young adult

Perfect Dystopia

The Phoenix Project by C.A. Gray, the third in the Liberty Box series, was one of the most satisfying endings to an excellent series. Well written – well paced, surprising but not disappointing, well plotted, and with all the right folks surviving at then end… it was perfect.  Too often in this genre the last book, especially the ending to the last book… well… stinks.  But that is not the case here.  The Phoenix Project (The Liberty Box, #3)It was a perfect ending to a wonderful book and series!

There were all the right twists and turns, the right balance of characters and action. There was the right balance of romance and plot too – the characters cared for each other, but it wasn’t so totally sappy that the romance overshadowed everything (and turned the main characters into a bunch of whining selfish obnoxious teenagers – and I think finding that balance is phenomenally hard and hats of to the author for pulling it off throughout this series).  It was not needlessly dragged out just to get the page count up – or worse, to stretch a fourth (or more) book into what was a well planned trilogy. It was great reading on the elliptical machine on the gym – I couldn’t put it down and that meant extra workout time.

I have struggled a little with the YA-dystopian sub-genre lately. They seem to be well written in the beginning, or at least interesting enough to hold my attention, and then ‘wham’ something happens that makes me regret having read the entire series. That was not the case here. I was so happy with the way the story ended, the fate of each of the characters felt right, and it didn’t feel contorted or as if the author didn’t know how to end things so the characters ended up being ridiculous (**cough, cough** Divergent **cough, cough**).

The other thing that this series, and especially this book, illustrated is the power of suggestion, the power of brain washing, the power of only hearing one side of a story, the power of the mind. It is so very hard to re-train the brain, even when what was learned in the first place was not real. It takes great strength of will and character to be open to other perspectives, even when the other perspective is the reality. This book never looses sight of the broader plot, never stretches things so that the next steps taken by each character doesn’t feel logical (even if at times it was frustrating to watch the characters make the choices they were making), and most of all, met the expectations set by the first 2 wonderful installments of this series. It was awesome and wonderful, and I would read it again.

In my book this author is on a roll – 2 wonderfully delightful series – with not a single let down in 6 books! And, it is not often that is the case. Thanks for the read C.A. Gray! Keep up the excellent work!

p.s. I received a free copy in advance in exchange for an honest review.

p.p.s.  I think the cover for this particular installment of the trilogy is breathtaking and the best cover, for either this or the Piercing the Veil (although the latest for those books are nice too) series, yet!

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Recipe for a Witchy YA Book

The Curse of the Bruel Coven by  Sabrina Ramoth was a little atypical for a YA/paranormal.  There were lots of things that were typical, but the biggest anomaly here was the lack of a real love interest for the main character.  But, I will get back to that.  Because there were so many of the typical elements, it was like the author was simply following a recipe.  A teaspoon of absentee parents, a tablespoon of being someone different than what you were raised to believe, a cup of an adult figure not telling you everything, 6 cups of taking off and doing all sorts of stuff without bothering to tell your parental figure where you are, a few mysterious dread, a bit of paranormal surprise and a cliffhanger ending.  Bake at 350 for a few hours and viola, you have your self the typical paranormal YA.  But, most of these that I have read lately all have a romantic element, and here, the closest we get are some weird feelings towards someone Viv (our main protagonist, adopted, witch) sees in her dreams.  Although at least she herself is skeptical of these feelings.

Towards the beginning I was feeling a little, “aheh” about the book.  I had a bunch of things that were gnawing at me (like the fact that Viv finds a picture, assumes she’s adopted, and accepts it, all in about the span of 30 seconds and has less denial over it than I have guilt that I ate a few extra french fries with lunch).  But, after a little while, as the story progressed, I became pretty enamored with the story.  The pace picked up and the writing improved over the course of the few hundred pages.  My opinion grew enough that I was fairly annoyed to reach the end and have so many loose ends, those both directly placed in front of me and those subtly hinted at (Savannah, where are you?).

I don’t know if the story will turn to some sort of reincarnation story or some other witchy explanation; I don’t know how the traitors will be dealt with; I don’t know what happened to Savannah; but I do know, I am eager to read the next book and find out.  Overall, despite a few small points that I would have corrected (like calling the immortal a vampire, because the traditional ideas of vampire aren’t really what is going on here), and having a little more denial/resistance when Viv finds out she’s adopted and a witch (really, even for this genre, she is a little too open and accepting to these elements of her life), I think this was a pretty solid start to a new series.  The world building and the characters were intriguing and enough to get us started – and I am expecting more to each.  I also love stories set in New Orleans, although here, I would love it if the setting played a bigger part in the story or, at least if it were described a little more to make those mental pictures easier to form since I have never been.  But, if I were rating this particular recipe, it would get 4 stars.  And, I would be looking forward to seeing what the chef had to offer for the dessert course!

Will we be Blest with a sequel?

