Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Witchlanders by Lena Coakley
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
400 pages
YA; Fantasy
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-galley through Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

I've really been wanting to read more fantasy so I thought a melding of YA and fantasy could be really interesting. I usually have trouble with fantasy because of the weird names and the slow beginnings, both of which were present in Witchlanders. However I kept going, buoyed by the generally positive reviews I was seeing.

And I'm glad I did because I did grow to care about the story even if the characters didn't grab me as much as I would have liked. I was originally caught off-guard by the fact that this is told in alternating third-person POV focusing on two males-how rare is that in YA!  The first boy is Ryder, a Witchlander who despairs of his mother's addiction and her persistent belief that she can foretell the future. All he wants to do is harvest their crop before winter comes and thereby feed his family. However something entirely different happens when a mysterious stranger's coming is foretold.

That stranger is Falpian, from the border state of Baen, the great rivals of the Witchlanders. The two lands have already suffered a devastating war and signs point to another one brewing. He is secluded, mourning for his twin brother and the fact that hoped-for magic never manifested in him.  But the two boys do meet and discover a special bond between them, that they may need to exercise in order to save their lands.

Although Ryder is introduced first, I ended up feeling more for Falpian, a sensitive boy who never seemed able to live up to his father's expectations.  But I'm so accustomed to first-person that the third-person was a little bit hard for me and I felt at a distance from all of the characters. My favorite parts were when they were exploring their connection and figuring out how it works.  I also loved the history aspects as they discover some shocking secrets about the Witchlands and the Baens. Interestingly there isn't really any romance in this book; instead there is a lot of emphasis on family, magic, action, history, religion, and destiny.  At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a sequel but room is left open. Hopefully we will get to learn more about the other land.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge and Ebook.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Fury by Elizabeth Miles
Simon Pulse, 2011
330 pages
YA; Paranormal
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-galley through Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

This book brought up a lot of different emotions for me. At first, I was wondering where it was going to take me and yet I wasn't bored but instead I remained content to wait and see where Miles was heading.  I sped through this book in a matter of hours, frantically turning pages and ignoring my family in order to get more pages read.

Second I am uncomfortable with the basic concept of the furies, as described in Greek mythology. They are a trio who wreak vengeance, giving you exactly what they think you deserve; in this case, alternating narrators Em and Chase have done some bad things. But worse things than anyone else in the book or the world? Doubtful. Furthermore as a Christian, I believe that we don't get what we deserve because we are saved by Christ. Obviously I'm aware of other belief systems but the unrelenting force and righteousness of the Furies was hard for me to cope with.

Third I was frequently surprised by the twists and turns. Some things were expected but in general Miles did not hold her punches, upping the tension and surprising me with how far she was pushing the story. Admittedly this didn't happen until maybe two-thirds of the way through when the Furies begin doling out their punishments but once it did, the story was high-octane.

I didn't love either of the main characters who have very poor judgment and morals. Emily tries to steal her best friend's boyfriend while Chase was kind of whiny and defensive about his poor background although I was able to buy into their emotions as written by Miles. They alternate telling the story and I liked the way that was presented, especially seeing their impressions of each other. My favorite character though was JD, Emily's next door neighbor who, unlike most of the high school kids, is pretty comfortable in his own skin, dressing extremely flamboyantly and truly caring about Emily.

Going in to the second book I have some questions. Why are the Furies present in THIS small town? There's one character who knows about the Furies-why the interest and how was that information discovered? Will the second book be narrated by these characters or move on to different perspectives? And is this supposed to be a trilogy?

Content: Some sexual situations; multiple uses of the f-words: the curse word and the gay slur.

Read for YA Debut Author and Ebook Challenges.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Vision of Lucy

A Vision of Lucy by Margaret Brownley
Thomas Nelson, 2011
326 pages
Christian Historical Romance
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

After loving A Lady Like Sarah and A Suitor for Jenny, of course I wanted to read the third book especially after seeing that it included photography. I enjoy taking pictures now but it was so much harder back than and super expensive.

Lucy loves taking pictures, she sees herself as an artist and as part of the future despite her father's distaste for her work and the general town consensus that photography will never catch on.  She loves photography so much that she climbs a tree in an attempt to take a particular picture and ends up falling onto a stage that was being robbed. As the horses flee, she struggles to gain control of the reins and is saved by a mysterious stranger.

That stranger is David Wolf, an orphaned "half-breed" who used to live near Rocky Creek before four boys perpetrated a vicious attack on him. Now that he's a man, he wants revenge and to discover the box he lost that night, the box that might give him the key to his identity.  Although there are numerous suspicions and innuendos about David based on his race, he is actually a brave and kind man who saves Lucy in that moment. Later as she talks, he kisses her, igniting feelings in both of them despite the obstacles between them.

There's a lot packed into this book. Lucy and David have their own separate agendas as does Lucy's brother who's aspiring to be a doctor, three couples who need to declare their love, and the now adults who had tormented David.  They all take up a lot of page time when I really wanted more of Lucy, sweet voluble Lucy. David was a bit annoying to me; he's the one who's concerned about their mixed race coupling while she fights against the prejudice for their love. He also feels so much weight over him because he doesn't know his name (David Wolf being an adopted one) and I just preferred the lightness of Lucy more.

