The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys was chosen as December’s YAcker read. You can check out our discussion here.

The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater

The Premise: Every psychic Blue Sargent has ever gone to tells her the same thing: if she kisses her true love, he will die. Other people might dismiss such claims, but Blue lives in a house with her mother Maura and a group of women who are in the business of telling fortunes, and she knows how accurate their readings can be.  Blue’s fate has hung over her head for much of her life, but when her aunt Neeve joins the household, she gives Blue a timeline. This is the year that Blue is going to fall in love.

If that isn’t a grave enough portent for the year, Blue also sees the spirit of a boy during St. Mark’s Eve, when the soon-to-dead march through the grounds of an abandoned church. The boy whispers that his name is Gansey. Blue has no psychic powers of her own (she only magnifies what others see), so seeing Gansey has one of two meanings: either she is responsible for his death, or he is her true love.

In the meantime, Richard “Dick” Campbell Gansey, III (Gansey to his friends) attends the nearby Aglionby Academy. Outwardly he has the ease and confidence of the rich and privileged and he leads a gaggle of Aglionby misfits: Adam, Ronan, and Noah. But inwardly, Gansey is more than he appears. He’s a finder of lost things, and he’s searching for something in particular, something ancient and magical: Glendower, a sleeping king who will grant a boon to whomever wakes him.

Read an excerpt of The Raven Boys here (pdf)

My Thoughts: 

“I should tell you,” Maura always advised her new clients, “that this reading will be accurate, but not specific.”
  It was easier that way.
  But this was not what Blue was told. Again and again, she had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks and spread across the fuzz of a family friend’s living room carpet. Thumbs were pressed to the mystical, invisible third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.
  All the women came to the same conclusion, blunt and inexplicably specific. What they all agreed on, in many different clairvoyant languages, was this:
  If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.


The Raven Boys
begins with a sense of anticipation. The first chapters follow Blue and Gansey separately, but because of fate, Blue’s curse, and St. Mark’s Eve, the reader knows these two characters are meant to cross paths. Blue sees a boy’s spirit whispering the name Gansey, and sitting on a ley line on the other side of town, Gansey picks up the very same conversation on his recorder. Obviously Blue and Gansey are part of a bigger mystery, a mystery that they can only see the edges of from different angles.

Blue was born into the strangeness in Henrietta. She is working class and lives surrounded by women who tell fortunes and are well aware of the ley lines that make her town special. Gansey couldn’t be more different. He was born into privilege and has never experienced life without the ease that money brings to it. Despite this, he leads a pack of misfit boys at Algionby academy and has an obsession with mystic phenomena and a king named Glendower. In spite of their differences, Blue and Gansey’s lives hold some parallels. Mystery swirls around them and they share their lives with people that hold secrets. While Blue lives with her mother and older women named Calla, Persephone, and Orla (in a set-up that doesn’t seem to be unlike what I imagine a coven to be like), Gansey lives in the husk of an old factory with a couple of boys that don’t fit anywhere else.  Her mother and her surrogate aunts warn Blue about kissing boys and avoid discussing Blue’s absent father. Gansey is is leader and support for his friends but there’s a line he can’t cross that keeps Noah elusive, Ronan surly, and Adam defensive.

I liked the way things were set up in this story: Blue’s world about to collide with Gansey’s. Wondering what would happen when these two finally meet had me turning the pages eagerly. Unfortunately, somewhere after the initial set up and the actual crossing of paths, something happened. I never felt fully captured by the story in the way I wanted. It took me a long time to parse out what happened there. My reaction was frustratingly in the middle-of-the-road, and I couldn’t help comparing it to my fellow YAckers who mostly loved the book. I know that reading is a personal experience, subject to mood and a myriad other factors, but while I knew what I liked, I couldn’t pinpoint what kept me from wholeheartedly loving The Raven Boys.

Cut to over a month later, some angst over separating my reading experience from the end of a stressful year, a reread of The Raven Boys, more angst, and I think I have a better idea of what my problem was. Technically, this should have been a winner: the writing is engaging and of good quality; there’s a mishmash of eccentric characters; and the main story centers on mysteries that reveal themselves in slow degrees. Individually each character had his or her own fascinating back story. But for me, some of these strengths also translated into weaknesses. Everyone had some personal albatross: Blue with her curse and her unknown father; Gansey and his obsession for which there is no explanation; Ronan’s father’s death and his subsequent broodiness; Adam with his poverty, pride, and miserable home-life. Even Noah, who is practically a non-entity at the start of the book turns out to be more than meets the eye. On top of that, the antagonist of this story has his crosses to bear. My problem was with so many complex/tragic/secret back stories, the focus felt fragmented. Blue and Gansey took the spotlight the most, but I felt like I was focusing on the other characters through them instead of focusing on them. I’m all for characters having depth, but when there’s a mystery or tragedy to everyone, it felt like too much to me.  You could argue it all links back to the phenomena surrounding Henrietta, but (for me) it created an imbalance. Every issue I had stemmed from this central one. The pacing in the first 150 to 200 pages feels meandering, and the narration hops between characters for some time before something vaguely plot-like appears. I think Gansey and Blue were the protagonists of this story, but I question if that assumption is correct. Then when the pace picks up and the story gathers focus, I felt like certain things like Blue’s acceptance into Gansey’s group didn’t get the attention I wanted. It took me longer than necessary to finish The Raven Boys because I felt adrift.

On the other hand – did I like these characters? Did I want to know what was happening to them? I did. The characters that I loved most are the ones where veil is pulled back a little more in the narration. When that happened, oohh, that’s when I adored this book. That’s why I think I have more of a soft spot for Blue, Gansey, and Adam than the rest of this group. We’re shown Blue’s prickliness towards the raven boys, and Adam’s self-consciousness about being poor, and Gansey’s good intentions that never seem to go right when he deals with either of them. I was half-irritated with Adam’s pride until I came to a realization that his parents failed him when they instilled an us-versus-them mentality in him (which really covers their sins and did Adam no favors), and I was kind of blown away by that epiphany. And then there’s this sweet fledgling maybe between Adam and Blue. It made me hope, but also fear a little, because thrown into the mix is Blue’s curse that points at Gansey. Everything in this story is so fragile and so breakable, and there is no certainty. I’d very much like to find out what happens next.

Overall: There were things I really liked about The Raven Boys and things I really didn’t and they balanced each other out. If you are one who can sit back and enjoy a character-driven story with lovely prose and you don’t need to know where it’s all going, this will do quite well. I think that I needed more structure though. In the end I enjoyed the characters more than the plot. But now that the set up is done, I think I’ll react better to the second book, so I’m planning to continue the series and I’m really looking forward to The Dream Thieves.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Charlotte’s Library
Pirate Penguin Reads
Fantasy Literature
Debbie’s World of Books
The Book Nut
Angieville

Other links:
The Raven Boys website

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

As already mentioned on this blog, Unspoken was the pick of last month’s YAcker’s talk. This was something I suggested because I read it and really enjoyed it. It’s got humor, a Gothic storyline, and believable relationships. That’s a cool combination right there. Plus, it has a knock-me-flat ending, and I kind of love those.