Blest by Blaise Lucey started off slow, but boy, it is take off in the end.  After the first half, I found I had trouble putting it down.  I love stories about angels and demons falling in love – and this one was no exception.  While I had some little issues with the beginning, specifically pace (insta-love) and world-building (background for it), by the time I was half-way through I was so very sucked-in I was sitting on the edge of my chair while reading because I was desperate to know what happened next.

Since the book begins with the first half, however, let me address a few of the short-comings.  First, there was a lot of love between two character who merely spent a few minutes, and one afternoon, together.  Even for the PNR stuff that I read, which is usually all about insta-love, that is giving the relationship development shot-shrift.  There is no reason why the characters couldn’t have developed the feelings over a little bit of time, a month or two for example.  Then, frankly, some of the vitriol towards Jim by the demon kids would have been more on display and a deeper connection to Claire and Jim would have been easier to feel.  There was no need for their birthdays to be quite so early in the school year – or the story – a little more of the suspense as to why the two characters were this books version of Romeo and Juliet would have only added to the plot. The acceptance of why they were different was also a little quick (and this is the second book I’ve finished in the last 3 days that treated this the same) – way too quick  – like, the Flash might as well be moving in slow motion compared to the speed at which they all accept the supernatural and paranormal and that angels and demons are real.  It was just too quick.  It didn’t give me time as a reader to adjust and again, I think a little more page time spent on that would have added to the overall plot and pace of the story.  Once things got going though, there were a bunch of reveals – and that was great as I felt much more involved in the story and it was easier to stay engaged.  I am just a little curious – as I don’t see this being billed as the start of a series, and lots of loose ends were tied up, but there is still certainly loose ends that aren’t tied up, including the events of the epilogue, so I hope there is at least one more coming.

Despite the need to pay attention to some of the terminology, lest you get lost, this reminded me much of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments – and some of the hints that were dropped had me holding my breath that the reveals weren’t going to be the same as with City of Bones, and thank goodness, they weren’t.  But to me, Blest had tones of City of Bones with the love between our main protagonists and the good vs evil nature of things.  Unlike Mortal Instruments, however, I have enough details to hold me to book 2 (assuming there is one **fingers crossed**) and enough to make at least another good book or two out of the things that aren’t solved and the stuff we don’t know.  And some of what we don’t know has such potential – like the back stories to the parents of all our teenage cast, the mythology of the Tribunal and how the demons were originally banished, exactly what the feathers that each of Claire and Jim have that are “opposite” the rest of their respective wings… there quite a bit of fodder to serve as the basis for some excellent follow-up books.

Even out the pace a little with the second, balance the relationship building and world building to give me more, and we may have a new favorite YA/Angel and demon series!  At least, I really hope there will be a second!

p.s. LOVE the cover!!

And the score is…

Sometimes when sitting down to write a review I find myself thinking like I am preparing the box score for last night’s baseball game.  But instead of ERA, base hits, errors, etc., I am thinking in terms of (1) plot development (or furtherance, depending on whether the book is the 1st or 5th or last in a series), (2) character development (ditto on the “or furtherance” part), (3) dialogue, (4) plot holes, (5) world building, (6) reality scale (to me, this is akin to the difference between animation, like Zootopia, and Tomorrowland – both fiction with fantastical elements but one is clearly trying to emulate reality in at least some aspects (Tomorrowland) whereas the other is a cartoon), (7) action (both pace and excitement levels), (8) pace of the story, and (9) if I read an “adult book” – steaminess or if I read a YA book – teenage angst.

So, how exactly did Faelorehn by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson fare?  If this were a baseball game, I would say that we are in extra innings, waiting to see how things end up.  (And we would be waiting for a little while, because while it looks like I could get at least the next book right away, I have a number of other things I need to read first)!  If it were soccer, in a non-playoff sense, I would say it was a 0-0 draw.  Why?  Well, if I were rating all 9 items (you know, like innings) above on a scale of 1-10 (worst to best) then the score would look a little like the chart below.  Which isn’t terrible, it wold be extra innings after all, where there is still a chance to add a notch to the “W” column (for the reader, since I see this as author vs reader and if the reader wins, its because they were able to enjoy a truly excellent book and if the author wins, then it was just about getting words on pages).  But, it’s close enough that there is still risk of loosing too.  It all depends on the next book, or more at bats.

Pregame (what you need to know):  Meghan is a foster child, in a big family, who all love her.  She is different though.  For as long as she can remember she sees things, thing the trees can talk to her, stuff like that.  She is a teenager, going to school, and has a small group of close friends who are all the non-popular kids.  A few of the popular kids really hate her though.  A mysterious “hobo” starts hanging around school.  She spends some time in the swamp near her house one Halloween and she starts seeing and hearing things again.  He reoccurring dream starts to change.  She gets attacked.  And that’s when she finds out she is really from a different world – she is Fae.

