Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is an ARC that I picked up at BEA. Cassandra Clare is an author who is relatively new to me. I’ve read a short story of hers but none of her full length books. I was assured however that while this new series (The Infernal Devices) is related to one that she has out (The Mortal Instruments), I could start Clockwork Angel without reading the other one.

The Premise: This is the story of Tessa Gray. Tessa’s aunt just died and because Tessa has no where else to go, she’s moving from her home in New York to join her brother Nate in Victorian London. Unfortunately, as soon as Tessa steps off the boat, she’s pretty much kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, members of the secretive Pandemonium Club, who tell her that she has to do what they tell her or her brother will be hurt. What they do is surprising – they train Tessa to shapechange. Tessa realizes that she may not be completely human, but what she is, she doesn’t know. What she does know is that the Dark Sisters are training Tessa for the mysterious head of their Club – the Magister. Tessa manages to escape with the help of yet another hidden organization – the Shadowhunters, who protect humanity by policing the Downworlders like the warlocks, demons and vampires who haunt London streets.

Read an excerpt of Clockwork Angel here

My Thoughts: I was going to be lazy and just cut and paste the blurb for this book because I thought that it would describe the world and the premise better than what I could come up with, but on second thought I decided not to. Why?  Well, it implies a love triangle that I didn’t really think was there for about 80 percent of the book. I think that it’s pretty clear who Tessa is most attracted to, and while she cares about Boy #2  and they have their private moments, I felt like that relationship is mostly in the friend territory, until bam, near the end. So: a little spoilery, that blurb (but go read it if you just want to see who is in the love triangle, I’m sure you can guess).

Since this is the first book in what I assume will be at least a trilogy, there’s a lot of what feels like set up for long running story arcs. Through Tessa we’re introduced to a whole world and to several characters that work and live in the London Institute. Among the Shadowhunters are other teens – the volatile Will, the zenlike James (Jem), and the spoiled Jessamine who are under the guidance of Charlotte and Henry Branwell. Then there are servants around the age of the teens – Sophie and Thomas, and an older cook – Agatha. Most of the characters have a past, and Tessa, as the nosy newcomer, discovers their individual personalities and nuggets of their backstory.  There’s a lot in this book that is hinted at and ambiguous, like a story sort of taking shape but leaving much hidden. The hints of the complex relationships between the characters is one example. The mysterious back story of every character is another (the best example of this is Will, but Jem, Jessamine, Sophie, even Tessa’s past is shrouded in mystery). This is all while the Shadowhunters try to figure out who is behind the Pandemonium Club and what their plans are with Tessa. Once the story is over, we discover very little of our questions as readers have been answered. The many dangling plot strings and Mysterious Pasts peppered throughout the story feel like manipulation so you have to pick up the second book. Usually I don’t mind being manipulated a little to read on, but Clockwork Angel seemed to take it to another level.

Setting that aside, the story was entertaining. Even with the length (the ARC is 476 pages, but big font), the pacing went at a fast clip with plenty going on. I can’t go into much here without spoiling it so I’ll just say there is lots of action – fights and chases, but also very interesting developments between characters. The world was described in lush detail, with lots of steampunky elements – little clockwork tokens, automatons, and Henry Branwell, an absentminded inventor, against a backdrop of the huge and amazing church on whose ruins the London Institute was built (there’s a lot of description, but I liked it). Tessa also has the mentality of someone of that era. She quotes books she’s read that come from that time, and was brought up thinking there are things that women do not do, although the Shadowhunters have her changing her mind on that. Jessamine’s anger seems related to this too – wanting to just be a Lady – someone who stays a home and isn’t expected to kill Demons. She and Will were the darkest and most interesting characters.  Jessamine for being unlikeable, but with the opportunity to grow, and Will for his tendency to push people away (sometimes cruelly if truth be told), although I think all the characters in this book had some depth.

Overall: Hmm. I had a hard time classifying how I felt about this book so I will settle for: diverting but feels like it’s target is teens. It’s fast paced and it has boys who are beautiful and a little mysterious, a plucky heroine who has something special about her, and I’m entertained and want to know what happens in the next book because it deliberately dangles carrots to make me want to. There’s something that kind of bothers me in that, but I was entertained, so I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Clockwork Angel comes out August 31st

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Wicked Walker – 4.5 stars

The Infernal Devices

Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

Jekel Loves Hyde
Beth Fantaskey

This is another book that I picked up at BEA. If you’re wondering why I’m reading so many young adult books lately – there were a lot of young adult novels to pick up there and I’m trying to make a dent in the BEA TBR piles.

The Premise: This is a young adult story that is based upon the idea that the story Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on truth. Jill Jekel is one of Dr. Jekyll’s indirect descendants, while Tristen Hyde is descended from Mr. Hyde. Jill and Tristen are both in the same chemistry class but although they were teased because of their last names, they don’t really know each other. That begins to change after the murder of Jill’s father, a chemist. Tristen can relate because his mother has been missing for over a year and he’s sure she’s dead. When their teacher suggests they work together on a science competition, they work in secret on experiments Jill’s father was working on before he died. Experiments that are supposedly from the papers of the original Dr. Jekyll which Tristen believes are the only thing that can save him from his genetics.

