Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields

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Promises, promises…

For some reason, I don’t read very many gothic novels, even though when I do read them I love them. Is it that there aren’t many of them written? Are they just not flashy enough to compete with their dystopian brethren? Or do I just not keep them high enough on my radar? This gothic beauty has been languishing on my TBR for a long time, and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.

Immortal had everything going for it – sweeping romance, eerie moors, haunting ghosts. In the first 100 pages, I was enthralled. Evie arrives at Wyldcliffe, only to be nearly run over by a dark, mysterious, and handsome (naturally) boy on a horse. It was a scene ripped from Jane Eyre, that gothic novel to end all gothic novels. I was anticipating the love story to come and finding the secrets hidden in the passageways of the boarding school.

Tempered expectations…

Around the midpoint of the book I realized that I needed to adjust my expectations. Evie isn’t really haunted so much as she experiences visions. She has odd dreams and keeps seeing a girl who looks like her lurking around the school, but she’s never really frightened by any of it. This means, of course, that I was never scared as a reader, either. It took a lot of the fun out of Evie’s trips down musty passageways and out onto the moor to meet up with Sebastian.

Sebastian, the boy from the horse, runs into her again late one night after Evie has snuck out to get some air. They begin to meet up nightly, and Evie falls in love. I guess. Well, she says she falls in love, but I certainly didn’t get swoony over it. This was one romance that just wasn’t for me.

Throw in some witchcraft…

You see, the book intersperses Evie’s story with excerpts from Lady Agnes Templeton’s diary from 1882 to 1884. Agnes, the daughter of the owners of Wyldcliffe manor, writes about her friend “S.” who introduces her to the Mysticke Way. “S” is kind of a jerk, and as they unlock their mystical powers (witchcraft, though no one in this book wants to call it that), he gets worse.

SPOILER ALERT! (I think, though it seemed pretty obvious to me.) [spoiler]I mean, clearly, “S” is Sebastian, right? So I’m reading all about this douche from the past who treated Lady Agnes like complete garbage…and then I’m supposed to be happy that Evie is falling for him? Nope. Not going to happen.[/spoiler]

(Carry on.)

The witchcraft bit doesn’t really come in to play for Evie’s story until late in the book, at which point she has to rush to understand her role in the history of Wyldcliffe much too quickly for my taste.

Hurry! The end is nigh!

Once Evie finally starts to put together the pieces of the large and obvious clues in front of her, there are only a few chapters left. She has so much to learn and do, which gets rushed into a couple of scenes, only to build to a climax that is resolved so quickly and lacks so much (or any) confrontation that it feels too easy.

Instead of wrapping things up with a genuine conflict between Evie and some badass witches in this story, it seems like the author left that for the next in the series. What a letdown! I would have liked to have seen more of Evie developing her own powers and working with her friends. I would have liked to have seen her then use those powers in a manner that actually accomplished something instead of seeming to delay the conflict for a bit.

Still, I’m only really complaining because overall I really enjoyed the book. I liked the mystery of Lady Agnes and “S” and how it all tied in with Evie. I loved the setting (boarding school!) and the isolation of this old manor on the moor. I tore through this book – devoured it – to find out what would happen next. It was thoroughly engaging, even if it didn’t turn out to be quite the book I wanted it to be.

Rating: 3/5 stars

[rating stars=”three-stars”]

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Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Book: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt Books
Release date: October 1, 2008
Source: Bought
Series: Graceling Realm #1
  
Summary from Goodreads: In a world where people born with an extreme skill called a Grace are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Lady killers!

I have this thing with assassin stories. I love them. One of the things that drew me to this book was the promise of a girl with a special power to kill. Sign me up any day for a female main character who can kick some major ass.

The opening scene pulled me in immediately. Katsa is sneaking around in the dark, roundhouse-kicking guards to the ground, and rescuing a prisoner. Soon after, we meet Po, a mysterious boy with a fighting Grace who lets Katsa beat up on him for fun. I instantly loved both of these characters and the world they inhabited.

In Katsa’s country, her Grace is looked down upon. She is frequently shunned or feared, and her uncle, the king, manipulates and uses her to his advantage by sending her off to settle his quarrels. She’s his muscle – a thug he dispatches to get his way.