This review is based off an eARC I received through NetGalley.

Unspoken
Sarah Rees Brennan

The Premise: Kami Glass is cheerfully odd. She has long conversations in her head with a boy named Jared way beyond the age when having an imaginary friend is deemed acceptable. Also, she’s full of crazy ideas. These are all in Pursuit of the Truth, like exposing the dark underbelly of the cricket club, which often requires that she ‘volunteer’ her best friend Angela in her madcap schemes. Her latest plan involves her quiet hometown, Sorry-in-the-Vale. Nothing really happens there. Nevertheless, she, the intrepid journalist, will discover its secrets. She’s just convinced her school to let her start a newspaper and she is just burning to find a story. The most obvious topic for news is the Lynburns. They are the family that originally founded Sorry-in-the-Vale, and own a big mansion overlooking the town that has stood empty since Kami’s been alive. Now the Lynburn family has returned, and among them are teenage cousins Ash and Jared. Since the Lynburns have returned, strange things are starting to happen around town, and Kami discovers something she may have never wanted to know: the voice in her head is definitely not imaginary and belongs to a very real Lynburn boy.

Read an excerpt of Unspoken here

My Thoughts:  This is actually my first experience reading Sarah Rees Brennan, so I came into this story without knowing what to expect. From the cover and the blurb of Unspoken, I thought I would get a Gothic mystery, but what I didn’t expect was the humor. It infuses the story with a lightheartedness that makes a serious plot into something fun. I loved the banter between characters – banter that was not just funny and highlighted the camaraderie between Kami and the other characters, but that also conveyed everyone’s individuality – like Kami’s gung-ho personality and Angela’s antisocial one:

“There are only two important things for us to discuss right now,” Kami said. “The first is that to be a success, our newspaper requires a photographer.”
“What’s the other thing?”
“He’d be excellent decoration for our headquarters,”Kami said. “You have to admit, he’s very good-looking, and I need a photographer, so can I keep him, please, oh, please?”
Angela sighed. In the cupboard, the sigh was like a gust of wind. “Kami, you know I hate guys being around all the time. They won’t stop staring and bothering me and giving me the sad, sad eyes like a puppy dog until I just want to kick them. Like a puppy dog.”
“So you have some puppy issues,” Kami observed.
The cupboard door swung suddenly open.
The new boy stood framed by the bright light of the office.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “But I can hear everything you’re saying.”
“Ah,” said Kami.

Right off the bat, Kami reads a this kooky girl who just really wants to nose her way into finding things out. Like some sort of amateur sleuth, she bulldozes her way into getting her best friend to join whatever scheme she has currently cooking up and sort of exasperates Angela with her enthusiasm until she relents. Kami does get her way and signs up the new boy to be their paper’s photographer, as she does with many other things. But without this irreverent personality a lot of the story wouldn’t be. Kami is the star character; the glue that binds the story together. Without her, there wouldn’t be a newspaper, and when weird things start happening, there wouldn’t be anyone even paying attention.

With Kami, students who previously didn’t really belong to a group, suddenly do – Kami and Angela are joined by Holly and the two Lynburn boys, and soon everyone is interacting in lovely, complicated ways. Kami and Angela navigate including another girl into their circle and what this means for their current friendship, Ash and Jared prove to be cousins who just met each other for the first time, and Kami is put in the awkward position of getting attention from not just Ash but Jared as well. What I liked was that these were relationships that were nuanced and evolving and that there’s a fair amount of growing pain that comes along with the humor and banter. I liked the healthy female friendships here, and the lesson and that there’s always something to learn about people you think you know. Angela’s prickliness, but her surprising vulnerability under that, won my heart.

But particularly delicious for me was Kami’s relationship with Jared.

Kami did not feel comfortable talking about Jared’s mother, but she knew they didn’t have a good relationship.She also knew it was irrational and illogical and insane to worry about his family troubles. It was insane to care so much in the first place. He was a voice in her head, after all:she tried not to think about it too much because it made her think she really might be crazy.
Jared filled in the silence.  She wants me to stop talking to you.
Kami did not let her dread touch him. And will you stop? she asked, trying to show him nothing but support.
I told her I had to think about it, said Jared wearily.
Kami curled tighter under the covers, feeling cold. Jared said nothing else. There was silence in her head and silence beneath her window, and still she could not sleep

While Kami always feels reassured by the Jared in her mind, they’ve had to build barriers between themselves in order to appear sane. The voices scare their mothers, and Kami has stopped asking Jared about his life or talking about him with others. So when Kami meets Jared in person, he is so rude and unlike her Jared that she doesn’t make the connection until it’s blatantly obvious the two Jareds are one and the same. I liked that there was a dissonance between inner and outer personalities, because so often how people read you can be so different from what is in your head. Unfortunately it’s not just different perceptions that Kami and Jared have to contend with. The mental barriers between them adds the awkwardness of literally being in someone’s head but not really knowing them, and their lifelong link means both have a desperate need for the other. The irony is that being in each other’s head actually makes it more difficult for them to communicate their feelings for one another than less. There’s no telling if their intense feelings are real, and if one were to feel a certain way about the other that isn’t reciprocated, being stuck with them for the rest of your life is a special kind of Hell. This situation combined with teenaged angst is a recipe for relationship drama and catastrophe.

Speaking of drama, Unspoken is very Gothic. Some of the Gothic elements added a certain creepiness to the story, some of it felt tongue-in-cheek, but all of it felt very familiar to the genre. There are dark, spooky nights with strange noises, a mysterious caste, a ruin, the strange Lynburn family, dead animals, and many more. Even the interest in Kami by the two Lynburns and her hesitant response is not unfamiliar when it comes to Gothic romance. The story is very atmospheric, with a certain amount of build up: questions about what secrets Sorry-in-the-Vale holds, and hints of a dark entity in the town, but without any solid confirmation that anything is really going on until the story is well underway. I really enjoyed how these elements were pulled into the story but didn’t make Unspoken feel old-fashioned. The teen protagonists and the snappy dialogue kept everything modern.

Also keeping this story in this century: the fact that Kami was a quarter Japanese (her father is half), and so are her two younger brothers. I’m always happy to see characters with a mixed racial heritage since I am too. I particularly liked that Kami and her brother Tomo looked more like their dad, and her brother Ten looked more like their mom. I think those true-to-real-life details are important.

So about that ending. When I was updating my goodreads status, I think I called the ending a cliffhanger, but I don’t think that is technically true. No one is in dire danger and there’s no shocking revelation, but there is some drama that left me dying to find out what happens next. I expect angst and even more drama, and usually I am not a fan of these, but Unspoken is the exception: I actually LOVED how it ended. I think it opens up a lot of possibilities for where the story can go and I’m excited that we could be on an emotional rollercoaster next. So delicious!

