Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - Book Review

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham 17, finally confronts her past. Hannah, the closest adult she has to family, disappears. Jonah Griggs, moody stares and all, is back in town. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.
. . . .
If there’s a novel that is given more GoodReads love than this one, I have yet to hear of it.  Browsing the reviews for Jellicoe Road, I was bombarded with 5-star rating after 5-star rating, glowing review after glowing review.  I’ll be honest; after all that, the synopsis could have been about a dancing chicken and I would have rushed over to Amazon to order it.  (It’s not, don’t worry.)

Taylor Markham is a character taken straight out of a Lifetime movie; she doesn’t know her dad and her rarely-sober mother abandons her at a 7-Eleven, sentencing her to a life at a boarding school and guardianship from the one and only adult in her life to ever truly be there for her, Hannah…until she disappears, too.  As if that’s not enough to ratchet the melodrama up to a 10, there’s a tragic story of 5 good friends being told simultaneously, one that happened in the past and slowly answers questions about Taylor’s history.

The beginning of Jellicoe Road is very confusing, going back-and-forth between both stories with little to no segue, and no idea of how they match up in any way but location.  It took me nearly half the book to really get into the story, and those pages were spent terrified I’d be the odd-man-out yet again, shrugging my shoulders at an enormously loved book and stamping my pessimistic, Debby Downer 2 –or –3-star rating on it.  Thankfully, the second half delivered on all the promises the first half laughed at, and I found myself totally immersed in a heart-wrenching story full of lovable characters, many with huge, realistic flaws.

What makes Jellicoe Road work is how it deals with the melodrama it contains.  With so many tragic events making up the life of one seventeen year old girl, this could have gone terribly wrong in less capable hands.  Marchetta manages to make it believable and relatable, never pushing it over-the-top, or cheapening the subject matter.  There are no static characters, no Big Bad Guy or flawless hero.  Everyone reacts to and is shaped by the events in their lives.  This proves to me once again that the most important thing in a story is its characterization, especially in contemporary novels.

This is hard for me to rate because of the completely different opinions I had about the first and second half.  Ultimately, though you do realize that the beginning needed to be as slow and confusing as it was to make the rest so powerful, I can’t give this the full 5 stars when it took me so long to begin to enjoy it.  I do, however, highly recommend it to readers who like a little more substance to their YA, and don’t mind having their emotions put on a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
Jellicoe Road - 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Glimpse Into My Reader Mind

Due to a very frustrating bout of writer’s block, I’m unable to write this week’s YA Epidemics post.  Why?  Because I’ve just been reading too many good books lately.  I have a list in a notebook of about a dozen possible YA Epidemics to write about, but I got halfway through three of them before realizing that I just wasn’t in the mood for so much specific negativity this week.

So instead, I’m going to take a week off and give you all a glimpse into how I read and just why I rate and review books the way that I do.  I’m going to write about the few things that have the power to ruin a book for me if not done well, regardless of plot, hype, or swoon-worthy romance.   Don't worry, I'll return to those Epidemics posts next week, I promise.

Characterization is my biggest make-it-or-break-it thing in a book.  If I’m reading a novel full of one-dimensional or boring characters, I won’t like it.  At all.  More than anything else, it’s the characters that drive a story.  Setting, backstory, even plot and conflict are all props with which to show us who the characters really are, so you could have the best story idea in the world and ruin it with flat, unrealistic characters.  Every single one of my 5-star favorites is going to feature above-par characterization, with characters that grow and adapt, reacting to their environment and changing as the story progresses.

World-building is another must-have for me, most especially in a dystopia or fantasy setting.  If I find too many holes in your world and its logic, I’m not going to be able to like the story, no matter how much critical acclaim it’s gotten.  I think the most prominent example of this for me is Divergent.  Prior to reading it, I had gotten slapped in the face with a tidal wave of love for that book, but because I could not connect with the idea of a future in which we’ve devolved as a society to such complete separation and inability to value many different important character traits equally, I was just unable to like it.  But there are other examples, and poor world-building has led to me being in the minority of an awful lot of book hype.  This is the reason I’m so picky when it comes to dystopian stories especially, because they rely on their world-building and back-story more than almost any other genre.

Writing quality is an obvious one that should go without saying, but based on a lot of really poorly-written novels that have gotten really good reviews and ratings, I feel the need to say it.  I can’t enjoy a book with low-quality writing.  I don’t need a literary masterpiece, but I need solid editing and a strong grasp on vocabulary and the English language.  Too much repetition, too many grammatical errors, too many misused metaphors, they’re all going to add up to an unenjoyable reading experience.  Another pet peeve of mine is lengthy descriptions that aim for a high-quality flow, but come off as pretentious and unnecessarily dense, or “purple prose” as it’s commonly called.

Obvious plot devices and clichés have the power to ruin a reading experience for me, as well.  If a story feels forced or reliant on overused formulas and hooks, I’m not going to respect the integrity of the story or feel the sincerity and passion of the writing.  In a world with thousands of books on every single topic imaginable, finding a way to stand out and write an original novel goes a long way toward those raving, glowing reviews.  Books like Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Warm Bodies, and Everneath are prime examples of great stories that do just that.

Obviously, there are more qualities I value highly in a book, but these are the main ones that influence my reading experience the most.

I’m an admittedly picky reader so you may not agree with all of these, but we all have those things that we just can’t overlook while reading.  What are some of your must-haves or biggest pet peeves in a novel?  Let me know in the comments! <3

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homo by Michael Harris - Book Review

Just before his last year in high school, Will's best friend Julie inadvertently outs him at an end-of-summer party. Now Will feels lost and alienated at Chilliwack high school and strangely distant from his friends. The only other gay kid at school is so not his type, so Will looks online for more meaningful connections. There he meets Riley, a twenty-three-year-old living in Vancouver, and they develop a relationship that seems almost too good to be true. It isn't until after Will loses his virginity to Riley that he discovers Riley is HIV positive.