My Thoughts: A comment about the cover: when you take the wrapper off the hardcover is a lovely silver-green-gray color. And the endpapers are bright neon green! This pleases me.

On to the review.

I really liked the idea of a young adult story based on Jekyll and Hyde, so I started this with high hopes. It began well with Jill’s father’s funeral and Jill trying to get back to her everyday life. I liked the writing style. It’s very smooth and I settled easily into the story.  Tristen and Jill are the narrators (each chapter’s narrator is clearly marked), and their voices sound like teens, although I thought they did sound very similar to each other, which was distracting. Things are not really OK with either teen, they both seem to have problems. Jill’s problems are obvious – her dad was murdered, he was involved in shady dealings, and her mom is not coping well, so JIll has to take care of things she shouldn’t be responsible for.  Tristen is pretending to be normal but has serious worries about the “Hyde curse” and questions about his mother’s disappearance, but his father, a prominent psychotherapist tells him not to be concerned.

The underlying issues that Jill and Tristen have and the suggestion that more is going on had me reading along at a happy clip. This was a relatively fast read for me, but as I was reading, I started feeling ambivalent. When the book begins, Tristen and Jill are up as opposites, which Jill being a plain, mousey type, while Tristen was a confident outsider.  I thought Tristen was interesting because of his confidence and hoped that Jill would come out of her shell, but after the set up of the story and the two began to interact as more than strangers, I realized something about their personalities. I think Tristen was supposed to be a dark hero and Jill a pure heroine, but this did not come out the way I think the author intended. Jill is plain, good girl, but she was often walked all over by other girls. Tristen is a leader with a dark side – he doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of him, including teachers, so he treats them without much respect. Can you already see my problem? Jill’s goodness and innocence reads as milquetoast. Tristen’s dark edge comes off as rudeness.  The disconnect between the way I perceived their characters and what the narrators were telling me their characters were like, was the issue. I wanted to see Tristen’s darkness and Jill’s purity but it didn’t really work (although Tristen comes closer than Jill does).

There are glimpses of more to these characters but they didn’t feel fully explored. For example, the dark other being that Tristen feels inside himself, telling him to do violent, despicable things is a threat that I never really feared. It just never evolves into something really dangerous within this story, despite all the warnings and flashbacks. Jill’s exploration of breaking out of her good girl mold was similarly disappointing and felt like an afterthought. I wanted more. I also wanted more from the way this story ended – which was rather abrupt and then we have an epilogue that was supposed to tie everything together.  I thought it was wrapped up rather too conveniently, but after mulling over it I think it can be interpreted in a much darker way, and I like the implications. It’s much more horrifying, but I’m not sure that the ending I think could be there is the one that IS there so I can’t really credit the author.

Overall: This young adult paranormal has an excellent premise (Jekyll & Hyde re-imagined as teens of opposite sexes!) but the execution did not meet my expectations, which puts the book into the “it was alright, but I had reservations with it” category.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
On the Nightstand – 4 out of 5
The Book Butterfly – “Jekel Loves Hyde is a novel that will not appeal to all readers. Yet it’s a book that can still be enjoyed for its unique premise and intriguing plot line.”
Steph Su Reads – 3 out of 5 (I found myself nodding when I read her review after writing up mine. I agree)
Lurv a la Mode – DNF (very well written explanation why this was a DNF)

Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is one of my autobuy authors, so this is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I picked up an autographed copy at this year’s BEA.

The Premise: Everyone born after what is now called The Shift (which happened sixteen years ago, December 21st, 1:08 Universal Time), can see and hear ghosts. For this generation, the ghosts are annoying and sometimes scary – trying to communicate with the kids and not moving on to the other world. Aura Salvatore was one of the many teenagers dealing with this ability and and it’s downfalls, when her boyfriend Logan dies suddenly and becomes a ghost himself. Now Aura and Logan’s family are left reeling from his death, and it may not be a good thing that Logan’s ghost is still around, because can they move forward when he can’t? And what should Aura do when another boy, Zachary, who is alive and interested in her, when she’s still involved with a ghost? Things are further complicated by Aura’s research into the Shift and her mother’s past, and Zachary reveals a secret which ties them together.

Read an excerpt of the first chapter of Shade

My Thoughts: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there is something in Jeri Smith-Ready’s writing that appeals to me. Maybe it’s because it strikes me as being carefully thought out. The prose is clear and simple yet the story and the world building reaches beyond the easy and superficial.  I liked that there are realistic problems for people with the ability to see ghosts, and that the phenomenon has influenced clothing colors, technology and other facets of society. Even laws have been affected by The Shift. It’s common for kids that work as interpreters for ghosts on the witness stand for example. The government’s reaction is yet another interesting aspect.

