Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Everbound by Brodi Ashton - Book Review

Nikki Beckett could only watch as her boyfriend, Jack, sacrificed himself to save her, taking her place in the Tunnels of the Everneath for eternity — a debt that should’ve been hers. She’s living a borrowed life, and she doesn’t know what to do with the guilt. And every night Jack appears in her dreams, lost and confused and wasting away.

Desperate for answers, Nikki turns to Cole, the immortal bad boy who wants to make her his queen — and the one person least likely to help. But his heart has been touched by everything about Nikki, and he agrees to assist her in the only way he can: by taking her to the Everneath himself.

Nikki and Cole descend into the Everneath, only to discover that their journey will be more difficult than they’d anticipated — and more deadly. But Nikki vows to stop at nothing to save Jack — even if it means making an incredible sacrifice of her own.

In this enthralling sequel to Everneath, Brodi Ashton tests the bonds of destiny and explores the lengths we’ll go to for the ones we love.

Warning; Spoilers for Everneath ahead.

Everbound was one of my most anticipated recent reads, since the tense, heartbreaking ending of Everneath had me itching to get my hands on it. I didn’t know a whole lot about it before I read it aside from the fact that Nikki goes with Cole to the Everneath to try to rescue Jack, and that it has one hell of a cliffhanger.

Oh, and that the cover is pretty frigging gorgeous.

Needless to say, when Everbound finally found its way into my mailbox, I tore the packaging open like a kid on Christmas and pranced around my living room like…well, like a kid who just opened an amazing Christmas present. I caressed the cover, opened the book to a random page in the middle, ran my fingers over it, and did the one habit I have that is even more nerdy than reviewing books for fun; I put my nose right up to the page and took a nice, long sniff. I imagined I could smell the awesomeness I was expecting to find in those pages. (Little sidebar here; this paragraph is the reason I don’t see myself ever becoming an e-reader person; I won’t get that excitement over a cold, flat battery-operated reading device.)

I began reading right away, expecting to be locked in my room for hours until I either fell asleep with my cheek pressed to the pages or the book ran out of them, whichever came first. Unfortunately, something totally unexpected happened that completely ruined these plans.

I got bored.

The middle of Everbound is a perfect example of what Middle Book Syndrome (MBS) is. Scenes begin to feel dragged out, the plot is watered down, the characters don’t hold their usual charm, and the book just isn’t as good. It’s got to be incredibly hard for a writer to write a good middle book; it doesn’t have the fresh wonder of the first or the high-speed tension of the last. It’s like a pit-stop along the way, and very few writers manage to write a second book to a trilogy that doesn’t suffer from MBS. Unfortunately, Brodi Ashton isn’t one of those writers. But there is a very bright light at the end of this rather mundane tunnel.

I’m going to be honest, when I came to the last pages of Everbound and felt my stomach drop down to my feet over one insanely game-changing revelation, I got the feeling that the novel was written just to get us to this ending. It was like the majority of it was filler, a slow-moving vehicle in which to take us from Jack’s descent into the Everneath to…OMG WTF WAS THAT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WHERE ARE THE REST OF THESE PAGES????, as I like to term Everbound’s ending. But it’s enough to make that sub-par journey worth it. It’s enough to bring me back to the enthusiasm in the story that had me nerding out all over my living room. I spent at least an hour after turning that last page re-analyzing the entire novel, putting into it the knowledge the ending gave me and seeing an entirely different story. Entirely different characters with entirely different motives. That doesn’t change the overabundance of Q&A dialogue, or the plethora of time spent reading Nikki’s musings, but it goes a long way toward making Everbound a better novel than I thought midway through.

I still definitely did like Everneath better, but I can see now what all the talk over this one is about. My suggestion to anyone who enjoyed Everneath but finds themselves bored while reading Everbound; just keep reading. It’s the advice that got me through the roughest patches, and it’s the best advice I can give anyone else.

Everbound - 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 22, 2013

Easy by Tammara Webber - Book Review

Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.

A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl's struggle to regain the trust she's lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy.