This is a book that gives away way too much in the description.  Will doesn’t even officially meet Riley until the halfway point, doesn’t sleep with him until the last third, and doesn’t find out he’s HIV positive until the last quarter.  I think there’s only one real spoiler left to spoil.  Don’t worry, I won’t give away this book’s one and only real secret, but I will say that I wish it had been given much more weight than it was.

Will’s story is very different than I’d expected going in.  Based off the synopsis, I was expecting to be dealing with an identity crisis, excessive bullying, and one boy’s slow journey to accepting himself as a gay man.  Yes, all of those themes were in it at some point and to some degree, but everything was overshadowed by Will’s online search for a boyfriend, and subsequent whirlwind romance with the older Riley.  I almost wish this had been told in the only other gay boy in Will’s small-town high school, Daniel’s, point of view, because I feel like we would have felt much more of the gay teenager’s plight seeing it through his eyes.

Though this wasn’t everything I had been hoping for, it was still a pretty good read.  There were a few instances of real wisdom and insight into the life of a newly-outed gay boy that, while I wish had been more numerous, did lend a deal of heaviness and empathy to the novel that I appreciated.  I’m not sure if Harris is gay himself or not, but my biggest fear with anything dealing with LGBT themes is that they’ll overdo it or feed into the clichéd idea of what it means to be gay, inadvertently belittling it, but that never happened in Homo (though Daniel’s first real appearance did seem just a bit over-the-top to me).

I do like the realism portrayed in this novel, and I don’t even mean in regards to the homosexual theme.  Will dates Riley who, at 23, is much more experienced than the seventeen year old narrator.  Will gets swept up in belonging with Riley and his group of friends, and makes some poor choices in the name of fitting in and feeling older.  I love how Harris didn’t try to soften this or make anyone out to be this big, bad villain because of some of the things they chose to do in their spare time.  I am NOT advocating these behaviors, but I hate it when stories try to make everyone who does recreational drugs out to be a pressuring a-hole.  Though I would caution the younger YA audience away from this one for this very reason.

Homo was my first Netgalley read, and while I wasn’t wowed by it, I’m ultimately very happy with my reading experience.  I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but definitely to those intrigued by the blurb.  It really is a quick, entertaining read.

Homo - 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 25, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #3 - Ten Books I Recommend The Most


First, I'd like to thank the wonderful girls over at The Broke And The Bookish for hosting this highly addictive weekly meme.

Top ten books I recommend the most?  This is the TTT I've been waiting for since I jumped on this meme's bandwagon!  Mwahahahaha!!! *cue low-budget maniacal laughter*

Ahem.  Okay.  So I should probably get to the actual list, then....  For this one, I'm going to work backward, 10 - 1.  A true countdown, fanfare supplied by your imaginative minds.

10.) "Mistborn" by Brandon Sanderson - Mistborn won't appeal to everyone, but it's one of my top-recommended epic fantasy novels.  A must-read for fans of the genre.
9.) "Warm Bodies" by Isaac Marion - This one probably won't appeal to everyone either, but if you're willing to overlook a cheesy premise for fantastic writing that truly has the power to change your way of thinking, read Warm Bodies.
8.) "Interview With The Vampire" by Anne Rice - Every Twilight fan needs to read this.  Learn your roots.  Lestat was the sexy, sensual vampire I grew up with, and he'll always be number 1 in my heart.  His best feature; he doesn't sparkle.
7.) "Fever" Series by Karen Marie Moning - Okay, okay, this isn't technically a book. It's five.  This is the problem I'm faced with whenever I'm recommending the Fever series, because the first book, Darkfever, wasn't that great.  So I can't recommend it by itself.   But the pure awesomeness of every other book in this series more than makes up for it.  Jericho Barrons.  That name should be trademarked to mean "One sexy expletive."
6.)"The Sky Is Everywhere" by Jandy Nelson - The writing is beautiful, the angst is real, and the pain is raw.  The romance is a bit too good to be true, but hey, that's why I'll always love my fictional crushes more.
5.) "Wintergirls" by Laurie Halse Anderson - If you want to feel your worst emotions well to the surface, ride this roller-coaster.  It lets you off in a place of hope and reminds you what it means to be fragile, to be human, and to be alive.
4.) "Anna And The French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins -  This book is just so much fun!  It isn't super profound or emotional, but damned if you can find a better way to spend an afternoon.
3.) "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green - If everyone had the same outlook on life as Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, the world would be a better place.  Sad and ironic, funny and romantic, The Fault In Our Stars hits every note on the spectrum of emotion at least once.
2.) "The Eye Of The World" by Robert Jordan - Another that won't appeal to everyone, but was one of the building-block books of my youth.  This is the book that showed me a different kind of fantasy than Harry Potter.  I can pinpoint the exact moment I started to stray out of the YA genre to when I picked this book off of a shelf at Target.
Aaaaand, the one we've all been waiting for, the creme de la creme of books, the one whose identity is burning a hole of curiosity through you, the one you want me to just shut up and reveal already;
Okay, for real now 
1.) "Daughter Of Smoke And Bone" by Laini Taylor - As soon as I saw this week's list, Daughter Of Smoke And Bone popped into my head like a blazing beacon.  I can't possibly say enough about this book, so I won't even try. it.  Shut up and read it.  Now.  And have the sequel, Days Of Blood And Starlight, ready, 'cuz you're gonna need it.
Now, there are the obvious two that I left out; Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.  Everyone reading this list has probably already read both series', so I didn't waste a spot on them.  But yeah, of course.  If for some crazy reason you need my voice added to the gigantic roar of love for these two, I highly recommend them to the four people left in the world who hasn't read them.

