it be? Sadly, yes. The Last Guardian is the final Artemis...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
Artemis Fowl’s last stand? Can it be? Sadly, yes. The Last Guardian is the final Artemis Fowl adventure and Eoin Colfer has his hero go out with a bang. The puns fly, the danger is real, and both the human and fairy worlds will never be the same.
When Opal Koboi unleashes her biggest, most daring plan yet to escape her prison in Atlantis and take over the world it’s up to Artemis, his faithful bodyguard Butler, and LEPrecon Officer Holly Short to stop her evil plans. Along the way, they will have to overcome reanimated fairy warriors, a loss of technology, and Artemis’s very own little brothers to prevail against the maniacal pixie. Only, this time, one of them will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to defeat her.
Colfer is a master of humor, and I think the first few chapters of The Last Guardian afforded me more laughs than I ever could have wished for. The vision that is painted of the mammoth Butler dealing with navigating through a realm designed for 3-foot tall fairies had me rolling, as did Artemis’s final visit to his gnome psychologist (he is being treated for the Atlantis Complex he developed in book 7). The laughs tapered off a bit as the story progressed, but there are enough scattered throughout – killer crickets! – to help offset the dire circumstances that occur as Opal loses her grip on any remaining sanity. And things get VERY bleak as Opal’s madness threatens to completely destroy humans and fairies alike.
Old friends and new make appearances – some brief (such as demon warlock N°1 and sprite Chix Verbal), and some for a more extended stay (LEPRecon Commander Trouble Kelp and Butler’s sister Juliet). Flatulent dwarf Mulch Diggums manages a few more dramatic saves, while tech genius Foaly the centaur is in top form. One of my favorite story threads turned out to be Foaly’s, as he recalls how he met his lovely wife Caballine (all we knew prior to this was that they met and became engaged while Artemis and Holly were in another dimension in book 6 – The Time Paradox) and then later has to try to rescue her from one of Opal’s evil little deeds. I loved Caballine who, it turns out, is a pretty strong filly with some fighting skills of her own – and a very realistic view of her spouse’s strengths and weaknesses. We also get to meet Foaly’s nephew Mayne, part of the “Dork Posse” (Trouble’s name for Foaly’s team) a pretty memorable character himself – think Trekkie, but replace with unicorns and you’ve got Mayne. On the human side of things Artemis’s twin little brothers Myles and Bennett make quite an impression, especially Myles who appears to be a four-year-old version of Artemis – from the top of his neatly trimmed head to the bottom of his kidskin shoes. Bennett is the light-hearted brawn of the two, happy to eat bugs in ketchup and build a worm farm (that he fertilized himself!) and leave the brilliant strategies to Myles. Frankly, I’d love to see a spin-off series with these two and appearances from big brother Artemis; they are very entertaining in the time given to their characters.
Colfer has always had an underlying environmental message in the Artemis books, and he takes it to a whole new level in The Last Guardian. The complete breakdown of technology above and below the Earth’s surface is devastating, and the catastrophes that occur are sobering. Humanity is basically knocked back to a time where growing your own food was necessary and entertainment was found on the radio. In her quest to rule the world, Opal actually ends up giving Earth a reprieve from machines and a chance for a do-over. Colfer is slightly heavy-handed with the message, but at the same time it is an intriguing notion to contemplate.
The biggest surprise of all is saved for the shocking finale. I don’t know what it is with authors these days, but it seems like they are losing their fear of taking risks with major characters. When the first hints started appearing as to what was going to occur I thought a last-minute rescue or brilliant twist would prevent events from unfolding. No such luck. But Artemis Fowl is nothing if not a genius and while Plan B is not his strong suit (which Holly finally realizes at one point), his Plan A covers almost every eventuality – leading, in this instance, to a poignant epilogue.
