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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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

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Review: Tempest by Julie Cross

Book: Tempest
Author: Julie Cross
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: January 3, 2012
Source: Borrowed ARC from Gone with the Words
Series: Tempest #1
Summary from Goodreads: The year is 2009. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy. . . heâ??s in college, has a girlfriend. . . and he can travel back through time. But itâ??s not like the movies â?? nothing changes in the present after his jumps, thereâ??s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors â?? itâ??s just harmless fun.

That is. . . until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now heâ??s stuck in 2007 and canâ??t get back to the future.

Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.

But itâ??s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these â??Enemies of Timeâ? will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler. Recruit. . . or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far heâ??s willing to go to save Holly. . . and possibly the entire world.

First impressions: I completely fell in love with Jackson. His voice is strong, sweet, and funny. You can’t help but root for him as he jumps to save his girlfriend and reconnect with his dead sister.

Lasting impressions: This is a book about second chances, and Jackson’s journey is a heart-wrenching one full of mystery, loss, and love. It definitely brought a few tears to my eye.

Conflicting impressions: I wasn’t totally feeling the connection with Holly. Because we see her in two different times, and most of that time is in the past, I wasn’t able to piece together exactly who she was or why she was so perfect for Jackson. Since their love story is what drives the plot, at times I felt a bit distant while reading.

Overall impressions: I do love a good time travel story, and this one has the interesting perspective of being about small jumps. No centuries here – we’re talking minutes, hours, and in a sudden twist, a few years. Jackson has never been able to travel far, so when he witnesses Holly’s shooting and winds up stuck two years in the past, he’s stumped.

The book follows Jackson as he tries to explain his presence in New York when his two-years-ago self is supposed to be studying abroad in Spain. He sets out to find 2007 Holly (“007 Holly” as he calls her) and through her meet Adam, who becomes their mutual friend in the future and has been helping Jackson study his time traveling. He needs Adam’s help if he’s going to jump back to 2009 and save Holly, and he uses the new time with 007 Holly to get to know more about her. In the midst of his travels, he also gets the chance to see his twin sister, who died from leukemia, as her younger self. Those scenes are beautiful and touching, sorrowful and sweet, and were some of my favorite moments in the book.

The story gets a little convoluted with the dual Adams, Hollys, and bad guys. Jackson’s dad, Kevin, has a role to play in this mystery, and he comes with a cadre of other gun-wielding people that Jackson isn’t so quick to trust. Around this point is where I started to see this book sort of similar to The Adjustment Bureau, with lots of guys in fancy hats running around and trying to stop Jackson and Holly from being together.

The book is very cinematic, so it’s no surprise to learn that it’s been snapped up by Summit Entertainment. As the trilogy continues, I hope we find out a lot more about Kevin’s involvement in his son’s time travel, and what consequences result from him traveling into the past. This is an exciting and fresh new story in young adult fiction and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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In My Mailbox (14)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme devoted to sharing the new books we’ve received, borrowed, or bought. For more information, visit IMM’s fantastic host, The Story Siren. You can visit other blogs that are participating in this weekâ??s IMM here.

I got an awesome haul of books through the library, gifted, or on sale this week. This is the frugal edition of IMM!

Bought:
The Iron Duke (Iron Seas #1) by Meljean Brook
Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink
Deception (Haunting Emma #1) by Lee Nichols
First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen S. Wiesner

Received for ARC tour:
When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen from Around the World Tours

I make a habit of checking Amazon’s Bargain Books every few weeks to see if anything good pops up, and this week I jumped on sale prices for The Iron Duke, Prophecy of the Sisters, and Deception. I’ve wanted to read all of them for a long time, so I’m glad I got them on the cheap. 🙂 Dearly, Departed was a pre-order that arrived on Tuesday (happy release day to Lia Habel!), and the two writing books are for outline help pre-NaNoWriMo. I had a coupon for Writer’s Digest Shop, so hooray for discounts!

Borrowed from the library:
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa M. Klein
The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon and Hoang Nguyen
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Graphic novels borrowed from the library:
Criminal Vol. 1: Coward, Vol. 2: Lawless, and Vol. 3: The Dead and the Dying by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Fables: Legends in Exile (Vol. 1) and Fables: Animal Farm (Vol. 2) by Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Mark Buckingham
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned and Vol. 2: Cycles by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, José Marzán Jr.