So, which elite books make your Top Ten cut?  Share in the comments!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff - Book Review

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?

Anyone who has known me in the past year knows how high my expectations for Stormdancer were.  In the months that led up to my reading of it, it had taken on mythic proportions of awesomeness in my mind, reminding me yet again why one of the worst things we can do to a novel is expect it to be more than a book, because Stormdancer was unable to live up to the huge hype I’d built for it.  Honestly, very few books could have.

I did like this one.  It was definitely in the top half of books I’ve read this year so far.  The world-building is fantastic, the characters are impossible not to become invested in, Yukiko is a strong heroine, and Buruu is the epitome of what awesome is.  There are some intense chapters in Stormdancer that suck you in so completely you’ll find yourself coming out of a daze when they’re over, momentarily confused to find that you are not, in fact, in the streets or wilderness of Shima.

But….  Ah, the dreaded “but”.

First and most pressingly, this novel is dense.  And I mean, dense.  There are long paragraphs dedicated to the Japanese Japan-ness of the setting littering this novel.  (Though I feel compelled to add that Stormdancer takes place in a land known as Shima, and while it draws heavily on Japanese influences, it is not, in fact, Japan.  Or any existing country, for that matter.)  I’m not one to shy away from wordy novels and flowery descriptions, but when I read pages and pages of writing describing various Asian terms, it take me out of the story somewhat.  Instead of simply saying, “She tied the sash tightly around her dress”, we’re subjected to the Asian term for said sash and dress, complete with long descriptions of them that are both unnecessary and excessive.  Now I know what you’re thinking, He was just trying to set the tone!, but I’m sorry.  I don’t read a novel for the setting of the story, I read it for the story, and when the story is paused for lengthy descriptions of words I can’t even always pronounce, it’s going to take away from my enjoyment.

I read a few reviews for Stormdancer while I was reading it that drew into question the authenticity of the Japan-based world of Shima.  While I’m inclined to forgive things like wardrobe and land layout, even honor codes and religions being slightly changed to suit the story (which, as far as I know, didn’t actually happen in this), I can’t forgive misused language.  Throughout this novel, two Japanese words are abundantly common; Sama and Hai.  I don’t claim to know much about Japanese culture, but if it was so easy for me to find that he was contextually misusing both words, I can’t imagine it would have been difficult for Mr. Kristoff with any amount of in-depth research.  I don’t want to judge the story based on something so minor, especially since Shima is not, in fact, Japan, but…I kind of can’t help it.  It bugged me.  I wish it didn’t, but it did.

I’ve heard so many awesome things about Stormdancer and its author, Jay Kristoff, that I wanted to be able to whole-heartedly throw my 5-star rating into the mix, to vocalize my love for this book and recommend it to everyone who’s looking for a good, highly original story. While I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this and would still recommend it to a certain group of people, I can’t, in all honesty, say I loved this book like most of my friends did.

But boy, if I was ever tempted to lie in a review and say I did, it would be with Stormdancer.

Stormdancer – 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 22, 2013

YA Epidemics #3 - Cliffhanger Endings

I crawl out from beneath the car, the sound of gunshots still ringing in my ears. I know one of those bullets must have pierced flesh, but knowing abstractly and seeing it confirmed are two entirely different things. When I step in the red, sticky puddle pooling near my feet, when my eyes travel to the pale, lifeless body it’s flowing from, I scream.

Not him, please not him, is the mantra that plays over and over in my head.

The End

Harry Potter fangirl here, expect more of these

That's not the ending to any real book, just something generic I wrote to prove a point, but if you're a fan of modern-day YA, especially fantasy/dystopian, you know exactly what point I'm trying to prove with this. If you're as big of a book addict as me, your heart has been cut from your chest, stomped on, thrown back in, then left in a gaping hole for a year before the sequel that sows you back up and makes you whole again.
Well, you know. Unless that one ends on a cliffhanger, too. *cough* Days Of Blood And Starlight, Everbound, Catching Fire *cough* (I love those books, but they wreaked havoc on my innards.)
Have you noticed the differences between today's Young Adult books and those of ten years ago? YA is dominating the book world, it seems, reeling in more and more reluctant readers with fantastical worlds, swoony romance, and accessibility. Trends are being capitalized on and overdone (hence this weekly feature), and in doing so, they're changing the very face of YA. One of the most annoying, sometimes agonizing trends is the dreaded cliffhanger ending.
Remember the days of Hogwarts? Magic wands, Voldemort, Quidditch and gentle half-giants? Those books ended nicely and satisfyingly - for the most part - yet had teens and adults alike raiding stores on every release day since The Chamber Of Secrets. So why do writers today seem to think they need to torture their readers with incomplete endings to get them to come back for more? Shouldn't quality of the writing and story be enough? I can't tell you how many times I've read a book that came to a very satisfying conclusion while still leaving me wanting more, only to continue on with one extra chapter or epilogue that shatters any sense of resolution and leaves me in a state of shock and impatient waiting for months, if not longer.
To those authors, I have one simple, burning question; Why?
It's not like I won't continue with the series if my heart hasn't been indefinitely lodged in my throat with the ending, not if I love the books. And I also won't continue a series I don't love just because of a cliffhanger ending. I haven't met a single person who does base their series continuance on a cliffhanger, and several who are just so sick of it by now they refuse to read the next book after a bad enough hanger just for principle's sake, so what's the point?
But that's not even what has me so aggravated with this trend that I'm calling it an epidemic. It's not the regular cliffhangers that have me stomping around like an angry ogre. It's the extra-strength, screw-you cliffies that have that result. The books that don't simply leave something big open; the books that leave everything open. The ones that, whatever they like to tell themselves and their readers, do not end. 

