Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Book: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: June 8, 2010
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series: The Passage #1
  
Summary from Goodreads: It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born. 

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey spanning miles and decades towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

It took me two tries to get through this book. The first 200 pages or so were terrific. The middle section draaaaaaaagged. After 540 pages, with a looming library due date in front of me, I gave up. I decided the last 200 pages couldn’t possibly be worth the effort it was taking me to slog through and returned the book.

Fate wasn’t letting me off the hook so easy. Two days after I returned the book I received an email from the library that my ebook hold for this title (which I’d forgotten I had reserved) was available. I took it as a sign to push on and see if I could finish, so I downloaded the ebook and jumped back in, with a bit of trepidation. 

And I finished! Even more surprising, I actually liked the ending, and I’m curious about the sequel now. I think taking a break to read something quick and fun was a good idea, because I came back to it without the boredom slowly beating me to death as before.

Final verdict: great beginning, good end, horrible middle. 

In the beginning, I didn’t mind the slow pace because the characters were interesting and the story was intriguing. We get a nice setup to this world and how it’s about to change. We get a sense of the players involved and a hint of how they’re going to intersect later. At this point, I was still trusting Cronin to see us through to a satisfying conclusion and was willing to relax and go for the ride.

After the beginning sections end with the release of the virus, we fast forward nearly 100 years to post-apocalyptic life on one of the last human strongholds, the Colony. Here is where things ground to a halt for me. New, bland, barely distinguishable characters live boring and uneventful lives. Each character talks us through their excruciatingly detailed backstories as we learn who’s who in this entirely new setting. It was like starting a whole new book, but it paled in comparison to the one you’d just finished.

When exciting events do occur (which is oddly rare for a world populated by terrifyingly lethal vampires), Cronin delivers the action in narrative shifts that completely remove any trace of tension. One minute the characters are facing down a vampire horde, and the next minute you’re reading one of the character’s journal entries describing the attack. Why take us out of the action and have the character, who obviously lived since they wrote a journal entry about it, tell us how it happened? Why not just let the action happen? Most of these events could easily have unfolded as part of the regular narrative, and the distance created from these shifts made me care even less about the story. 

The characters’ behavior was often inconsistent. Where was the fear in these people? They’ve lived for almost a hundred years in a compound to keep out the vampires, and yet they never seem scared. It was mind numbingly boring to wait for something even mildly tense to happen. After 500 pages, when they finally have an objective, they set off on a quest across the Southwest without hesitation or fear. You can practically see them standing around, shrugging, and then loading up their backpacks.

I also didn’t buy the cultural and linguistic changes that Cronin created for the future-set Colony, either. After only 92 years, we’ve forgotten the concept of the ocean or basic geography? We’re calling kids “Littles” because the word “children” wasn’t working anymore? We’ve invented a new curse word and abandoned all others? We still know how to use stethoscopes and provide medical care, but we’ve stopped telling time? If Cronin had bothered to explain (perhaps in one of the lengthy backstory recaps) some of these influences or how they evolved, I’d have bought in to the world a little better.

Though I liked the mystery around the Amy character and the virus, the boring and tension-free writing made me throw in the towel. I’m glad I finished it, though, because things picked up again in the last hundred pages. The plot moves, big changes occur, and past characters from the beginning sections return. I liked the ending enough that I’m probably going to at least start the sequel, just to see where it’s headed. I find the story really interesting, and I do think it’ll make a great movie, but the hefty length of this one sure made it a chore to get through.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

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Mini-Reviews: The Dark is Rising Sequence

Book: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1965
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Throughout time, the forces of good and evil have battled continuously, maintaining the balance. Whenever evil forces grow too powerful, a champion of good is called to drive them back. Now, with evil’s power rising and a champion yet to be found, three siblings find themselves at the center of a mystical war.

Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew have discovered an ancient text that reads of a legendary grail lost centuries ago. The grail is an object of great power, buried with a vital secret. As the Drews race against the forces of evil, they must piece together the text’s clues to find the grail — and keep its secret safe until a new champion rises.