Overall: A sweet romance with many subplots and distinctive characters, including many from the previous books.

Cover: The angle of her face is super weird-what's with that?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Be the People

Be the People by Carol M. Swain
Thomas Nelson, 2011
230 pages
2/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy from Booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.

I was a bit skeptical about this book which seemed very conservative in comparison to my more moderate politics.  In general, it seemed VERY right-wing with little moderation and little subtlety.

My skepticism especially increased when Swain talked about leaders who manipulate the truth and criticize those who are not elites. She followed that by holding up Sarah Palin as someone who is not a cultural elite (I agree) and it seemed to me that she is implying that Palin stands for objective truth and just truth in general. This is laughable to me when Sarah Palin is the progenitor of the idea of "death panels," Politifact's Lie of the Year for 2009.

Additionally studies and polls that announced an outcome that differed from Swain's views were subjected to skepticism and accused of bias while those that agreed with Swain were held up as trustworthy. If the former are susceptible to bias and falsities, then why wouldn't the others?  Some of her comments by Obama similarly made me sniff. She presents a poll that stated that about 18% of Americans believed Obama was a Muslim; that doesn't make it true and speaks more to other people's ignorance than anything else, in my opinion. Other rumors are given space and treated as if there is a grain of truth.

I did appreciate the chapter on illegal immigration; not that I agreed with everything presented in it but that it is an issue which I know little about and I do want to learn more. And I think it's great that she included the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution; I own pocket versions of those but many other people seem unfamiliar with them despite claiming status as an American Christian.

Overall: Rather well-written if extremely ideologically biased.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Life's Biggest Questions

Life's Biggest Questions by Erik Thoennes
Crossway, 2011
174 pages
Non-fiction; Christian
5/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy through Amazon's Vine program.

I realized I kind of made a mistake in requesting this book once I started reading it. Not because it wasn't good, well-written, interesting, engaging. But because I wanted to be reading it with a book club and taking part in a discussion. I also wanted to add the many suggested books to my already massive to-be read list.

This is a tiny book but a really excellent one that packs a punch. There are sixteen chapters answering the questions posed on the cover that are answered in clear language; Thoennes also includes end of chapter discussion questions and extensive additional reference suggestions. I found this book filled with good stuff.

My favorite chapter was probably the one about the Trinity, an idea which I've struggled with since I prepared for my baptism. It's so hard for me to wrap my mind around but the description and questions posed within have already helped me. As I continue to mull and pray about the Trinity, I feel that I will gain more understanding about the Trinity and thus about God.

Overall: A good, deep, biblical read; recommended especially for people just starting to study the Christian faith.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Ember by Bettie Sharpe
141 pages
Fairy Tale; Romance-Adult
4/5 stars

Source: Available for free on author's website.

After adoring Cat's Tale, I sought out other work by Bettie Sharpe and of course I had to pick up Ember after realizing it was a reworking of "Cinderella", aka my favorite fairy tale to see fractured and that it was available as a free ebook-double score!  I was a bit wary going in after reading that it was quite adult and had some graphic bits because I usually like a cleaner book but I thought this was worth a try.

Although there were warnings about the level of violence, I didn't find it to be too bad although since I'm used to the Grimm fairy tale where both stepsisters cut off significant parts of their feet as well as have their eyes pecked out by birds, there isn't much that can top that. I didn't enjoy all of the language or sex scenes but I was expecting them so I was able to skim those parts.

Now as to the story, it is told in a similar style to Cat's Tale in that the main character is relating what has already happened with occasional asides to the reader. Additionally the main character is very clever. Ember lives in a kingdom where the prince has been "blessed" that everyone will love him and bow to do his will. She is afflicted but manages to fight it, thereby ensuring that the prince is fascinated by her. As she fights her attraction, she falls for a stable boy named Rian and must once and for all break the curse that the prince has over her so that she can earn her happily ever after.

I mostly enjoyed this story and I loved all of its twists on the Cinderella traditions as well as pokes at Hansel and Gretel, The Princess and the Pea, and Snow White.  My one complaint was a plot twist that was glaringly obvious to me but completely escaped Ember's notice, which dragged the rating down for me.

Overall: Really enjoyable; fast-paced and fun. Recommended with the caveat about adult content.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Simon and Schuster's BFYR, 2011
232 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Library

I picked this up after reading several mixed/positive reviews, including mentioning that it was a great summer read and that there were similarities to Sarah Dessen's writing, an author I adore.  And there was some validity to that.

Most of the book is set on a beach and while school technically starts, I didn't get a strong feeling of that setting. It's the beach and the ocean that dominates the world here. And certain sections did bring to mind Sarah Dessen; heck, she even blurbed the book! But it didn't feel as polished or as emotional as a Dessen. That makes sense because this is a debut. I bet as Kirby writes more, I will end up finding the emotion I get from Dessen. But as it was, I found this rather lackluster.

There's not much to the story. Anna and her father have just returned to the beach where her parents met. Her mother committed suicide when Anna was young and Anna and her father never discuss anything.  But being back at that beach starts to bring up some feelings and memories.  Additionally there's new school stuff and a cute boy.