I started this expecting nothing short of gold, having over-indulged in reading reviews for it.  It seems like everyone and their mother can’t say enough about the amazingness of Easy, give it a glowing 5-star review, and rave about the positive message behind the scorching hot romance.  So when I picked it up and ended up with a really good read instead of a mind-blowingly amazing one, I kind of felt…disappointed.  Which sucks, because if I hadn’t built my expectations so high, if I’d gone into this read with a completely unbiased and fresh mind, I’d have been pleasantly surprised.

To see all the reasons Easy is a can’t-miss, all you have to do is google ‘Easy reviews’ and click on pretty any of the search results.  The reasons people loved Easy are all valid and true, so I won’t waste a lot of time getting into the positives.  I’ll just say that this novel does a great job with a very difficult subject matter, and Lucas is most definitely one of the hottest things to be put on paper in a while.

The things that took away from this read, for me, were its predictability, slight lack of romantic build-up, and a few things Jacqueline thought or did that just rang false to me, which I’ll get into in a minute.

Lucas is most assuredly the sex-god everyone makes him out to be.  My eyes were bulging and my heart was racing just reading about his smoldering good-looks.  But there wasn’t a whole lot of growth to his character throughout Easy.  He has a secret that gets revealed toward the end, and in the revealing we see how much growth he went through to get to the point he’s at now, but none of it actually occurs during the novel.  His romance with Jacqueline, while definitely sweet and sexy, wasn’t an all-encompassing thing that filled my belly with butterflies and left me breathless, and I attribute this to an almost instant attraction between them.  I wouldn’t call it insta-love; their love story feels very real.  But it just wasn’t…gripping.  I don’t know how else to describe it.

There were a few “reveals” in this book, most of which a blind person could have seen coming a mile away.  I’m not sure they were meant to be all that shocking, but still.  One of them at least rang just a bit too cliché to avoid a small eye-roll moment.

And finally, the biggest issue I had with Easy.  Anyone picking this book up knows it deals with rape as a subject matter.  Jacqueline gets attacked early on and saved by Lucas, but the memory of what almost happened, and the scum who almost did it, haunt her throughout the book.  For the most part, like I said, I adore how Webber handled it; it was strong and poignant and almost brought tears to my eyes a couple of times.  But there were just a few incidents when Jacqueline would be reliving a certain thing involving what happened, then look at Lucas and immediately get all hot and horny.  I’m sorry, but I don’t see myself or any other woman EVER being able to even THINK about getting turned on when your mind was so recently in such a dark place.  I’d give examples, but they’d be toeing the line of spoilers a bit too much for comfort.  You’ll know what I mean when you read it.  Maybe I’m being a little too hard on Easy for something so relatively small, but that’s what makes rape such a difficult subject matter to tackle; even small mistakes seem glaring in the face of such an emotional, powerful thing.

That said, Easy is still a very solid novel that really shouldn’t be missed; just do yourself a favor and don’t expect it to live up to its tremendous hype, because honestly, what book could?  Go into Easy with a fresh mind, and you’ll close the cover on a very satisfying read.
Easy - 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong - Book Review

My name is Chloe Saunders and my life will never be the same again.

All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don't even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost - and the ghost saw me.

Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won't leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a "special home" for troubled teens. Yet the home isn't what it seems. Don't tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? it's up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House...before its skeletons come back to haunt me.

For some reason, my expectations for this one weren’t that high going in.  Something about a girl seeing ghosts, thrown into a co-ed mental facility for teenagers, who finds out things aren’t as they seem just screams PARANORMAL ROMANCE, which is pretty much synonymous with cliché and cheesy these days.  But I’d seen a few good reviews on GR for it, from some trusted reviewers, and I was able to get it in hardback (which is so much prettier on my shelf than a paperback) for crazy cheap, so I decided to take the chance.

And boy, am I glad that I did.

It starts off about how I’d expected; girl sees ghosts, girl goes a bit psycho, girl gets thrown into a group home for crazy kids.  There were a few scenes in the first fifty pages or so that only reinforced my initial expectations, most especially one featuring Chloe’s very first period.  (I mean seriously, who gets excited to find that in your panties in the middle of a school day?  And since when does a girl getting her first period feel like she just peed herself?  Please.)  But it didn’t take long for these bumps to smooth right on out, and for my grudging admiration to morph into total immersion of the story.