I won't name-drop any series' (serieses? Seri? O.o), but I have been plagued with these books lately! It's gotten to the point where I'm afraid to start a new series before all the books have been released, because I'm just too sick of getting invested in a story that ends mid-scene and makes me wait a whole year to find out if one of my favorite characters really did die, or if the hot guy really is in cahoots with the man bad dude. I don't even understand how that's good marketing, to be honest, because instead of drawing in new readers, they're pushing us away.

I could rant about this for pages, but no one wants to read all that, so I'll end this with a simple reminder of what a book is; A book is a complete story arc, which means it has a beginning, middle, and end. There can be a larger issue left unresolved for later books in the series, but not the whole damn story.
Are you as fed up with the new screw-you brand of cliffhanger as I am? What are some recent reads that kept you riveted, but left you hanging mercilessly at the end? Let me know in the comments! <3

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stardust by Neil Gaiman - Book Review

Catch a fallen star...

Tristan Thorn promised to bring back a fallen star. So he sets out on a journey to fulfill the request of his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester - and stumbles into the enchanted realm that lies beyond the wall of his English country town.

. . . .

I’m trying to remember why I thought Gaiman’s prose wouldn’t be as good as his Sandman graphic novels.  The multitude of voices proclaiming him a one-hit wonder?  His almost non-existent presence in nerd culture?  The horrible reviews I’ve seen for his other books?
Truth is, all of that is the exact opposite of what I actually knew about his work prior to reading Stardust.  He’s been proclaimed a creative genius by many of my trusted peers and idols, and yet I still persisted in my misguided notion that I wasn’t missing anything by not delving into more of his worlds.

This novel has effectively cured me of that.  Expect to see me go on a Gaiman binge in the near future.

What do you think of when you think of an adult fairy tale?  Cinderella with blood?  Snow White without the Prince Charming ending?  Or maybe, Snow White getting naughty with those seven dwarves while Charming watches?

Ew.  No.  Get your mind out of the gutter I just callously thrust it in with that unsavory image and think more of the first two.

The world of Stardust is what would happen if we didn’t edit out the scary bad things in order to spare our children’s sensibilities.  Faerie exists just behind the city of Wall, full of whimsy and magic, elves and unicorns and vicious, murderous princes and witches.  It is there that main character Tristran and his fancied Victoria Forrester see a falling star land.  With one thoughtless promise, Victoria sends Tristran on a journey beyond Wall to get that star and deliver it to her…where unexpected things happen, and a star turns out to be more than Tristran could have ever imagined it to be.

Stardust is written exactly how we would expect a whimsical fairy tale for adults to be written; with whimsy.  The words flow and capture, giving us a sense of nostalgia for the days spent on our parents’ laps, being read our favorite stories, but without all the campiness they contained.  This is a novel written for the child that lives in the adult, and I love it to pieces for that reason.

Now I have something to admit; I, queen of finding at least one thing to nitpick about in even my favorite books, honestly can’t think of a thing to criticize, which is almost making me want to bump the rating up to a full 5 stars.  Almost because, while I can’t think of any technical criticisms, it just didn’t feel quite like one of those elite reading experiences to me.  A highly recommended read, fantastic escapism that fell just short of remarkable, but still deserves heaps of praise and every fraction of the four stars I give it.

And oh!  Quick shout-out to my dear friends Pixie and Taylor for recommending this to me, reading along with me, and finally showing me why Neil Gaiman is such a hyped-up author, and for dealing with my incessant “Omg I just got to the part where _____ happened!” texts. (Seriously, I don’t know how they put up with me, but I’m glad that they do. They’re my main go-to peeps, and I’d be lost in this sea of books and blogging and blogging about books without ‘em.)

Stardust - 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning - Fever #4 Book Review

MacKayla Lane lies naked on the cold stone floor of a church, at the mercy of the erotic Fae master she once swore to kill. Far from home, unable to control her sexual hungers, MacKayla is now fully under the Lord Master’s spell.…In New York Times bestselling author Karen Marie Moning’s stunning new novel, the walls between human and Fae worlds have come crashing down. And as Mac fights for survival on Dublin’s battle-scarred streets, she will embark on the darkest—and most erotically charged—adventure of her life.
He has stolen her past, but MacKayla will never allow her sister’s murderer to take her future. Yet even the uniquely gifted sidhe-seer is no match for the Lord Master, who has unleashed an insatiable sexual craving that consumes Mac’s every thought—and thrusts her into the seductive realm of two very dangerous men, both of whom she desires but dares not trust.

As the enigmatic Jericho Barrons and the sensual Fae prince V’lane vie for her body and soul, as cryptic entries from her sister’s diary mysteriously appear and the power of the Dark Book weaves its annihilating path through the city, Mac’s greatest enemy delivers a final challenge.…

It’s an invitation Mac cannot refuse, one that sends her racing home to Georgia, where an even darker threat awaits. With her parents missing and the lives of her loved ones under siege, Mac is about to come face-to-face with a soul-shattering truth—about herself and her sister, about Jericho Barrons…and about the world she thought she knew.

Jericho Barrons = The Reason Real Guys Just Aren’t Good Enough.  Anti-hero/alpha-male galore, this man hasn’t done a single thing to make me think “He’s just a misunderstood good guy”, and several things to prove that he’s not.  But there is just something so intense and primal about him that screams “SEX”, even when he’s doing nothing but turning one derisive lip up at Barbie-turned-warrior, Mac.  He’s damn near irresistible.  Anyone who knows the first thing about me as a reader knows that I crush over fictional characters to an almost unhealthy level, so when I say that J Barrons now holds the number 1 spot on my long list of book hotties, it means something.  Mainly that you have got to read this series. 