  Plot Dev. Character Dev. Dialogue Plot Holes World Building Reality Action Pace of Story Genre Specific
Score 5 7 7 7 7 8 4 3 3

See?  Looks a little like a score board.

Plot Development:  Book 1 was really more set up than plot development; the real “plot” could be summarized in about 3 sentences and didn’t need the whole book to flush out.  The entire plot really was:  Megahn is different and discovers why from a mystery man.  Turns out she is Fae and she needs to stay away from her real home or she will be in danger.  In the end, she is tricked into stepping into her homeland, looses her protection, and is now going to be hunted.  Oh, and she falls for the mystery man.  Ok – so that took 4 sentences.  It was missing something, something that makes even a set-up book more compelling.  It wasn’t awful, just wasn’t a thrilling enough set-up and plot to leave me starving for more and what ever comes next.

Character Development: Meghan – pretty well developed.  Cade, not so much.  But that was ok since Cade is the dark, strange, handsome mystery guy.

Dialogue:   It was decent.  I wasn’t rolling my eyes as I read stuff, an most of it felt pretty natural.  There is a “but” though.  Some of the word choices were a little… off… to have Cade say her kind has a character “flaw” or defect, when really , it’s just that they are a little different, bothered me.

Plot Holes: There weren’t too many, but the ones that existed were pretty big.

Example 1: Meghan really goes with the strange crow woman (doesn’t take a genius to figure out who she really is, by the way) after less than 30 seconds of convincing?  Nope, don’t believe it.

Example 2: Her best, closest friends don’t know her well enough, see her often enough, hang with her enough, so that she can hide/create a mysterious made up boyfriend?  Nope, don’t believe it.

World Building: This installment was mostly set up.  But it only gets a seven because the “world” was not really all that different from the real world.  And we don’t get many rules of the Fae world until the end, and even then, we get very few.  I adored the spirit guide dog though!  Need more!

Reality: Almost a little too real – very little paranormal/fairy in it.  At least until the end.  Needed more fantasy.  Although, it was nicely set up with the  real world elements, including down to the information about Meghan being placed with her family.

Action:  Lots of non-action action.  Sure, Meghan get attacked, and followed by some crows.  But she spends too much time reading, and like I said about the plot, not enough time getting into situations where I felt pulled into the world and the action and the plot.  I will read the next, but I am not yearning with every breath to see what happens to Meghan and Cade next.  Just not enough to it all for that.  Wish I could say otherwise.

Pace of Story: Super, duper, extra, awfully and tremendously ssssssslllllllooooowwww.  See all the previous items for details on this!

Genre Specific:   There’s a little bit of romance (although it is mostly implied and the reader has to infer it from the minimal actual page time Meghan and Cade have together).  Not tremendously consistent with the genre, the parents are not absentee parents.  Instead, they are present, and so are all of Meghan’s adoptive siblings.  The story is just built so that the parent’s don’t need to be absentee to move the (little bit of) plot along.  Seems that actual Celtic mythology influences the story, and that is great!  As an add, there are teenage bullies here and they are pretty awful.  But it is clear that they are bullies and their actions are not glorified, so I am ok with their presence (as well as a little bit of ass-kicking with them, since I think most bullies eventually need a whopping or they don’t learn).

There’s also the standard miscellaneous items that tend to go with a box score – in this case, the grammar wasn’t terrible and the bottom line, what isn’t evident from a perusal of just the numbers, is that I will read at least the next installment.  I just hop it has a little more plot depth, so that when the game is over, there is a clear winner.  But at the end of the 1st, score is tied, and I can’t tell which way the game is going to go!

It’s may be the beginning, but it should be the end

You know all those expressions about one door closing and another one opening, an event isn’t the end but the beginning of something new?  Clearly who ever coined those expressions didn’t do it after reading something like Blackmoon Beginnings by Kaitlyn Hoyt.  17379473Never mind that this is “book 1” of the “Prophesized Series” (apparently out of 4 – Goodreads states the following about book 4: “Reaching Retribution is the fourth and final novel in the four-part Prophesized Series”), never mind that the cover is pretty cool and enticing, never mind that the story is pretty typical and unoriginal but yet still had some promise if written (and for fuck’s sake, edited) better, never mind that this is (at least) intended to only be four installments.

After finishing this book, this is a series where the beginning could have been the end, and that would have been ok with this reader.

I am starting to feel like a broken record.  The strikes against: self-published, poorly edited, many grammatical issues, poor word choice, awkward dialogue, too much of the whole lack of self awareness by the main protagonist, everyone around the main protagonist is “hot”, what is very clearly a lack of maturity by the author, a number of jumps in the plot and jumps in the story (will explain how I am distinguishing shortly), and instant ability in self defense (and this particularly bugs me and pisses me off since I have nearly 20 years of martial arts training and I know that it takes practice – lots and lots of practice – to learn these things).  
And I feel like a broken record because these seem to be such frequent observations on these YA books, especially ones that are written by folks that are just too young to have the requisite life experience to write and get spectacular results.  I don’t mean to say that young authors can’t write well.  But, like I have said before, most teenagers just don’t have the perspective or experience to fill the gaps around the fantasy with the necessary accurate realism to
propel the writing from mediocre (or terrible) to wonderful.  