What caught me most off guard with its awesomeness was the characterization.  Kelley Armstrong managed to take stereotypical characters, throw them into her novel, then strip everything “stereotypical” about them away.  Minus those first few pages, all the annoying, eye-rollingly bad decisions authors make regarding their characters were blessedly absent in The Summoning.  Chloe Saunders is a very realized protagonist, a drama student whose knowledge of movies and comparisons between them and her real life adds a surprising level of believability to the book, and proves that Armstrong knows the difference between what would happen in movies and what would actually happen in real life…you know, if you could see ghosts in real life.

The other main characters, stepbrothers Simon and Derek, were great, too.  They added a hint of a romance to come, without actually supplying it in this book.  In The Summoning, their primary purpose was to add this intense level of mystery that slowly, layer by layer, gets revealed.  Their character development, especially Derek’s, was so satisfying that they completely overshadowed the fourth main character, pyromaniac Rae.  Rae was the only character in The Summoning that didn’t feel three-dimensional, but that’s not to say she was a totally flat character; she just wasn’t up to the level of the stepbrothers.

Unfortunately, the beginning of this book wasn’t the only problem I had with it.  The ending left something to be desired, as well.  Oh, it was action-packed and extremely readable, but the way Armstrong chose to end it was just…not fair.  I’ve said in previous reviews that the sudden surge of paranormal YA cliffhangers has gotten out of hand, and The Summoning is a perfect example of this.  These aren’t cliffhanger endings, because that would imply that they’re endings.  There is no ending to this book.  I’ve come to expect it when I start a new series, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.  And I doubt I’ll stop grumbling about it until we go back to the old days, where first-in-a-series books at least resolved a major conflict, then left a broader one open by way of cliffhanger.

Still, I’m overall very happy with my reading experience with this one, and would most definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.  It won’t be long until I have The Awakening in my greedy hands, eager to return to these characters, especially Derek, and to find the closure The Summoning was sorely lacking.

The Summoning - 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 8, 2013

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning - Book Review

MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae….

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands

. . . .

Update; Though this isn't the most favorable review, the series gets exponentially better.  I won't change my review for Darkfever since these are my honest thoughts after reading, but believe me when I say this turns into one of the most addictive, dark and sexy series ever.

. . . .

By now, I venture into urban fantasy with some trepidation.  They all, for the most part, follow the same formula; sassy heroine, gorgeous guys who toe the line between good and bad (and usually aren’t human), and some life or world threatening paranormal bad guys, usually with some crime-solving thrown in.  For me, urban fantasies and paranormal romances make-or-break-it in their world-building.  Do I like the characters?  Is the mythology explained and believable?  How developed are the bad guys? Do I care about the threat they pose, or would I rather see those threatened killed off to put an end to wasted trees?  The devil is in the details, and if those details are just as cliché and formulaic as the plotline, I’m going to forget the particular UF/PF almost as soon as I turn that last page.

Darkfever somehow managed to both impress me with its details, and annoy me with them at the same time.

MacKayla Lane is by no means a “new” character.  She’s a 22 year old pretty, perky, naïve good-girl who loves life until one phone call changes everything completely; the call informing her of her sister Alina’s violent murder while studying abroad in Ireland.  Distraught and determined to find her older sister’s killer, Mac travels to Ireland against her parents’ wishes to try to do what law enforcement couldn’t; bring Alina’s killer to justice.  Of course, things don’t exactly go according to plan, and Mac soon finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a hunt for a very powerful, very dark book sought after by a species she’s only beginning to learn the existence of; fae.  She herself is a rare sidhe-seer, which means she can see through the glamour and invisibility of those pesky faeries to the hideousness (or sexual irresistibility) of their true forms.  Paired up with the mysterious Jericho Barrons (also known as Darkfever’s gorgeous guy who toes the line between good and bad), she is on a hunt to fulfill her sister’s last wish and find this book before they do.

I liked this book.  I didn’t love it, but it kept me entertained.  The pages seemed to want to be turned.  The Irish setting had a very authentic feel to it, the story was intriguing, and MacKayla, even while at her most annoying, did have a certain unidentifiable quality that made it impossible to completely hate her.  Unfortunately, though, there were a lot of things that were impossible to overlook, and took away from my enjoyment drastically.

