Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson - Book Review

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori—the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right

I was debating whether to give this one 4 or 4.5 stars, but by rule of thumb, if I have to debate between a higher and lower rating, I always go for the lower.  But still, a 4-star rating is a really high rating from me.

I’ll start with the things that kept it from the 4.5 or even 5 star rating; Alison has a neurological condition which causes her to perceive things differently with her senses.  She can see sounds, taste words, feel certain colors, etc.  While this is an actual condition and was essential to the story, some of Anderson’s sensory descriptions were a bit over-the-top for me.  Things along the lines of, I wanted the blue, round, fuzzy taste of macaroni, and other jarringly odd descriptions of her synesthesia (the term for her condition), would occasionally take me out of my usual total immersion in the story and cause a few eye-rolls.  While I understand the need to convey synesthesia through prose to her audience, I feel there were just a few instances where Anderson overdid it.

I can’t get into it too much without spoilers, but there is a very definite romance in this book.  Normally I’m a total sucker for some romantic YA, but in the case of Ultraviolet, I feel it would have been better without the romantic aspect of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved both the characters, but I think their relationship would have been better had it stayed friendly, without crossing over to the butterflies-in-my-stomach, daydreaming-about-his-lips region.  Ultraviolet is a very original work, so unlike the mega-popular books dominating the YA book world, and I can’t help but feel that the romance cheapened its refreshing originality somewhat.  Though I’m probably very much in the minority on this.

Finally, the twist this novel takes in the last quarter.  I’m not sure if I liked it or not, though if not, it has more to do with my personal preferences than any flaws of the book.  It was like the twist of all twists, and changed the already odd tone of the book to downright weird very quickly.  It answered my questions perfectly, but it was a direction I so did not see Ultraviolet going in.  I can’t get into any more detail without getting spoilery, but I’ll give some props to Anderson for writing a twist I absolutely did not see coming; after years of avid book-worm-itis, I’m pretty good at spotting “big reveals” long before they’re revealed.

Now to the things I loved about Ultraviolet; Have you ever seen the movie Manic?  It’s among my favorites, and it takes place almost entirely in a mental facility for troubled teenagers.  What I loved about it was its brutal honesty without glorifying these kinds of facilities or making them too gruesome.  Ultraviolet also had that very admirable quality, which I have seen butchered so much more often than I’ve seen it given justice.  Immediately, I felt like I was there with Alison; unwaveringly sure of my sanity at first, then slowly given believable nuggets of doubt.  I met the other patients with her, and learned to see past their conditions to the vulnerable, mostly normal kids underneath.  I shared her distrust of some of the staff, whether they deserved it or not, and her trust in others.  I found myself living inside of the pages I was reading, which is the highest compliment I can give a novel.

Anderson’s writing – minus the few instances I mentioned earlier – is superb.  It’s emotional, descriptive and heart-breaking at times.  Her story is extremely original, and her characters are very well developed and three-dimensional.  She managed to take the story to an entirely different place than I could have seen coming, and do it with believability and a seamlessness that is nothing short of remarkable for just how quickly the tone changes, or by just how much.  Anderson is the type of writer I envy whenever I sit in front of my keyboard, another of the highest compliments I can give.

Overall, though there were a few minor qualms I had with this book, Ultraviolet is a book in the world of YA that should not be missed.

Ultraviolet - 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Through These Wicked Nights by Pixie Lynn Whitfield - Book Review

The world isn’t the same anymore. Not since humans discovered vampires are real. Zarah and her new team of Guardians barely escaped and are in hiding. What once had been her job of protecting them, she is now stuck cowering away as a new threat emerges from the humans: Hunters. War is approaching. To add to her list of growing problems, a group of Fallen have been living in The Compound. Seth is one she can't seem to resist. He teaches her things of the side of her she's never known about until recently. Draven has grown cold and distant again since the battle with Nathanial, and she is left feeling conflicted. These are the least of her worries though. Something else is going on. A video is discovered with shocking revelations, and Zarah has a feeling things are about to go haywire.

Everything is crashing down around her. If she doesn't do something soon, they all will suffer the consequences. Even if it means destroying her beliefs and extinguishing what little humanity she has left…

Don't miss this second installment of The Guardians of the Night trilogy!
First off, let me thank the lovely Pixie Lynn Whitfield for giving me an advanced copy.  It’s rare (as in, just about never) when the author of the book I’m reviewing is a close and cherished friend of mine.  I’ve known Whitfield for a few years now, and know her to be a genuinely passionate person when it comes to her writing.  That said, this review won’t be full of false praises or sugar-coating.  As with all my reviews, this will be an honest one based on my reading experience, not my personal relationship with the author.

Through These Wicked Nights picks up where Darkness Comes This Way left off.  It’s the middle book in a trilogy about vampires and angels, and the ex-rogue vampire who learns a shocking, game-changing truth about herself; part vampire and part angel, she is actually a hybrid of the two most powerful species walking the earth.