What about the actual review?  Wait, that wasn’t enough?  Okay, hold on, let me get my mind out of the gutter….

Faefever left us in a very dark place, with hope nothing but a vague promise in the author’s notes.  Dreamfever picks up at that exact point after a quick recap prologue, featuring one amazing, kickass thirteen year old, Dani.  The first two chapters are told through her eyes, and while I prefer the more familiar mind of Mac at this point in the story, I have to say, Dani is freaking awesome.  She does what none of the older, supposedly wiser and more capable, people in Mac’s circle could do; she rescues her. (Sidebar here; am I the only one who keeps picturing her as an Irish version of Hit Girl from Kickass?)

Then she gives her to Barrons’ care, where the viewpoint shifts back to Mac.

And things get…intense.

I won’t say too much about it, but there is one chapter in Dreamfever that is hotter than all three 50 Shades novels combined and quadrupled.  As if we didn’t have enough reason to drool over Barrons, this novel thrusts them at you in a heady rush of those first Mac-minded pages.

Oh, wait, out of the gutter.  Hold on….

My favorite kind of series is the one with a large plot to connect the books, but individual plots per book, issues that come up and get resolved and leave a satisfying ending that also brings you just a bit closer to the ultimate ending, the resolution of the Big Bad Thing.  Fever is not one of those series.  For the most part, the books don’t have their own individual story arcs, but are separate chapters that make up the one major plotline; finding the Sinsar Dubh and getting rid of the big bad Unseelies that have taken a residence in and made a meal out of our world.  Dreamfever is no exception.  It’s 350+ pages of open-ended story progression and character development that, like Faefever, leaves you dangling cruelly over an open chasm – because “cliff” is much too mild to describe this hanger.

But you know what?  Just this once, I’m okay with that.

The best part of these books is the subtle development, the slow growth and even slower, vague answers.  None of the characters are static, they all react to their environment and change with it.  They breathe and jump right off the pages.  Whether you want to hug them, befriend them, take them into your bed or kill them slowly and painfully, these characters are real.  Dreamfever saw an abundance of Mac and Dani team-work, some developments between her and the other sidhe­-seers (led by the miserable old hag, Rowena), more LM evilness, a lot – though not enough by half – of Barronsiness, and just a touch V’lane and Christian.  We find out a little more about the dark book, and see teasing, sometimes heartbreaking glimpses into Barrons’ past, but there are a lot of questions left open for Shadowfever.  In fact, if forced to sum up this series in just one phrase, it’d have to be “Keeps you guessing until the last minute”.   I have so many theories about Barrons, about V’lane, about Rowena and the Sinsar Dubh and Dani and Mac’s heritage…seriously, I’ve been kept up at night with all the theorizing I do and questions I have.

Now, while I loved Dreamfever’s face and feet and everything in between, I make a point in my reviews to include the flaws, because every book has them and by ignoring them, all we do is create a hype that no novel could possibly live up to.  One of my main issues with Dreamfever was that it was so focused on Mac and Dani, and the other sidhe-seers, that we didn’t get nearly enough of the powerhouse guy characters in this one to slate my thirst for them.  If it can even be slated, which is debatable.  But I found myself, more than once, flipping to the next chapter to read a sentence or two and see if Barrons or even V’lane was in it, and far too often neither was.  Also, Mac’s narration has a tendency to ask too many questions about her situation, musings with question marks that take away from the flow of the story just a bit.  And lastly, this is the second to last book, but we’re still left – for the most part – in the dark regarding the most pressing questions.  It just seems like not so much should have been left to Shadowfever to explain, but at the very least, it promises a final read full of revelations and much-needed answers.

But that’s not even why my hands are shaking like a junkie in the need of her fix for that last book.  I just want to find out what happened at the end of Dreamfever, and what it means for my favorite anti-hero alpha-male.  I don’t know how Fever’s fans managed before the series was complete and they had to wait longer than the time it takes for Amazon to deliver.  This series has a way of keeping its fans invested, that’s for sure.

Dreamfever - 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong - Darkness Rising #1 Book Review

Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn't know much about her background - the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip - but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island.

Until now.

Strange things have been happening in this claustrophobic town - from the mountain lions that have been approaching Maya to her best friend's hidden talent for "feeling" out people and situations, to the sexy new bad boy who makes Maya feel . . . . different. Combine that with a few unexplained deaths and a mystery involving Maya's biological parents and it's easy to suspect that this town might have more than its share of skeletons in its closet.

. . . .

I’m beginning to develop a love/hate relationship with Kelley Armstrong’s YA.

I recently read The Darkest Powers trilogy, which is set in the same world as The Gathering.  I wasn’t floored by the plot, but the characterization was some of the best I’ve seen in the last few years, and I’m a sucker for good characterization – especially when there’s some hot supernatural romance involved.  To the point, Darkest Powers was a forgettable trilogy that was still hella entertaining (yes, I’m bringing “hella” back), and left me very much interested in reading Armstrong’s other YA trilogy, Darkness Rising.

But unfortunately, it seems like the world they’re set in isn’t the only thing the two trilogies have in common.

I got about halfway through The Gathering before I realized that we were following Maya’s desperate search for questions we already know the answer to from Darkest Powers.  The setting is different, the characters are different (and still pretty awesome), but the story seems to be the same.  If you’ve read The Darkest Powers, you already know that it’s not enough to really sustain one trilogy, let alone two.

The ending is…non-existent.  The book runs out of pages, with one or two half-hearted sentences trying to fool us into thinking it’s a conclusion, but it doesn’t end.  You’ll remember I had the same problem with The Summoning, but I think The Gathering may be even worse. It was immensely unsatisfying.

Somehow, though, this book still managed to be…good.  I did say it was a love/hate relationship, remember?