I actually really loved the first person Anna meets: Ashley, a rich, slightly ditzy, and super sweet girl who soon becomes Anna's biggest cheerleader and supporter. The cute boy, Tyler, is all right; nothing especially swoony but he's not a big jerk so there's that.

I just felt overall that there wasn't much driving the plot; it meandered with no surprises because I was able to predict what was coming.  I also didn't feel emotionally connected to Anna, which would have increased my enjoyment of the book.  I can see why it makes a good summer read: first, all of the talk of beaches makes you want to go to the beach and second, it would be nice for a lazy afternoon where you feel very relaxed.

Overall: Nothing new in contemporary YA lit but a nice ride.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Five 4ths of July

Five 4ths of July by Pat Raccio Hughes
Viking, 2011
278 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I was browsing in store when I stumbled across this book, which looked right up my alley. I love the American Revolution and I haven't read much about it lately, having focused on more contemporary books. Thus I requested this from my library and dove in once it arrived.

The structure is that the reader sees Jake Mallery on five consecutive Independence Days, 1777-1781. He lives in Connecticut and is a Patriot. And in the beginning, he's a brat, kind of a typical fifteen-year-old boy who's proud, impetuous, and has a bit of a cruel streak, which he exercises chiefly against his best friend's indentured servant, Hannah.  Over the course of these five years, we check in with Jake on Independence Day to see him mature from Boy to Rebel to Solider to Prisoner to Patriot.

The prisoner section was especially interesting because it touched on something I didn't know about; namely the fact that American maritime prisoners were kept in ships near New York with a death toll of approximately 11,500 during the years of Revolution.  As you might expect, the conditions were awful and various diseases are what caused the most death.

The part that was most intriguing for me was seeing Jake mature, as he moved from callow, cocky youth to a more complex man (and he's only nineteen at the end of this). In school, history is often broken down into black and white instead of taking into account the more multifarious opinions that occurred.  In this case, no one was really 100% Patriot or Loyalist but instead existed in shades of gray. That kind of analysis happens more in college and other books, including this fine example of historical fiction.

However I was a bit annoyed with Jake in the beginning as he takes his harassment of Hannah too far; fortunately she's very smart and strong and is able to take his jabs in stride.  Additionally I thought some of the plot twists were pretty obviously foretold, namely the hint of romance and the way that Jake's time imprisoned ends.

Overall: A nice work of historical fiction including a lesser known part of American history and featuring a hero to become invested in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm Not Her

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler
Sourcebooks, 2011
285 pages
YA; Contemporary; Sisters
3/5 stars

Source: Library

Have I mentioned that I love books about sisters yet? I mean, I think I have but just in case that hasn't sunk in, here's another story; this time it features the well-worn trope of popular older sister who had always overshadowed the younger until something tragic happens.

Beautiful popular older sister Kristina is diagnosed with bone cancer, shattering her dreams of volleyball scholarship and causing her to almost completely withdraw from the high school world of popularity.  Meanwhile younger sister and narrator Tess watches her family collapse and sees her social status skyrocket as everyone wants to know about Kristina.

I never really connected with Tess, despite her facing problems I could sympathize with (fortunately not the family member with cancer).  Nor did I feel much for Kristina, who so completely withdrew from everyone, allowing none of her friends the opportunity prove there was more depth to their relationship.  On the other hand though, these were real, messy characters, not even close to perfect and making a lot of mistakes in their relationships and life.

Because of that realness, there was a sadness permeating every page. Neither Tess nor Kristina gets what they want nor is either of them even close to healing at the end of the book. I think that's one of the reasons I didn't love this book: I prefer a happier story or else one with more over-the-top drama. The events hit too close to home because I could see these people and see real-life people making the same bad decisions and suffering in the same ways.

Overall: Well-written but too bleak for my tastes.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Education of Bet

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
186 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I'll admit that I picked this up partly because it looked short and I wanted a book I could get through quickly. But I kept reading because the story was so sweet and I really liked the characters.

Set in the early 1800s, Will and Elizabeth have largely grown up as siblings; both orphaned young, they were taken in by Will's uncle. At the start of the book, Will has just been expelled from his fourth school, rebelling against his uncle's expectations and desiring to join the army.  Meanwhile Bet bristles under her unusual upbringing which is not lady but not servant and craves the educational opportunities that Will scorns.  She then makes the crazy suggestion that she pretend to be Will so she can learn and he can join the army. Despite the many things that can go wrong, they set off on this path, each certain that they are destined for happiness.

Although this is a ludicrous scheme, I quickly got behind them on their quest because Bet and Will are just so likable.  Bet's goal is especially noble as she actually values her opportunity for education while most of the boys she meets scorn it. How would they feel if they had only the expectation to stay at home, sewing and taking care of the house? Whereas Bet relishes her lessons and the valuable information she learns.  I really liked their relationship as well as the presence of Will's uncle and their guardian.

There's an additional complication when Bet falls for her roommate, the unusual James Tyler.  He is a bit of an oddity at their school and personally I felt he was a little too good to be true but I liked him nonetheless. Because this is a largely upbeat book, expect a good ending for them.  Also expect to finish this in one sitting because it's short and very hard to put down!

Overall: A fun romp involving gender politics of 1800s England.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Lonely Hearts Club

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, 2010
285 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

After reading Prom and Prejudice earlier this year, I knew I'd want to check out Eulberg's debut work, hoping for another delightful funny book. I received that, including several scenes where I literally laughed out loud, earning myself some "you're crazy" looks from my sister. What to the evs!