Overall: I am a fan. I didn’t expect to be so won over by this book, but I am. The concept of young adult with Gothic overtones is done in a fresh and satisfying way, the characters are nuanced with fully-fleshed and engaging emotional lives, and the humor takes it to another level. The balance between these things guaranteed that I would thoroughly enjoy Unspoken.

For more thoughts on this book (with a bit more spoilers), check out the YAck Attack of Unspoken on the YAckers blog.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Harbinger – “it’s going to be a long wait for Unbound.”
The Mountains of Instead – “While Unspoken is an enjoyable read it is not without flaws.”
Book Nut – “[Brennan] has a way of keeping me engaged, turning pages, until her satisfying-yet-frustratingly-open conclusion.”
Fantasy Literature – 3.5 stars
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good), “The most striking thing [...] is its combination of the utterly familiar and the clearly distinct.”
Smexy Books – B, “a huge, enjoyable surprise”
The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia – “on my ‘Best of 2012’ list.”
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves – “between this novel and Team Human, I’m pretty much hooked on Sarah Rees Brennan’s writing”
Bunbury in the Stacks – “The struggle of a relationship that is both symbiotic and parasitic makes Unspoken shine”

Other:
Sarah Rees Brennan answers 6 questions @ Tor.com


The Spring Before I Met You
The Summer Before I Met You
– two prequel shorts set in the world of The Lynburn Legacy.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This review is of a book sent to me by the publisher, Viking (Penguin).

Shadow of Night is the second book in the All Souls trilogy. This is a series that begins with the discovery of a lost manuscript at Oxford’s Bodleian library, by Diana Bishop, a witch and scholar. Pretty soon, the world of daemons, witches, and vampires is following Diana, and she has to ally with vampire Matthew Clairmont, with whom sparks fly. I reviewed the first book, A Discovery of Witches here: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg , and it proved to be one of my more popular reviews last year. This series has a lot of fans.

**** This review will have spoilers for Book #1, A Discovery of Witches!
If you haven’t read it yet, please click the icons above to read my earlier review(I do recommend you read this series in order) ****

Shadow of Night
Deborah Harkness

The Premise: Picking up right after A Discovery of Witches left off, Shadow of Night begins with Diana and Matthew’s search for two things: the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782 (in particular three missing pages), and a witch who can teach Diana how to use her unpredictable magic. With their enemies closing in on them, their solution is to use Diana’s timewalking ability to go to Elizabethan England, thinking they will find what they need there. But when they arrive, it’s clear that Diana does not fit easily in with the locals, and her strangeness during a time when witches are persecuted does not bode well. Then there are Matthew’s friends, the School of Night, and his family — all of whom are used to a very different Matthew than he is in modern day. Accepting of his new wife and the differences in his behavior is not an easy task for everyone. And this is all before Diana and Matthew have begun to do what they set out to do.

My Thoughts:  Much like A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night is a hefty volume, weighing in at 584 pages, but it has a very different feel than the first book.In Discovery, the burgeoning romance between Matthew and Diana is a big part of the story, and then the stories focus widens into a greater conflict between supernatural creatures. In Shadow, the romance and the conflict are still there, but they are impacted by the era the hero and heroine are living in. Time’s effects are felt almost from the first page, when the couple arrive at Matthew’s Old Lodge. The year is 1590 and Diana and Matthew are immediately presented with servants (vampires) and a succession of guests — all who happen to be well-known members of the School of Night. Diana meets Christopher (Kit) Marlowe within moments of their arrival, swiftly followed by George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, Henry Percy, and Walter Raleigh. These men and the time period bring out old chauvinistic habits in Matthew that Diana does not like, but it won’t be the first time in this story that Diana sees a different side of Matthew. As the story continues, his relationships and responsibilities of the Elizabethan era come up time and again. His family, his friends, his position amongst the Congregation and in current politics, all come to bear.

While being in the past is a dream for a History aficionado like Diana, she wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it is, and she feels sorely out of place. It all starts off badly: as much as she tries, her speech and mannerisms are immediately flagged as unusual, and she has to stay hidden to keep her from raising everyone’s suspicions. There is some consolation in being able to meet a lot of historically famous people, but she’s immediately disliked by Kit Marlowe, who is insanely jealous that she married Matthew, and wants only to cause trouble for the woman who married the love of his life. Diana’s troubles are added to when she realizes that her magic is more difficult for her in the past and she needs a witch help her control her power.

This feels like a well-researched book, written with a lot of regard for history and this time period. There were interesting tidbits and scenes between Diana and the people of the past, but I think there will be mixed responses to the amount of history that infuses the book. When it was relevant to the story and to the setting, I enjoyed it, but I struggled with trying to find the plot in the parts where Shadow of Night overindulged. I do think that someone more interested in the Elizabeth period would enjoy the history lessons, I wanted the narrative to focus on the plot and I was frustrated by the added bulk. I wondered if it was really necessary for Diana to meet so many members of The School of Night, for example. They were a window to Matthew’s character as a vampire with his thumb on the pulse of history, but this could have been done without having to meet them all. I had the same issue with other characters and scenes. I felt that they weighed the story down making it move less fluidly than the last book. Transitions felt abrupt, as if the story was written in snippets and then stuck together. This is in stark contrast to A Discovery of Witches which I thought had a better balance between the action, conspiracy, and romance.

Speaking of the romance, there is something of a change in Matthew and Diana’s relationship in Shadow of Night. There is some focus on relationship bumps caused by Matthew’s personal pain and the particular stresses in being a vampire and witch in love. I enjoyed the way being in 1509 gave Diana a unique viewpoint to who Matthew was, and how this was incorporated into the story. The book is divided into six parts, each each part set in a different location. The section that involved France and Matthew’s home was particularly interesting. But, again, I had trouble following the transitions here. It seemed that in every location there was some new revelation about Matthew’s personality which added angst to the story, but they felt out of the blue. I think this was because usually Matthew and Diana seemed happy and in love until some issue would suddenly appear. Maybe the issue is that the story was from Diana’s point of view and Matthew keeps his emotions well-hidden, but the hints that there was anything wrong were too subtle for me as a reader and it made Matthew seem very inconsistent.

As for the main plot and Diana and Matthew’s goals of finding the three missing pages of Ashmole 782 and of educating Diana on witchcraft, there is some progress here. Shadow of Night answers some questions I had at the end of A Discovery of Witches, and the book flashes forward to the future/present (in short interludes between the six parts of this book), and tell the reader how it has been affected by Matthew and Diana’s trip. I liked having some sort of update on the characters we met in A Discovery of Witches and seeing some new-to-me members of Matthew’s family, so I enjoyed those interludes (I especially liked Marcus and Phoebe). I just wish that there was more to say about the series plot from this book, because overall, I felt like while there were a lot of scenes and situations, there was little forward movement in the overarching plot.