I read the first three books in this classic children’s series last week, both for Bout of Books 6.0 and my book club meeting over the weekend. It was refreshing to visit some books that people treasure from their childhood (I hadn’t read them before). I’ve been so caught up in reading the latest new releases that I was neglecting the classics!

This first book was so much fun. The Drew kids are sucked into a mystery while on vacation in Cornwall, England – searching for the grail of King Arthur! Does it get any cooler than that? I loved the battle of these three kids against several shady adults from the Dark trying to get their greedy hands on the grail, which will tell them how to defeat the rising of ancient and perceived lost King Arthur. 

Helping them along the way is their great-uncle Merriman Lyon, who functions in a mentor type role. He guides them and encourages them as they discover a secret map and go in search of the deciphering tricks that will help them interpret it to find the treasure. The action ramps up nicely, leading to a final showdown that truly delivers and leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the sequels.

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: The Dark is Rising
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally Published: 1973
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

When Will Stanton wakes up on the morning of his birthday, he discovers an unbelievable gift — he is immortal. Bemused and terrified, he finds he is the last of the Old Ones, magical men and women sworn to protect the world from the source of evil, the Dark.

At once Will is plunged into a quest to find six magical Signs to aid the powers of the Light. Six medallions — iron, bronze, wood, water, fire, and stone — created and hidden by the Old Ones centuries ago. But the Dark has sent out the Rider: evil cloaked in black, mounted upon a midnight stallion, and on the hunt for this youngest Old One, Will. He must find the six great Signs before the Dark can rise, for an epic battle between good and evil approaches.

The second book in the series is a marked departure from the first one. With the exception of Merriman Lyon, there are no common characters, and even takes place in a different town (and later, magical world). Given how much I loved the Drew kids in the first book, this was a bit disappointing.

This book I found to be confusing, with many jumps through time that left me uncertain from paragraph to paragraph where we were at any given moment. Will is on a quest to find six magical medallions, and he has to move through time and space to get them, often without requiring a whole lot of foresight or planning. Instead, he seems to just stumble upon them in overly convenient ways. There wasn’t a lot of tension as a result, since we just assume that the next part of the plot will deal with him getting the next medallion, and that he will do so with some ease.

The good thing to note is that the first two books do not need to be read in order, since they are so different, but they both provide vital plot elements for the third book so must be read before moving on in the series. The other good thing is that the third book was much more entertaining than this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

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Book: Greenwitch
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1974
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #3

 

Summary from Goodreads:

The Dark has stolen an object of great power — a golden grail that holds a vital secret. Will embarks on a new quest to reclaim the grail, and to drive back the Dark once again. But first he will need the help of three former grail seekers: Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew.

Learning to work together, they must take back the grail and retrieve the missing manuscript that unlocks its mystical secret. But the manuscript is located at the bottom of the sea, and their only hope of obtaining both grail and script is entangled in the mysterious ritual of the Greenwitch.

The third book in the series combines the Drew children with Will Stanton, and they are tasked to return to Cornwall to retrieve the scroll lost in book one and the grail that has newly been stolen by the Dark forces. I was very happy to see the Drew kids back in the story, as they are light, comical characters that are a joy to read.

This book zips along in pace, and is the shortest of these three books at only 144 pages. The kids are again battling the Dark, trying to uncover the mystery of who stole the grail, where it went, and how they can get back the scroll that disappeared into the sea the last time they were in town. The magic of the second book comes alive in this book, with eerie scenes playing out in the streets and lots of mysterious interactions with undersea creatures and the strange Greenwitch. 

I absolutely intend to finish the last two books in this series, as overall it was a lot of fun to read. Though I found Will boring, the Drew kids are so cute and clever! I want to see where the grail takes them next and whether the Light can succeed in bringing King Arthur back to life. 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

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Review: Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Book: Various Positions
Author: Martha Schabas
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release date: February 14, 2012
Source: ARC received from Debut Author Challenge ARC Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she’s dancing. When she is accepted into Canada’s preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it’s not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick’s future at the academy and Georgia’s ambitions as a ballerina.

First impressions: The prologue in this book is incredibly necessary. I know some people hate them, but here it is absolutely vital to our understanding of what is to come. This is not just a ballet book. This is going to get dark, and sexual. If anything about the prologue bothers you – STOP READING.