Penny Lane Bloom (yes her parents are Beatles fanatics...and I do mean fanatics. They became vegetarians, not for any moral reasons but because Paul McCartney is a vegetarian) has just had her heart broken by a long-time crush and has decided to swear off boys for the rest of her high-school career. They are just jerks who cause girls to change themselves and dump their friends in order to secure their approval.  Now while Penny may go a bit far in the original manifesto, she has a valid point. A lot of high school boys suck (at least in my personal experience) so why not focus on having fun with your friends and figuring out who you are during those pivotal years?  Thus she becomes the founding (and for a time sole) member of The Lonely Hearts Club, committed to staying single in high school and rocking out to the music of four guys who will never let her down.

Needless to say, this ends up being very popular with the female students at Penny's high school who band together to support each other as one tries out for basketball while another seeks treatment for anorexia.  They focus on friendship and being there for each other. Of course it gets complicated when some of the male students are upset by the loss of their girlfriends and even the principal tries to intervene as well as when a guy who might actually be nice seems to like Penny and she returns the feelings.

Now there weren't any real surprises in this book as it's fairly obvious who Penny's love interest will be and I felt that some of the boy characters were treated much too harshly.  Additionally because of the number of girls involved in The Lonely Hearts Club, some of them don't have much personality nor do they receive enough attention.  But I loved their burgeoning feminism and passion for the idea as well as their ability to soften some of their stances in order to give the reader a happy ending.

Overall: A cute, funny, fast contemporary read!

Cover: I love the feminine take on the famous Abbey Road album cover.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Alchemy of Murder

The Alchemy of Murder by C.A. McCleary
Forge, 2010
365 pages
Mystery; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I picked this up at the library because something about the cover made it seem like the kind of book I like. I was right as I enjoyed this largely light-hearted romp through 1889 World Exposition Paris.  The main character is Nellie Bly, intrepid newspaperwoman who is tracking down a crazed mass murderer.

The story is presented as if it is her own memoirs, recovered by editors and edited for spelling.  Thus most of the book is in first-person. However sometimes the action shifts to follow other characters and I'm not sure how that is supposed to be explained if the central conceit is that Nellie wrote these notes. Is Nellie supposed to have recovered them on her own or are the Editors filling in sections for the reader?

Continuing on, Nellie meets many famous figures, most notably Jules Verne, Louis Pasteur, and Oscar Wilde who all play very important roles in the mystery. Verne and Wilde serve as aides for her investigation while Pasteur figures in with information about microbial killers. It seems as if someone is killing the poor of Paris with mysterious microbes that have kept the police baffled.  I really liked seeing the famous figures and I hope, although I haven't researched this, that they would have been in Paris during this time.

Besides microbes, there is also someone killing prostitutes, a la Jack the Ripper and various anarchy plots.  The latter is something I ought to have known but had never much considered. Therefore the discussions of all of those were most interesting to me.  The role of women is also analyzed with Nellie determined to prove that women are not the weaker sex, no matter what gibes the police send her way.

As to the mystery, it was a bit confusing although I really should have pinpointed the murderer. I had an inkling about him but I was too trusting and thought he was only an associate instead of the mastermind.  Someone who is more suspicious will probably finger him much sooner for the heinous crimes.

Overall: Despite the bleak topics presented, this is a largely light and often amusing story with a determined heroine and with the promise of sequels.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Long, Long Sleep

A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Candlewick Press, 2011
342 pages
YA; Science-Fiction; Fairy Tale
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This caught my interest with its promise of being a twist on Sleeping Beauty. The book opens with the main character Rose being awakened from stasis by a handsome young man and later there are references to a briar patch. But while I liked picking out references, I enjoyed it most when we looked at Rose's pre-stasis life and her relationship with an alien lifeform.

While in her original life, she was the precious daughter of a wealthy family, her new life reveals cracks in the perfection.  She has slept through years of her life, which has strengthened her artistic eye but made her lose out on important childhood moments.  One of those is a youthful romance.

Rose met Xavier when she was 7 and he was only a baby but due to her stasis experiences, he soon outpaced her. And due to her final sleep that lasted 62 years, she missed his lifespan and she mourns the loss of him as her brother, best friend, true love.  In addition, she is acclimatizing herself to the new world, which underwent a devastating plague that decimated the world population while adding to her family's coffers.  All of these revelations make her life difficult BUT they're not the only reasons as she faces external threats, a new crush, and remembrances of her earlier life.

One way she copes is with her art; she sounds like an amazing artist and I liked imagining what she was sketching. Another way she copes is with a friend Otto, basically an experiment who has developed certain human thought processes although he struggles with human speech and has watched most of his family die. The moment they first started e-chatting was when the story really took off for me so I suggest you give it a chance if it doesn't immediately click for you.

I also described this as science-fiction but I would characterize that element as very light.  It is sent in the future with some new technologies but the themes of child abuse and loss were more strongly present, leaving me some powerful feelings.  The true horrors come out slowly and kept me intrigued and turning the pages.