Overall: My reaction is lukewarm. I felt like Shadow of Night was the story equivalent of hitting pause on the series while the hero and heroine go off to strengthen as a married couple and prepare to go back into the fray. There is good reason for going into the past — to find out more about Ashmole 782, and for Diana to get help with her witchcraft, but once they are there, these goals faded into the background and being in the Elizabeth era came to the forefront. There was a lot of churn in this story caused by the timeline and I think a reader’s reaction to it will determine how much they like the book. While I felt some of it was necessary, I was disappointed with how much felt like chaff. I had trouble with the focus and flow of the story, and with how little forward movement there was to the series plot, and because of this, I preferred the first book over this one. I hope I’ll fare better when Diana and Matthew return to present day.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
S. Krishna’s reviews – “Harkness sets the stage for a brilliant and explosive conclusion to the series”
The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader – 3.5/5 ” I closed the book and wondered what precisely the point of everything that the characters had gone through was.”
Books Without Any Pictures – “If you liked the first book, then by all means continue with the second.  I think that it’s the better of the two”
Devourer of Books – “Shadow of Night picks up exactly where A Discovery of Witches left off and, is perhaps even the better book.”

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

This was the latest readalong book that Holly, Chachic, and I read.

Unearthly
Cynthia Hand

The Premise: Clara Gardner is a regular seventeen year old, except for one thing – she’s part angel. With visions of a boy standing among pine trees as a fire rages towards him, Clara thinks she knows what her Purpose is. She has to save him. When her visions give her enough details to figure out where this fire is going to be, her mom uproots the whole family from Silicon Valley to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Clara thinks all she has to do is find the boy from her vision and make sure she’s there at the right time and place to fulfill her destiny. Except things aren’t always as simple as they appear. The longer Clara is in Jackson, the more she learns how little she knows about her powers and about her vision, and how life never goes the way you expect.

My Thoughts: I have to admit that I went into this story with a little bit of trepidation. It’s not really anything against angels (although they aren’t my favorite supernatural creatures), so much as a bias against young adult paranormals these days. I think I have this little aversion to this genre because I’ve read one too many with a predictable storyline. That said, I hadn’t seen anything about Unearthly that sounded any alarms. In fact, I’d mostly read good reviews. With that in mind, and without knowing much else, I borrowed Unearthly from the library, and I’m happy to report that Unearthly doesn’t go the predictable YA paranormal route (although it does do a couple of things that seem to be common in YA these days – more on that later).

What stood out for me was a few things. First of all there’s Clara’s voice, which felt like it had the right mix of pre-adulthood maturity peppered with sarcasm and angst. She’s no airhead, but there is a balance between her angelic traits (good looks, preternatural athletic ability and angel powers), and her human ones. For all her awe-inspiring ability (wings and glowing and speaking in tongues), she is still an awkward teen. Actually, it seems like Clara is more awkward than angelic – for every moment of celestial grace, she has more than her fair share of humiliation, like a hair dye horror story and New Girl dorkiness. Then there’s Clara’s relationship with her mother. They don’t always see eye to eye, but they have a close relationship, one in which her mom is in the picture, wants to know about her life, and actually tells her daughter that she’s part angel! Basically, she’s a mom that actually acts like one.

Because of her mother, when Clara talks about her visions, she is matter-of-fact. After all, she’s known what she is since her fourteenth birthday. We don’t have to go through the slow build-up of Clara discovering her angelic side, instead the story begins a little further along. Yes, there’s a lot that Clara still doesn’t know, and her mother isn’t always forthcoming, but at least it feels like Clara has a tangible goal, one that I was curious about:

“In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees. He’s around my age, in that space between child and man, maybe all of seventeen years old. I’m not sure how I know this. I can only see the back of his head, his dark hair curling damply against his neck. I feel the dry heat of the sun, so intense, drawing the life from everything. There’s a strange orange light filling the eastern sky. There’s the heavy smell of smoke. For a moment I’m filled with such a smothering grief that it’s hard to breathe. I don’t know why. I take a step toward the boy, open my mouth to call his name, only I don’t know it. The ground crunches under my feet. He hears me. He starts to turn. One more second and I will see his face.
That’s when the vision leaves me. I blink, and it’s gone.”

The fire, the boy, and Clara’s purpose drive the story. At first, everything she does is for the sole goal of getting to the place and time that the vision foretells, and at first it looks like you can see where things are going. The first day Clara arrives at school, she sees him. His name is Christian, and of course, he’s perfect. All-American, popular, and as beautiful as can be. Clara promptly faints. I cringed, expecting the usual saccharine love story to follow.  In my mind, all kinds of red flags were going off. I didn’t like that Clara hardly knew Christian and was so intensely involved, vision or not. He had a girlfriend! Clara just looked like a stalker, so obsessed was she with fulfilling her purpose. But the story didn’t go the way I expected. It wasn’t about Christian so much as it was about Clara, making new friends (strange loner Angela and friendly, nice-girl Wendy), and finding a life outside of her vision. Things happen which begin to suggest that there is more to being an angel than a purpose, and there are darker things afoot that Clara’s mother never told her about. Another boy begins to get Clara’s attention. Things weren’t going like I expected and pages were flying by as I raced to find out what happened next.

The love triangle in Unearthly at first felt like a necessary evil. Clara had to discover some things about relationships for herself. I hoped that once she realized that one relationship was superficial compared to the one developed over the course of the story, that we’d see the end of it. It looked that way – the intensity of Clara’s feelings is palpable and reflected the emotions of first love. Clara seemed to know what her heart wanted, and I liked her more for it. I also really liked the romance. Then the love triangle is shoehorned back into the plot. Despite how much I want to know what happens next (enough to want to read the second book, Hallowed), and how much I liked the romance and the angel elements, the threat of the unending love triangle brought my enjoyment down a notch.

Overall:  There were quite a few things I enjoyed about Unearthly. It’s a compulsively readable – I wanted to know what would happen next and the pages just few by as I got caught up in the mix of real world teen drama and paranormal intrigue, all voiced by the very human Clara. In many ways it avoids the cliches of YA paranormals – but it doesn’t completely avoid common YA tropes like the dreaded love triangle, nor is Clara always poised – I winced a few times on her behalf. I think it will depend on the reader if what Unearthly does differently from your typical paranormal YA balances out where it treads over well-worn territory. For me, the differences outweighs the commonalities, and I am curious about the second book, but if Hallowed strings the love triangle out further, I’m going to bail.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks - “Hit it!”
Mystifying Paranormal Reviews – DNF
A Room with Books – 4.5 (out of 5)
The Crooked Shelf – “completely and utterly compelling”

Interesting links
Literary Swoon with Cynthia Hand

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness

I received a finished copy of this book via the publisher, Viking/Penguin.

The Premise: Diana Bishop has a degree from Oxford and tenure at Yale. She specializes in the history of science, primarily on alchemy. During a research trip to Oxford’s Bodleian library, Diana requests a manuscript from the Ashmole collection: known as Ashmole 782, and when she sets eyes on it she realizes that it’s enchanted. Diana is a witch, albeit a non-practicing one.  She’s avoided magic after her parent’s death. Yet the enchanted manuscript opens for her, igniting both her powers and a storm of supernatural creatures curious about the manuscript and the person who unlocked it. First and most formidable of the daemons, witches and vampires who show up is Matthew Clairmont, a professor of biochemistry, member of the Royal Society, and vampire.