What I really love is how this phenomenon is made personal and poignant because of the first person point of view of the narrator, Aura. We see her relationship with Logan through her eyes. They’ve known each other since they were six. His big brother and sister, Siobhan and Mickey, and his younger brother Dylan are used to her presence at their house all the time.  They fight, they make up. They share a love of music. What they have is tumultuous yet lovely, but Smith-Ready doesn’t pull any punches, and when Logan dies, on his seventeenth birthday, in a stupid, senseless way, Aura’s loss is palpable. Her grief felt real. It was not a dramatic dark depression (a la catatonic Bella in New Moon), but there are ups and downs and raw emotion. The process is slowed down considerably when Logan’s ghost is still there.

While Aura tries to keep going, grieving for Logan yet holding on to his ghost (despite her best friend Megan and her aunt Gina’s advice not to), Aura also develops a budding relationship with Zachary Moore, a new student from Scotland. Zachary understands that Aura is still dealing with Logan’s death and he’s there for her, but he makes it obvious that he likes her. He’s extremely patient, something which endeared him to me, although sometimes I wondered, could someone his age really be that together? His confidence definitely made him attractive though. This is a love triangle where both guys are equally likable, but because Logan was dead, I didn’t think that it was a healthy relationship to be in the long run (and that’s heartbreaking, but Aura needs to live her life). We shall see where that goes. I like that Aura is still figuring it out.

Another facet of the story was the mystery that Aura is trying to solve  – who her father is and what really happened when her mother took a trip to Ireland, over sixteen years ago. She wants to research the monuments at Newgrange for her school project because her mother mentions them in her diaries, but doesn’t want anyone to know what she’s up to. Zachary becomes involved in this research when he’s assigned as her project partner, but he proves to be a little secretive himself. This was a secondary storyline introduced later in the book which left a lot of questions which I’m sure will be further developed in the next book, Shift, which comes out May 2011.

Also – Shade has been optioned by the ABC Family network (doesn’t mean it will be a TV show, but it could be)!

Overall: I do recommend Shade. It’s a young adult story that’s as thoughtfully written as other Jeri Smith-Ready books, so it was as excellent as I was expecting, but perhaps tinged with more sadness. When the story is about ghosts and the death of a seventeen year-old, I would be dismayed if it wasn’t so.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Presenting Lenore – positive review
Ramblings of a Teenage Bookworm – positive but wanted more
Steph Su Reads – 4.5 out of 5

Running Scared by Shannon K. Butcher

I was sent this book for review from the publisher.  This is a paranormal romance series about a war between Sentinel races who protect our world from the monsters (the Synestryn) who wish to overrun it. Each book focuses on a Theronai (one of the Sentinel races) warrior and his search for a compatible woman with the ability to siphon off his power and keep him from becoming a soulless killing machine.

My reviews of the first two books:
Book 1: Burning Alive
Book 2: Finding the Lost

The Premise:
In this third installment of the Sentinels series, Lexi, who was introduced in the first book, believes the Sentinels are the bad guys and have kidnapped her friend Helen (the heroine of book 1, Burning Alive). She’s devised a plan to get Helen out and destroy the Sentinel stronghold. A new group is introduced called the Defenders of Humanity. They are humans who are fighting the Sentinels and think the Synestryn are their pets.  Meanwhile Zach wants Lexi and has no idea of her real motives.

Read an excerpt of Running Scared

My Thoughts: Lexi was introduced very early on in the first book of this series, Burning Alive, which focused on her friend Helen and on the Theronai warrior, Drake. Lexi was a waitress at the cafe where Drake first found Helen and took her away when the Synestryn attacked it. Lexi grew up knowing about the Sentinels but believes incorrectly that the Sentinels are horrible killers. When Lexi met Drake and his warrior buddy Zach at the restaurant she flees for her life.  Unfortunately Zach thinks that Lexi is the woman who can keep his soul alive, and so he’s been desperately searching for her, which only heightens her fear that he wants to kill her. Finally after months of running, Lexi wants to rescue her friend Helen who she thinks the Sentinels have brainwashed and uses Zach to get to her friend, and to finally destroy the Sentinels.

I was looking forward to reading this romance because Lexi seemed to be more of a tough character than the first heroine, Helen. My first impression was that she knew how to take care of herself and to survive alone. In Running Scared, I think she keeps the distrusting persona around.  She holds on to her walls for much longer than the other two heroines, which I found believable, but there were some places where her actions didn’t feel consistent, particularly in the beginning of the book. I just don’t understand how Lexi can say that she doesn’t trust Zach, and she fears him to the point that she’s quaking, but she also finds it hard to keep her hands off him and thinks of him in a sexual way? Perhaps this is supposed to show that deep down, Lexi feels the connection with Zach and it wars with her hard held beliefs, but it read as shaky logic. I would have believed the attraction more if her fear had at least started to go away. I noticed similar situations in the previous books where I felt that the heroine would do something that seemed to go against what I’d learned about their situations up to that point.