Another element is that Rose is ghostly with little personality at the start; this is due to her parents' abuse but I am happy to report that she develops more of a backbone and her confidence levels increase as she begins to gain some measure of control over her life.

Overall: I really enjoyed this; it was very unique and well-written. Although sometimes I felt it was a bit on the slow side, I loved the unfolding of the revelations and trying to figure out what was happening next.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Angry Management

Angry Management by Chris Crutcher
Greenwillow Books, 2009
246 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

When I was looking through the Chris Crutcher books that my library has, I was immediately hooked by seeing the name "Sarah Byrnes." Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was a great read for me and if she appeared again, then I wanted to read this. It turns out that this is a collection of short stories, bringing together several characters from earlier books to further explore.

I liked the premise because of the two Crutcher books I've read, the main characters have experienced a lot of anger, both at their own situation in life and at the injustices perpetrated in the world.  This book is a further examination of those themes that continue to roil American society, largely race, sexual orientation, inadequacies in the foster care system, and just downright cruelty.  At times, I felt like I was being preached at although since I largely agree with Crutcher, I didn't mind.  This was most present in the third story "Meet Me at the Gates, Marcus James."  I felt that the other two stories integrated those themes better.

Besides that, this is a collection of three short stories which means that you just don't get enough time to build a connection to the character.  Now I remembered Sarah Byrnes but the other characters weren't familiar with me. I liked them (Crutcher creates vivid personalities that reach out and grab you) but I wanted more like I receive in a novel.

Additionally the framing device is that these six characters are in group counseling for various reasons and each section is preceded by a brief description of the character as observed by the head counselor.  I enjoyed the bit of him we saw but again, I wanted more!

Overall: Another enjoyable read from Crutcher but I think I prefer a full-length novel to short stories.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Where I Want to Be

Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005
150 pages
YA; Contemporary; Sisters
4/5 stars

Source: Library

When I was at the library, I was looking around for a shortish book because technically I'm supposed to be focusing on my ebooks. I thought I'd see what Adele Griffin books were on the shelf since I'd already read two and enjoyed them a lot. When I saw that this book focused on two sisters, I was sold.

It alternated between third-person perspective about older, now dead sister Jane and first-person perspective from younger, still living Lily.  The sisters are just a year apart in age but are worlds away in personalities.  Lily is acclimated to the outside world, popular with a boyfriend and a cheery disposition. Jane prefers her solitude where she can pretend and she struggles with Lily's easy acceptance into the outside, away from their house, their family, and her.

The book only covers a couple of days after the death of Jane, switching between Jane's path to an afterlife and coming to an understanding about her life and Lily's struggle to move on.  In general I preferred Lily's narration because of the personality that accompanies a first-person narration and because I was fascinated by her relationship with her boyfriend Caleb, her anchor who keeps her from sinking in grief.  Jane's story is more remembrances of her history and eventually quick segment about her death.

Although I had expected a highly emotional read based on my feelings about sister-sister stories where one of them is hurt or dead, I did not get that from this story. I felt sad for them as their relationship didn't end on a positive note and I was happy that they got a measure of closure.  But I had anticipated crying and an internal ache, which I did not have at the end.

Overall: Well-written but not as emotional as I had hoped.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Near Witch

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Hyperion, 2011
282 pages
YA; Fantasy; Sisters
2.5/5 stars

Source: Received an egalley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A friend asked me to describe the plot of this book when I was about 1/3 through. All I could come up with was that a stranger arrives and the next night a child disappears. So obviously this is not a very plot-driven book. Instead I would describe it as very atmospheric with the suspicions and superstitions of the town of Near bleeding together as Lexi Harris sets herself to the task of investigating despite her uncle's disapproval.  In some ways it reminded me of Plain Kate by Erin Bow except that I liked this  even less. At least Plain Kate made me feel something while with The Near Witch, I didn't feel any connection to the characters, to the plot, to the setting.

Lexi is an admirable character, I guess. But she's so nondescript and typical of a YA heroine. She doesn't want to be the proper lady her uncle urges her to be. She doesn't want the "safe" relationship with the boy in the town. She falls for the random stranger, largely because he is a stranger, someone she doesn't know. Their relationship has very little depth and evoked no emotion for me beyond the haunting story of his past. Of course, I loved that she had strong feelings about her younger sister and that those feelings play a large role in motivating her to seek out the witch but it all seemed so familiar.

Many reviews have mentioned the writing, which didn't strike me as anything special. Writing is not usually a big factor in my evaluation of a book. Instead I tend to think about how the book made me feel, which is were this book failed. I didn't feel anything but boredom although I plowed through due to the relative shortness.

Overall: This just did not work for me: I didn't feel a connection and I was bored for much of the book.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz
HarlequinTeen, 2011
324 pages
YA; Paranormal
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought the idea of reincarnation and soul mates sounded interesting and a bit different from the usual paranormal YA so I requested this from Netgalley, eager to give it a shot.

For the most part, I enjoyed the story. Main character Emma has had a hard life. Her father left her family when she was young, her twin brother died, and her mother died a year later leaving Emma in the care of an abusive alcoholic stepfather. After he almost killed her, she moves to New York to live with her aunt, attending a ritzy private school and immediately attracting attention, both positive and negative.