The story here is that we have an young woman, who thinks she is ordinary, without a real family.  She lives with her guardian who is absentee and she is about to graduate from high school.  When all of a sudden, she finds she has magical powers.  Said magical powers make her the subject of a prophecy that means she will save the world (or something like that).  As a result, she just picks up and moves in with a random magical family.  And of course, there is the potential for at least one love triangle.  Oh, and there is the group of bad magicians out to get the good ones.  There is a jealous ex-girlfriend for the guy our main protagonist is seemingly falling for (and all the teenage melodrama that goes with that).  So, I think all the typical YA boxes are checked.

I did not seek permission from the artist for posting this – (if you are she, and you want me to remove, please just let me know) – but I thought it was an AWESOME rendering and it came from audreybenjaminsen.deviantart.com

So, now what do I mean by jumps in the story versus jumps in the plot?  It’s kind of like this:  A plot jump would be if in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Harry had never found the mirror of erised but yet knew how it worked when confronted with Quirrell/Voldemort anyway and a jump in the story would have been the way the movie adapted the challenges that the trio went through to get to Quirrell (remember, in the book, they had Fluffy, the winged keys, the sun hating plant, the giant chess board, the sleeping Troll, the potions/logic challenge and the mirror; the movie only had Fluffy, the plant, the keys, the chessboard and the mirror); we still get to the same place without too much stress and while it would have been neat to see Hermoine logic through the potions it wasn’t necessary to the movie.  But take away the scene where Harry learns how the mirror works, and stuff stops making sense.

Examples of the story jumping and plot jumping here:  story jumping = Ryanne never explaining to Jane that she’s basically moved out of their house and in with Colton and his family.  Plot jumping = Liam, the dreamwalking mage, and everything that goes along with how Ryanne meets him the first time and how he gives her his necklace.  Story jumping = Ryanne’s instant ability to do all self-defense moves ever needed.  Plot jumping = Dravin and the Gadramicks find her and Coltin’s family not once but twice and no one knows how.  Some of these things can be glossed over and ignored.  Others, it wasn’t so easy to just accept and ignore.  And when you add the terrible dialogue between characters, and the totally unrealistic reactions of folks to each other, well, it was just a relief to get to the end of the book.

Given some time and experience, the author may develop and may end up with some well written stories she can add to her resume.  But, in the mean time, I hope the author can invest in a thesaurus (acknowledging that every character is “hot” doesn’t solve the fact that describing them all in the exact same one dimensional way, with few words (really, one = “hot”), doesn’t make for fascinating reading) and maybe by the end of book four things will have improved enough to make reading this feel less painful and and I will not be so quick to associate words like “amateurish”, “undeveloped”, “naive” and “unimaginative” with the plot, character development, dialogue and overall story, respectively.

My love for YA, the Fae, and really almost anything by Holly Black

I think back to when reading YA stuff became such an obsession for me, and I realized that while much of it has to do with my undying, unyeilding, still-growing-even-after-all-these-years, love of Harry Potter, much of the rest of the love/obsession came from two other authors: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.  I picked up City of Bones when it first came out (I think it was one of a few that I picked up at the release party for Deathly Hallows – I think – one of the others I know for sure was the Alchymest (Nicholas Flamel #1) by Michael Scott).  And I devoured it.  The Club scene where Clary sees the Shadowhunters reminded me much of my youth when we trekked into Manhattan to go to the Limelight. The story was enthralling and I loved it instantly.  I loved the world it was set in (right up until the dawn of City of Fallen Angels, when I was disappointed by the contrivances needed to stretch what I swear I remember seeing was originally slated to be a trilogy into more than that, but I digress…).  That was the start of the love affair with all things demon, vampire, werewolf, etc., in the YA world.  Holly Black’s Tithe Tithe (Modern Faerie Tales, #1)was the start of the love affair with YA Fae stories on the other hand.   I am not sure when I read this, but it was certainly after Sorcerer’s Stone (as I read that before Chamber of Secrets came out – I was one of the not so large group to read the first right after it was published) but before City of Bones.  The dark and creepy gothicness of Tithe and its sister books sucked me in.  I couldn’t get enough.  I even ended up diving into the Spiderwick Chronicles, clearly written for an even younger audience.  The courts, the settings, the quest in Ironside for a fairy that could lie…  it was all so much fun.  Then, some of the more mature PNR stuff started making its way into the to read pile and I flitted away from Holly.  I caught the Curse Workers when those came out (and really feel like there was unfinished business in the last of that series, and wouldn’t turn away from one more of them) but the universe of books to read was just becoming impossible to track.  I do have a life outside of reading after all.  So, to it was much to my delight that I noticed I had missed a book that was both Holly Black’s and Fae.  I hesitated because these days I tend to steer clear of stand-alones but for Ms. Black and the Fae, I didn’t hesitate long.  And I am so glad I read this one!