The narration is in the third person point of view, but there were a lot of shifts to other characters (more than in the previous two books in my opinion).  Butcher cleverly interweaves her main story with that of side romances and other story arcs that keep the reader hooked to this series. I think I was ready to read Lexi and Zach’s story right after book 1, but instead Butcher focused on another couple while dropping tantalizing hints about Zach and Lexi’s romance (Zach would appear haggard and desperate in front of the other couples, and the story would focus on Lexi running from him for a few pages before returning to the main story). The author does it again with a couple that was introduced in the second book, Finding the Lost,: Nika (the sister of book 2’s heroine, Andra) and Madoc (a Sentinel who helped find Andra and Nika). I’ve been sucked into their story and I think their romance is next in Living Nightmare. In the meantime, we’re also treated to reappearances of characters from the first two books and their ongoing stories: established Theronai couple Gilda and Angus who are going through a difficult time, the Sanguinar and their plans (they’re fighting their extinction), and the evil machinations of the Synestryn. Because of the cutaways from the main story to other developing story arcs, I would say you do have to read this series in order or you will find yourself a little lost whenever side stories get their focus over the main romance.

Overall: I’d put down this series as one tailored to those who like their heroes to be strapping and heroic with heroines sought after and cherished. There’s an eighties action movie vibe – it’s sheer entertainment.  There’s definitely an addictive quality to these books, and the ongoing subplots are becoming very interesting, but the characterizations can be shaky (YMMV). Running Scared is probably the strongest book in this series so far, although I’m very interested in what happens to the next couple (Madoc & Nika).

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Lush – 3.5

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

I liked The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker so much that I made sure to ask about the second book, and Dorchester sent me a copy for review. I also have an extra copy that I’m going to be giving away later.

My review of Strangely Beautiful can be found here:

The Premise: This is the second book in the series which begins with white haired and pale skinned orphan Persephone Parker, a strange girl who can talk to ghosts, arriving at Athens Academy and discovering that she’s an integral part to a long awaited Prophecy. The Guard of London, six remarkable people who protect the city from the forces of Darkness, take Persephone into their fold, but after a very brief respite, the war continues. This is the conclusion of the story.

Read an Excerpt of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

****** There are MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK from this point on *******

My Thoughts:
As in the previous installment, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker has a lovely but dense writing style. It’s definitely not a book I’d say you could pick up and read cover to cover without stopping. I had to read this book piece by piece. I’d call this a rich chocolate cake: to be enjoyed at a sedate pace with time to digest the material in between. Both books have a very Gothic, theatrical element to it, and when I found out Strangely Beautiful was optioned for a Broadway musical, it made sense – it’s a good fit because the people in the book do make grand gestures and seem larger than life. The exception would probably be Percy, but she has a presence too – with her stark albino coloring and her long white hair.  I could see her dancing across the stage with her dark and broody partner, Professor Alexi Rychman.

The language is very Victorian and embellished, and the best way for me to show that is an excerpt:

“Their kiss was of such fusion that they felt the ground tremble. The slight sound of angels grew into bursting chorus. Rising from the candles and met by an aura of light from their bodies, white flame began to pool, merge and expand into a hazy, egglike form that grew as their kiss sustained.  As it ended, the form burst into a great, bird-shaped sun. The avian form threw open expansive wings, and a wave of heat and deafening music blew…”

There is a lot of set up in the first 100 pages Strangely Beautiful, but while that was okay to me because it was the first book in a series, and the world had to be drawn and it’s characters introduced. In Darkly Luminous however, it slows down the pacing especially coupled with the Gothic and embellished language. While I thought that the language in the book was probably even better than the first one, the war between London and the Whisper World did not come to the forefront for a long time. This meant there was very little action until the last part of the book. Instead the book focuses on the romance of Alexi and Persephone, and the final battle is shrouded in mystery and talk of “fate”. The spirits of the old Guard know more about what’s going on that that of the new, and they withhold information for fear of jeopardizing the outcome. I’m never a fan of one character keeping information back from another character in books, and I wish this wasn’t a plot device used here.

In the meantime, lovers of romance will probably be happy with the way Alexi and Percy’s relationship is portrayed. We really get to see their intimate moments and it’s written in a very poetic way. Again, there is a sense of drama about their love and it does include a lot of sweeping gestures (Alexi actually does make them to light candles during their private getaways). While in the first book Alexi is a grumpy and aloof professor, his character is different in this one. Now that he has Percy, I found that Alexi’s previous self-confidence became more overbearing, and in contrast, Percy’s giggling and swooning made her look really young. Their age-difference and Alexi’s bossy, forceful personality, is saved only because Percy begins to show some backbone and corrects Alexi when he misdirects his anger towards her. The danger to Percy is ongoing (the Guard is fighting for her), and Alexi does not do well in those circumstances. There was one particular scene where the result of Alexi’s forcefulness is conveyed which made me dislike him quite a bit, despite his regret for his actions.