Po is a Lienid prince from across the sea, whose country doesn’t see Graces as bad things. He challenges and encourages Katsa to get over her shame and embrace her Grace. As they grow closer, Katsa learns the truth about Po’s Grace, and they both have to learn to trust each other in order to successfully reach their goals. I loved the growth of their relationship over the course of the book.

Mawwiage.

I know there have been complaints about Katsa as uber-feminist. I didn’t mind her commitment to stay unmarried, because it felt truthful to her character and experiences. I did feel that this point was beaten over our heads a few too many times, however. I also felt sorry for Katsa, because she had this concept of marriage as a loss of identity that was never reinforced by the world. I wasn’t sure if this was Katsa’s perspective that evolved from her own fears, or whether it was truly the way marriage worked in her society. Did child-free couples exist? Were there women who still had freedom and independence within their marriages, if not in Middlun then in Lienid? It was hard to know whether to root for Katsa and Po to end up together.

Questing!

The plot of the book revolves around the prisoner Katsa rescues in the opening scene – he is Po’s grandfather, and they are trying to figure out why he has been kidnapped. Katsa and Po set off to travel through the country and glean what information they can, and eventually they turn to the southeastern country of Monsea and the strange behavior happening there.

Oh. Questing.

Unfortunately, it was at this point the book lost some of its luster for me. Questing is usually one of my favorite story elements, but here it turned more Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings. First, Katsa and Po tromp through the woods finding information. Then they tromp through woods and mountains getting to Monsea. Then they tromp through more mountains trying to get out of Monsea. Then Katsa crosses the mountains, and a sea, trying to escape and plan her next move. But she doesn’t get to plan her next move, because the plot just comes to her. It felt like a lot of unnecessary walking/riding/sailing that didn’t accomplish much.

This was an enjoyable read, and I definitely recommend it to fantasy readers. I’m anxious to spend more time in the Seven Realms and explore other characters and Graces, so I’ll continue with the trilogy. 

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: Reached by Ally Condie

Book: Reached
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Books
Release date: November 13, 2012
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: Matched #3
 
Summary from Goodreads: All will be sorted

Cassia’s journey began with an error, a momentary glitch in the otherwise perfect facade of the Society. After crossing canyons to break free, she waits, silk and paper smuggled against her skin, ready for the final chapter.

The wait is over.

One young woman has raged against those who threaten to keep away what matters most – family, love, choice. Her quite revolution is about to explode into full-scale rebellion.

With exquisite prose, the emotionally gripping conclusion to the international bestselling Match trilogy returns Cassia, Ky, and Xander to the Society to save the one thing they have been denied for so long, the power to choose.

I absolutely adored the first book in this trilogy, Matched, and though I didn’t love the second book, Crossed, I figured it was all leading up to an exquisite showdown. When my preorder arrived on my Kindle, I was stoked. Over the Christmas break, I dove in.

What a disappointment.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this series just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. The plot of the first book that I loved so much – the government-controlled marriages/matches and what happens when that system breaks down – didn’t really carry through the trilogy. Instead of being a part of her existing community and fighting it from within, Cassia is exiled to the outer reaches of their territory. Though there is a return to the larger cities in this book, for the most part it is functioning entirely differently. She is no longer fighting the government, but a rebellion that may not be what it seems.

Though this sounds intriguing, I found it tough to get through. This just wasn’t the story I wanted to hear for these characters, and as a result I was disengaged from the political struggles going on. I’m still not sure I even understand who The Rising or the Pilot were or what they really wanted. The book focused too heavily on Xander’s work on the virus/vaccine, and Cassia and Ky seemed mostly like afterthoughts. 

The action was fairly exciting in this one, and a lot more happens than in book two. There is a mystery at play and a race against the clock to find a cure for the plague unleashed upon the citizens. If I had been able to better draw the line between the events of the first book and these last two, I probably would have enjoyed them. Sadly, I failed to see how all three of these books went together – they felt like they were telling two different stories to me.

I fell in love with Cassia and Ky and their love in the first book, but the last two books in this trilogy really took that away from me. I’ll happily re-read Matched, but these last two just didn’t work for me.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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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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Discussion: MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

Book: MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend
Author: Rachel Bertsche
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: December 20, 2011
Source: Borrowed from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, she realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs – in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: Meeting people everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites, she’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

I have a confession to make. I love nonfiction books of the “try some wacky task for a year” variety. L-O-V-E love them. I think it’s fascinating to watch people attempt sometimes challenging, oftentimes ridiculous activities for an entire year. You get to see the ups and downs, as well as the overall growth, that come from learning how you adapt to a given goal that plays out for such a lengthy period of time. This is no flash in the pan – this is a commitment.