The gist of the story goes something like this:  in the town of Fairfold (some where in the US presumably based on the relative ease of a move to Philadelphia by Hazel’s family at one point), the Fae are a part of life.  There is a horned boy in a glass coffin near the town that has been sleeping for ages.  Hazel and Ben, her brother, hunted Fae when they were little, pretending to be knights.  Jack is both Ben’s best friend and a changeling. One day, the horned boy is set free and a terrible monster is set upon the town.  Hazel is trying to solve the mystery of the horned boy’s release because all signs seem to point to her being the one who broke his glass coffin.  She encounters the Alderking who requires that Hazel bring the horned boy to him, as well as a sword Hazel found when she was younger.  Turns out, Hazel also made a bargain with the Fairies when she was younger and she has been serving the Alderking as a knight for some time, during the night, without her remembering (her not remembering is thanks to the Alderking’s magic).  Hazel wants to rescue the town, the “boy” she loves, and the horned boy.

I found this to be one of my favorite stand-alone stories in a while.  The suspension of reality is just enough to bring magic to the story but not so much so as to be overdone.  Some of the elements were, I thought keen observations of society.  While others made me happy The Darkest Part of the Forestthat they were teaching a message of tolerance and courage.  The scene where Carter’s and Jack’s human parents are at their house defending Jack and Hazel’s mother also stands up for Jack were both demonstrative of the mass hysteria that humans get swept up in, so often without all the facts and based in fear alone, as well as how important it is for good people to stand up to injustice.  Especially when the injustice is being done to others.  While I can’t say whether Ms. Black intended that social commentary or lesson, or whether it was just what I read into it, I thought it was well written and provided clues to me that this was going to be a story with an ending I would be pleased with.  And I was so happy to get to the end and find that feeling was completely accurate.

There are some dark and scary moments.  It is indisputable that the portion of the narrative around a 10 year old girl finding a boy’s dead body, half eaten by something, only to then have her be attacked by a hag intent on killing her, only to have the 10 year old strike the hag dead with a magical sword, is grim.  The story of the monster, her genesis, and how that is resolved is both dark and clever, disturbing and understandable.  And many of the details in between are creepy and scary.  But, like always with Ms. Black’s storied, the imagery is wonderful and  it is tremendously easy to get swept up in the story.  I had a very difficult time putting this one down.  I just wish there was the potential to see more of Jack, Hazel, Ben and Severin for apparently, my love affair with all things YA and Fae continues!

A Little About a Lot

While my reading has suffered, my posting has suffered worse.  I just realized that I have read about a baker’s dozen books, across 4 series, and haven’t added a page or post or review on any!  So, this little “data dump” will be to give a few little tidbits on each (by no means am I catching up and reviewing 15 or so books all in one shot – that post would be epically long and take forever to finish, only exacerbating the lack of posts problem).

Here’s what I have read:

  • The Jolie Wilkins Series – all 5 – by HP Mallory
  • The Bryn and Sinjin Series – both (although I would argue these really are just an extension of the Jolie Wilkins Series) – HP Mallory
  • The Hot Damned Series – 5 of the 6 published so far – by Robyn Peterman
  • The second in the Lynburn Legacy – Untold – by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The first two in the Magisterium Series – The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet – by Holly Black

And I think I am missing something….

Anyway, let’s have a little fun with all that.  Here’s the quick and dirty on each series.  Bryn and Sinjin are hot, Hot Damned is much hotter, Jolie Wilkins has its moments, the Lynburn Legacy is a YA and therefore pretty cold but not completely as there is a love story to it, and the Magisterium The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)books are also YA and colder than Lynburn.   Jolie Wilkins is Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble (Jolie Wilkins, #1)your typical girl didn’t know she was a witch, man comes to rescue her from that boring normal non-magical life.  She is destined to be queen or something like that and save the world.  Cue the sexual tension, love story, bad guys wanting to take over the world, blah blah blah.  Not terribly unique or original, but a fun little escape just the same.

Bryn and Sinjin is a shift from the perspective.  What I mean is that instead of Jolie’s destiny being the primary focus, Bryn (Jolie’s twin sister) and Sinjin (the loveable handsome ancient Vampire who was previously in love with Jolie but lost to Rand) and their developing relationship are the focus.  Another fun little outing, a little more steam.  But a cliff hanger big enough to leave me pretty annoyed if there isn’t another.  There are only 2 listed on goodreads but I swear I saw something on facebook or somewhere about at least one more coming.  And heaven forbid, it looks like they will be from Sinjin’s perspective.  Yikes.  I personally am not a fan of the romance novel from the guy’s perspective.  Even worse, the statement on HP Mallory’s facebook page says:  “…decided to make this book (and maybe the next one.  Not sure but going to switch back and forth, I think) in Sinjin’s perspective!”  There are very few novels I have read where the flip-flop in perspective works.  So, fingers crossed that is not what we get next.