It was a long dry spell between book 7, The Atlantis Complex, and this final adventure of Artemis Fowl, but it was worth the wait. With its bursts of humor, action sequences, dangerous situations and stunning finale, The Last Guardian is a fitting conclusion to a wonderful middle-grade series that can be enjoyed by adults and kids alike. The brilliant mind of Artemis Fowl, gutsy soul of Holly Short, and brave heart of Domovoi Butler will be greatly missed. Here’s hoping that at some point in the future Eoin Colfer decides to revisit the world of Artemis Fowl (maybe through the twins?) and gift readers with one more adventure.(less)
Closed Hearts is book 2 of Susan Kaye Quinn’s exciting Mindjack Trilogy, continuing the story of Kira Moore whos...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Closed Hearts is book 2 of Susan Kaye Quinn’s exciting Mindjack Trilogy, continuing the story of Kira Moore whose ability to hijack a person’s mind has now gone public – endangering her life and those she loves.
Picking up shortly after Open Minds left off, Kira and her family have had to leave their home and take on new identities in an effort to evade the public distrust and paranoia that erupted when the mindjackers were revealed. Changing her hair color, name and imprinting a tattoo on her face and neck to help disguise her appearance, Kira is working with her father as a mindguard for a billionaire businessman while moonlighting as a waitress in her off-hours. She and Raf are still very much in love, but can’t take their relationship public due to her notoriety and his parents’ hatred of jackers. Unable to give Raf up, Kira’s deepest fears become reality when they are kidnapped from the diner where she works by her nemesis Molloy and taken to Jackertown, where a resistance is building against new government crackdowns on jackers. In an effort to protect Raf from the jackers, Kira finds herself working with resistance leader Julian and his crew to break into a high-security jacker detention center to rescue Julian’s sister. But when the rescue goes terribly wrong Kira finds herself confronting the jackers’ greatest enemy FBI agent Kestrel…and this time she’s not just fighting for herself – but for Raf as well!
Kira continues to impress as a resourceful, determined heroine. Yes, she has her moments of weakness where she contemplates giving up and giving in, but with everything she is put through in this novel I wouldn’t expect anything else. She has a spark inside her that just won’t go out, though and she is going to need it! I love Kira – her strength, her caring and protective nature, and the love she has for Raf. I am really hoping she and Raf get everything they deserve in the final book, but considering how grim things are by the time this one ends it’s not looking good.
Speaking of Raf, his love for Kira is again on full display here but he is at a serious disadvantage as a mind reader instead of jacker. Used on all sides as a bargaining tool to gain Kira’s assistance, Raf is in serious jeopardy throughout the story. Always, however, Kira comes first with him and his safety is an afterthought. I really hated to see the way Raf’s mind could be turned against him in so many ways, and it was a sobering experience to realize how vulnerable he was to the jackers.
Kestrel and Molloy are still very solid villains, but Kestrel continues to be the scarier of the two. Molloy is out for everything he can get and will use anyone to get it, but Kestrel is completely amoral. In my review of Open Minds I described him as the “true believer”-type, but as his character became more prominent in this story I realized he was worse – he is a ruthless scientist who sees every jacker as simply a rat in his maze. None of them are human beings to him; they are simply test subjects that he will take to their limits – no matter how painful – to increase his knowledge.
But Kestrel and Molloy aren’t the only villains this time around. Senator Vellus is on a crusade for the Presidency and his platform is all about ridding society of jackers, spreading as much fear and hatred against them as he can. Trampling on civil liberties and enacting laws that make jackers second-class citizens, Vellus is the worst nightmare any minority group could have. And he is hand-in-glove with Kestrel.
To offset our new villain is the compelling new character of Julian, leader of some extremely strong and unusually talented jackers called “mages.” He is very courteous and gentlemanly around Kira, but amazed by her relationship with Raf. Kira, in turn, is surprised to find she cannot sense his mindjacking talent at all – his ability effects the brain at its most instinctual level, able to drum up fear, love, or any other emotion as needed. I wasn’t sure at first if I would like Julian. He felt a bit removed from humanity when he was first introduced, especially with his disbelief at Kira and Raf’s relationship – even calling Raf her “pet” numerous times. But as things went from bad to worse, I warmed up to him and realized that he is a highly intelligent young man of honor and integrity who just might have some feelings of his own for Kira.