Other relationships within the Guard, which were hinted at in the first book are further cultivated here. Percy as the perceptive newcomer urges Elijah, Jane, Rebecca, Michael and Josephine to be open about their feelings before they either ruin the group dynamic or something happens in the battle with Darkness. I’ve been particularly interested in Rebecca, who has loved Alexi for years but that isn’t returned. She instead sees Alexi very happy with Percy and dispairs, oblivious to the fact that Michael has been in love with her.  The story seems to concludes satisfactorily in this second volume, although it looks like there will be a short story that focuses on one pairing in the guard in A Midwinter Fantasy (October 2010). I am not sure if there will be a continuation after this book, although I’m sure there could be.

Overall: The lovely, dense language is why I like this series, although it’s Gothic tone and embellishments mean that the book is something to be slowly savored, and some readers may chafe at the pacing. I thought the language in this installment was even more lovely than the first book, but I had some minor reservations in this one compared to the first.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Smokin Hot Books – 4 smooches
Lurv a la mode – 4 and a half scoops (out of 5)
Brooke Reviews – positive
Smexy Books – 4.5 out of 5
Babbling about Books – B
A Buckeye Girl Reads – positive
Anna’s Book Blog – 5 (out of 5)

Intertwined by Gena Showalter

This is a review for an ARC copy that I got at BEA. Intertwined is another offering from Harlequin’s new line: Harlequin Teen (I reviewed another of their books, Rachel Vincent’s My Soul To Take on this blog in July – LJ | wordpress).

The Premise: Aden Stone is a teen who has been in and out of trouble for a really long time. The reason is that he can hear voices that no one else does. When he replies to them out loud, people think he’s crazy. What’s really going on is that Aden has four souls trapped inside him, who each have an ability which means Aden also has that ability. One day he runs into Mary Ann Gray, a girl who completely stops the voices inside him. They feel an interesting bond between them, but soon afterwards they meet a werewolf who has an interest in Mary Ann and a vampire princess who Aden is pulled towards.

My Thoughts: I liked that Aden Stone was a character with very serious past mistakes, the kind that means treatment options and people not trusting him. This is something you don’t always see in YA, but I’ve seen in before in another Showalter YA novel, Red Handed (where the main character was a drug addict in recovery). For this reason I found Aden the strongest character in the book, although the focus sometimes shifted off him onto Mary Ann. Mary Ann had a happier past, but she also had some depth, particularly in her relationship with her father and best friend.

There are two romances in here and although the blurb pretty much gives you an idea of who is interested in who (so this isn’t a spoiler), the first people who meet in this book are Aden and Mary Ann.  The third person narration focuses on them, so I thought they were being set up as a couple, but they’re not. They meet the other two main characters and immediate crushes are fostered. I would have liked the getting to know you to happen before each character decided they were smitten, and less telling rather than showing, so the romances didn’t do it for me, but were a couple of sweet moments. I of course had my cynic’s cap on regarding the vampire princess being 80 years old, but that’s a personal pet peeve, and here vampires mature less slowly (the equivalent of terrible twos is several years for example) which made it feel a bit more acceptable.

Besides the action in the very beginning of the book, it was a lot of set up into the world and the pacing felt slow at first. It is a long book (442 pages in this ARC) and about 200 pages of it is the protagonists meeting, finding out about each other’s powers and basically going to school. Things became more interesting when Aden’s time travel came into play. From that point on, I was reading at a happy speed, but once the significance of what he saw when he time-travelled was resolved the book sort of fast forwarded through to a quick ending that left me a little unsatisfied. It wasn’t quite a cliffhanger, but it felt really abruptly (and conveniently!) done.

A biggest problem I had with the book was that there were a lot of ideas being thrown at the reader. It’s hard to list them all. There’s all of Aden’s abilities, his past, Mary Ann’s affect on Aden, their relationship to each other, romances with others, and several kinds of supernatural creatures for starters. There felt like a lot of story arcs without a distinct focus. I think I’d have preferred that the author concentrate on Aden and his story rather than bringing in all this outside elements and jumping back and forth between Aden and Mary Ann.

Overall: As escapist fun, this was OK but flawed (uneven pacing and too much going on, things where YMMV). If I think about it there were a few things plot-wise which I hope get cleared up in later books, but the start of this series hasn’t wowed me.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – Ana liked it and gave it an 8

Steph Su Reads – 2 out of 5 (had some similar complaints as me re: too much going on)

There’s Intertwined sweepstakes with a $10,000 grand prize! You can enter every day until November 16th

Dark Legacy by Anna DeStefano

This book was sent to me by Dorchester as well (yes a string of books from them here lately). I had mentioned my interest in anything like the Shomi line, and this has some science fiction, paranormal and romance elements in it, which seemed to be in the same kind of vein.