Lasting impressions: I considered not rating this book at all, because I had such ambivalent feelings about it. Parts of it were interesting in a Black Swan kind of way, but the story meandered without much purpose for large chunks of the book.

Conflicting impressions: What was Georgia’s goal? That’s a huge question to have dangling over the entire book. I never got an answer.

Overall impressions: I am a former ballerina. I love books and movies and TV shows about ballet. I was really excited to read this book, but I very quickly realized that it had nothing to do with ballet. The ballet school serves as a setting only, and as perhaps an extension of Georgia’s slightly obsessive-compulsive personality. She is a ballet dancer because she is, and that’s supposed to be good enough for us.

Once I got past that initial disappointment, I found the teaser from the prologue to be an interesting dangling carrot. We know sweet and innocent Georgia is going to meet someone at ballet school and seduce them. What I found strange by the end of the book, and I still can’t figure it out, is that the prologue scene never reappears in the book, nor does it fit with the actual sequence of events. Was it a dream? A fantasy? Did any of it really happen? I was looking for the payoff from the prologue, and wound up with a drastically different ending than I expected.

Georgia is only 14 years old, and I found her voice inconsistent. At times she felt much, much older and at other times she seemed naive and juvenile (as I would expect from a sheltered 14 year old). Her actions snowballed rather quickly, and over the course of only a few months she experiences a kind of sexual awakening that seemed suspiciously quick. Teenagers experience a whole host of emotions and thoughts about sex that are all over the map, but Georgia goes from zero to 60 and shows no signs of stopping. I’m not sure that’s going to resonate well with teen readers.

I didn’t find Georgia’s actions to be as disturbing as some other reviewers did, but the one aspect of the book that made me uncomfortable was that the reader had to essentially root for Georgia to act on her feelings for her teacher. To my mind, that’s the only goal Georgia was trying to achieve throughout the book, and it was weird to be dragged along on this escapade.

She expresses no thoughts on becoming a grand ballerina, doesn’t focus on the future in the slightest, and makes no effort to do anything besides passively fall in with a group of outgoing classmates and find time to be alone with her teacher. I desperately wanted Georgia to DO something or WANT something, but instead she simply reports on things as they happened. I didn’t understand how her family dynamic impacted the plot, and they gave us very little additional insight into her character.

At the end of the day, I must admit that I simply didn’t get the point of the book. It was an interesting, bizarre, dark little story that is recommended only for older readers.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Book: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 28, 2012
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephewâ??s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

First impressions: The initial scenes in this book are dark, futuristic, and set up the conflict surrounding the world. Aria and some friends break into a compound in their city of Reverie, where everyone stays indoors for fear of disease and death in the atmosphere outside and communicates through SmartEye devices that allow virtual interaction in various imagined worlds. When the break-in goes horribly awry, Aria finds herself in danger and is saved by a tattooed tribal man from the outside real world, although this has even more profound consequences.

Lasting impressions: I think some more information on the rules of these worlds and societies would have made this reading experience more enjoyable. Though the mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements seemed interesting at first, by the end it all seemed like too many different ideas thrown into a giant mixing bowl, muddying the entire concept.

Conflicting impressions: If you’re going to have a book about two characters falling in love, it helps if they have chemistry. I did not connect at all with either Aria or Perry, so their love story became something of a snooze.

Overall impressions: I’m having the hardest time pinpointing what it is that didn’t work for me in this book. There were lots of individual elements that were interesting and exciting – the stormy Aether atmosphere, the Blood Lords and the tribal sensory enhancements, the Dwellers and their futuristic SmartEyes – but somehow when it all got put together it created a book that got bogged down by the weight of all of these Big Ideas.

Aria is a nice enough main character. She’s strong, gets by mostly without complaining, despite some pretty awful situations. Perry is more interesting in that he has this heightened sense of smell and is constantly at odds with his Blood Lord brother. He spends most of the book nobly trying to save his nephew, but treats Aria pretty brusquely. I knew at some point these characters were going to fall in love, because that’s the way things work in books, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they would want to be together. They didn’t seem to connect in any realistic way.