I’m trying to make better use of my library, considering it is so close to my house. They have a well-stocked young adult section for a small branch, and this week I stumbled upon an excellent stash of graphic novels that included some titles I’ve been DYING to read but wasn’t sure I wanted to buy. I’ve been getting a bit crazycakes with buying comics, so I’m happy that I can get a lot of great titles from my local library instead of spending money on them.

Fall Book Exchange:
Grave Witch (Alex Craft #1) by Kalayna Price
Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville #1) by Carrie Vaughn


I participated in the Fall Book Exchange hosted by Ruby’s Reads and I received these two ebooks gifted through Amazon from my Santa: Mickey at imabookshark! I told her to surprise me from my wish list and I was so happy to receive these titles as I’ve been meaning to read them both for a reeeeeeally long time. And just in time for next week’s Bout of Books Read-a-thon!

A huge, mega, universe-sized thank you to Mickey for these books and to Ruby for hosting the exchange!

That’s it for now. What books did you get recently?

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Book: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: September 29, 2011
Source: ARC received for review from Around the World Tours
Series: Companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss
 
Summary: (from Goodreads) Budding designer Lola Nolan doesnâ??t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – more sparkly, more fun, more wild – the better. But even though Lolaâ??s style is outrageous, sheâ??s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket – a gifted inventor – steps out from his twin sisterâ??s shadow and back into Lolaâ??s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

First impressions: Lola is such a refreshingly unique character! Stephanie Perkins nails the teen voice yet again.

Lasting impressions: Though I didn’t connect with this story as much as Perkins’ first novel, Anna and the French Kiss, there were elements I liked much better in this tale.

Conflicting impressions: At times Lola was written so convincingly teenaged that she became unbearably frustrating.

Overall impressions: Lola is a girl with a love of costume. She chooses to express herself in vastly different ways every day through a variety of interesting fashion pieces and wigs. It’s a chance to be someone new. I loved this quirk of hers – I suppose you could call it a personal philosophy – and it gave us an instant sense of who she is.

Lola has typical teenager problems. She’s dating a boy her parents think is too old for her, leading to insufferable weekly brunches where they grill him about his life goals. He’s in a band, has tattoos, and they are in love. Or at least they think they are.

Lola is the daughter of two gay parents, a nice touch that introduces a new dynamic in YA literature as far as relating to parents goes. Perkins does a lovely job of reinforcing the fact that gay parents are just like anyone else’s parents – at times too restrictive, sometimes embarrassing, and always loving. The wrench in this relationship is that Lola’s birth mother appears from time to time, always one step away from being homeless and never owning up to her poor choices due to drinking and drug abuse. While I loved the role of Lola’s parents, I never felt the relationship with her mother was fully developed and I didn’t get how it served the story.

Of course you’re probably wondering who is this mysterious boy next door, right? Cricket, and his twin sister, Calliope, are Lola’s next door neighbors who come and go due to Calliope’s competitive figure skating. There is some history between Lola and the Bell twins, and Perkins slowly unfurls that complicated history as Lola tries to deal with it.

For those of you who have read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola’s love triangle between her boyfriend and the boy next door felt like Etienne St. Clair trying to decide between his girlfriend and Anna. In fact, at one point Lola even has a conversation with Etienne about this very topic. As much as I wish we didn’t have a re-hash of the “I already have a boyfriend and I love him but I also kind of love you tooooo!” arc, I recognize that this is fairly typical for teenagers. When you’re young, relationships seem both eternal and frivolous at once. You think you’ve found The One, and it’s hard to let go, even if you recognize that you like this other person, too.

I was disappointed at how much Lola strung along poor Cricket, though. He was a saint for hanging in as long as he did, sort of like Anna did with Etienne, and I never fully understood what was holding Lola back. There never seemed to be too much of a conflict in ditching the boyfriend who seemed to be moving on without her, yet she still clung to him. Sure, he was her first love, but Cricket seemed like the obvious choice and that she enjoyed spending time with him far more than she did with band boy.