The Premise: Maddie Temple is a promising young ER doctor who for the past three months has gone from being well-liked to unreliable and flagged for psychiatric screenings at work. The problem lies in Maddie’s past and a very troubled twin named Sarah. Sarah, who was put into long-term care for a vegetative coma after a car accident that killed their father has somehow invaded Maddie’s mind, slowly pushing Maddie into madness.  Psychiatrist Jarred Keith wants to help Maddie, but he doesn’t know what’s going on. Is Maddie losing touch with reality like her twin? Is that the family’s curse? Or is there some other conspiracy going on?

My Thoughts: This was mostly romantic suspense although the psychic aspects made also a paranormal. There’s a lot of action, much of it involving Maddie and Sarah’s mental instability and trying to stop them from hurting others because of it. Moments of clarity seem few and far between and the reader is propelled along a dark and disturbing ride with confusing images of a reoccurring nightmare involving the Raven, trees, a gun, and someone screaming. This nightmare is repeated throughout the story, sometimes interrupting other events and jarring the reader as much as it probably jars the characters.

There are a lot of disjointed sentences. In the dialogue there’s people interrupting each other, letting their sentences trail off and yelling. Even the third person narrative gets interrupted by the dialogue.  Other times, Maddie or Sarah are interrupted by each other’s mental link, so Maddie will suddenly undergo a transformation from herself into a hateful screaming banshee. It’s frustrating to read. You want to shake the characters so that they’ll listen to whoever is speaking! Unfortunately most of the characters are angry and confused about what’s going on so there are a lot of verbal fighting. It made me dislike them sometimes. All of these things added up to an emotionally draining reading experience. I think this was probably all deliberately done by the writer to make the drama the characters experience more realistic to the reader, but you do have to be in the right frame of mind for it, and I’m not sure all readers would be happy with the technique.

There is a romance that is going on at the same time as the suspense between the two doctors, but it seems that it’s an already mostly established one. Dr. Keith is already in love with Maddie, she just wants to push him away before he gets embroiled in her mental nightmare. Of course Dr. Keith won’t have any of this, and is pretty patient with Maddie, going beyond what I thought a normal guy would have accepted. His persistence pays off in saving Maddie, but because of where the story is, I had to just suspend disbelief and believe that Maddie was worthy of his loyalty. I understood that his patience and mental connection makes him the perfect partner to her and I hadn’t seen Maddie before she was close to a psychotic break, but there was so much angry emotions surrounding the story it was hard to concentrate on the romance. I also had to suspend belief when they were having sex, because it felt like inappropriate timing. There was a lot of feelings going on by then that I was not really connecting to, plus I didn’t like some of the phrasing during the act.

Overall: A fast-paced suspense, but very dark and emotionally draining. It’s one of those books where you have to be in the right frame of mind to read it because there’s mental mind games and turmoil and really angry (and at times unlikeable) characters. The anger is done realistically, which means things are messy, and that could be a difficult read for some. It looks like there may be a sequel to this one, but I probably won’t pick it up.

Dark Legacy came out today (08/25). Buy: Amazon | B&N

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Heiber

I’ve been eying this book ever since I saw the title; it just WINS. And after seeing the cover (which I really like – simple and atmospheric) and learning that the story was a little steampunk, my little book-I-must-get radar was beeping like mad. If you look around, this book is getting a lot of buzz, so I wasn’t the only one. I asked for this book right away when Dorchester asked me if there was anything I was interested in reading. I mean, really. This review is for the ARC copy that Dorchester sent me.

The Premise: The heroine, Miss Percy Parker, is an albino who can talk to ghosts. Proficient in many languages, and aware that she’s very strange looking to others, timid Percy has just enrolled in Athens Academy in London. Meanwhile, her Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and mathematics teacher Professor Alexi Rychman belong to a group of six who have been battling supernatural creatures in the streets of Victorian London. They’ve long awaited for the seventh, a woman that Professor Rychman believes is destined to be his true love, but Prophecy urges them to be cautious. Could Miss Percy be the seventh?

My Thoughts: When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the Gothic atmosphere. The worldbuilding seemed interwoven with the way the book was written. There’s an old fashioned formality to the language and dialogue which goes with the tale of ghosts and demons in Victorian London. I could see things taking place in dark, somber colors like blues and blacks, with Percy as a pale exception. Against this backdrop, the supernatural aspects – the ghosts, the frightening Ripper, and the Guard battling creatures on the cobblestone streets, had a perfect home. The way Greek myth was also added to the story was cherry on top of a lovely pie.

The first people that we meet are the Guard. The six people, three men, three women, who were each chosen by otherworldly spirits to defend the world against Hell. Their first meeting is as young teens, when they are each summoned together. Besides Rebecca and Alexi who become faculty as Athens Academy, there’s Michael, Elijah,Josephine, and Jane. Each has their own set of skills, which Alexi as their leader.
Because this is primarily a romance, the focus was mostly on Percy and Professor Rychman. The characters of each of the Guard are quickly, but deftly sketched. While there is a lot of good natured camaraderie in the group, there are tensions such as unrequited love and differences in interpreting the Prophecy that add depth to the relationships.