Maya is an awesome character to be stuck inside the head of.  She’s smart, sassy, and sarcastic.  She doesn’t moon over the “playa” boy in school like so many vapid YA heroines, so when she finds herself hurt by him, we’re actually sympathetic, not rolling our eyes at her idiocy.  The side characters are equally realized and likeable, even though they seem to be leading us into yet another love triangle *shudders*.  The setting – a top-secret town run entirely by a…“medical research” company - has all the originality the plot is lacking, and it’s as refreshing as it is interesting.  And to top it off, Kelley Armstrong managed to do the impossible; make us want to tear through the pages of a story we’ve already read before.

Bottom line, I’m not happy with Kelley Armstrong’s cash-cow-milking…ness…. (says the oh-so-talented book-reviewer), but I’m suckered into yet another weak trilogy by her ability to actually write.

The Gathering - 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 16, 2013

YA Epidemics #2 - Abusive Boyfriends

It’s a story as old as time; Girl meets boy, boy has great hair and finds excuses to show off his great abs, girl blushes and giggles, boy notices her and turns stalker/domineering douche/violently possessive…girl falls madly in love with him?

The sponge gets it

It’s not nearly as common as last week’s YA Epidemic (thank god), but everyone who claims to be a fan of the genre has read at least one of these romanticized abusive boyfriends.

Let’s get serious with this one; is this really the kind of relationship we want to be glorifying for the YA demographic?  Do we really want our twelve year old daughters and sisters and nieces to think it’s romantic for a guy to watch her sleep?  To tell her who she’s allowed to see?  To decide not to go with the original plan of killing her because he’s suddenly into her?  I don’t even have any daughters or sisters or nieces, and I can answer that with a loud, resounding no.  Just because he doesn’t put bruises on her body does not mean it isn’t abuse.

The root of these abusive boyfriends comes from the tried-and-true good-girl/bad-boy romance.  Who doesn’t love a guy who’s a little rough around the edges?  When the loner biker boy looks at you with adoration in his eyes, it’s probably going to mean more to you than when the emo boy with a journal full of poetry professes his undying love, because you know the biker boy doesn’t look at every girl that way.   It’s the girl’s equivalent of the chase, and damned if it isn’t titillating to fantasize about.  But the minute that biker boy tries to tell you what you can and can’t do, the minute you wake up to see him staring at you at night, it’s time to get outta there.  Because that’s when the bad-boy becomes abusive, and that’s when it stops being romantic.

Now, it’s easy to define the parameters of a healthy relationship when it comes to contemporary characters, but what happens when you give the loner biker boy superhuman attributes?  What if he’s a vampire or a vengeful angel or an immortal being fighting his natural instincts every day he spends on earth among humans?  Wandering high school hallways?  How can he not have some of these so-called abusive characteristics when they’re part of what makes him who he is?  Suddenly our bad-boy becomes a little dangerous.  A little danger spices up the romance.  A little danger ratchets up the passion.  But that’s where the lines seem to get crossed, because what happens when we push a little danger…a little too far?

What if you were best friends with Bella, and she told you about how she caught Edward – the vampire who wants to eat her – spying on her at her most vulnerable?  Would you be cool with that, giggling behind your hand and gushing about how romantic that is?  Or would you be telling her to barricade those windows, set alarms, keep pepper spray under her pillow and have 911 on speed-dial?  (Yes, another Twilight reference, but you try writing a YA Epidemic feature without the creator of clichés as a repeated example.)  The fact of the matter is, if these things were to happen in real life, we’d be appalled and disgusted, but because it’s inside the safety of a book, it’s spicy entertainment.  Until the impressionable girl looks for her Edward and ends up with marks on her body.  Or the sweet boy thinks he’s got to fight anyone who looks at his girlfriend to be thought of as “sexy”.  Twilight may have been the harbinger of the popularized stalker boyfriend in YA, but there have been far too many examples coming out in recent years.  Hell, I know of a certain fallen angel who makes Edward look like a saint.

I’m not saying it’s not okay to get secret crushes on YA’s most dangerously sexy boys, but I am saying that it’s not okay to glorify abuse, to mainstream some of these behaviors.  I’m saying that if enough of us book bloggers and avid readers say enough is enough, maybe writers and publishers will realize that this particular YA epidemic isn’t just annoying; it’s also dangerous.  We should be painting healthy relationships for girls who probably haven’t even had their first kiss yet, not these trending pseudo-stalker whirlwind romances.

Have you encountered many of these abusive book boyfriends?  Is it harmless entertainment, or another way to desensitize us to the dangers around us?  I’d love to hear your opinions on this one in the comments!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Faefever by Karen Moning - Fever #3 Book Review

He calls me his Queen of the Night. I’d die for him. I’d kill for him, too. When MacKayla Lane receives a torn page from her dead sister’s journal, she is stunned by Alina’s desperate words. And now MacKayla knows that her sister’s killer is close. But evil is closer. And suddenly the sidhe-seer is on the hunt: For answers. For revenge. And for an ancient book of dark magic so evil, it corrupts anyone who touches it.

Mac’s quest for the Sinsar Dubh takes her into the mean, shape-shifting streets of Dublin, with a suspicious cop on her tail. Forced into a dangerous triangle of alliance with V’lane, an insatiable Fae prince of lethally erotic tastes, and Jericho Barrons, a man of primal desires and untold secrets, Mac is soon locked in a battle for her body, mind, and soul.

As All Hallows’ Eve approaches and the city descends into chaos, as a shocking truth about the Dark Book is uncovered, not even Mac can prevent a deadly race of immortals from shattering the walls between worlds—with devastating consequences.…

I’m writing this review mere minutes after I finished that last page, because I want to capture my initial reaction to this book and its insane cliffhanger ending.