A couple of quick mentions here. First, I loved, loved, LOVED, the ending. It was heartbreaking, but it fit beautifully with the story and I can’t help remembering the old adage “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Book 3 is coming soon and with the title Free Souls I’m really hoping everything ends happily for Kira, Raf and Julian. Secondly, the editing on both Closed Hearts and its predecessor Open Minds is fantastic! Quinn acknowledges Anne of Victory Editing for her skills and I have to give her a shout-out, too. Spelling and grammar are correct and I noticed only one word missing from a sentence in Closed Hearts. After so many interesting but poorly edited books recently (and it is coming from big publishers as well as small) Anne’s editing skills are truly refreshing.
Closed Hearts is a fantastic follow-up to Open Minds, with a darker story, increased action, and danger everywhere. Susan Kaye Quinn has placed her characters in a nearly impossible situation and it’s going to take a miracle to pull them out. Well-rounded characters, frighteningly realistic villains, and a gripping story make the Mindjack Trilogy a must-read for anyone who enjoys the YA paranormal and dystopian genres.(less)
Josephine Angelini’s Dreamless turned out to be a book I just couldn’t put down. True sto...more Originally posted at Riffs and Reviews
Actual rating 4.5 stars
Josephine Angelini’s Dreamless turned out to be a book I just couldn’t put down. True story – I was walking through Barnes & Noble the Saturday before Dreamless was due for release and discovered a copy on the shelves. Since it wasn’t due until Tuesday I was a bit surprised, but decided to have a quick look at it anyway. I took it to the store café, ordered a drink, sat down and started to read. I didn’t look up again until three hours later when I finished the book. I was that captivated.
Helen’s trips to the Underworld have become the focus here, and their effect on her health is not good. Since she is spending her nights walking the Underworld instead of getting true sleep, Helen has lost the ability to dream and it is wreaking havoc on her system. On one of her descents she becomes mired in quicksand and is rescued by a cheerful young man, but wakes up before she can learn who he is. Curious about another human able to join her below, Helen starts searching for him on each of her trips. She eventually finds him and discovers he is a Scion named Orion who has been sent to help her by her mother. But he may have a much bigger role to play in Helen’s life.
When I originally read the description for this book I was a little concerned by the infamous phrase “an unforgettable love triangle emerges.” If you feel the same concern, banish it. Angelini has done a wonderful job introducing Orion and inserting him into Helen and Lucas’ romance. He is a great guy – brave, strong and caring – and if Helen can’t be with Lucas I’d want her to be with Orion. Of course, Helen and Lucas are destined for each other and when they are together you can feel the heat. What I particularly enjoyed about their relationship this time around was the despair Lucas went through as he tried to distance himself from Helen. I like it when true love doesn’t run smoothly, and seeing how devastated Lucas was made me love him even more. Orion adds an extra layer to the romance that is being played out in this series, and his character is integral to the Truce between the Scions and Olympus.
Mythology is more prominent in Dreamless than it was in Starcrossed, as we get to meet some of the actual gods and goddesses the Scions are trying to keep away from Earth. Ares (War), his sister Eris (Discord), Morpheus (Sleep), and Hades himself all make an appearance. We are also introduced to Hades’ wife Persephone, and the Furies – the three little girls who have caused such anger and misery for the Scion families. I enjoyed the different ways Angelini wove the gods and goddesses into the story, especially the Furies.
Action and danger are increased significantly in this book, from the monsters of the Underworld to a full-scale riot at the climax of the story. It looks like this may be just the tip of the iceberg, because the finale sets things up for all-out war in the next book. A nasty new threat to Helen adds to the danger – an insect-like creature called a Myrmidon that seems impervious to death and can bend humans to its will. It gave a nice edge to the tale, and a sense of menace to the proceedings.