The negative comes from a mean girl who senses a threat and while for the most part, she is only vicious with her words, she does have a darker side. The positive comes from two jocks; one is Anthony, who's a total player and whose attentions are most definitely not welcome. The other is the enigmatic Brendan.  As the book progresses, Emma falls even more in love with him and together they must confront a dangerous and mysterious past.  Additionally Emma has her adorable younger cousin Ashley, a friend named Anthony, and a witch-friend named Angelique who provides important help in solving the reincarnation curse. One last aid is the ghost of her dead brother who seems to be warning her...about something.

I really loved the reincarnation aspect and all of the mystery around it; centuries ago, the fate of Emma and Brendan was set by selfish people in an epic fate.  Together they must act selflessly to chart a new course. However the language used to describe their love is familiar to regular readers of YA paranormal romance and bored me.  The reincarnation helps explain their immediate attraction and enduring connection and they do spend time together talking and getting to know each other. But they become a couple almost overnight and it was way too fast for my taste.

One final note is that the book is concluded and is not going to have a direct sequel. It seems like Angelique might get her own story set within the same universe but dealing with something entirely different.

Overall: A fair YA paranormal romance with a spunky heroine and some good action bits. Recommended for people who like PNR but hate cliffhangers and dragged out stories.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Paradise Lust

Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden by Brook Wilensky-Lanford
Grove Press, 2011
257 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-galley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Where is the Garden of Eden? Is it a metaphorical place, located in the mind of believers? Is it a real literal place that can be located using the ever expanding bounds of technology? Is it at the North Pole, in Iraq, in the United States? Brook Wilensky-Lanford set himself the task of exploring theories that have been propounded throughout the years in this book Paradise Lust.  The impetus for the book came from the discovery that his grandfather had searched for the Garden of Eden and an interest in the often fraught modern American relationships between science and religion.

He begins in the late nineteenth century and traces the path to more modern times with theories that pick and choose freely from the biblical literature and previous theories. The men, and it's mostly men, who have undertaken this cast have been eccentric at times and there's a lot of information to convey, which Wilensky-Lanford does splendidly. Wilensky-Lanford also does a good job of explaining the complicated theories and the beliefs that underpin them. He also treated the cast of characters with great respect and even a touch of humor.  The writing style is easy and each chapter is pretty well-contained.

Besides following these religiously motivated quests, Wilensky-Lanford touches on imperialism, science, scholarship, archaeology, geology, history and art, among other topics, creating a book with widespread appeal. This was something I knew little about but because of how Wilensky-Lanford skillfully tied everything together, I ended up very entertained and much more learned about the Garden of Eden.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer
Philomel, 2011
390 pages
YA; Paranormal
3.5/5 stars

Source: Bought

This was a very frustrating experience for me because most of the YA books I've read that feature love triangles are pretty obviously bent to one side (now, I do tend to avoid love triangle stories so my experience is not necessarily representative of the current trends in YA lit). But this book, while leaning one way, has not obviously knocked out the other player.

On the one hand, Shay seems to be the obvious victor. He's now a wolf with a mysterious destiny, has a much higher page count than Ren, makes Calla a little bit jealous, and basically seals the deal by the end of the book. (He's also my personal pick as Ren did some low things to Calla in the first book. Although I'm also on a kill the main character kick, which seems unlikely in this first-person narrated book but if Calla were to die to save her pack, leaving Shay and Ren to mourn, I'd be down with that.)  And yet Ren still remains a presence, confusing Calla's mind and heart.  While I say that I love unpredictability, that element in the triangle is annoying me. I just want Calla to make a decision and remain with it instead of constantly twisting herself. She's supposed to be the alpha, the confident leader and yet when this trips her up, I lose respect for her.

That's the main reason for the low rating. Another is that the characters aren't really exciting to me. Nightshade ended by introducing a bunch of new characters, who are more fleshed out in this book, but none of them grabbed me. We also get to see some more of Calla's pack and the hated villains of the first book but most of the book is spent on the newbies.

The other reason is that I didn't feel very drawn to finish this book. I started it, abandoned it about halfway through, and then came back to it because I knew I wanted to post this review. Thus I did not find it quite as compelling as Nightshade.

However I do think Andrea Cremer shines when giving us backstory and world-building because I gobbled those bits up. I suppose it might have something to do with her being a history professor but the wolf mythology and the way that history has been disseminated among the various rival groups within the Nightshade trilogy has me hooked. I will probably read the third book just to see the unraveling of the past lies and for more of the well-written action scenes.

Overall: Love the wolf parts; not really enjoying the romance.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unnatural Issue

Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey
Daw Books, 2011
361 pages
Fantasy; Fairy Tale
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Although Mercedes Lackey is a prolific writer of fantasy, I'm really only familiar with her 500 Kingdoms series and her Elemental Masters series, mostly because they draw heavily on fairy tales. That makes me feel somewhat bad that I haven't explored her oeuvre more but happy whenever a new book comes out such as this one.  This is another companion to the Elemental Masters, drawing upon the fairy tale "Donkeyskin" (yep, the same story that influenced Robin McKinley's Deerskin).  While technically considered the seventh, it takes place before at least one (Phoenix and Ashes) and incorporates characters from several of the other books, expanding on the magical partnerships described in earlier books.