Firstly, we never find out much about that book, the Sinsar Dubh (pronounced shin-sa do).  By the end of the novel, all I knew about it was that it’s evil, coveted by practically all of fae-kind, requires 4 stone-thingies to be activated, and caused our MC to become violently ill while in its presence.  I don’t know what it does, why the fae want it, why Alina wanted it, or what Barrons plans on doing with it.  Considering Mac risked her life several times, and her sister actually lost hers, to find it, I’d have expected a bit more information on it.  Instead, Mac blindly follows Barrons on their mutual quest to locate the book, using her sudden nausea as a sort of Sinsar Dubh metal-detector, without really questioning her partner on the thing.

The one fae Mac enounters who doesn’t resemble the monsters from her worst nightmares, V’lane, is supposed to be like walking, talking sex.  He drives her libido through the roof, and when she’s in his presence, she can’t seem to keep her clothes on.  Literally.  I won’t get into this too much since he doesn’t make an appearance until the second half of the book, but these scenes were extremely over-done.  And V’lane was also terribly underdeveloped.  Instead of feeling Mac’s combination of revulsion and inhumanly intense carnal attraction to him, I just wanted to skim the pages with him in them.

There is no real ending to this book.  Nothing is resolved.  Yeah, yeah, I get it; it’s the first in a series, and it was always intended to end on a cliffhanger.  That’s fine.  But Darkfever is a book, and a book should have its own plotline within the larger plotline of the series, one that is developed and conclusively ended.  There was nothing conclusive about Darkfever, making it read more like a compilation of chapters rather than an actual book.  The characters weren’t developed nearly enough, the storyline was only just getting started when it ended, and each and every plotline ended on a question.  I’m sorry, but as a reader, this bothers me.  It feels like a cheap move to boost sales of the future books by cutting what should be one novel into two or three, and charging for them.  And let me stress that I do appreciate a good cliffhanger, most of my favorites end in them, but Darkfever has no ending.

That said, this particular greedy selling technique seems to have paid off, because the sequel, Bloodfever, is currently on its way to my mailbox, courtesy of Amazon.  I’m hoping for more of what kept Darkfever entertaining, and less of what kept my eyes rolling.
Darkfever - 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion - Book Review

R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he is a little different from his fellow Dead. He may occasionally eat people, but he’d rather be riding abandoned airport escalators, listening to Sinatra in the cozy 747 he calls home, or collecting souvenirs from the ruins of civilization.

And then he meets a girl.

First as his captive, then his reluctant guest, Julie is a blast of living color in R’s gray landscape, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat this girl—although she looks delicious—he wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

Warm Bodies is, in essence, an unabashed love story…told through the eyes of a zombie.  This is a book that could have, should have, gone terribly wrong.  Only it didn’t.

What initially sparked my interest in this novel wasn’t the premise.  And no, it wasn’t the movie trailers (though come on, it looks awesome).  It was a few raving, glowing reviews I’d seen on GR, promising poetic prose and minimal cheese factor.  Sometimes I go by reviews over gut instinct and synopsis.  Sometimes I just have to see for myself what all the hype is about.  Sometimes this bites me in the ass…
…and other times, I find books like Warm Bodies.  Book so right-off-the-bat engrossing, books whose prose will have me lying awake at night with envy, that I can only thank social networking extending to include a large community of readers who can find these kinds of gems for me.

The best part of Warm Bodies is the beginning.  First meeting R, feeling lost with him, hopelessly wistful, desiring all the human things his rotting corpse-like body can barely remember experiencing.  He doesn’t remember anything but the first “R” syllable of his name, doesn’t remember his age or his family or his pre-zombie life.  You wouldn’t expect to be drawn in by the beauty of a zombie’s thoughts, but that’s exactly what happens in these first pages of Warm Bodies.  Isaac Marion’s prose is so elegant and beautiful and eloquent without being hard to read or verbose, and it just captures you.  More than the originality of the story or the creepy sweetness of the romance, the prose is what you shouldn’t miss.  And though I’m sure it’s amazing and engrossing, you just won’t get that from the movie.