At the end there are some reveals that are a bit predictable, and set up some action for the future, but overall this book didn’t pack enough punch for me. I didn’t have enough information to fully invest in either the characters or the worlds they were fighting, so it ended up falling a bit flat.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Book: Glow
Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: September 13, 2011
Source: ARC for review from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you’d been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survivalâ??not loveâ??the issue?

Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth’s collapse, the ship’s crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader’s efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don’t know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them…

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenagerâ??until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he’s the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriageâ??and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren’t all from the outside.

First impressions: Heart-pumping action gets things moving right away in this sci-fi space adventure. Waverly’s ship, the Empyrean, comes under attack almost immediately, just as she’s trying to navigate the pressures of her boyfriend Kieran’s proposal.

Lasting impressions: I was disappointed in the black-and-white outlook of this one, with very little gray area explored.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the moral issues Ryan tackles throughout the novel had very little nuance. The religious zealotry and adolescent boy power struggles particularly left me cold.

Overall impressions: There’s something to be said for a book that you already know you’re not enjoying, yet compels you to keep reading it anyway. This was one of those books.

Very early on, I knew I wasn’t connecting with Waverly, and the choices made by almost every single character frustrated me. Yet I kept reading. The action is incredibly well-written, with the pace pushing you page after page, until the next thing you know, you’re halfway through the book. Too bad the entire time I was reading it, I was growing more and more horrified by the ugly and unsympathetic characters.

Kieran is a nice enough boy, but he lacks any real leadership skills, despite being set to inherit the ship from the captain. Seth is set up as an interesting counterpoint in a potential love triangle, but the minute he’s left alone with Kieran the two of them duke it out in an over-the-top power competition where they torture each other. Without any accompanying backstory, we have no other frame from which to analyze their actions, leaving the reader stuck watching two boys do very bad things without any understanding of why they’re doing them.

*very slight spoiler alert!* Over on the New Horizon, Waverly is doing the best she can to take charge of the girls who have all been kidnapped from the Empyrean. *end spoiler* Waverly turns out to be a mostly effective leader, who questions what she is told by the adults around her, and strives to rescue her friends and family that were attacked by the New Horizon’s crew. She meets their captain, Pastor Anne Mather, who is nothing but a shrill old woman who uses religion to control her ship’s passengers.

Pastor Mather could have her own post entirely. She is a villain for whom Ryan creates a sympathetic angle (years of misogyny and abuse by the male elite), yet her actions are so indefensible that I couldn’t possibly side with her. The answer to violence and oppression is never more violence and oppression. This is something Waverly begins to understand while interacting with Mather, and I suspect it will be explored in future books.

Given how much I disliked the experience of reading this pessimistic, depressing tale, I worried I wouldn’t finish it, or would give it one measly star. However, the dramatic action and the fact that I had such visceral reactions to the material made me realize that it was probably just not the book for me. I think there are plenty of people that would eat this one up with the vivid characterizations and interesting plot around the power of religion and fertility in human development, but in my opinion, this one fell flat.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review and Book Club: Lover Unbound by J. R. Ward

Today I’m participating in Bookaholic Does Blogging’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Book Club for her BDB Challenge. Every month, in addition to reading one of the series’ books, I’ll be participating in her book club posts, so we can all gab about BDB!

Book: Lover Unbound
Author: J. R. Ward
Publisher: Signet
Release date: September 25, 2007
Source: Bought for Kindle
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #5
Summary: (from Goodreads) Ruthless and brilliant, Vishous, son of the Bloodletter, possesses a destructive curse and a frightening ability to see the future. As a pretrans growing up in his father’s war camp he was tormented and abused. As a member of the Brotherhood, he has no interest in love or emotion, only the battle with the Lessening Society. But when a mortal injury puts him in the care of human surgeon, Dr. Jane Whitcomb compels him to reveal his inner pain and taste true pleasure for the first time – until a destiny he didn’t choose takes him into a future that cannot include her.

Questions:
1. On a scale from 1-5, what would you rate this book? Briefly tell us why.