The book opens with Earth Elemental Master Richard Whitestone heading home to see his beloved pregnant wife; alas she had died several hours before he arrived. Although the baby survived, he disowns her and locks himself in his rooms. The child, Susanne, grows up in an awkward place: not quite gentry but not fully a servant. She also takes on the responsibilities of caring for the land that her father had neglected. All seems fine until Richard catches sight of Susanne and realizes how much she looks like his dead wife. He seizes on a plan to bring his wife back to life and to stuff her spirit into Susanne's body using the dark arts of necromancy.  When Susanne discovers part of his evil machinations, she flees and eventually receives enough magical aid to confront her father.

That's only half the story though as WWI breaks out and time is spent on explaining how the war is polluting the soil on which it is fought and how it is decimating their magical ranks and abilities. Now I liked this part but I thought it detracted from Susanne's story.  I would have liked either a shorter story that more closely focused on her or a longer story that could weave in the bits about WWI better.  As it was, I felt only partly satisfied which each half.

I did prefer the bits that drew from "Donkeyskin." Richard Whitestone was very crazed and his menace was well conveyed as was his patronizing sexist attitudes that contributed to his downfall. Among the new people she meets after fleeing are Lord Peter Almsley and his manservant Garrick, who I've read are supposed to be based on Lord Peter Wimsey and the amazing Bunter (who I adore) and have been tasked with tracking down the necromancer.  I really enjoyed them although I haven't read enough Lord Peter Wimsey to give an opinion on how much they owe to the earlier creation.

Overall: A good addition to the Elemental Masters series with some interesting information about necromancy and the darker side of magic. For newcomers, I would probably start with an earlier book because this one isn't as gripping as, say, Phoenix and Ashes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Follow Hop 12August11

Book Blogger Hop

Q. "Let’s talk crazy book titles! Highlight one or two (or as many as you like!) titles in your personal collection that have the most interesting titles! If you can’t find any, feel free to find one on the internet!"

A. I think The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin is kind of a crazy title; the name is wacky and "implosion" is just a fun word. I doubt I've seen any other title that includes it.  This is one question where I'm really looking forward to the other answers.

Q. "How have your reading habits changed since you were a teen?"

A. Interestingly I think I read more YA now than I did when I was a teen!  I'm also now less interested in mysteries than I used to be, except for the rare YA mystery.  Additionally because I became a Christian when I was 18, my reading now is more interested in religion in general than my younger self.


Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
Atom Books, 2010
452 pages
YA; Paranormal
3.5/5 stars

Source: Won a signed copy through Princess Bookie's Contest Craze (interestingly, this is a British edition.)

I mostly picked this up to read because I had won it and because I went to a launch party for the sequel Wolfsbane. I had avoided it before because of the werewolf element, which is not one of my favorite plot points.  But I was surprised by how much I did end up enjoying that!

Calla Tor is the alpha daughter within the Nightshade pack. She is due to marry Ren, the alpha of the Bane pack and form a third pack as a line of defense against Searcher enemies.  This match has been dictated by the Keepers, the human masters who provide everything for the wolves.  Everything about this mythology, what Calla thinks she knows and what she learns over the course of the book was really interesting even if some of it was a bit predictable (ie there were several bits of information that were revelations to Calla but which I had already told her; darn fictional characters, not listening to me!)  But I loved learning about how a pack interacts, how they shift from human to wolf and back fluidly, and the other rituals that comprise their lives. I have so many questions that will hopefully be answered in the next book!

I was somewhat icked out by the romance. Calla is supposed to marry Ren on their 18th birthdays (they were both born on Halloween although tradition mandates that it is called Samhain). He has whored around with seemingly half of the girls in their school while she has to remain pure until their union; I hate when the guy is afforded unlimited sexual freedom and takes advantage of that while the girl is not allowed at all and is forced by other females to dress attractively in order to please him. Additionally I'm grossed out by the fact that high school seniors are being forced to marry no matter what their will.  Ren himself is not to my taste, as a dominating alpha male who pushes against Calla's boundaries and bosses her around (alpha male is in charge of all including and especially the alpha female).  She is frequently referred to as being "his" and "his property."

There is a second romantic option though being Shay. The new human in town whose life is saved by Calla in her wolf form and who really pushes against the boundaries of Calla's knowledge about her shifter role. I liked Shay a bit more possibly because he would never even look at another girl and because we get to spend more time with him.  I don't like him because I'm not entirely sure why Calla does and he is almost as territorial as Ren.  The back cover also references Shay, asking "Is one boy worth losing everything?" My answer is no but this is a strong thread running through the book as is the related question "what is love?" which is partly answered as risking everything to save the other person.  Regardless, there are a lot of scenes with sexual tension between Calla and each boy that worked for me despite my qualms about the romance and the fact that I don't really have a preference.

Additionally within the packs, there are already pairings that seem to be permanent, which is just weird to me. Do some people meet the person they will marry in high school? Yes. Do most? I doubt it. I guess it makes sense because they're all paired up within the shifter community and it would probably be hard to mate outside of the pack with a normal human but it still skeeved me out.

One last note is about the ending, which brought in a ton of new characters and confused me with those additions. I don't think it's super important to know all of those people but I don't think it's the best ending to leave the reader confused by the influx of new characters. However I feel confident that the second book will pick up here and fill me in.