Read an excerpt of A Discovery of Witches: @Fantasy Cafe or @Deborah Harkness’ website

My Thoughts: Before starting A Discovery of Witches, I saw that it was likened to “Twilight for adults”. I spent a lot of time mulling over this while I was reading the book. I think that comparisons, particularly to a book like Twilight may do more to turn readers off than to draw them in. At first,  I didn’t think that the comparison made sense. The narrator is a witch, the setting is academia, and nothing reminded me of Twilight, except the detailed prose. I thought: “Is Twilight the first thing that comes to mind when there’s a vampire romance?”, but as I got further into the story, I began to see where the comparison came from: Matthew is protective of Diana; he breaks into her rooms while she sleeps; he feels conflicted over his feelings; the Congregation wants to keep them apart. But is this book like Twilight? Well… no, not really. There are plenty of differences between the two books, and the concepts that feel similar feel only superficially similar. In fact, I feel like A Discovery of Witches sidesteps a lot of the problems with why people didn’t like Twilight. Diana Bishop is a more independent character than I found Bella, and overall the romance felt more mature (I could see what drew these two to each other despite their age differences), and the plot itself was more complex.

The subtitle “a novel” also threw me off as to what to expect. Was this something in the literary fiction sphere, or something that is essentially a paranormal romance? While the story has a lot of historical references, the protagonists drink the finest wine and practice yoga, it’s accessible to fans of the paranormal romance and urban fantasy genres. There are paranormal creatures, a slow moving romance that is a big part of the plot, and I didn’t feel like it took itself too seriously. There is an escapist side to the writing. And when it came to history, I think the author indulged a little, because Matthew owns a Gutenberg Bible, a bound copy of “Will’s plays”, a 1795 wine from Madiera, a 500 year old Tudor Manor house, and a castle. It tickled me to run into these things though, so don’t take that as a negative.

The one aspect of the writing in this book that could be seen as negative however, is how detailed it was. A meal could be cover several pages because each course is thoroughly recounted, down to individual tastes in the wine and Diana and Matthew’s reactions to everything. If you don’t like this thick, descriptive writing, you’ll be stopping this book early.  On the other hand, if you enjoy having a really lush picture of what’s going on, this book delivers. I found the details so intertwined with the slow courtship that I felt like I was enjoying something comforting and extra-wordy that I wouldn’t normally savor in large doses: like rich chocolate.  This writing style (all 579 pages of it), makes A Discovery of Witches the kind of book you read in installments, not cover to cover in one sitting.

Most of the first half of this hefty volume is a lengthy courtship between Matthew and Diana, with the discovery of the enchanted Ashmole manuscript as the initiator. Diana is the main narrator of this story, so most of the book is told from the first person point of view, although there are a couple of instances when the story follows Matthew and switches to third person. Once it’s clear there’s something the two protagonists, the consequences of inter-species dating, Diana’s powers, and the Ashmole manuscript come to the forefront. That’s when the story widens from the focus on Matthew and Diana to the people around them. On Diana’s side there are witches, on Matthew’s there are vampires. Witches are born, vampires are made. Then there is a third race, daemons who are not the demons you typically see in paranormal fiction. These are born from humans but possess genius and/or madness that sets them apart. Once the plot thickens, I was pleasantly surprised how much enjoyed the seamless mix of action and conspiracy against the romance. The author adds secret societies, power-hungry factions, paranormal forces, conspiracies, a house with it’s own personality (I loved this house, I want to live in this house), and lots of grumpy vampires with long lives and long grudges. This looks to be the beginning of an epic battle between good and evil, and while there’s a satisfying ending to A Discovery of Witches, it is clear that there’s more. I hadn’t realized this when I got the book, but A Discovery of Witches is part of a trilogy and sets the scene for Matthew and Diana’s continued adventures.

Overall: This is a book that I think is supposed to be shelved in fiction, but it has a lot of cross-over appeal for urban fantasy and paranormal romance fans. Don’t let the Oxford setting and protagonists with long academic credentials dissuade you, this is an accessible story with a slow moving romance that’s a guilty pleasure to read, but the romance isn’t all — the story is shaping up to be a great good versus evil tale. I’d recommend this one with reservations however — there’s a lot of description and exposition in this story which isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t bothered by the writing style, then I think it’s a good one to try.

This looks to be the first in a 3 book series.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – DNF

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Beastly
Alex Flinn

Beastly, a modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast told from the point of view of the beast, has gotten a lot of positive reviews, so I’m happy that thanks to my Secret Santa from the Book Blogger Holiday swap I finally had a chance to read it. 

The Premise: Kyle Kingsbury is handsome, popular, and, a big superficial jerk. His father is a famous newscaster and taught Kyle that people who did things out of friendship or love are suckers, so Kyle lives only for himself. Life is good: he goes to an elite school in Manhattan where he’s ultra popular and has a lock on being voted king of the ninth grade spring dance. Then Kyle decides to humiliate a strange new girl at the dance, and is rewarded with his comeuppance – cursed to be a beast unless he can love and be loved in return. He has two years to learn and to become someone worth loving or he will stay a beast forever.

Read and excerpt of Beastly here

My Thoughts: Kyle is incredibly unlikable in the first few pages of this book. Before his world is rocked by the curse, he really turned me off. In fact, I read a few pages of Beastly through Amazon’s Look Inside program a year or so ago and I was worried I wouldn’t like the book because of him. But once I got a chapter or two in, I empathized with Kyle despite my first impressions. Kyle’s growth from the snobby pretty-boy with negligent parents into a man of character doesn’t happen overnight. It took much of the two years he’s allocated and it’s not an easy road, but I believed and hoped he could make it eventually.

Kyle (who renames himself Adrian), is exiled by his father to a house in Brooklyn when it becomes clear that nothing can fix his appearance. All he has is his faithful housekeeper Magda, and after he asks for it – a blind tutor named Will. Adrian watches the world through a magic mirror. The forced isolation produced by becoming a beast gives him plenty of time for introspection, and he uses the time productively. He starts to appreciate things he thought of as unimportant before, and I enjoyed his discovery of less superficial interests, although he continues to despair of really breaking his curse. That is until circumstances allow Lindy, the “Beauty” of the story to enter the picture.

Lindy is probably the opposite of what Adrian used to be when he was Kyle – not popular, not good looking, and not rich. She lives in a poor neighborhood with an addict father.  Despite being rather plain and not particularly noticeable, there’s something that draws Adrian to her. Adrian’s feelings for her were rather sweet – wanting her to like him, and realizing he can’t buy or bargain for her affections. His loneliness and yearning at this point made their tentative friendship something to root for. While I found Lindy to be a nice person, but not particularly compelling compared to Adrian, I wholeheartedly believed the feelings Adrian had for her. And I believed this version’s explanation of why her family so easily let her go to the Beast.