Snooze alert! I gave this one 2 stars because it was so boring I almost couldn’t finish it. I did enjoy getting V’s back story, and I loved seeing John Matthew through his transition, but I found Jane to be completely unsexy and uninteresting. That made it difficult to sustain my interest in V’s love story, and I do kind of wish they’d just made him gay instead of giving him a boyish woman to love. Major bummer.

2. There were a lot of revelations in this book. What did you think of the Scribe Virgin being V’s mom?

I thought it was interesting, but the formula of having the Scribe Virgin solve all of their love problems is getting old. I felt this revelation didn’t add much to V’s story. I don’t know if it just didn’t have enough impact or if I’m not up on the significance, but I found the whole scenario very underwhelming.

3. Sticking to that theme, what did you think of the Scribe Virgin’s request that Vishous become the Primale?

Well, I never believed he would actually become the Primale once Jane came into the picture. That’s not how Ward rolls. If there’s a love interest, then the Brother winds up with her somehow, so I didn’t find much tension in the request to be the Primale. I did like seeing more of the Chosen and their culture, though.

4. Phury stepping up to the plate is nothing new — what did you think of him taking V’s place as the Primale?

I have mixed feelings. It was very noble of him, but it seems more like an escape and an excuse to martyr himself yet again. He felt he was the last, obvious choice, so made the most of it. I can’t fault him for wanting to step up, but I feel bad for him more than anything that he can’t ever really do anything for himself. He’s such a pushover! Will he find true happiness ever? Guess the next book will tell us.

5. Back to the Scribe Virgin — we learned that V has a sister she’s been “hiding” for 303 years. What do you think will become of her? Do you think the Scribe Virgin will — for lack of better terms — let her live again?

I thought that was kind of weird and out of nowhere. I want to know more about the force that told the Scribe Virgin to have a baby, and only one. Why did she go against that? Is that God? Why have two babies and hide one? Hopefully I don’t have to wait for Payne’s book to find out!

6. What happened to Jane was a tragedy. What did you think of the Scribe Virgin bringing her back for V at the cost of her own happiness?

It was a nice effort, but I’m not clear on the rules. She’s a ghost, but she’s corporeal? It seemed like she was able to continue working and carrying on like normal, so it doesn’t seem like much of a tragedy to me.

7. What did you think of Butch’s theory that V thought himself to be in love with Butch because he was the first person V really cared about (until Jane)?

I think there is some truth to that. I also think that’s kind of the definition of love. V obviously loves Butch, and because of that, he’s attracted to Butch. Nothing wrong with that – they just have a different dynamic than that of the other brothers. I liked that Butch was cool with it, but wish he wouldn’t have brushed it off as something other than truly being in love.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Book: The Near Witch
Author: Victoria Schwab
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release date: August 2, 2011
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger â?? a boy who seems to fade like smoke â?? appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexiâ??s need to know â?? about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwabâ??s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you wonâ??t soon forget.

First impressions: The immediacy of the present tense used in this narrative really drew me in. Victoria Schwab has an elegant way of writing that I found beautiful and hypnotic.

Lasting impressions: I couldn’t connect with this one beyond the likable prose, however. I never fell in love with Cole, or even believed that Lexi truly had, and the story moved a bit slow for my tastes.

Conflicting impressions: I thought missing children would be enough to keep me interested, but the stakes never felt high enough for me to care about the outcome.

Overall impressions: This is one book where I am absolutely certain that the only reason I disliked it was because I just wasn’t feeling it. I can tell it’s a well-crafted, unique, and beautiful tale. I can see where some people would get really into this one and love it. For me, it fell a bit flat.

The setting, a secluded small town named Near located next to a spooky moor, is perfect. I loved the opening, when Lexi introduces us to local folklore about the old Near Witch who died long ago and is inextricably linked to the town’s history. The first chapter is Lexi telling a bedtime story to her young sister, Wren, about the Near Witch. It’s a quiet, intimate moment that made me want to curl up in front of a fire and keep reading.

The beginning was so good, in fact, that I think it set up my ultimate disappointment by the time I got to the end. Schwab’s writing is dripping with detail, painting clear images in your mind, but without getting bogged down. It’s the kind of writing you want to sip, and languish in, not hurry through to find out what happens next. Yet I still needed something to keep me turning the pages. Instead, I felt like I was fighting reading inertia, and that the more I read, the less I could actually continue to consume. Then I’d put it down and struggle to pick it back up. It was frustrating.