Anyone who has read my reviews for the previous two Fever books knows that this series started out very rocky for me.  I didn’t hate Darkfever, but I didn’t really like it either, and the only thing that had me reaching for its sequel was a promise in other reviews that the series gets better.  At the time, I didn’t really believe it – how can you make a series better when its fundamental characters are your main problems with it? – but after loving Bloodfever and then being completely swept away by Faefever, I’m not only a believer, but one of those incessant book-pushers, begging those of my reading friends who don’t have a squeamish stomach to start this series. That’s one heck of an opinion change over the course of just three books, one I attribute to Moning’s impeccable understanding of flawed characters, who grow and develop and change with each and every new obstacle thrown their way.

Faefever was a bit light on story arc, but it’s wielded the most answers of all the books in the series so far, so I’m inclined to call it an even trade.  It’s a dark read that only gets darker as the pages turn before leaving us in the most hopeless place possible.  In fact, to anyone about to start this novel, I’d suggest having Dreamfever ready, because you’re not going to want to take a break between the two.

In addition to the doom-and-gloom atmosphere of the tone, Moning has amped up the sexual tension between Mac and her impossibly mysterious employer, Jericho Barrons – whose motives I’m still completely clueless about.  He exudes equal parts sex and danger, making it impossible to not be drawn to him through these pages.  It’s odd, actually, how irrevocably attached I am to Barrons’ character considering how little I actually know about the guy…or guy-shaped creature, or…whatever he is.  I’m left with a few theories about him, but that’s all they are; theories.  Weak ones, at that.  Still, my only real issue with him in this book was that he just wasn’t in it enough.

Seelie prince V’lane had a much meatier role in Faefever than we’re used to, and though his mysteriousness is second only to Barrons’, I’m finding myself warming up to his character more and more.  He’s painted as an immortal god, beautiful, sexual, humoring Mac and her pleas to save humankind with gifts and pretention in hopes of winning her trust - trust we in no way know if he deserves.  While I still think some of the ways Moning chooses to describe his oozing sexuality is a bit overdone at times, it’s bothering me less and less as I find myself more and more wrapped up in this story, in these characters walking the streets of Dublin.

Two of Darkfever’s side characters, Inspector Jayne and Christian, also play much larger parts in Faefever.  Of the two, I’d have to say Inspector Jayne is my favorite, but that’s just because his clear motives and intentions are a refreshing counterpoint to…pretty much every other main character in this story, including seemingly good-guy Christian.

Now.  The ending.  How do you describe something as intense and descriptive and immersive and downright sinister as the last pages of Faefever without spoilers?  Everything that’s happened so far has led up to where we’re left off, and without even having started Dreamfever, I can say with certainty that it was a turning point for the story.  I sat down with my book, intending to read a quick five or ten pages…until I finished it forty-eight pages later, heart pounding and blood rushing through my veins.  I’m going to stop here before I inadvertently give something away, but seriously.  Don’t be stuck finishing Faefever without having Dreamfever on hand.

Now it’s time for me to make a fresh cup of coffee, grab Dreamfever, and settle in for some major reading.  This right here is why I love starting a series after all the books have been published; no agonizing wait.

Faefever - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry - Book Review

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

I did a bad thing after reading Pushing The Limits; wrote a short review and put it back on my shelf, intending to revisit my review and flesh it out after a day or two.  Only, I didn’t.  You can call it reviewer laziness, but I choose to go with being so touched by the story that my limited review-writing skills were simply unequipped to write a review that could possibly give this novel justice. (Yeah, I smell it too.  It was more reviewer laziness.)

So here’s the painfully short review I have for this immensely addicting novel;

Oh em gee, was this one a page-turner. The physical chemistry between Echo and Noah was off the charts, especially during the first half, but don't be fooled into thinking this is nothing but an edgy romance. Noah's and Echo's equally tragic stories, and the highs and lows therein, are just as strong a focal point as the romance. There were a few minor qualms I had that prevented me from giving this 5 stars, like Noah's fondness for (and overuse of) the endearment baby and a slight drag toward the last quarter, but for the most part, this was a stellar read. One I happily, greedily devoured in under 48 hours.

Pushing The Limits - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #2 - Ten Books At The Top Of My Spring TBR List

This is my second Top Ten Tuesday post, hosted by the amazing Broke And The Bookish, and I can't tell you how much fun I'm having with these.  You may notice a lot of the same books on this list as last week's Top Ten Series I Want To Start, but just roll with it.  They're worth repeating. ;)

Top Ten Books At The Top Of My Spring 2013 TBR List
"Stormdancer" by Jay Kristoff - Even though I have this one sitting on my nightstand, just waiting to be picked up and probably finished before the first official day of Spring (March 20th, I looked it up), my excitement for this book is such that it deserves to top two TTT lists.  In a row.  Why?  Two words: Japanese steampunk.
"Shadowfever" by Karen Marie Moning- The fifth (and last) book to what is shaping up to be my favorite urban/paranormal fantasy series ever.  I have a very unhealthy obsession with one mysterious-as-feck Jericho Barrons.  The only reason this doesn't top the list is because, well, c'mon.  Japenese steampunk...duh.
My Jericho Barrons.  Now, go.  Flock to the bookstores, my pretties.
"The Archived" by Victoria Schwab - Because a world in which our dead are hidden in an underground archive is a world I never want to live in.  But would love to read about.
"Boundless" by Cynthia Hand - Christian, Tucker, Christian, Tucker....  And some angels and stuff.  But mostly Christian and Tucker.
"Jellicoe Road" by Melina Marchetta - If I had a dollar for every 5-star review I've seen for this book, I'd have enough to money to feed my book addiction for a yearSix monthsAt least a month.
"A Memory Of Light" by Robert Jordan - The final chapter to the series that started my love for epic fantasy, and further kindled my love for books.  I don't want to see it end, but damn do I want to see how it goes down.
"Shatter Me" by Tehereh Mafi - Both my inner cover whore and my inner Rogue (the chick who can't touch anyone without draining them from X-Men) demands this of me.
"Pivot Point" by Kasie West - There are two futures for me; the one in which I read Pivot Point this Spring, and the one in which I don't.  I choose the one in which I do.  Bad things happen in the one in which I don't.... *shudders*
"Stolen" by Kelley Armstrong - I need more Clay/Elena.
"Delirium" by Lauren Oliver - I can think of no fewer than three people who will hurt me if I don't finally read this one.  Or, you know, text their displeasure to me.  Either way, I'd rather just read it. 
So there you have it, my top ten must-reads for the season!  Want to tell me how awesome my list is, what I'm missing, or what's on yours?  Do so in the comments!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bitten By Kelley Armstrong - Women Of The Otherworld #1 Book Review