MWF Seeking BFF takes this concept and applies it to adult friend-making. Rachel Bertsche moves to Chicago and is not satisfied with casual work acquaintances or people you only see for planned events. She wants a local friend that she can call spontaneously and invite to brunch. As a married woman in her late twenties, she finds that this is harder than one would expect.

The thing that I connected with the most is the fact that adults looking for friends is a pretty taboo topic in our society. In general, we are comfortable, if not encouraging, of people on the hunt for a significant other. But a friend? That’s something only losers need to do. One of the best things about this book is how Bertsche turns that idea on it’s head. 

I am not a lonely or pathetic loser…

Needing a friend isn’t anything we should be embarrassed about, and we certainly shouldn’t judge anyone who is looking. As Bertsche ultimately discovers, we all need many types of friends to fill different roles in our army of support. We shouldn’t require our spouses or significant others to fill our best friend role, any more than we should expect our best friend to be the sole person we rely on for all other emotional support. Plus we are more mobile than ever, and with all of that moving around is it any wonder that people need to form new connections?

As someone who moved to a brand new city after college, I really connected with her struggles. When I first got to Chicago I did everything I could to meet new people. I hung out with coworkers, I went to MeetUps, I scoured Craigslist for all of the “Seeking SATC pals! Be my Miranda!” posts. I joined social sports clubs and went to bars. But do I have anything to show for it all these years later? No. My lasting area friendships all came from work.

Making friends is hard, and it’s harder because of the stigma that comes with seeking friendship. I’m certainly guilty of it, and it has definitely kept me from putting myself out there in the ways that Bertsche does. Even reading this book in public made me slightly uncomfortable. What if the people on the El see the title and assume I’m a weirdo with no friends? 

It really made me stop and think about why that concept is so bad. I think it’s safe to assume that if a woman wanted to hang out with me, she’s just looking to meet new people. And I would be happy she asked. This, too, is what Bertsche finds as she moves from coordinated events to simply asking potential friends to have drinks or attend a yoga class together. They’re excited to reciprocate! Imagine that!

Don’t be so timid…

The book really inspired me to be more proactive about coordinating schedules with people I’d like to elevate in the friend department. I don’t know that my introverted nature will ever allow me to master the art of the female friend pick-up, but I can definitely be better about scheduling get-togethers and following through on plans. Recently, a friend (that I had basically written off because I’d been so terrible about making our friend dates) texted me after over a year of radio silence. We made brunch plans and met up last week. And it was great. Why did I let my insecurities keep me from reaching out through all this time? She clearly was still thinking about me, and I was thinking about her, but I psyched and guilted myself out of contacting her and almost lost her entirely. 

That’s not okay. I will be better. Thank you, Rachel Bertsche, for inspiring me to be confident in approaching acquaintances and for taking some of the heat off of women who just want some new friends. I mean, we’re not all weirdos.

Have you had a hard time making friends as an adult? Do you think it’s strange to admit that you want more friends? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Discussion: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Book: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself- and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I’m trying something different today. Instead of straight-up reviewing this book, I want to open it up for discussion. I’d like to try focusing less on dissecting a book and more on analyzing my experience of reading it. Please join me in the comments!

**As this is a discussion, please be aware that there will be some slight spoilers!**

Let me start by saying this – I liked this book. But I recognize that this book has a capital-H-History, particularly on Goodreads. I was not expecting to like this one because of some of the reviews I read by people who I find to be trustworthy.

Yet. It’s YA! It’s dystopian! It has a Bachelor-like competition! What could there possibly be not to like? So when I saw it available through the library, I figured I’d go for it.

And I liked it. Really liked it, in fact. The writing was breezy, the characters were interesting, the competition was heating up…so I started to wonder what the big deal was with this book. I texted my sister, who also loves a good YA dystopian, and asked if she could read it if I bought her a copy. She could, and she did. Hooray for discussion! We texted about it for a while (much like we had with Divergent), and I started to realize that though I recognized many of the book’s flaws, I still liked the book. Thus the need for a discussion post.