As the story continues, a stranger arrives in Near, and the children of the village start turning up missing from their beds late at night. The town quickly turns on this mysterious visitor, as strangers are not welcome in Near. Lexi, however, refuses to blindly join this lynch mob, and starts her own investigation into the strange events happening in Near. Lexi is headstrong and stubborn, refusing to listen to her somewhat controlling uncle, who just wants her to stay in the house where he feels she’ll be safe. She disobeys him consistently, sneaking off to meet Cole (the stranger) or visit the homes where the children have gone missing. She wants to stop what’s happening, not only because she knows these kids, but because she witnessed her own sister nearly escape through the window late at night.

Lexi’s protective instinct didn’t ring quite as true for me. I thought she was just nosy and curious. She seemed more determined to prove Cole’s innocence than to protect her sister, and it bothered me that she got so swept up in the new boy in town. I felt they had no chemistry, and the romance that blossoms between them just didn’t do it for me. He was an interesting character in his own right and I didn’t get why he needed to also be a love interest.

The middle dragged on far too long for me. I had to struggle to get through this one, because neither the mystery itself, nor the beautiful prose, was enough to keep me hooked. The mystery is not much of a mystery as it turns out, and the story is much more effective as a lesson in how folklore and mass hysteria can influence human behavior, particularly in exclusive communities. Yet even this facet of the story seemed underdeveloped. While the overall tale is an interesting one, the details couldn’t hold my attention long enough to get through more than a few pages at a time.

I recommend this one to fans of witch and folk tales, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Review: Legacy by Cayla Kluver

Book: Legacy
Author: Cayla Kluver
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: June 28, 2011
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) I noticed his eyes. They were blue, sharp and intense. Despite the youthful glows of his suntanned face, his eyes were cold and unfriendly, suggesting he had great experience in the world and was now expecting the worst.

In her seventeenth year, Princess Alera of Hytanica faces one duty: to marry the man who will be king. But her father’s choice of suitor fills her with despair.

When the palace guard captures and intruderâ??a boy her age with steel-blue eyes, hailing from her kingdom’s greatest enemyâ??Alera is alarmedâ?¦and intrigued. But she could not have guessed that their clandestine meetings would unveil the dark legacy shadowing both their lands.

In this mystical world of court conspiracies and blood magic, loyalties will be tested. Courage won’t be enough. And as the battle begins for everything Alera holds dear, love may be the downfall of a kingdom.

First impressions: The rich detail of this world is captivating. I started reading thinking I’d just get through the first few pages, and ended up reading for a half hour.

Lasting impressions: This book stuck with me longer than I expected. Whether it was the level of detail or just good storytelling, I thought about this book whenever I wasn’t reading it.

Conflicting impressions: The attention to detail also became tiresome. It slowed down the pace a lot, and felt unnecessary.

Overall impressions: This is one of those books when I wish I used half stars. The world here is complex and well developed, reading more like a historical than a fantasy. Other than the setting, there wasn’t much I would characterize as fantasy. I mean, it’s a made-up world, but there’s no magic or unique creatures or abilities to be found. I couldn’t tell if the author intended to create a unique political or social structure and just didn’t succeed, or if she didn’t have the energy to research an actual historical setting in which to place her story.

I didn’t mind the setting – don’t get me wrong. I wish it had contained some more unique elements other than names and a few social customs. I think that could have given this fantasy some more teeth. Instead it became a story about a princess who can’t decide whether to marry for duty or love.

There is a lot of description in this book, which bogged down the narrative. For a reader like me, who tends to skim over descriptions anyway (I like to picture characters as their voices come to me), this wasn’t overly bothersome. I did notice, though, that I was skimming through multiple pages of narrative just to get past the dry bits.

Alera holds the distinction of being the first character I can think of that I came to like less as the book went on. She starts out being a friendly, likeable girl, but starts to make some questionable choices that strained her credibility in my mind. She betrays friends, acts selfishly, and is determinedly mean to her suitor. Despite all this, I enjoyed being in her head and following her journey. She’s acting out against a society that shows little regard for women, so I forgave some of her flaws.