The characters continue to be interesting, and all of our favorites are back. We have an increased presence from Matt and Zach, while Hector’s return to the area increases the family tension. Creon is gone, of course, but we finally meet the father he tried so hard to impress – Tantalus – who is NOT a nice guy, and seems to have an unhealthy obsession with Helen’s mom, Daphne. Claire is just as feisty this time around, and has determinedly inserted herself into the Delos family to help Helen. Overall, I thought there was a nice balance between the primary and secondary characters while the new characters blended easily into the mix.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dreamless from Josephine Angelini. The new character of Orion is added as a romantic rival for Helen’s affections, and the triangle created by him, Lucas and Helen turns out to be pivotal to the direction the story is taking. Action and romance are increased, which helps keep the pace brisk. Everything builds to an exciting finale that will have dire consequences in the next book, and sets us up for a thrilling conclusion to the series.(less)
Brigid Kemmerer released Spark, her second book in “The Elemental Series,” on August 28t...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
Brigid Kemmerer released Spark, her second book in “The Elemental Series,” on August 28th and shows no hint of sophomore slump. Her début YA paranormal Storm was an exciting premiere for the series and Spark picks right up where Storm left off, but moves the focus to Gabriel, the fire elemental of the Merrick family. Turns out, fire is not only his element – it is his entire character.
Utilizing a third person narrative, Kemmerer switches points of view between hot-headed Gabriel and new character Layne, an introverted, brainiac in Gabriel’s math class. I found myself enjoying both of these characters immensely, and was surprised to find how broken they both were by events in the past. Gabriel was so brash and confident in Storm that it wasn’t until I got into his head in Spark that I realized how much of his persona was an act. He doesn’t lack courage, and has a deep love of family that he finds difficult to express. He is constantly going off half-cocked, or letting his temper get the best of him. Yet he is riddled with insecurities (from his math skills to lack of control over his element) that not even his twin, Nick, sees. Under it all lies the guilt he feels for causing the fire that killed his parents, and for being unable to help Nick when they were attacked by an assassin sent to eliminate them in the previous book. He is the epitome of the bad boy who needs to be fixed, and Layne is just the girl for the job.
Haunted by an accident that has left her covering up her body in turtlenecks and jeans, and that led to her mother walking out on her family, Layne is struggling with insecurity as well. She has no problem, however, standing up to Gabriel and the bullies at school who pick on her little brother Simon because he is deaf. Like Becca (Storm‘s heroine) before her, Layne is a wonderful mix of strengths and weaknesses. She has plenty of courage when it comes to protecting Simon, but also has what seems to be a slightly unhealthy fear of her father that concerned me a bit. When an outburst late in the story revealed why she was afraid, however, I found myself in total sympathy and thought her anxiousness to please her father came from a completely natural source. Once she took Gabriel under her wing and learned of the arson accusations against him, she found the courage to stand up to her father and demand his help. Her only weakness was one shared by Becca – the underlying need to fit in that ends up with Layne going against her instincts and getting burned (metaphorically).
Secondary characters shine just as brightly as the two leads (with two exceptions I’ll get to shortly). I did find myself missing Chris and Becca, as they slipped to the background in Spark, but oldest Merrick brother Michael moved forward and was fleshed out a bit more. I really like the way Kemmerer is slowly rounding out his character (after his introduction in the novella Elemental) and revealing the difficulties he faces raising three brothers after the death of their parents. Becca’s friend Hunter continued to be a quiet, confident force and the unexpected friendship he developed with Gabriel – as he helped him try to control his fire power – was an interesting twist. Layne’s younger brother Simon, though, was my favorite secondary character. This new addition to the series is a kid with guts and a deep-seated anger who recognizes a kindred spirit in Gabriel. Both share a love of basketball, and the only thing holding Simon back is how other people relate to his hearing impairment. The way Simon and Gabriel bonded over basketball was heartwarming. The family dynamics that came into play between Layne, Simon and their attorney father were fascinating and the way Kemmerer was able to use those dynamics to completely change my negative opinion of Mr. Forrest from being a frightening, cold father into one who is ultimately a decent person was brilliant.