This is a cute romance with fresh characters, a hip San Francisco setting, and lots of teen indecision. It’s a great read if you’re looking for some light refreshment in a market flooded with dark, brooding paranormal fare.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Book: Wisdom’s Kiss
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Release date: September 12, 2011
Source: ARC for review from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) Princess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, longs for a life of adventure far beyond the staid old kingdom of Montagne.

Tips, a soldier, longs to keep his true life secret from his family.

Fortitude, an orphaned maid, longs only for Tips.

These three passionate souls might just attain their dreams while preserving Montagne from certain destruction, if only they can tolerate each other long enough to come up with a plan. Tough to save the world when you can’t even be in the same room together.

Magic, cunning, and one very special cat join forces in this hilarious, extraordinary tale by the author of Dairy Queen and Princess Ben. An incredibly creative tale told with diaries, memoirs, encyclopedia entries, letters, biographies, even a stage play, all woven together into a grand adventure.

First impressions: The short chapters and 8 POVs made it easy to get into this book. I was so anxious to see what style was coming next that I breezed through huge chunks of this novel in each sitting.

Lasting impressions: Though the book seemed gimmicky at times, it was a cute story with a fun ending.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the narrative styles made it more difficult to follow the action, and I had to read certain sections a couple of times to know what was happening.

Overall impressions: I’m not usually a middle grade reader, but something about this one drew my eye. I liked the idea of a special cat, and the POV structure appealed to me as well. I wanted to see what Catherine Gilbert Murdock (sister to Eat, Pray, Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert, by the way) could do with all of the styles – memoir, play, letters, etc.

Unfortunately, the varying styles didn’t always serve the story in the most effective way. The alternating perspectives tended to be a bit jarring with their frequency, even if they made for quick reading. The letters did give us nice glimpses into well developed characters, but the play script, in particular, didn’t tell us much we couldn’t have gotten from other points of view.

The story itself was interesting, with a cute reveal at the end that adds a little something for fairy tale lovers. I enjoyed the characters, but some added backstory would have helped me understand the political games beyond the superficial. I think this is a great book for younger readers looking for a unique narrative and an adventurous plot.

Rating: 3/5 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: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Book: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: September 27, 2011
Source: ARC for review from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.

She’s wrong.

First impressions: I tried really hard to avoid reading much on this book before I read it. It was majorly hyped at BEA this year, and everyone has been buzzing about it since. I wanted to keep this one fresh, so I had few expectations. That made the beginning a lot of fun to experience, with no idea where we were going. I loved the letter up front that tells us “Mara Dyer” is a made up name to protect her identity. Mystery for the win!

Lasting impressions: Without question, the best thing in this book is the romantic interest, Noah Shaw. He is my new book boyfriend.

Conflicting impressions: Our heroine has a big change in direction in the last part of the novel, and her motivations went against the character we’d followed for so long. It made her actions disappointing and let me down as a reader.

Overall impressions: There are two big reasons you should read this book: Noah Shaw and masterful intrigue.

The entire book is spent playing catch-up, as we follow Mara Dyer trying to remember the blacked out portions of her memory where she may or may not have killed her friends. As she slowly pieces the story back together, we learn more about her and that she has strange powers that can have devastating consequences.

When she arrives in a new school for a fresh start after her family moves to Florida, she meets the notorious Noah Shaw. He’s a playboy who has worked his way through most of the female student body, but he’s not just a pretty face. He’s insanely intelligent, incredibly caring, and feisty to boot. The banter between Noah and Mara is TO DIE FOR. Noah’s witty comebacks, coupled with smoldering looks, had me fanning myself as I sped through the pages.

I was not crazy about the plot of this book once all of the information came to light toward the end. There were a few moments that didn’t make much sense to me. Noah arrives in the middle of the night and leads Mara on a crazy trek through alligator-filled water, yet she never questions him on what they’re doing. Really? Later, she makes a life-changing decision that seemed to go against everything we thought we knew about her and her feelings for her family and Noah. I didn’t understand the motivations behind that choice, beyond the obvious need for retribution.