The love story

Putting aside the bad names, I found America and Maxon to have good chemistry. A good love interest will carry me pretty far through a series (Twilight, I’m looking at you, kid), and I found the scenes with America and Prince Maxon to be delightful and full of the intense awkwardness of teen love. It’s that kind of realism that I connect with as an avid YA reader, and it took me back to thoughts of my own first kisses and first dates.

My sister didn’t find the America and Maxon love story believable, however. It irritated her that America could act like the horrible wench that undoubtedly makes it on The Bachelor every year, and yet we (and Maxon) were expected to not want her to get kicked off. She treats Maxon like dirt, is still in love with Aspen back home, and is staying in the competition for the food and money. She’s in it for all the wrong reasons, but Maxon agrees to keep her around. In my sister’s view, this makes America unlikeable and Maxon a fool.

I, however, appreciated that America was up front with Maxon. On The Bachelor, we only ever despise the girls keeping secrets about former boyfriends or illicit affairs with producers or who are in it for the wrong reasons but keep playing the game. America’s not hiding anything – she admits she has feelings for an old boyfriend at home, and that she needs to stay to help out her starving family. That Maxon lets her stay, while also hoping to win her heart anyway, is a nice gesture. America is more real with him than any of the other contestants, so why not let her stay? In my view, Maxon was simply grasping at anything that had substance over superficiality. Does that really make him a fool?

Root, root, root for the…

My two major complaints with the book were that A) the world history didn’t make a lot of sense and was thrown in without much context; and B) that there was no conclusion to the story. I would have liked more information on the growing conflict outside the palace walls (and sometimes within the palace walls). What do the rebels want? Who do we, as readers, want to win? I needed a cause to root for, other than just hoping that the poorer castes get a better life. I also really, really wanted to see the competition through to the end. I felt the ending of this book did not have a natural or satisfying conclusion.

So yes, there were some problems, but I still found America and her situation to be a cool way to explore young love. It’s fun to watch these strangers try to navigate their forced camaraderie, and discover that they both care about their country and doing what’s right. I want to see what happens next, and how America deals with her feelings for Aspen and her growing feelings for Maxon.

Have you read this book? Did you find the love story believable? If you haven’t read it, do you plan to? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Book: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: May 3, 2011
Source: Bought from local bookstore
Series: Divergent #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtueâ??Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really isâ??she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really areâ??and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she lovesâ?¦ or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent seriesâ??dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

First impressions: I picked this one up, read through the first few chapters, and then put it down for months. I did not find the beginning of this book that compelling.

Lasting impressions: However, once I got into the story, I had a hard time putting it down. The plot moves swiftly and it’s easy to get swept away in this one.

Conflicting impressions: I spent too much time wondering A) why more people weren’t Divergent; and B) what was so bad about being Divergent. 

Overall impressions:  A well developed world is the key to success where dystopians are concerned. As a reader, I need to know  the rules of the current society and why they were created. Why are there factions? How do they function to protect the people? How important is their existence to the ruling powers? What is at stake if they fail? How does Divergence factor into this all? Roth does a fair job at trying to answer these, and some were more satisfactory answers than others. 

Beatrice (Tris) is a pleasant enough protagonist. I appreciated that she wasn’t the best at everything. In several scenes we actually see her overpowered and humiliated by her fellow faction-mates. She’s not helpless, though, and she certainly proves her value as time goes on. Four, the love interest, is somewhat bland, but I found the supporting characters to be interesting and vivid. While Tris is completing her faction’s initiation, there is a Hunger Games-like feel to things, where this group of young people is going through hell together, but also competing against one another. It makes for a great dynamic.

As much as I liked the initiation process, it took up too much of the plot for me, to the detriment of the development of the larger conflict. Only after initiation is nearly complete do we start to understand the bigger issues at play in this world, and the climax of the book seemed cramped into too few pages as a result. I wish we had gotten more insights into the inter-faction rumblings beyond some seemingly benign animosity between Erudite and Abnegation. Perhaps it’s my own interest in politics that had me craving more of this, but I think it would have been helpful to know.

I can see why this series has inspired so many rabid fans. It’s heavy on action with an exciting setting, and there’s a nice romance that I can appreciate (even if it wasn’t my favorite). For me, however, this one failed to live up to the hype.