Spark is swiftly paced and engaging. Once I started this book, I found it impossible to put down. Even though I had my work alarm set to go off at 5:00am, I was up until 2:00am that morning finishing the story. I kept telling myself, “Just one more chapter,” or “I’ll just finish up this one section,” but it was never enough. I had to know what happened next and tore right through the narrative. Despite the fast pace, however, Kemmerer takes the time to let the romance between Gabriel and Layne build gradually. Both are so defensive that it would be unrealistic for them to fall in love instantly, and it was more satisfying to see them slowly dropping their guards and getting to know each other.
The arson mystery that popped up about halfway through the book felt a bit disjointed when it first came into play, but once Gabriel was officially accused everything just dropped into place and really moved. It was slightly repetitive to have Nick once more in danger from outside forces (this time the arsonist), but considering the circumstances and his elemental power it was necessary to the narrative – and an exciting fire sequence was the result. I found myself surprised by the motivation behind the arson, and the identity of the arsonist; I love when I don’t see a major plot point coming and discover it along with the characters. Seeing the way certain events played out, though, it looks like a major confrontation between Elementals and Guides is on the horizon, with the Merricks and their loved ones caught in the middle.
Like Storm before it, one of the weaknesses of this entry to the series is the underdevelopment of the characters Nick and Quinn (Becca’s best friend) – the two exceptions I mentioned above. Happily my prediction in my review of Storm that these two appeared to be heading towards a romantic relationship was correct, so I continue to hold out hope that they will become more developed when Nick’s book hits stands. Also I’m still confused by the Guides, and where they fit into everything. Guides have powers of their own and yet they are used to police and eliminate, if necessary, the regular Elementals. I also apparently had them mixed up with the Fifths in the first book. What am I missing? What makes them different from regular Elementals? What are the Fifths? Maybe I’m just a little slow picking up clues (I have been in the past), but I wish Kemmerer had put a little more development into the Guide and Fifth plot points so I had a clearer understanding of them.
With its many twists, engaging characters, and exciting storyline, Spark is just as strong as its predecessor Storm. Brigid Kemmerer shows a flair for action, drama, slowly building romance and overall character development that sucks readers into her stories and refuses to let them go. According to the author, we'll be getting both Nick's and Hunter's stories in 2013 and I can hardly wait!(less)
Open Minds is the fantastic first book in a new YA paranormal trilogy from author Susan Kaye Quinn. Set in a dys...moreOriginally posted at Riffs and Reviews
Open Minds is the fantastic first book in a new YA paranormal trilogy from author Susan Kaye Quinn. Set in a dystopian future where our polluted waterways have changed our genetics so that almost everyone is a mindreader, 16-year-old Kira Moore is an outcast zero – someone who can’t read the thoughts of others. But when her powers violently develop and almost kill her best friend, Raf, Kira discovers how much of an outsider she really is and how dangerous a mind can be.
I was absolutely enthralled with the mindjacking world created by Quinn. The level of detail was incredible, and felt so realistic that I was easily able to conceive how we could be like this within the next century. A world where our politicians have to be the most honest individuals in society because everyone can read their innermost thoughts may be a pipe-dream but, boy, wouldn’t it be great?!? This society didn’t develop without growing pains, though, and the idea of concentration camps where the first mind-reading adults and children were imprisoned and experimented upon seemed an all-to-probable response from our government. Unfortunately, our natural reaction to anything or anyone different from us tends to be fear and, as Kira learns, those camps can be resurrected all to easily when that fear takes the upper hand.
Just like Elle Strauss’ Clockwise I discovered Kira’s world in the In His Eyes anthology, where Quinn’s prequel short story “Mind Games” highlighted Raf’s feelings for Kira. Since I knew how much he loved Kira, and how he tried to protect her from mind-reading bullies, I was devastated when Kira turned away from Raf in this book after her mindjacking abilities developed. I understood why she did it, and that she was terrified of hurting him, but it still pained me to see her look to someone else for support. In all other respects, however, Kira was an incredibly strong, resourceful heroine. She was extremely protective of others (the main reason she pulled away from Raf), and was willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent them from being hurt. Even after she was betrayed by her boyfriend, Simon, she still tried to help him when they were thrown together in a government camp. Kira was a teenager, though, and did make mistakes – especially in regards to an ill-advised escape attempt after her initial arrest. But when extremely difficult decisions were needed, the maturity and responsibility she displayed were inspiring.