All of the characters in the book are complex, though sometimes confusing. I loved London, Alera’s bodyguard, whose loyalty also comes into question, but is by far the most enjoyable character to read. He’s funny, snarky, and gruff. Alera’s suitor and soon-to-be betrothed, Steldor, is an egotistical ladies man who starts off being hated and ended up growing on me. The fact that Alera despises him is enough for me not to like him, but I did find myself agreeing with him when he told her she made it worse by making herself miserable. She wallows in self-pity every time she’s forced to be in his presence, when really he could be worse. Finally there’s Narian, Alera’s true love interest, who had dual ties to Alera’s home country and the warring neighbor to the north.

For all of the complexities in the characterization, there is very little in the plot. Two countries are at war, the heir of one falls in love with a boy destined to lead the other, and heartache ensues. Alera is supposed to have some semblance of a choice here, but by the end she actually is not given much of a choice at all. The entire book leads us to think that something interesting is going to come up, or that Alera will realize her potential as a ruler, or that her love of Narian will incite some kind of action. Instead, it ends with one of the most miserable scenes I’ve ever read.

Huh. I think I’ve just convinced myself I don’t like this book much after all.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Want a different perspective? Read this rave review by Books with Bite.

Review: When You Dare by Lori Foster

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Book: When You Dare
Author: Lori Foster
Publisher: HQN Books
Release date: April 26, 2011
Source: Purchased for Kindle
Series: Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) The tougher they are, the harder they fall . . .

Professional mercenary Dare Macintosh lives by one hard and fast rule: business should never be personal. If a cause appeals to him and the price is right, he’ll take the mission he’s offered. But then the lovely Molly Alexander asks him to help her track down the men who’d had her kidnappedâ??and for the first time, Dare’s tempted to combine work with pleasure.

Fiercely independent, Molly vows to trust no one until she’s uncovered the truth. Could the enemy be her powerful, estranged father? The ex-fiancé who still holds a grudge? Or the not-so-shy fan of her bestselling novels? As the danger heats up around them, the only anchor Molly has is Dare himself. But what she feels for him just might be the most frightening thing of all.

First impressions: Hello, pretty cover. I’d ask how you are, but I think it’s fairly obvious. You’re doing great. So what’s going on back there, behind your beautiful abs of awesome? No, you’re right. I don’t really care.

Lasting impressions: A smart, strong woman meets a smart, strong man and somehow both are surprised they fall in love. I’m all about the slow burn, but with this one I was snapping my fingers hoping they’d move it along. I gots thangs to do.

Conflicting impressions: Dare is a mercenary, and a lot of time is spent talking about his job or watching him protect Molly, but we get snubbed when it comes to actually seeing his dare I say, daring rescue? I could pun all day with this guy.

Overall impressions: It took me probably three weeks to get through this book. I would read a few chapters, put it down, then not ever really get the urge to pick it back up. I was on board with a handsome mercenary who rescues a young woman, then falls in love while trying to track down her kidnappers. If only that was the book I got.

Instead, I got a really boring but handsome rich dude who says he’s a killer mercenary but in reality is just dull and likes dogs. A LOT. He calls them “his girls” and I think that’s supposed to be cute but I thought it was weird. The author wanted to make us think he had daughters by using this vague phrase.

Yeah. We get it. Very clever.

The book starts after the main event, which annoyed me. Dare has just rescued this woman out of the goodness of his heart while actually in Mexico to rescue his friend’s sister from human traffickers. There was this extra American lying around so he just scooped her up and put her in the bin with the others. It’s a good thing Lori Foster doesn’t try to make Molly feel indebted to him for going out of his way to save her because that would be super extra annoying.

But no. Molly feels indebted not because Dare rescued her, but because she hasn’t paid him. She spends the rest of the book worrying about the expenses Dare is racking up in order to get her things like food, clothing, and shelter (the nerve!) and is so overly apologetic about being scared and seemingly weak that she drives Dare (and us) crazy.