Rating: 3/5 stars 


Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

 

Review: Wings of the Wicked by Courtney Allison Moulton

Book: Wings of the Wicked
Author: Courtney Allison Moulton
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: January 31, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Angelfire #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Life as the Preliator is harder than Ellie ever imagined.
Balancing real life with the responsibility of being Heavenâ??s warrior is a challenge for Ellie. Her relationship with Will has become all business, though they both long for each other. And now that the secret of who she really is has come out, so have Hellâ??s strongest reapers. Grown bold and more vicious, the demonic threaten her in the light of day and stalk her in the night.

Sheâ??s been warned.
Cadan, a demonic reaper, comes to her with information about Bastianâ??s new plan to destroy Ellieâ??s soul and use an ancient relic to wake all the souls of the damned and unleash them upon humanity. As she fights to stay ahead of Bastianâ??s schemes , the revelations about those closest to her awaken a dark power within Ellie that threatens to destroy everythingâ??including herself.

Sheâ??ll be betrayed.
Treachery comes even from those whom she loves, and Ellie is broken by the deaths of those who stood beside her in this Heavenly war. Still, she must find a way to save the world, herself, and her love for Will. If she fails, there will be hell to pay.

First impressions: Courtney Allison Moulton writes one heck of a battle scene, and the opening of this book starts out with a doozy. Hooray for kickass girls with swords!

Lasting impressions: Though the first half of this book was gripping and exciting, it lost steam toward the end.

Conflicting impressions: Ellie may have a typical selfish teenage outlook, but that didn’t keep me from thinking she sounded like a spoiled brat most of the time.

Overall impressions: The majority of this book I actually liked better than the first book, Angelfire. Ellie has settled into her role as Preliator a bit more, she and Will have built up a nice rapport, and we get lots of interesting plot points developing. When she’s not being super whiny, Ellie is kicking major ass. I love that part of her.

I also love the expanded role that Cadan gets in this book. Though not quite a full on third wheel in the love triangle game, he does give Ellie a counterpoint to Will’s service and devotion to her. I like the conflict he represents in that he is a demon capable of good. He sacrifices quite a lot for Ellie and I’ll be curious to see how things continue to develop between these two.

The last half to third of this book really dragged for me. Ellie and Will continue their back-and-forth over why they can’t be together despite their love for each other. Ellie still wants a normal high school life despite her destiny as Preliator. So the book sort of meanders through these conflicts for far too long without giving equal attention to the larger conflict with Bastian. I struggled to finish this one.

Fans of the first book will surely love this second installment, and though I liked parts of this one better than the first book, I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the series. 

Rating: 3/5 stars 

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Review: Vanish by Sophie Jordan

Book: Vanish
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: September 6, 2011
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Firelight #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

To save the life of the boy she loves, Jacinda did the unthinkable: She betrayed the most closely-guarded secret of her kind. Now she must return to the protection of her pride knowing she might never see Will againâ??and worse, that because his mind has been shaded, Willâ??s memories of that fateful night and why she had to flee are gone.

Back home, Jacinda is greeted with hostility and must work to prove her loyalty for both her sake and her familyâ??s. Among the few who will even talk to her are Cassian, the prideâ??s heir apparent who has always wanted her, and her sister, Tamra, who has been forever changed by a twist of fate. Jacinda knows that she should forget Will and move onâ??that if he managed to remember and keep his promise to find her, it would only endanger them both. Yet she clings to the hope that someday they will be together again. When the chance arrives to follow her heart, will she risk everything for love?

First impressions: The beginning of this book picks up almost immediately after the events of book one, Firelight. There were just enough details to remind me of what transpired without bogging us down in a full recap. Nicely done.

Lasting impressions: The threat of the draki hunters pervades this entire book, which I found raised the stakes of this plot when compared to Firelight. I love danger!

Conflicting impressions: While I love the draki shifter world, I don’t find Jacinda and her love interests to be totally swoon-worthy. These books are fun reads, but don’t quite get me to gush.

Overall impressions: Secrets are a big part of life when you’re a shifter. In Jacinda’s case, she can shift into a draki – a dragon-like creature able to fly. Jacinda has the added ability of being a fire-breather, which makes her something of a rarity in her community. In the first book, she was forced to deny her draki self and live as a normal high schooler (the horror!), where she met and fell in love with Will.

In order to save his life, Jacinda betrays the draki and is forced to flee back to her home among them, where she is shamed and reviled. While the first book saw Jacinda struggling to keep her draki nature a secret, in this book she’s trying to keep her feelings for Will a secret. Meanwhile, Cassian is a powerful young draki who wants to win her heart. 