The Hot Damned series is… well… in a word: weird.  Out of the first 4, 2 is more about Dixie, the cousin of Astrid our main protagonist from 1, 3 and 4.  I 1 Astrid gets turned into a Vampire.  And kills her wack-job of a mother and her demon father.  And she meets her Hell on Heels (Hot Damned #3)destined mate, a Vampire prince.  In 2 she finds herself in Hell with a cast of characters too weird to do justice to: Mother Nature (her Grandmother), Satan (her Uncle), God (another Uncle), Dixie (cousin), Seven Deadly Sins (all more cousins), Mister Rogers, Hemingway, and others.  And we discover **spoiler alert** she is “Compassion”, a True Immortal.  In 3 Dixie is sent to Earth to find herself of something like that.  And she meets and falls in love with the Angel of Death.  In 4, Astrid’s baby with crazy growing power and all sorts of magic turns out to be the most powerful Immortal ever.  And there are Fairies with names like The Kevin (with “The” being the mark of an old fairy), trolls, demons, and all sorts of other craziness going on.  Another fun little romp, with some steam, if you can get past that there are moments when it felt like the author was trying to do too much with the vampire, demons, family tree thing.  And don’t, like I did, be expecting the Rogues that were such an issue in book 1 to really mean anything in 2 through 4, they just don’t really ever turn into anything that matters.

The second in the Lynburn Legacy, which while I am dealing with before the Holly Black books, I read after and just finished.  About 20 minutes ago.  And I am furious.  Furious at some of the characters. Untold (The Lynburn Legacy, #2) It is a little hard to consider some of the “good guys” good.  Lillian, while on the same side as our young adult Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1)protagonists is such a snotty bitch, who has delusions of grandeur, and wants to rule the town is just not quite as loathsome as Rob who wants a sacrifice of blood but otherwise feels exactly the same way. And, some of the plot holes were hard for me to deal with.  That said, I love the relationship between Kami and the other young folks the story is really about.  And the connection between Jared and Kami and the complication that Ash becomes was great.  There are really some sad moments on the pages of Untold.  And there are a TON of unanswered questions, that I hope get answered in the final book, Unmade (which I will be starting tonight). I will note that of all the 15 books I have neglected to write reviews on, this one, to me had the highest “can’t-put-it-down” rating.  I will note, however, that I liked the cover for the first book, Unspoken (seen on the left), better and like the cover of Unmade even less.  And, the short stories for this series – get them free or don’t bother.  They don’t really add to the story and they, in some cases, are super short.

And the last Image result for magicians syfyseries to get some reading time was the Magisterium by Holly Black. I admit to thinking of these books when I saw the first few episodes of the new show on SyFy – The Magicians – which I understand is based on a book of the same name by Lev Grossman.  Especially the part about the testing and kids not succeeding and getting dumped back to their old lives seemed, in so many ways,  so similar to the scenes in the Magisterium’s testing scene.  These are a little like Harry Potter (kids away at school, sorted into groups, learning magic) meets Seeker (who knows which is really the good side, which is the bad) meets a number of other things.  Biggest twist in the beginning is that the main protagonist wasn’t the big deal magician that the school’s staff was looking for.   But, there’s a big bad guy attacking children and there were some really creepy things in this book.  Not spooky ghost story creepy.  But adults praying on and using children and other stuff like that creepy.  But, interesting and Holly Black is magical herself in her ability to write something that I can conjure in my head in great detail and it is like watching a movie as I read.  It is so easy to get lost in her worlds, emersed in the characters and the story, and to become so invested that I am desperate to read what is next.  So… my message to her and her publisher:  let’s get on with it and release #3!!

I am going to try to add pages for all of these – in some form or another.  But I ask that you be patent and I will try to write more reviews and pages.  Goodness knows I need the pages as a lot of this is all swirling together into a big mixed up mess.

p.s. – to any worpress folks paying attention to my tiny little site:  I F’ing HATE, HATE, HATE, DESPISE, LOATHE, ABHOR, DETEST, [add your own synonym here] the “new posting experience”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Give me back the old way, without all the extra steps.  I beg of you.

 

New Standard in Dystopia

Wow.  What started off a little slow turned into a race to the end.  I couldn’t read it fast enough.  The Liberty Box by C.A. Gray sucked me in, and I couldn’t escape.  What a great story.  And pretty scary too as in it feels rooted in just enough reality that I felt tempted to pinch myself to make sure that I am really living the life I think I am 27108728living.