Now, though I clearly loved this book, I didn’t rate it 5 stars, and there is a reason for that.  Though the broad picture and plot is one of poetic originality, there were a few qualms I had with it.  First, despite everything else, despite Marion’s amazing writing or the fact that these pages weren’t weighed down in Twilight-esque mushy goo, it’s still about a zombie who falls in love with a human, and begins to regain his humanity because of this love.  Dress it up as fancy as you want, but that’s still going to be a bit cheesy.  Second, the entire novel just couldn’t hold the magnificence of the first quarter; it kind of goes from amazing to great, with maybe even a few scenes of just good here and there.  There were a few instances where R felt less like a zombie, and more like…just a sick dude who couldn’t talk all that well.  And lastly, Julie’s reaction to finding out the man-corpse she’s falling for killed and ate the brains of her lover was decidedly anti-climactic; I don’t care how understanding or forgiving you are, that’s going to take a minute to get over.

But really, those problems were me nit-picking, because overall this novel shines.  If you had any interest at all in reading it, read it.  I’m an admitted zombie-hater who is sick of all these cheesy paranormal romances, and I loved Warm Bodies.  That in itself should say something.

Warm Bodies - 4 out of 5 stars

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand - Book Review

In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

This is not an action-packed, fast-moving read. With the exception of the last fifty pages or so, events unfold slowly and flowingly, not shockingly or mysteriously. It is a very addictive read, immersive and compulsive, but Unearthly is not fueled by action or over-the-top romance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Clara was the rare YA heroine that didn’t make me want to bash my head against a wall, and the romance that doesn’t truly start to take center-stage until the last quarter or so is sweet, light, and healthy. Not abusive or ridiculously cheesy. The last angel novel I read featured the creepy, abusive Patch (Hush, Hush), so I can’t possibly overstate how refreshing this was to read.

I love angel mythology. Actually I love any religion-based mythology, be it ancient Greek or modern Christianity. Though I consider myself agnostic, there is little I like more in a work of fiction than a well-grounded root in existing lore, especially biblical – as long as it’s not preachy, of course. Unfortunately, though, well over half of the angel novels I’ve read seem to be…well, bad, to put it bluntly. I don’t know how, but YA angel books lately seem to exist to reinforce what I call Post-Twilight YA Syndrome. Authors gloss over the actually mythology behind their angels and instead focus on their otherworldly beauty and abilities, turning them into de-fanged, wing-sporting Edward Cullens.

Excuse my language, but this is bullshit.

You cannot have a story about angels without including angel mythology.

The mythology in Unearthly was far from overbearing or in-your-face, but it was there. Clara is what is called a Quartarius – one-quarter angel, three-quarters human. A nephilim, but more preferably called angel-blood, she has a Purpose to fulfill. On the very first page, we’re put inside of a vision of a beautiful boy stuck in the middle of a forest-fire, and Clara there to, presumably, save him. This vision is her Purpose, and the rest of the novel is more or less about her trying to find out exactly what she needs to do, where she needs to do it and, of course, finding this gorgeous boy she needs to save.

The writing isn’t superb, but it is definitely above average. The long-ish chapters are compulsively readable despite the slow pace of the novel. Clara is a great narrator, not annoying or whiny or straight-up stupid like so many in this genre are. (One of my favorite lines from her; “I won’t be that girl who lets the guy treat her like crap and still fawns all over him.”Tell that to your Nora Greys and Bella Swans, please, Clara.) She’s just a fun, relatable character, easy to like and root for.

The ending is…huh. Sooo good and sooo readable and sooo well-written, and sooo unfinished! It leaves so many questions open-ended and so many character-arcs incomplete. This was obviously done on purpose. I’m beginning to feel like authors, YA paranormal authors especially, have had this top-secret meeting and unanimously decided to torture us readers with cliffhanger endings. I’m still trying to decide if I liked the ending or hated it, and either way I answer would be for the same reasons. Thankfully Hallowed is out now, so at least I won’t be waiting too long to read it

I don’t think I’ll be gushing and raving about this one to everyone who will listen like I still do with Laini Taylor’s Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, but if you have any interest in Unearthly, do yourself a favor and read it. It doesn’t disappoint.

Unearthly - 4 out of 5 stars