TTWN is a very short read, maybe even a little too short in all honesty.  It reads like the middle book to a trilogy, not sure what to include and what to save for the finale.  But that’s not to say that the short pages aren’t packed with story progression, because they are.  On the one hand, you’ve got the romance between Zarah and Draven, and Zarah’s budding feelings for the newcomer Seth, a fallen angel who offered Zarah help and an ear to listen when she needed it most.  On the other, you’ve got the war between vampires and humans, one that could spell disaster for both races.  The angel storyline adds a very shocking twist that I honestly did not see coming, one I’m eagerly awaiting the final book to see it play out.  Or more like, bug Whitfield until she tells me herself, because I’m a very impatient reader and these cliffhangers are killing me. L

Now this is, of course, a self-published work, which means it doesn’t benefit from the highly skilled editors working with publishing labels.  For the most part, TTWN does a great job on its own, but there are maybe a few hiccups here and there that could use a little professional polishing.  That’s a given when it comes to self-published books, but I do feel the need to point it out.  Don’t worry, though, it’s not enough to take away from the book’s enjoyment.  Especially when you come to the aforementioned twist; you’ll find yourself tearing through the pages from there until the end.

I really enjoyed Through These Wicked Nights and would be quick to recommend the Guardians Of The Night trilogy to anyone looking for a light, quick paranormal read with a side of hot vampire/hot angel romance.  It probably won’t replace your favorites, but it will be time and money well spent.

Through These Wicked Nights – 3.5 out of 5 stars

Everneath by Brodi Ashton - Book Review

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she's returned--to her old life, her family, her boyfriend--before she's banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance--and the one person she loves more than anything. But there's just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's queen.

Everneath is a captivating story of love, loss, and immortality from debut author Brodi Ashton.

Every so often, I read a book that I love for reasons I can’t really define.  Everneath was one of those books for me.  It has virtually every YA cliché that usually makes my head hurt, but they were executed so well that it was impossible for me to hold to my usual prejudices.  Instead of feeling like overly-used plot devices and hooks to attract readers and boost sales, Brodi Ashton managed to do the impossible and write a novel with such an obvious good-guy/bad-guy love triangle that didn’t feel contrived or forced in the slightest.  I spent the entire novel going back-and-forth between rooting for Jack and Cole, which is incredibly rare for me.  If I can stomach a love triangle at all, there is always a clear-cut favorite.  Though Jack managed to win me over by the end, there was nothing clear-cut about it.

 But I’m doing this novel an injustice by focusing so much on the romantic aspect of it.  Yes, it definitely has very strong love themes, and it fits right into the category of “paranormal romance”, but what makes Everneath really shine like a diamond amid coal is its effortless blending of ancient Greek mythology with a modern, contemporary setting.  A loose retelling of the Persephone/Hades myth, Everneath is an original story in a genre overflowing with reused plotlines.  Nikki is an easily relatable character, far from perfect, who managed to cling to her old life during her century in the Everneath – a century that occured in just six months on the surface – by keeping her ex-boyfriend Jack’s face in her mind, clinging to what they had together even when everything else was sucked out of her to feed Cole’s immortality.  When she arrives back on the surface for the six months allowed her, she finds herself yearning for the normal life she so willingly gave up decades earlier, a life denied her due to the debt she owes to the Everneath.

The way this story is told is through flashbacks and time-jumps; before the Feeding, and after.  The whole story is revealed like a puzzle in this way, questions answered and characters and relationships developed in non-chronological order.  I can understand how this might turn off some readers, but for me, it added depth and mystery to the story, making me love it even more.  There was a very slight learning curve to get used to the style, but it doesn’t take long at all to become immersed in the story.  All too soon, you’re going to be turning those last pages that lead up to one of the most torturous cliff-hangers I’ve read in recent years.  Thankfully, the wait for Everbound is almost over, so I won’t be panting and chewing my fingernails in anticipation for long.

 One last thing; the cover.  I’ll fully admit to being a cover-whore, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been lured in by a beautiful cover only to be eye-raped by the pages inside.  Everneath, thankfully, was not one of these books.  The beautiful cover is done justice by the beauty of the story.  This is the kind of book I love to display on my shelves; gorgeous to look at and oh, so addictive to read.  Highly, highly recommended.
Everneath - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Blogger Woes 2.0

I'd love to be more serious with my blog, to post reviews and maybe even participate in tours and Q&As with authors, but I'm having one ginormous problem right now; my laptop hates me.

I just uploaded my review for Hush, Hush, and don't ask me how, but after taking forever to load, forever to post on, and forever to get the picture up, all the text turned out blue.  I seriously have no idea how that happened, but honestly, I'm just thankful it let me post at all; it wasn't last week.

Needless to say, until I get my computer working at full capacity, I won't be able to put in as much time and effort here at Paper Fantasies as I'd like to.  Thankfully, I recently started a new job so I should be able to afford to fix whatever's wrong with my laptop within the next month or two.  I'll also be getting my very own, very first e-reader around that time, which I desperately need for ARCs and indie novels.  So you won't be seeing much from me for the next few weeks, but hopefully when I'm able to come back, I'll be back with a vengeance. ;)

I'd also like to begin working on a new layout when that time comes, so keep an eye out for that as well!