The two teenage boys in her life, Raf and Simon, were opposites but both cared for her in their own ways. As noted above, I was already partial to Raf before I even started this book, and there was nothing in his character to dissuade me. He was definitely the good boy – kind, supportive and loving, who never saw Kira as disabled or less than beautiful. Simon was the bad boy – willing to break laws and follow orders from the wrong individuals, and rather manipulative. When he and Kira found themselves fighting for survival in the camp, though, he put his own life on the line time and again to protect her. I always felt she should be with Raf, but Simon displayed enough good qualities that I could see how he might have been a viable boyfriend if he had not fallen in with the wrong people.
Secondary characters such as Kira’s family members (mom, dad and older brother Seamus), FBI Agent Kestrel and mobster Molloy, and a young girl named Laney (whom Kira takes under her wing) were developed just enough to make impressions on the reader. Molloy and Kestrel were definitely the villains of the piece, but while Molloy showed hints of decency in regards to young mindjackers Kestrel showed no guilt for his actions. Kestrel came across as a “true believer,” one of those dangerous individuals who firmly believe that anyone different is a threat and should be eliminated. Kira’s dad and brother were extremely supportive of her throughout, while her mom seemed to show signs of disappointment that Kira’s mind was not developing the way it should. Her attitude was understandable, however, when more of the family background was revealed to Kira near the end of the story. Once she and Kira were on the same page, her support shone through. Laney was like the younger sister Kira never had, and they bonded instantly when they were thrown together in a transport to the camp. She was the most vulnerable character and, when her life was in danger, Kira stopped at nothing to make sure she was brought to safety.
Open Minds was one of the most original, exciting and heart-pounding books I’ve read in recent memory. With two distinctly different love interests and a couple of extremely dangerous villains, this story has some very memorable characters. However, it is the strength and ingenuity of heroine Kira that sticks with you. From being a nobody at school to a leader of others, her growth is phenomenal and yet feels very real. Quinn takes her time developing the characters and the mindjack world, so everything gradually escalates. Hints in the final chapters indicate the next book will take us in an even darker direction as society learns of the mindjackers and fear grows. I give my highest recommendation to Susan Kaye Quinn’s Open Minds to teenagers and adults looking for a mind-bending read. Book two in the Mindjack Trilogy can’t come soon enough.(less)
Storm is the first book in the extremely promising Elemental Series by début young adult author Brigid Kemmerer. As you can probably surmise from my reaction above, I LOVED this book and am ready to share my favorable impressions.
In Storm we are introduced to Becca Chandler and Chris Merrick, both of whom are carrying secrets. When Becca finds Chris being beaten up by two bullies in the school parking lot, she jumps in to rescue him. She manages to get him into her car and drives him home, where she meets his three brothers – twins, Gabriel and Nick, and older brother/guardian, Michael. Gabriel is the hot-head, Nick is the peacekeeper, Michael is struggling to keep his brothers in-line so they aren’t taken away from him, and Chris is the baby of the family. After Becca and Chris escape from another incident with the bullies, she learns that Chris and his brothers are Elementals and that each is drawn to a specific natural element – water (Chris), fire (Gabriel), air (Nick), and earth (Michael). She also discovers there is a special group of Elementals called Fifths who command all four natural elements plus a fifth – spirit – and that they are trained to eliminate other Elementals.
Chris is not the only boy to notice Becca, however; there is a new student at school named Hunter, who has moved to town with his mother after the death of his father and uncle in a car accident. He is strong and confident, but gentle, as he realizes Becca has been traumatized by an incident that occurred over the summer. Helping build her confidence, he teaches her some self-defense so she will not be victimized again. But Hunter has secrets of his own that will set him on a collision course with the Merrick brothers, and Becca is caught between.