As a bonus, I loved that Beastly was based on the version of Beauty and the Beast in which Beauty is a reader. Reading books like Jane Eyre, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and The Picture of Dorian Grey are all part of the story, and I loved the parallels, which were not lost on Adrian/Kyle. I also enjoyed the “transformation” chat room conversations that Adrian joined. It was hilarious to see the little mermaid, the frog prince and others kvetching online.

Overall: A very pleasing modern-day Beauty and the Beast. I really liked this spin on my favorite fairy tale: told from the first person point of view of a spoiled Manhattan teen who does become a better person and has to win the girl the hard way. If you’d like to read a YA with a sweet romance, and you like the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, I recommend this one.

I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series – A Kiss in Time, and Cloaked. And I’ll probably look for the DVD of Beastly the movie whenever it comes out (it’s been suspiciously delayed in it’s release).

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads – 3.5 out of 5
My Favourite Books – positive review
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive review
All Things Urban Fantasy – 2/5
The Book Smugglers – 6/10
Angieville – positive review
See Michelle Read – positive review

Almost to Die For by Tate Hallaway

Almost to Die For
Tate Hallaway

I won this book over at The Book Pushers blog. I’d read a couple of books in the Garnet Lacey series (still plan to get around to the rest one day), and was interested in seeing what this new YA series would be like. 

The Premise: Anastasija (Ana) Parker has just turned sixteen, which is the day she becomes a full witch in the coven which she and her mom belongs. Ana dreads the ritual which will prove that she has no magic: although she can feel spells, she can’t cast any herself.  Her birthday turns out to be even more of a disaster when her father, a man Ana never met, turns up. And he’s the vampire king. Ana discovers she’s a dhampyr, and each parent wants her to reject the other and embrace their particular heritage.

My Thoughts: At 241 pages, this is a really fast read. Ana is a typical high school student, albeit one who has been put into the “weird” crowd because of her different colored eyes, and odd friends (Bea is witchy, Taylor is one-of-a-kind). Besides a jock trading barbs with her at school, and interactions with the coven, she’s nothing very special. This all suddenly changes overnight on her birthday when her vampire father shows up and the cat is out of the bag. Her mother flips out and begins throwing spells like crazy.  Ana has no idea why and her mother refuses to explain anything. Things get worse at the ritual, but Ana seems to be catching the eye of both Nicolai – a witch her age with a family tradition of vampire hunting, and Elias, the captain of her father’s guard. Ana finds herself ping-ponging between parents and trying to decide what she should do.

There are a few things that I liked about this book, but I think I had more problems than I had positive reactions. The main issue was the feeling like this was very well-trodden territory – there were too many things in this book that I’ve read before. This in itself is I suppose OK, but it wasn’t balanced by enough original ideas to keep me connected to the story:

  • Teen girl discovers that her parents have been hiding information about herself
  • Teen girl discovers she’s the daughter of a king and is therefore a princess
  • Teen girl gets a bodyguard of supernatural origin who is immediately interested in her
  • Teen girl must choose between new hot guy and hot guy she’s known for a while. Cannot decide. Dates both.
  • Teen girl likes boy who is basically a hunter of whatever she is, but makes exception for her
  • Teen girl has unique special powers no one else has and has some special Destiny

The fact that I didn’t really like her mother (who kept Ana’s half-vampire status hidden when a lot of the coven knew about it, and then puts spells on Ana which basically enslave her) did not help. I had a lot of questions about why her mother was like this that didn’t feel explained. I didn’t quite believe her explanation for keeping Ana in the dark either. Maybe that’s for another book, but it frustrated me in this one. The beginnings of the love triangle in this story was another issue. I think both guys were interesting, but I couldn’t buy their attraction to Ana because it almost seemed like both guys liked a concept of her, but didn’t really knew her. Perhaps this is something else that gets addressed in a sequel.

What I did like was Ana’s friendships with Bea and Taylor. I liked that Bea was someone Ana didn’t always like, but there was love there – I was interested in what their history was and I wished there was more room in this book to explore their friendship. Taylor has an even smaller role – she’s basically a friend with a lot of interesting (if a bit geeky) interests, who wears a hijab with jeans to school. She doesn’t know what’s going on with Ana’s supernatural life, but when she’s on the page, I loved her.  I also liked the particular spin on the origins of vampires and the world building there. The explanation behind the enmity between witches and vampires was a good one. Finally – I thought that the way cell phones/communication in this story was well thought out.

Overall: An average read. I wanted to like this book, but there was a lack of freshness to the story that left me feeling underwhelmed. Maybe this would work better as an introduction to paranormal YA genre than someone who has read a lot of these.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find other reviews yet. Let me know if you have one and I’ll link it here.

Firelight by Sophie Jordan

Firelight
Sophie Jordan

This is a review of an ARC copy of this book that I picked up at BEA.

The Premise: Jacinda is a draki – a dragon descendant who can shift into human form.  She’s also the only fire-breathing draki of her pride, and because of this, they have her earmarked as a pride asset whose genes they want bred with Cassian, the leader’s son. When Jacinda impulsively breaks pride rules and sneaks out for a flight, and subsequently is almost killed by hunters, the punishment promises to be severe. Rather than continue to let her daughter be controlled, Jacinda’s mom takes her twin daughters and escapes their secret draki town in the middle of the night. However, where they relocate to (a desert town miles away from the mountains and rivers that sustain the draki), may prove to be more dangerous. Not only is this where Jacinda’s abilities begin to fade, but it’s also where a draki hunter family lives, and Jacinda can’t seem to stay away from Will, who is one of them.

My Thoughts: I’ve been a little bit wary of the young adult shape shifting dragon subset of fiction ever since I read MaryJanice Davidson’s Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace (http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg). I had huge, ranty problems with the way the parents acted and many of the characters, but it’s been a while since that experience, and I was drawn to the subtlety of the Firelight cover. In comparison, Firelight comes out as the better book, but it’s not without its problems.

The story begins promisingly enough, with Jacinda narrating to us about her (restricted) life within the tribe, giving us some back story about her being a draki. She was aware that ever since she manifested as a draki (her twin Tamra never did), that everyone has looked at her differently. Rather than Jacinda, they now see The Only Fire-Breathing Draki In Generations, and so they’ve been suffocating her with their expectations. They’ve  all decided that to preserve her unique genetics she must be married off to the strongest young male, the Alpha’s son, Cassian. Jacinda chafes at this because she doesn’t particularly want Cassian, but she’s started to resign herself to this fate. When Jacinda breaks the rules and almost gets caught by hunters (a certain death), her worth to the tribe promises a particularly ugly punishment. Fortunately, her parents aren’t sitting idly by while their daughter gets treated like chattel. Jacinda’s mother packs up and sneaks out of town with her daughters.