Thank you, everyone, for your continued patience.


Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick - Book Review


Romance was not part of Nora Grey's plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how hard her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch comes along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Patch draws Nora to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure whom to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is and seems to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.

For she is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost Nora her life.

Ugh, what did I just read?

Okay I know this book is popular, and honestly it’s no wonder why when you look at all the similarities between Hush, Hush and Twilight. Young readers, especially young girl readers, are eating up supernatural romances right now, and Hush, Hush capitalizes enormously on that. But I thought it was one of the worst, most offensive books I’ve read in a long time.

I’m going to get right into my biggest issue with Hush Hush; Patch. He’s supposed to be this swoon-worthy, romantic character, but he’s abusive. I will never, ever forget the scene where he forces his way into Nora’s home even though she told him he wasn’t invited, then later in the same scene forces his kisses on her when she tells him to leave. Right there, any hope this novel had of winning me over died. I CANNOT like a YA book that glorifies this kind of behavior, especially when so many young, inexperienced girls are reading it. There are countless other examples I could give of Path’s abusiveness, but honestly I’d rather not relive the fury I felt while reading them by listing them in this review. Though I do want to add that Nora voiced her feelings of discomfort and even fear about Patch to several people, and she pretty much got told to suck it up and deal with it. Even by a school teacher, which had my blood boiling.

I’ll give Becca Fitzpatrick props on her writing, because the actual prose itself wasn’t bad. But even if you put aside the wildly inappropriate lead romantic interest, the plotline is weak at best, and it takes way too long for any questions to be answered. There also wasn’t a single character I liked, though there was one I actually hated even more than Patch; Nora’s best friend, Vee. All I will say on her is that she is easily the stupidest, most vapid character I have ever read in YA. The only way Patch could have redeemed himself in my eyes even a little would have been by killing Vee.

Hush, Hush is a guilty-pleasure read for a lot of people, and I get that. I would never begrudge someone their reading experience just because it didn’t match mine. But Hush, Hush failed for me in just about every aspect, and this is a novel I would definitely discourage parents from letting their young teenage daughters read.

Hush, Hush - 1 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson - Book Review

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

A rare epic fantasy that doesn't recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It's also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

What drew me to this novel – other than my love for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books – was the premise of a city of gods, fallen into damnation and cursed for a decade. The Shaod that turned mortal men of Arelon and Teod into glowing beacons of light, magic and near-immortality has now become a curse worse than death, stripping men of everything they once had and turning them into little more than walking corpses with minds soon to snap from the pain and torment of their new bodies. From the very first chapter, I was hooked on this Elantris mythology, and the burning curiosity of why. What had happened to turn the Shaod from a magnificent blessing into a horrible curse?

The book starts with Prince Raoden in Elantris, and we learn all the horrible details of the Shaod and the once-beautiful city. It’s one of the most compelling first chapters in epic fantasy I’ve ever read, and I was hooked from the very first page until we left Elantris to focus on the politics, and the only character in the novel I was supposed to like but just couldn’t; Sarene.

Sarene is a Teoish princess bound to Arelon through her political marriage to Raoden, a man she never even gets to meet before being informed of his death by King Iadon, who is determined to hide his son’s true fate from his kingdom. She is immediately made out to be a very clever young woman, one who can play politics like a master chess player plays chess. The only thing is, I never saw her as the perfect princess Sanderson tried to make her out to be. Most of her major decisions ended badly and had to be fixed by other people, and her ingrained skepticism did nothing but cause her to give the other “good guys” extra hurtles to jump. I’d say it’s refreshing to see a main protagonist mess up politically in epic fantasy if everyone else around her weren’t so busy singing her praises and ignoring her mistakes.

Hrathen, the other character whose viewpoint we get to see from, was a very well-developed character. Sent to Arelon to convert its people to his religion in order to save them from certain doom from his religion’s armies, I couldn’t decide if I thought he was a misguided though honorable man, or a religious zealot meant to do nothing but stir up conflict until well into the last quarter of the novel. I didn’t like him quite as much as I liked Raoden, but he was definitely less annoying than the princess.

Though I really did enjoy this novel, I’ll admit that the political themes overshadowed the Elantrian storyline somewhat toward the middle and caused it to drag. With a city as full of magic and mystery as Elantris rotting just beyond Arelon, why would I want to spend a couple hundred pages reading about Sarene’s attempts to overthrow the king or her desire to teach the other women fencing? Thankfully, the story gets back on track before too long and we’re back in the thick of what makes Elantris such an entertaining read.

There were a few other minor bumps-and-jolts along the way, such as Raoden’s immediate optimism in the face of a fate worse than death, but for the most part, Elantris lived up to my high expectations and added another reason to call Brandon Sanderson my favorite epic fantasy writer to emerge in the last decade. I’d be quick to recommend it to fans of the genre, especially since it’s a rare stand-alone in a genre known for its lengthy series that require a pretty large investment from their fans.

Elantris - 4 out of 5 stars