Jacinda’s conflicted feelings about Will and Cassian and her destiny are vivid and entertaining. She also experiences a huge turn of events with her sister, who once used to be ignored and cast out by the draki but is now one of the revered among them. Jacinda goes from hot commodity to yesterday’s garbage, and I found her emotions believable and sympathetic. Yet I would have liked to have seen even more conflict from her sister – their bond seemed less heartfelt and more like a plot device at times. 

The action is exciting, and there are several awful villains to root against. I especially loved getting to see Jacinda fly again, and hope we get another entry in this unique series.

Rating: 3/5 stars 

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Review: Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz

Book: Spellcaster
Author: Cara Lynn Shultz
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: March 27, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: Spellbound #2

Summary from Goodreads: Finding your eternal soulmate – easy.

Stopping a true-love-hungry evil – not so much…

After breaking a centuries-old romantic curse, Emma Connor is (almost) glad to get back to normal problems. Although…it’s not easy dealing with the jealous cliques and gossip that rule her exclusive Upper East Side prep, even for a sixteen-year-old newbie witch. Having the most-wanted boy in school as her eternal soul mate sure helps ease the pain-especially since wealthy, rocker-hot Brendan Salinger is very good at staying irresistibly close….

But something dark and hungry is using Emma and Brendan’s deepest fears to reveal damaging secrets and destroy their trust in each other. And Emma’s crash course in über-spells may not be enough to keep them safe…or to stop an inhuman force bent on making their unsuspected power its own.

First impressions: I was really happy to get back into the lives of Emma and Brendan and Angelique. Starting this book felt like slipping under a favorite blanket – warm and comforting. I appreciated the quick recap that Shultz was able to work in so I remembered where everything left off last time, and it didn’t feel out of place or like an interruption of the narrative.

Lasting impressions: With a lightning-quick pace and lots of action, I tore through this one. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. A pure joy to read.

Conflicting impressions: There were two big things that kept me from loving this one as much as last year’s Spellbound. The first was the too-obvious villain, and the second was the narrative jump at the climax.

Overall impressions: Cara Lynn Shultz has a definite knack for engaging the reader. She doesn’t just make you want to read the book. She makes you want to devour it. The last few months have not been good reading months for me, and very few books made me excited to pick them up again – until this one. As soon as I started it, I settled easily into the story and the pages flew by.

Emma and Brendan are such a likable pair, it’s hard to not enjoy reading about their lives. Private school wealth with down-to-earth personalities, these two are further kept in check by Angelique’s snarky barbs and the good humor of bright and bubbly side characters. Everyone in this series feels like a real person, and someone I would want to spend time with.

The witchcraft gets an expanded role in this book, with Emma starting to explore her own powers with help from Angelique. She’s under attack again, and the suspense of this plot keeps things chugging along. Lots of obstacles and fights, as well as the usual teen angst about relationships and intimacy. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies – The Craft.

Perhaps because of this familiarity with that movie’s plot of witch-gets-power-and-turns-evil, I found the antagonist in this book very easy to spot. Since it takes Emma and crew a while to wise up to this, I got a bit impatient in the middle sections of the book. When it started to snowball toward the ultimate showdown at the climax, I was excited to see it all play out nevertheless.

But.

***POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! (Highlight text to read)***

In a frustrating move, Shultz interrupts a pivotal decision-making moment for Emma during this climactic battle to transfer the narrative reins to Angelique. We wind up backtracking and following Angelique’s experience of the events, leading up to her reuniting with Emma after the battle. Only then do we find out what happened and what Emma decided – we get it told to us instead of experiencing it.

***END SPOILERS***

The narrative switch happens one other time at an earlier point in the novel, so it wasn’t completely out of left field, but the placement of this one really bothered me. If the story needed the benefit of multiple viewpoints, perhaps a move to a close 3rd person narrative would have been better. I felt like the voices between Emma and Angelique weren’t distinct enough, and would have enjoyed the story just as much if we’d been freed from Emma’s limited perspective. Since Shultz chose to stick with 1st person, however, I really wanted to see the ending play out in full. I felt cheated by the decision to take us out of Emma’s head at such a crucial point in her story.

If you liked Spellbound, this is a great follow-up story. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope this isn’t the last I see of Emma and Brendan.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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