And the ending! If you are not a fan of game-changing twists, do not read the last page. It sets up a strange new chapter that I’m not sure I want to see explored. I made the mistake of skimming the last sentence while doing a page count check, and sort of ruined it for myself, so I repeat: DO NOT read the last page of this book!

I liked the supernatural elements in this one, although I do wish we’d gotten some more information along the way. Still, the overall story was intriguing and fun to read, and I haven’t been this into a romance since Bella and Edward in Twilight. Noah is majorly swoon-worthy, and his chemistry with Mara is white hot. No matter what the novel’s other shortcomings, it is completely worth a read just to spend some time with Noah Shaw.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: Burnout by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

Book: Burnout
Author: Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Release date: September 13, 2011
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) On the day after Halloween, Nan wakes up in a subway car. She is not dreaming. She doesnâ??t know where sheâ??s been or what sheâ??s done. Sheâ??s missing a whole day from her life. And sheâ??s wearing skeleton makeup and a too-small Halloween costume that she doesn’t remember putting on.

Nan is not supposed to wake up in places like this anymore. Sheâ??s different now, so far from that dangerously drunk girl who hit bottom in the Nanapocalypse. She needs to find out what happened to her, and fast. As she tries to put together the pieces of the last twenty-four hours, she flashes back to memories of her previous life. But she would never go back to her old friends and her old ways. Would she?

The deeper Nan digs, the more disturbing things get. This time, she may have gone one step too far. This time, she may be a walking ghost.

First impressions: Oh, Nan. Poor, poor Nan. Twice in the opening chapters we see her waking up from being blackout drunk – once as a memory, and once to set the plot in motion in real time. Adrienne Maria Vrettos writes these so picture perfectly that I actually winced. Nan’s predicament is unsettling and upsetting, which sets up nicely the tone for the entire book.

Lasting impressions: Although this was an interesting book, I’m not sure it has the punch to make this one everlasting for me.

Conflicting impressions: While some aspects were extremely true to life, other parts had me shaking my head in disbelief.

Overall impressions: In general, Nan’s story is not a happy one. This is no feel-good tale. I think the summary is a pretty big clue, but the opening chapters are certainly going to weed out the ones who want to read this and the ones who should probably close it up quickly and back away. Either you want to experience life through a teen’s blackout drunk phase or you don’t.

I hesitate to use the term “alcoholic” only because Adrienne Maria Vrettos dodges the term herself. Nan is an abuser, but mostly at the whims of her best friend, Seemy. She goes to sort of “rehab lite” and acknowledges that it wasn’t the most hardcore of programs. Nan seemed more like a lost girl caught up in the peer pressure of Seemy’s crazy existence rather than a bona fide alcoholic.

The book is told in alternating chapters of Nan in the present, slowly piecing together the last 24 hours that she can’t remember, and vignettes from the past. We see how she met her friends Toad and Seemy, how she handles waking up in strange places, how she relates to her mother and little brother. Nan is insecure, and drawn to the vivacious Seemy like a moth to a flame. Based on the few interactions we see with her, it’s not hard to follow how Nan could end up where this story begins.

Although it was interesting finding out how Nan woke up on the subway in a tiny Halloween costume, I didn’t connect to the bigger life lessons here. Beyond the obvious – don’t drink so much and don’t be friends with people who suck – there isn’t a lot of meat to this story. Vrettos hints at growth in Nan’s relationship with her mother, and even at growth in her own self-confidence, but at under 200 pages, this quick read didn’t quite nail the heart of these issues.

I felt the friendship with Seemy was well-executed, and I found their exploits to be quite imaginative, if a little over-dramatic. When Nan realizes who or what is responsible for her blackout, the plot veers into a scenario I found a little hard to believe. Was it exciting to read? Yes. Did I think that’s what would have really happened? No effing way. Part of my disappointment with the book is that I felt it would have more impact if it had a more realistic ending. It was like I was watching the made-for-TV version of real events, when the actual story is more compelling than the media hyped version.

Bottom line is that this is a good mystery set around the bitter effects of drinking too much. Nan is a sympathetic character that finds herself in the most awful of circumstances, but ultimately rises to face the challenges of her day head-on.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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