Of the main two characters, Percy is the timid schoolgirl, a nineteen year old who haunts the halls of Athena Academy, unsure of herself because of people’s reactions to her looks. In contrast the dark, tall (and somewhat cranky) Professor Rychman is an imposing and confident figure. I loved Professor Rychman’s character, but then I’ve always been fond of slightly acerbic people. I’ve read that the author modeled him on Alan Rickman, and I could see the similarities. It was easy for me to see Percy’s attraction to her Professor, less easy for me to see what the Professor saw in Percy – she was so meek, and in comparison to the Professor, her feelings made her seem very young. In that regard, the romance felt off for me, but otherwise I did enjoy the way it slowly unfolded and the problems it hit along the way.

The language is often very dramatic, which seems to go along with the Gothic aspect. At times the grand gestures made me aware I was reading fiction – I often could imagine certain scenes as if they were being played out in a theater, but it matched the Gothic Romance feel of the book.

Overall: Very good. The story is unique: a mix of historical, steampunk, paranormal and gothic romance. It’s the originality that really had me and made it a keeper, with clever twists on Greek mythology and Jack the Ripper. The only quibbles I had were with things in keeping with the sense of gothic romance and drama throughout the book.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:

Lurv a la Mode (four and a half scoops out of five)
Smexy Books (rating was a 9 )
Fantasy Dreamers Ramblings (positive review)
Tempting Persephone (positive review)

The Book Butterfly – I liked this one – talks about research and inspiration that went into the book, including bits about ghosts and Victorian London. (with contest ending Sept 10th)
Literary Escapism (with a contest ending Aug 25th)

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Eclipse is the third book in the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd know this is the story of Bella, a "normal" high school girl who falls in love with a vampire. Complications ensue because she's human and should be her boyfriend's dinner, and she has a werewolf for a best friend.

Some minor spoilers for this book and previous ones are in this review.

My review of New Moon is here. If you read that, you'll know that I found New Moon very angsty and it made me feel rather ranty about Bella and her depression. I also thought that Edward was rather controlling by deciding what was best for her and not letting her make her own choices. Despite really liking Twilight, I'm not sure I would have continued this series after New Moon. But that this series is so popular that my cousin gave me the whole series as a present so I own it now. Also my best friend has been nagging me to read it so she can rant to me about it. So I read it.

Where to begin. Well I thought that Eclipse was better than New Moon. I think that that is greatly due to my aversion to reading about a main character who is moping around and angsty, which is what you see a lot of in New Moon. I'm just not a fan of depression in my escapism. On the other hand, while in New Moon I found Bella and Edward somewhat annoying, in Eclipse I started also getting mad at other secondary characters like Charlie, who is Bella's father, and Jacob, Bella's best friend! Why is everyone annoying? Let me tell you:

Edward is trying to back off on his control issues here but he still slips with the excuse that he will do anything to keep Bella safe. He manipulates her to get what he wants. At least he was so overshadowed by other people who were driving me crazy in this book, he didn't bother me as much as he did in the past. His "patience and understanding" were laid on a bit thick though. I still don't quite understand what he sees in Bella. He just shakes his head and says Oh Bella, you don't know how wonderful you are.

Jacob: In earlier books, Jacob is this sort of happy-go-lucky guy that Bella just hangs out with, and he pulls her through her depression, letting her use him as a crutch through her bad time even though she knows he has feelings for her and she doesn't feel the same way. You know that Jacob doesn't like vampires, so he's constantly making nasty, petty remarks about them and about Edward. In Eclipse, this pettiness seemed to rise to extreme levels. I found Jacob's smugness and casual put-downs about people Bella cares about very immature. To top it off Jacob has Bella's number because he realizes she's easily manipulated through guilt. So he uses this several times to get what he wants. Also *spoiler here so look away if you care about that type of thing* Jacob forces a kiss on her. Bella hits him for that, but because he's a werewolf, all that does is break her hand. And then he *laughs* about it and is never really sorry! What a great guy. I was pretty pissed off to reading this part.

Charlie: He doesn't like Edward so of course every chance that he can he pushes Bella towards Jacob. When Jacob admits that he kissed Bella, instead of feeling concern for why his daughter is so mad, all he can do is be happy and praise Jacob for it! His comment regarding Bella's hand is something like I must not have taught you how to punch properly. He's a cop, but he's really uncaring about his daughter being sexually harassed. This is of course coupled with the same complaint I had in the last book – Bella is Charlie's servant; doing the cooking and cleaning while his excuse is that he is just a man so can't do housework. He can't heat up sauce in the microwave (puts metal in there), and he can't do his own laundry. Let's not even go into his parenting and his not having a clue as to what his daughter feels or what she's up to.