The story is told in the third person narrative which I know may turn some readers off right away, but I felt like I got to know all these characters very well even without the first-person experience. Kemmerer shifts viewpoints throughout the novel between Becca and Chris, which really helps the reader identify with the characters. We see the brothers’ lives through Chris’ eyes, while Becca helps us relate to Hunter. Becca’s relationships with Chris and Hunter build slowly, which gives us the opportunity to create connections with all three characters. There is some serious tension in the Merrick household and we see it from both an insider and an outsider perspective. I would have to say that the brother who really popped out (after Chris, of course) was Gabriel, with his fiery temper and strength of character. Michael and Nick are developed to a lesser extent, but I felt like I had a solid lock on Michael’s character by the end; Nick, however, was still a bit of a mystery.
Becca is a great heroine and I found her to be a well-rounded character with strengths and weaknesses. She has been hurt in the past, but is trying to fight her fears. She is brave, caring, intelligent and, when she makes a mistake, she owns up to it and apologizes. The loyalty between Becca and her best friend, Quinn, is admirable as well. Quinn stands by Becca as the lies her ex-boyfriend told spread, while Becca supports Quinn through her troubles at home. However, Becca is clearly a teenager; she is hostile to her absentee dad when he finally reappears, and she has a serious desire to fit in. Unfortunately, this desire to fit in is what led to the incident involving her ex-boyfriend and left her reputation in tatters. She has learned to be wary, which makes her actions when jumping in to help Chris all the more courageous.
The relationship between Becca and Chris is a bit of a contrast with the one she develops with Hunter. Chris blows hot and cold, while Hunter is steady. Chris will fight to protect her, while Hunter shows her how to protect herself. The loss of a parent has effected both boys, but on a more emotional level with Hunter than with Chris. When trouble is drawn to Becca, though, it is more often Chris who is there to help her through.
Secrets abound in this book and just enough is revealed that I really felt I had everything figured out. It turns out that I was wrong; I really didn’t expect the circumstances of Becca’s past to unfold the way they did, while I was only partially right regarding the Fifth who had been sent to eliminate the Merricks. I love surprises, so finding out that everything I believed wasn’t completely accurate increased my enjoyment of this story.
There were two reasons, though, that I dropped half a star from my rating. The first was because I felt a couple of characters could have used a bit more development – namely Quinn and Nick. Quinn obviously has some serious family issues that have contributed to her need for attention, but they are brought up quickly and then left behind. There is more development with Nick, but since he is such a quiet character compared to his brothers I didn’t feel as deep a connection to him. A comment by Becca regarding Nick’s notice of Quinn during an acrobatics routine makes me wonder if Kemmerer is planning to have these two in a relationship in the future; if so, that will probably be where the depths of both characters are explored. I just wish a little more of that exploration had occurred in this book. Secondly, I was a bit confused by the Fifths. They seem to be the most powerful Elementals since they are able to harness all the natural elements, yet they aren’t feared the way the Elementals who only harness one element are. They are held up as threatening characters, but it is then revealed that they have a great deal of compassion for those around them. I don’t really understand how they were chosen as executioners and I’m hoping this is revealed in later books.
Packed with relatable characters, secrets, and four fascinating brothers with some very interesting powers, Brigid Kemmerer’s Storm is a strong start to an exciting new young adult paranormal series. While I would have liked a bit more character development of two of the secondary characters, it’s only because everyone else was so well-defined that I felt they were short-changed. The romance is built slowly and carefully, while the secrets have just enough of a twist to keep an element of surprise as they are revealed. I enjoyed this book so much that I added book 2, Spark (Gabriel’s story), to my list of upcoming releases so I can be ready to purchase it as soon as it is available in September.(less)
*I wrote this review on my blog in May, but for some reason never posted it over here so...moreOriginally posted at Riffs And Reviews
Actual rating: 4.5 stars
*I wrote this review on my blog in May, but for some reason never posted it over here so now is my opportunity.