Jacinda goes along with this, but unlike them, she fears leaving her home. Her sister Tamra has always wanted to be normal, and is sick of living in Jacinda’s shadow ever since Jacinda manifested, and Jacinda’s mom has voluntarily let go of her draki side. For them it’s easy to live among humans, but for Jacinda, who LOVES being a draki, it’s extremely difficult to let her draki die. This conflict within the family was pretty interesting. Although I did find the family dynamics frustrating at times (there seem to be a lot of arguments where Jacinda and Tamra didn’t really try to understand each other or just shut down),  her relationship with her mother and her sister feel realistic. Jacinda can come off as a little whiny around them, but I don’t particularly fault her for it because of what she’s been going through, and I don’t fault her mother or her sister’s reactions or feelings either.

What I did have a problem with in this story is Jacinda’s relationship with Will. It’s overly-dramatic for me. When Jacinda finds him at her new school, she practically has an attack and changes into a draki in front of a crowded hall of students, and from then on their reactions to each other are along this same vein, with Jacinda hyper-aware of Will and longing stares between the two of them. Will is some kind of fantasy boy: rich, good-looking and has never shown interest in a girl before. Jacinda’s mom and sister don’t approve of a guy who makes her so emotional she could the manifest, and that’s without knowing he’s a hunter. And Will doesn’t want anyone near him so he can keep them away from his creepy killer family. Will and Jacinda sneak around, imagining that they are Romeo and Juliet, but an incredibly indecisive Romeo and Juliet.  They swing back and forth between “no, I must stay away” and “Oh no, I can’t stay away” so much that I was really irritated – particularly because there is all this hand-wringing when I have no idea why Will and Jacinda even like each other. Jacinda and Will barely speak and when they do it’s about how they shouldn’t be together or how much they want to be together. I think this idea of an impossible love is why it’s touted as something that will appeal to fans of Twilight (the hunter falls for his prey in Firelight, the lion with the lamb in Twilight), but there’s something missing in the formula here which Twilight had. (And Jacinda didn’t win any points when she finds herself musing on Cassian’s attractiveness when he reenters the picture!)

If not for this forbidden love, the people around Jacinda and Will, and the consequences of who they both are make for an intriguing plot. I had questions about what the reaction of Will’s cousin would really be if he found out what Jacinda was, what really happened to her father, and what would happen to her if she was dragged back to her pride. There’s plenty of room for more revelations here, and I wish some of it was explored further, but the Jacinda/Will relationship took much of the room.

Overall: I liked the ideas in this one, it has thoughtful world building, and the writing isn’t bad either. I’d call this a solid read, but I had really big problems with the superficiality of the relationship between Jacinda and Will, so the romance brought down my enjoyment. The ending leaves the reader wanting more, but I’m not eager for more of Jacinda’s love life (I feel like a cynical curmudgeon, but there you have it), so I’ll pass on book 2.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s Books | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Lurv a la Mode – 1 scoop (out of 5)
The Vampire Book Club – 4/5
Jawas Read, Too – 6 (out of 10)
My Favourite Books – positive review
Chachic’s book nook – mixed
All Things Urban Fantasy – 4/5
Debbie’s World of Books – 4/5
Books and Things – 4/5
YA Book nerd - positive

Book Trailer:

Although my review shows I had problems with this story, I know others may not have the same kind of reaction. I’d like to pass it forward. I’ve done this before and just asked that whoever got the book write a review for it, but it’s Thanksgiving so this time – no need for a review. If you think you’ll like this one, let me know, and I’ll send along my copy which is a ARC signed by the author. Open to everyone, but first come, first served! Taken

Glimmerglass by Jenna Black

Glimmerglass
Jenna Black

This was a book that calico_reaction was kind enough to pass along to me earlier this year (I’d like to pay it forward and pass it along to someone else, but more on that later).  I read this during the 24 hour readathon this past weekend.

The cover is also gorgeous. I love this cover design – the pale colors against the black, the gray spots, even the font of the title and author’s name. The cover for the second book looks equally dreamlike and lovely.

The Premise: The narrator of this young adult paranormal is Dana Hathaway, a teen who is sick of dealing with her alcoholic mom. When her mom arrives at her recital sloppy drunk, Dana has finally had it. She knows that her father, Seamus Stuart, is Fae and lives in Avalon, an independent city-state in England. Dana calls him and before long she’s running away to Avalon to stay with her father. Although Dana’s mom told Dana that her father was something of a bigwig, Dana doesn’t realize how big or that her arrival in Avalon would make her the target of political manipulations from pretty much every faction you could think of.

My Thoughts: This is a pretty fast read. It’s only 294 pages but it moves quickly. I was surprised by how quickly I got through this one during the readathon.

It’s in the first half of the book that I hit most of my problems with the story. That’s unfortunate, because I found the second half much better. The biggest issue I had was with Dana herself. I found myself repeatedly wondering why she didn’t ask more questions! First, Dana decides to run away from home, but doesn’t question why her father was OK with her going to Avalon without knowing how Dana’s mother felt about it. When Dana arrives, she find out that her father is in jail. Dana never asks what her father was in jail for and just accepts that he will be there a couple of days. I found that incredibly surprising. I also found it surprising that she knew who her father was but didn’t bother to find out as much about him as possible. She didn’t bother to google him, she didn’t bother to research into her heritage or to ask him about her other relatives? She had no questions about being half Fae? I could go on. It was incredibly naive, and as a result she looks like a fool when she learns that her father is in the running for the Council (Avalon’s governing body), that she has an aunt, and that there are possible complications in being half-Fae.

What made this worse was that the naïveté contrasted sharply with Dana’s upbringing. Her mother is an alcoholic and it’s clear that Dana has had a lot of responsibilities thrust upon her. Dana is used to a mother who lies to suit her own purposes. You would think that this would make Dana wary of being lied to. Yet, she’s very gullible when she gets to Avalon. It bugged me to see how she reacted to obviously suspicious behavior. For example when strange people burst into her room, Dana notices the intruder’s pretty eyes and is disappointed when he (a young Fae named Ethan) is clearly chummy with the girl he brought. Then chastises herself .”Why on earth would I care?” – YES, why on earth would you care about this when this strange guy just broke into your room? To compound this, when Dana becomes friendly with Ethan’s sister, Kimber, she is warned about Ethan, yet Dana continues to lose all sense.  When she’s betrayed – yep, that’s a big ol’ surprise to her, but not the reader.

It was frustrating to read about these initial mistakes. Thankfully Dana learns some lessons, and in the second half of the book and she finally begins to question people’s motivations. Once this happens, I found her a much less annoying and could just enjoy the story. At this point we’re also introduced to Dana’s father (finally out of jail), along with Finn, a Fae Knight who acts as Dana’s bodyguard, and Keane, Finn’s son who teaches Dana some self defense. I liked Dana’s interactions with these characters a lot better than her interactions with characters in her first couple of days in Avalon. Dana’s dad takes honesty to painful extreme, but we do get the feeling like he is being honest and that he acts like a parent. He has rules and boundaries that he makes clear to his daughter. There’s still a question of who should be trusted and what everyone wants from Dana, but at least Dana knows this. It’s too bad that it took half the book to get to this point.