Bella: I kept noticing what felt like excuses for Bella's past behavior. Behavior that continues in Eclipse. It felt like the author was trying to address complaints from readers. The servitude is explained away as OCD. I lived with someone with OCD, and Bella does not have OCD. Even if she had *mild* OCD, her dad should still know how to microwave some damn sauce if he's lived alone before and he's an adult! Secondly, Bella spends a lot of time thinking she's a horrible person and has hurt Jacob so much, but feeling bad and still doing it doesn't really absolve you. I really dislike when people don't want to hurt someone, but instead they just give them hope by not trying hard enough to tell them the truth, so in the end it feels even worse. These people moan to everyone how they feel bad, but what they really want is for others to say that they aren't bad so they can continue what they were doing. Which I feel Bella does with Jacob. Not that Jacob is an innocent here, but Bella has already gone through this in New Moon, why are we repeating it again in Eclipse? Finally, Bella acts like a doormat. She gets manipulated by everyone. Edward tricks her into doing what he wants, so does Jacob, so does her dad. I found it really aggravating that the main character is a woman, surrounded by men who want to control her, and she let's them! She's submissive! Any fight she makes just feels like token resistance, because she gives in later. I actually wrote down a couple of times – Bella is mad, I bet she'll forgive him soon, and Bella says she doesn't want to, I bet she will later. And surprise, surprise - she did forgive, she did give in. Jacob underlines this for me because he actually says that he knew she was going to forgive him  so he did what he wanted. 

All this points to something which feels glaringly obvious; this book has very old fashioned values and views. Bella's role as housekeeper for her dad is a good example. Then we have the sex. Stephen King infamously commented on Meyer's writing recently, and said: "A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that's a shorthand for all the feelings that they're not ready to deal with yet." I was hardly surprised that Edward was unwilling to have sex with Bella before marriage. Already he's discussed his belief that as a vampire he has no soul and probably will go to hell when he dies, so it was no stretch to see him want Bella to marry him first. This is safe moral ground. It's a bit too pat but I have no real problem with this little bit of preaching in this story. What bothers me more is Bella being easily controlled – forgiving easily the asshat-ery of her male controllers. It disturbs me to see her accept what the men do, when I see it side by side with her domestic duties. It disturbs me to see Meyer's picture of men vs. women, Bella vs. Edward/Jacob/her father.     

I admit, Meyer has to be doing something right. These books aren't on bestseller lists for nothing. I'd say it's the world building and the way she writes her dialog. It feels very natural and real and it's very readable. From what I remember of Twilight, the pacing there was quite fast. The pacing in Eclipse however felt a lot slower, with much of the action happening only in the last 100 or so pages. So despite my liking the way Meyer writes dialog, I felt like there was too much – it takes up a lot of room so pages and pages later you realize – nothing has happened. At 600+ pages, this book could have used some merciless editing.

Overall: An average to slightly above average read. Natural dialog, fascinating world building, great action when there is any (there was little), but I had some major issues with the characters and with Bella's subjugation by her male counterparts.

I now leave you with Southpark's Twilight parody "The Ungroundable", which aired recently and is online in its entirety for now (go watch, it's awesome).

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An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

A quick review because I'm spending time with the family this week and they keep interrupting my blogging!!

Charlaine Harris continues the adventures of Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang in the third book of the series, set in Doraville, North Carolina. Harper has been hired to find the bodies of missing teen-aged boys – she soon does – eight young men buried in the same driveway next to an abandoned shack. All Harper wants to do is leave Doraville after this horrific job, but as usual, circumstances prevent it.

Despite this series being shelved in mystery, I think of it as being paranormal mystery because of Harper's ability to find the dead and identify how they died. There are also other reoccurring characters with some psychic ability that sometimes cross Harper's path. I always find these abilities fascinating within the story.

Overall: Every time I read one of these Harper Connelly mysteries, I expect a certain level of writing that will just let me kick back and enjoy – I always end up reading the book really quickly, not wanting to stop. So it wasn't a surprise that I liked this book. I think it's my favorite in the series so far. In the earlier books, especially book 1, I felt annoyed with the way people treated Harper because of her job, like she was a charlatan. It was a relief that in Doraville, Harper is treated much better so I wasn't annoyed by the other characters passing judgement on her. The mystery of who the killer was also kept me guessing, and there was enough of an element of danger to keep me absorbed, turning pages quickly to see what happens next. There's also enough of a cast of small town characters that Harper and Tolliver meet and a couple of old friends that stop by to help out to keep things interesting and the story moving along nicely. The weather also feels timely because as Harper dealt with an ice storm in An Ice Cold Grave, I was living through freezing rain and iced over roads in New York.

But be warned, this book goes to a weird place with Harper's personal life. I'm sure if you've read book 2 you'll have guessed what I'm talking about. Well, even though I expected this book to go there, I was still reeling when I read it. I'm still not quite comfortable either, but I guess I'll get used to it. Anyone else read this? What did you think? Am I right or what? Book 4 should be interesting – I'm still looking forward to reading it.

My past reviews:

Grave Sight (book 1)

Grave Surprise (book 2)


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