A whole new take on the angel paranormal genre takes flight in Wendy Higgins’ Sweet Evil.
I have never read a book quite like this. Higgins has come up with a completely original take on angels, demons and Nephilim with her YA paranormal début. Anna Whitt is a teenager with a special ability – she can see people’s emotions in the space around them. When she attends the concert of a local band with her best friend Jay, she meets the band’s drummer Kaidan Rowe, a mysterious young man whose emotions are not on display like everyone else’s and who seems to think she is keeping a secret. The only problem is, she has no idea what he is talking about. Unable to forget Kaidan, Anna tracks him down and confronts him, only to learn that he is a Nephilim – half human, half demon – and that he believes she is one, too. Only two people know the whole truth about Anna and it is time she meet them – her father who is in prison for drug trafficking, and an elderly nun who was witness to her birth. With Kaidan’s assistance, Anna is about to find out how unique her heritage really is!
I was very impressed with the detail and original spin that author Wendy Higgins put on angels and demons in this book. Her demons aren’t actually evil; they simply specialize in various sins and are capable of the full range of emotion. Each sin is represented by a Duke, and Anna’s father turns out to be the Duke of Substance Abuse. When the Dukes have children with human women, the children are Nephilim and “work” for their fathers promoting sins. To the Dukes, the Nephilim are basically servants (if they want to live, they work) that are looked down upon. The life of the Nephilim that Higgins lays out is not pretty and extremely dangerous; the Dukes have no qualms killing any of their children if they disobey in any manner – and Kaidan’s father, Duke of Lust, is one of the worst. On the opposite side of the demon spectrum is Anna’s father, who actually loves her, and a couple of other Dukes who seem to actually care for their children. The whole idea of demons who can love is very different from a lot of angel books I’ve read recently.
Higgins has taken her time with the structure of this novel. Two major things she needed to handle in the first book of this trilogy was to set up the romance and explain how the world of her novels works. She takes care of the first by placing Anna and Kaidan on a road trip to meet her father and the nun who wants to talk to Anna in person before she dies. This gives them an opportunity to get to know each other and for us (the readers) to become invested in their relationship. The world-building portion of the story is handled in two parts – the role of the Nephilim is laid out in conversations between Kaidan and Anna on the road trip, while the back story of Heaven and Hell (God and Lucifer) is presented at the first meeting between Anna and her father. After laying the groundwork, Higgins can concentrate on adding the twists and turns to the story that set us up for book two – including a rival for Anna’s affections.
Characters are well-developed and distinct, from Anna and Kaidan to their fathers and Kaidan’s Nephilim friends. Anna is a strong protagonist you can relate to easily, while Kaidan is definitely a bad boy who is broken by love. I could really feel Kaidan’s pain as he struggled with his feelings for Anna, knowing that a relationship with her was impossible but drawn to her anyway. The attraction between these two characters builds throughout the book, right along with the tension. You can sense the threat of the Dukes everywhere in the story, giving it a real edge. Secondary characters never blend into each other and are easy to tell apart.
Each Nephilim struggles with their demon side and the sin they promote; since her father is focused on substance abuse, Anna’s weakness is drugs and alcohol. Anna is very much a “good girl,” but even good girls have urges that can lead them down some dangerous paths. With her demon heritage thrown into the mix, Anna is especially susceptible to that darker side of herself. It was interesting to see the business-like manner her father used in “training” Anna to know her drinking limits, but even he wanted her to “just say no to drugs.”
The pacing is excellent. I never had a point where I felt I could put the book down and walk away for awhile. It was never slow or sluggish but steady throughout, and the tension grew naturally as Anna was drawn deeper into the Nephilim world.
Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins is a spectacular YA paranormal debut. World-building is excellent, characters are well-rounded, pacing is steady but gripping, and the romance has an edge of danger – everything works. While book two has not yet been picked up by the publisher, I truly believe it will be. This is simply one of the best debut novels this year and I can’t imagine Harper Collins passing on a sequel. If you are looking for a well-written and unique take on the angel genre, Sweet Evil should definitely be on your list. (less)