Dana’s mother’s alcoholism is a big part of the story (it’s why Dana left her, and is said to be the result of Dana’s mom’s stress of leaving Avalon), and I want to put in my two cents about the way it was depicted. What I thought worked: Dana has a conversation on the phone with her mother who had been drinking and Dana can tell. The description of her mom’s clear but slightly sleepy-sounding voice and indignation at being called out do fit. Dana wanting to blackmail her mother into going into detox and her father telling her that that would not work was also true to life.  What didn’t work so well: I already mentioned that Dana not having a very good lie detector didn’t seem to mesh with dealing with her mom. I also thought that if Dana is so used to hiding what’s going on at home, she would have a better poker face than she did. Lastly, Dana’s dad said that Dana’s mom didn’t drink any more or less than anyone else and she must have become alcoholic after she left Avalon. I don’t think this is something where someone can be “normal”, then after some traumatic event become alcoholic. I think it’s always there.

When this book was done, I think what we have is an introduction to a series. Dana’s heritage and particular talents are established along with the possible political ramifications it could entail. Avalon and the factions within it are set up. And so is a potential love triangle between Dana and the two boys close to her age – Ethan and Keane. I think that I’m in the Keane camp because I found Ethan on the swarmy side (and it’s a big warning sign that his sister is telling Dana to watch out). Keane seems to be pretty up front in comparison and I liked how Dana was around Keane. I’d like to see where that goes and also to see what else Dana finds out about being half-Fae, but I’d like to avoid the naïveté that I saw in the first half of this book. I also had the impression that the plot could have been tighter (the climax has a cartoony evil villain wants to rule the world feel). I think I’d wait and read the reviews before picking up the second book (Shadowspell).

Overall: It falls in the “OK, but I had reservations” camp for me. The second half balances off a pretty poor beginning, which is hampered by a teen protagonist who fits an overly naive, silly girl stereotype. Dana improved a lot by the end of the book, but ultimately this feels like a set-up-for-a-series book.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
calico_reaction – Glad it was free
Karin’s Book Nook – positive review

Although my review shows I had problems with this story, I know others may not have the same kind of reaction. I’d like to pass it forward. If you are someone with a book blog who is willing to review this book, let me know and I’ll send it along (first come, first served). The book has been claimed!

Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Grave Secret
Charlaine Harris

This is a series that falls more into the “mystery” genre (and that’s where it’s shelved), but there are paranormal overtones. Harper Connelly, the protagonist was struck by lightening as a child and after that, she’s been able to sense the dead – at least when she’s in close proximity to their bodies. She can also tell how someone died. With her step-brother Tolliver Lang, Harper has used her ability as a unique way to earn money – finding bodies and identifying the cause of death for her clients.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Grave Secret here

I’ve been reading this series for a while now, and at four books, I think it may be done, at least for the foreseeable future. Grave Secret came out in September 2009, and there hasn’t been news of another book yet. Here are my reviews for the first three books in this series:

Book 1: Grave Sight http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Grave Surprise http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: An Ice Cold Grave http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: Harper and Tolliver decided to visit their younger sisters Mariella and Gracie who live with their aunt and uncle in Dallas. Along the way to Dallas, they take a job identifying what killed the grandfather and patriarch of the wealthy Joyce family, and Harper discovers some things that the Joyce’s are not happy to hear. Then Tolliver and Harper discover that Tolliver’s father Matthew was recently released from prison and is trying to renew ties with his children. Then someone begins shooting at Harper and Tolliver. Somehow all of this is connected and their past is involved. Memories and questions about the abduction of Harper’s older sister Cameron resurface.

******* Minor spoilers for earlier books from this point on ********

My Thoughts: Like the other books in this series, Harper and Tolliver are presented as not really sleuths, but people who keep getting targeted by people with something to hide or found out news they didn’t want to hear.  In this book, someone keeps shooting at them. Something happens which forces them to stay in the area, and to stay alive, they have to re-examine the past few days and find out who wants to kill them. I think that this is sort of a standard Harper Connelly mystery, with a bunch of deaths before we find out what is really going on. It’s a little unsatisfying that so many people die before the bad guys are caught, but this seems to be how it goes in these books.

I’ve commented on this before: I find Harper to be a hard character sometimes. The book is told from her point of view, and how she sees people feels colored by lenses that first look for what’s wrong in others. I don’t think this is an obvious thing, but when you read half a book and meet several characters you notice that Harper isn’t one who tends to like someone at first sight and what she says about people is often unflattering. I think this is something I can only take in small doses, but, this is all part of her character. Harper’s mom and Tolliver’s dad were drug addicts and dragged their children from a regular family life to one of despair and poverty. In this book when Matthew Lang, Tolliver’s father shows up, the dark childhood that Harper experienced was rehashed, and I could see why Harper took a jaded view of people. It was pretty bad. I think Harper and Tolliver have the appropriate, healthy response to their father. I wouldn’t forgive or trust him either. On the other hand, we also get to see more of the rest of Harper’s family and Harper learns to appreciate her Aunt and Uncle, who adopted her sisters, but Harper has always had a little friction with, as well as their other siblings. There seemed to be a better understanding all around by the time the book was done.

In the meantime, their sister Cameron’s abduction is brought up again. That mystery is one brought up from the very beginning of the series, and Harper has mentioned details of the day Cameron disappeared in other books. This story does get wrapped up here, which is why I think that this is probably the final book of the series. There’s also a resolution here in terms of Harper’s relationship with her family, and in terms of her relationship with Tolliver. I still maintain that I feel uneasy about their relationship. I know that they’re not blood related. They’re only step-siblings. I think it bothers me because Harper keeps calling him her brother. Not step-brother. Brother. She introduces him as such, even after they become lovers, and then reminds herself she has to stop thinking of him as her brother. Ew? I’m also not exactly sure how long they lived together as siblings. I’d feel better if it wasn’t long, but we’re not really reminded. It feels like the author is deliberately pushing the ick-boundaries on purpose by doing these things. The reaction of other characters who find out about them feels like a backhanded way of telling the reader not to judge, but I find it hard when the narrative seems to intentionally push my buttons.

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I feel satisfied by the way the long-running story arc of Cameron’s abduction and of Harper and Tolliver’s relationship were dealt with in this book, but on the other, I wasn’t as satisfied by the other mystery. It felt sort of overly-complicated and forced to fit with the Cameron storyline with some senseless killings thrown in. The mystery didn’t feel as strong as the previous books -and the big reveal felt rushed and convenient. I also felt like I was being emotionally played with in terms of the ick factor in the main relationship, which bothered me.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – positive review
Angieville – positive review (Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings”)
Ellz reads – similar comments to mine about the mystery here but satisfied by how the series ended
jmc_bookrelated – “phoned in”. A C- grade
lindseyfrankin - “3-3/5 stars for a solid end to a good mystery series”
Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and reviews – not really a review but a commentary that I found aligned with some of my complaints