The Liberty Box is an expertly crafted, wonderfully written, and a very refreshing take the dystopian genre.  All the dystopian stories I have read to date take on the notion of factions, divisions, sectors, camps, [insert any SAT word synonym of your choice here]….  They have all started to meld together and I couldn’t tell you which story, be it the Divergent Series or Hunger Games, ended which way (without looking it up anyway, or watching the movie).  And those that haven’t ventured into the land of the factions typically involve some sort of disease (Masque of the Red Death or Legend), “game”/”test” (Maze Runner), or other singular event.  Here, Liberty Box isn’t wholly different in that there is a single event that caused the US as we know it to change.  But, the economic collapse and the idea that it is just here in the US (versus the entire world, or ignoring the fact that the rest of the world, at least at some point existed too) are both unique.  And how society is saved is quite frankly, frightening.  In part because it totally felt like something that could absolutely happen and we could all be turned into (in the words of the Crone) mindless “sheep” (although that too bears some similarity to the drug induced society of the Giver).

The plot of the story starts out like this: Kate, a young and beautiful reporter who beams into the nation’s households every night on the newscast suddenly discovers that an enemy of the state, who has been executed, is someone she knew when she was younger.  And when she starts to look into why, her fiance is killed.  Now on the run, Kate finds herself “off the grid” and away from the control of society.  Jackson, born in the US but raised in Iceland where he learned to control his mind and body from his grandfather, is back in the US for his mother’s funeral.  But, not all is as it seems in the Republic of the United States.  Yes, the former democratic US is now a republic.  Kate and Jackson find themselves in a forest with others and what they do about the world they are now faced with is the question.

To me, this seems to have the potential to be the next in the Divergent, Hunger Games movie spree.  I can totally picture the great scenery, characters, chases, and action up on the big screen.  I know I would pay to see this story brought to life.  While decidedly YA, it’s also scarier than HG or Divergent – as it seems so much more plausible and it isn’t hard to imagine someone with the financial means to create a supercomputer that can separate and segregate society the way the Potentate has done here.  It reminded me a little of  a number of movies that seemed to have just enough basis in reality to be much more frightening than the blood and gore horror movie.  They way Eagle Eye was much scarier (to me anyway) than World War Z or Saw.

Well written and well paced, there were fewer plot holes then I have found with most of the other dystopian stories I have read.  And the end was quite a surprise.  One that I can say I certainly didn’t expect or see coming.  My only critique is that the characters, Kate especially, at times felt a little two-dimensional.  It shouldn’t be that Bruce the Shark (from Finding Nemo for those who aren’t huge Disney fans like me) has more depth than some of the main protagonist.  There may be a reason for this in Kate’s case, maybe Kate is supposed to be that way because of the way she is raised.  But some of the others, especially Jackson, didn’t feel like they have quite enough personality. Regardless, I think the development for some characters needs a little work. I would love to see the great promise that some of the characters have be fulfilled.  However, this was not enough to shape the overall thoughts about the book; I believe Ms. Gray has provided yet another wonderful story and I am eager to see what happens to the characters next.

Dragons and Dreams

Dreamwalker by Rhys Bowen and C.M. Broyles is the first in a new series touted as a fantasy that “fills the hole left by Harry Potter” as it has many similarities (think boarding school in the UK, magical powers, a main protagonist not knowing about magic at first, one big bad guy to battle, a castle, etc.).  I can’t second that opinion – as the hole in my heart that Harry Potter left is too big for this book to even begin to fill.  But, I will say it clearly aspires to be the latest Harry Potter.

Let’s start with the things that give this promise – promise that the series might one day be able to fill the hole that was left by the Harry Potter movies, even if it fails to ever come close to knocking JK’s world off the throne.  The story itself, with the mirror world, and the magic that seems to come from within each character, seems to have promise.  It is a different approach – saying that each person has a power but not all magical students (and not all students there are even magical) all aren’t able to conduct spells or attend classes for and learn transfiguration.  The teachers are pretty clever.  The use of modern technology to get Addy to the Red Dragon Academy was amusing (let’s face it we all know the frustration and annoyance of dealing with pop-ups on the computer screen).  There were moments of genuine originality and playfulness.  There is room for growth – especially since we don’t yet know what every one’s powers are.  And, the satisfaction that I felt when reading the background that we get towards the end, was enough to ensure that I will definitely pick up the second installment.  Without it, I am not sure I would have felt that I want to read the second book.

Why?  Because there was great inconsistency.  While I admire writers, and I admire teams of writers even more (because it is hard enough to get a story out of your brain and onto paper, it must be infinitely harder to manage to get the same story from a team), I also expect more from a team.  This is because there is a second person to help spot the inconsistencies, the plot holes, etc. – well before an editor or read could.  So, presumably, they can spot the issues an fix them pre-publication.  But, I wonder exactly what the process was here – because the story and the writing itself felt choppy and inconsistent.  And there were what felt like moments of brilliance, coupled with moments “been there, read that” (and not just in Harry Potter, although some of the similarities are really most striking when thinking of the boy-who-lived).  There were times where it felt very well written with the grammar, sentence structure, and pacing all moved along perfectly.  Then, wham!  All of a sudden, it felt as if I was reading an entirely differently book.  I don’t know if that is because the specific writer of the passages/chapters (whatever) changed, but it there was a stark contrast in writing from one section to the next.