The secret is that Dare doesn’t think she’s crazy for being scared. He thinks she’s actually handling things really well and is so impressed with how awesome and strong she is that he wants to smooch her. Instead of going all Moonstruck and slapping Molly while Cher-ily telling her to “Snap out of it!” he just dives in and plants a kiss on a shell-shocked recovering kidnapping victim who was beaten and starved in a Mexican shack for almost two weeks.

Surprisingly, Molly reacts by wondering if she can get some more of that smooching. That pain in your eye? That’s called an eyeroll sprain. You may want to go put some ice on that.

The single most frustrating part of this book was that despite the somewhat forgivable back-and-forth nature of the characters’ escalating feelings, the plot itself didn’t really go anywhere. We come in after the exciting rescue and then spend a few hundred pages watching Molly try to build her life back up to normal, then spend the last 50 pages finding out whodunnit and watching Dare take them down in a very brief scene. Where was the danger I was promised in the summary? I wanted way more action than I got, and was disappointed with how slowly the book moved.

Our main characters spent most of the book telling each other the same thing over and over again, highlighting their mutual admiration. “You’re perfect.” “No, you’re perfect.” “You’re so strong.” “No, you’re so strong.” “I secretly love you.” “No, I’m the one in love with you secretly.” Ad nauseam. If you can stomach the slow pace and just want to follow the romance, this is for you. If you’re looking for some excitement or surprises, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Want a different perspective? Read these well done reviews by Ruby’s Reads and The Unread Reader.

Review: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

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Book: Starcrossed
Author: Josephine Angelini
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: May 31, 2011
Source: ARC received from NetGalley
Series: Starcrossed #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she isâ??no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it’s getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she’s haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they’re destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas togetherâ??and trying to tear them apart.

First impressions: I got hooked into this book pretty quickly. I loved the New England rustic setting and Helen and her best friend were really likable.

Lasting impressions: I’m struggling to find words. Though I didn’t outright hate this book, I’m actively trying to forget that I read this one.

Conflicting impressions: I’m going to admit something that for me is really difficult to do: I’m not sure I followed a whole lot of what was going on. I felt like I needed to read the Cliff’s Notes on The Odyssey before attempting to process the backstory, and that made this a lot less enjoyable for me.

Overall impressions: I’m starting to think that the whole gods/goddesses YA subgenre is just not for me. I’ve read a couple now, and my experiences are turning me off to picking up another any time soon. What I don’t get is that I feel like this should be interesting to me. I like Greek mythology. So what am I missing?

As I mentioned above, this book started out great for me. Helen is cool, and the super extreme killing urge she experiences upon first glance at Lucas was a hoot (HOOT I SAY – make fun of me if you wish). It seemed so fresh and interesting, and when Helen is nearly killed shortly thereafter, I got even more excited about the possibilities.

Where was this going? Why did she want to kill Lucas? Who is trying to kill her? Why is she waking up with dirt and blood on her feet? Mysterious! Love it!

And then I waited 400 pages for the answer. 400 incredibly boring pages at that.

Somewhere in that middle portion, all of this exposition is laid out for us, but in this very dry manner that made it about as exciting for me to read as the Wall Street Journal. Trust me when I tell you that the WSJ is not my scene. Helen discovers all of these things about herself (I can fly! I can love Lucas after all! I’m a demi-god!) that should be exciting, but instead are presented with all of the pomp of a deflated souffle. There is very little explanation, and a whole lot of Helen simply practicing her skills while she waits for the antagonist to arrive.

Which brings me to my primary problem with this story. Said antagonist doesn’t arrive – literally does not set foot in Nantucket – until two-thirds of the way through the book. There is nothing as frustrating as watching a heroine prepare for a fight against someone who hasn’t even been introduced yet. It may have taken Harry Potter seven books and thousands of pages to prepare for his final battle, but at least we knew from word “go” that his nemesis was Lord Voldemort.

The ending did pick up and engaged me in much the same manner as the beginning, but the long middle stretch totally undid any positive feelings I had for this book. I recommend it if you love Greek mythology and Twilight (to which this has often been compared), but this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Want a different perspective? Read this cute review by Kaitlyn in Bookland.