Overall: Juicy paranormal background but some ickiness in the romance.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Drop Dead Divas

Drop Dead Divas by Virginia Brown
Bell Bridge Books, 2010
255 pages
Mystery; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I requested this, I did not realize it was the second book in a series, which was unfortunate because there are many references to the murder and various happenings that somewhat confused me. I'm also very much not the target audience for this book, which I would describe as middle-aged Southern women like the main characters of this book. In comparison, I am in my twenties and am a proud Yankee.  But there were still charms in this book.

I loved the small-town feel where pretty much everyone knows everyone and is related to a big part of the town. I enjoyed seeing their relationships and the gentle chatter. Because this was a cozy, it wasn't too violent and I enjoyed seeing the ladies detect even when the patronizing police told them to stay at home and knit.

I mostly liked the narrator Trinket although I wish there had been more of her "gentleman friend" Kit, who she says she likes but who we see very little of. I attempted to like Trinket's best friend and cousin Bitty because she plays a prominent role but she's pretty awful and inevitably I ended up cringing whenever she made a tactless statement (i.e. often).

As to the mystery, I didn't think much of it. The story was pretty tightly focused on it although there were diversions as Bitty fears she's about to become broke, despite being very far from that situation.  I'm not sure there were often clues to actually solve the murder but I didn't mind too much.

Overall: A competent cozy; not my favorite and I doubt I will be continuing with the story.

Read for Cozy Challenge

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Always a Witch

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Clarion Books, 2011
276 pages
YA; Paranormal
4/5 stars

Sequel to Once a Witch

Source: Received a free ecopy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Some spoilers for Once a Witch!

After mostly enjoying Once a Witch, I was eager to pick up this sequel and even more pleased to discover that there was a significant time travel element!  This book picks up a few months after the first with everyone recovered from the menace of Alistair Knight but still on guard for his next move.  Tamsin is better integrated into her family, having discovered that she does in fact possess a talent and she seems to have a slightly better relationship with her sister as well as a stronger one with boyfriend Gabriel.

However their peace is shattered when a mysterious stranger travels into their time. Tamsin, banking on the prophecy of her grandmother decides that she is the one who must defeat their enemy and travels back into 1877 to warn her ancestors and protect her future.  Most of the book takes place while she is there, attempting to blend in and prepare for what she can.

For me, the best part of this series is the emphasis on family. Despite her difficult relationships with most members of her family, Tamsin fights for them even in the face of the terrifying Knight family.  I also really liked that they were good villains. They were selfish and thought they were superior beings because of their Talents. Because of their presumed superiority, they felt no compunction about hurting non-magical beings.  The solution caught me by surprise and left me admiring Tamsin and her brains for solving the puzzle.

One last note is that I'm not entirely sure about the mechanics of the time travel and how their actions impacted the future. However I was content to enjoy the ride instead of going back and puzzling through this with a fine-toothed comb.

Overall: A nice companion with another exciting, fast-moving story.

Cover: I do love a fancy dress but this one is kind of hard to see; additionally Tamsin's hair is too straight-it's supposed to be unmanageable.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Once a Witch

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Graphia, 2009
292 pages
YA; Paranormal; Sisters
4/5 stars

Source: Bought

Tamsin comes from a long line of witches and yet she has manifested no Talent and consequently feels apart from her family.  She has escaped to boarding school in New York City and worked hard to stay away from the painful feelings they engender. One night while working in her grandmother's bookstore, a customer mistakes her for her "perfect" older sister Rowena; she does not correct his misapprehension and soon finds herself, her sister, and her entire family swept up in a century-long feud with a rival family and dormant power.

Tamsin is not the greatest heroine in my opinion as she is really whiny and moody about her lack of Talent. She greatly resents the rest of her family especially her bossy older sister who is poised to be the new head of the family when their grandmother passes. Tamsin wants to prove herself and is the reason for bringing a malignant stranger into her family's midst.  But when it counts, she will fight for her family despite the risks to herself.  She is resourceful and perhaps a bit foolhardy; I know I would have been a lot more afraid at some of the situations in this book but she plows ahead.

My greatest interest was in the sister-sister relationship, which is especially fraught. Rowena possesses the Talent of being able to persuade anyone else to do what she commands and frequently acts in selfish ways to control situations to her liking.  However she is the one most in danger from the mysterious stranger, which spurs Tamsin's desperate attempts to save her. Tamsin bristles and rebels but she does love her sister, no matter how different they are and how difficult their relationship is. I know some people won't care about this part but as someone with a sister, this aspect always attracts me.

Then there is the magic element. Everyone has different powers although we do not get to spend a lot of time with them. Among those powers are Gabriel, an old family friend who got hot, who can find any object (and incidentally time travel); Aunt Beatrice, who can freeze people with a touch of her hand; Tamsin's mother who can move extraordinarily fast; and Tamsin's father, who can control the weather.  See, it's a really cool variety but those powers aren't the focus so much as the mysterious conflict with the shadowy stranger.

Another thing I liked was the relative shortness of the book. Yes, this meant that some elements were shortchanged but at least there weren't pages upon pages of boring description. Everything was pared down and moved quickly, enabling me to fly through the book.

Overall: Some really cool situations; check back tomorrow for my review of the sequel Always a Witch.

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