Elena Michaels seems like the typically strong and sexy modern woman, She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She's also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must recon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel.

 . . . .
My first foray into the world of Kelley Armstrong was her YA Darkest Powers trilogy.  It wasn’t the best, but it was good, and she scored some major points with me for her characterization.  I decided to venture into her adult urban fantasy books with her debut novel, Bitten.

Bitten is the first of the hugely popular Women Of The Otherworld series.  It’s about a reluctant werewolf, the only female werewolf known in existence, Elena Michaels.

The novel starts with Elena roaming the streets of Toronto, forced by her werewolf nature to Change.  We’re taken inside of her wolf-form mind, ruled as much by animal instinct as by human reasoning.  There are a lot of questions posed in the prologue that slowly get revealed through the rest of the book, which at first makes it seem like you’re starting in the middle of a series, rather than the beginning.  While these questions are answered as the story progresses, there are just a bit too many pages spent inside of Elena’s memories to get her full backstory.  It makes me wish there had been an entire novel dedicated to Elena’s change, and her relationship with the werewolf who betrayed her with a bite, rather than these condensed pages of information.

Even with the slow revealing and flashbacks, Bitten flows remarkably well.  Elena is a sympathetic character, battling with the betrayal that turned her world and her plans on their heads, and the wolf that lives inside of her.  Her character growth is gradual and believable, and very satisfying.

When we’re introduced to Elena’s pack – which she’s been away from for two years, building as normal of a human life as possible for her – we see a very familial dynamic unfold.  Nick and his biological father Antonio read like caring brothers to Elena; Nick the fun-loving, teasing one, Antonio older and more responsible.  Jeremy, the packleader, has a definite paternal aspect to him; he feels like a very real father figure to Elena.  Clay…. Clay is such an interesting, complex character that it would be impossible to sum him up in one or two short sentences.  It’s this very complexity that makes Clay so awesome and easy to love.

Bitten’s plotline is tight and action-packed, which makes for a hugely page-turning read, albeit one that was just a bit too action-y at parts.  But the development in personal relationships you find yourself longing for about two-thirds of the way in does come, and it leads right into a very satisfying climax and conclusion – one blessedly cliffhanger-free.

Bitten may not be the quintessential urban fantasy novel, but it is most certainly one that should be read by fans of the genre.
Bitten - 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 9, 2013

YA Epidemics #1 - Love Triangles

YA Epidemics*

Love Triangles

Probably the most obvious of the YA epidemics plaguing so many books on the shelves right now, love-triangles have been running rampant since Bella met Edward…and then kissed Jacob.  How many of us have flown through pages of a new book, engrossed in the story and the romance, until that one chapter throws a new romantic interest into the mix?  There was a time when I would arch an eyebrow, assess the newcomer, then welcome him into my circle of fictional crushes with open arms.
Fast-forward a couple of hundred love-triangles later to rolling eyes, exasperated sighs, and a circle of fictional crushes barricaded and locked up inside arms that are now crossed tight.
Have you noticed the theme to these love-triangles yet?  It’s always girl-boy-boy; god forbid we see a boy pining over two girls.  For some reason, it’s perfectly acceptable for our female heroines to be tragically torn between two lovers, but reverse the dynamics and our guy is a "playa" who doesn’t deserve either of the girls he’s leading on by a string.  Are we actually buying this?  Bella put scars on that poor werewolf that were only healed when he got in touch with his inner pedo, and who can forget how Rose ruthlessly tore out the heart of one very sweet, vulnerable, troubled Moroi before stomping on it and tossing it into the dirt?
 We also so often see the sweet boy, pining away in the corner of the friend zone while his crush meets and falls for some paranormal bad-boy before finally realizing, “Oh, hey.  I’m totes in love with the new guy, but all of the sudden I’m seeing my bff’s smile and feeling butterflies where there were no butterflies before.  Huh, how about that.”
Why do publishes do this?  They find a popular trend and monetize on it by throwing it in our faces like water on a fire…with the same extinguishing effect to many of us avid readers.  It’s gone from slightly annoying to irritating as hell to sitting firmly in the number one spot of YA Epidemics.  I won’t deny the initial appeal to the love-triangle – why only have one hot guy when you can have two? – but when it’s done so often that it’s nothing but a plot device to lure in new readers in half of these books, you’ve got to ask yourself if maybe it’s time to retire the triangle and rediscover the uncomplicated pleasures of a nice, drama-free line.
So, what’s your take on this particular YA epidemic?  Is there still magic in the love triangle, or are you in the same wearied boat as I am?  Let me know in the comments!

*Literary Epidemics is a potentially new weekly feature for Paper Fantasies. Each week's post will address one of those pesky little YA trends that seem to have snuck their way into...more books than they should have.  I'd love to know what you think!