It also took a little while for the authors to develop the narration by Addy, the main character, that wasn’t choppy and a little tough to read.  Once that rhythm was found, things got easier and more pleasant to read.  I would chalk it up to the initial world building and introductory work that all new series need to lay out, you know – the groundwork the rest of the series will built off of – but it was less like that and more like inexperienced writing.

While there are seven students, and that leaves so much room for development, it also felt a little too ambitious.  As most of the seven students felt so peripheral that it was hard to care about them or pay much attention to them.  They might as well have not been there, they get so little attention really.  Hopefully, in the next books we will learn more about the others.  Because they are set up as being integral to defeating “The One” but we really learned very little about them, and it was hard to really care about any of them as a result.  Maybe narration by a different member of the seven would solve this (but please, no chapters alternating… there are too many characters for that; it works ok most of the time with 2 characters, but more that that…?  Yikes!).

However, there were a number of satisfactory aspects.  For example, the references to Welsh history were interesting.  Frankly, I would have liked to see more (although I admit, I wouldn’t know it if it was made up history or real, since I know nothing about Welsh history) as I am guessing like most European countries, there is rich history from which to draw.  I would love to know if any of the story pulls from Welsh mythology too….

There is so much room for growth in that we have apparently seven children with powers and only 2 of them have discovered their powers.  And, clearly there is a big baddy that needs to be defeated and who knows how many installments it will take to defeat him.  The fact that there is the possibility to introduce more dragons, in more than just a few flight scenes, is appealing (I am hoping that we will get more, I don’t know if we will or not, but doing so would add another wonderful element to the series).

There was action, magic, modern technology, dragons, magical mirrors, telepathy, adventure and more here.  And, of course dargons.  Every story is better with a little bit of dragons.  I hope we seem more – and a little more consistency in the next installments.   What is one of the best aspects – we get some much needed background and insight into the world the authors have built towards the end.  I was glad I got there – since that helped tremendously.  And made me realize that I do want to read the next book.  So, here’s to more dragons and dreams!

I found Waldo!

I should play the lottery!  I have just read another near perfect book – that makes two in less than 3 months!  I almost can’t believe it.  Why I feel that I have had a string of good luck lately, in that it has been some time since I read something I really can’t stand, reading two books that I thought were so amazing, so close in proximity, makes me feel like I hit the lottery already.  What book am I talking about?  The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld.  It was awesome.  Pure awesome.  In a year of mostly books that were decent, and the rare exception being exceptional, I felt like I hit the lottery (or found Waldo)!

YA books all sort of start to look alike.  Who can tell them apart?  The plot of one is like the plots of ten others.  Finding a new and interesting story can feel like a Where’s Waldo exercise.  You know he’s there somewhere, in the midst of all these others who are oddly similar and yet slightly different simultaneously.  There are distinct groups of items or people too, which have something that is fundamental and different from the rest, yet they are all still so similar that they all look alike and make it super hard to find that little Waldo man in his red striped hat.  You know it shouldn’t be that hard to find him, but you look and you look and it seems to take forever to find the one truly unique part of that puzzle.  That’s what the YA genre feels like these days.  After all, I wouldn’t need this little blog, really, if the stories were so unique that it was easier to keep the details of one series separate from the details of another series.  There’s lots of vampire stories: Twilight, House of Night, Vampire Academy, Vampire Diaries, Blue Bloods, the Originals….  And lots of angel/demon stories: Fallen, Hush Hush, Unearthly, Guardians, Mortal Instruments….  And lots of shifter stories, witch stories….  The lists go on an on.  So, when something unique comes along, it is a breath of fresh air.  the Secret Fire wasn’t filled with the same old stuff.  The Secret Fire is different.  In fact, I am not even sure which little sub-category to file a page for this one under.  Witches?  Demons?  I don’t have an alchemist category…. so where to put it?  I don’t know – maybe I will after I see where this story is going.  But for now, it is just so different!  It is awesome!

I couldn’t put the darn thing down.  And that is an accomplishment these days.  I was eager to read during my lunch hour – and lately I haven’t been taking lunch hour.  Then, when I hit the end, I felt like I had been hit in the chest with a medicine ball.  I 22911719couldn’t believe it.  I had to double check the page count.  I was so lost in the story that I hadn’t realized I was nearing the end of this installment.  And I don’t want to wait for the next one.  I felt like my two year old – I wanted to throw a temper tantrum.  Because I want to read more of this story!!!!!!

What do you need to know about the plot?  Sacha and Taylor are two teenagers, living in different countries, but thrown together by circumstances.  And, as it turns out, a really old curse by one family onto the other.  They hit it off, end up talking, discovering that they each have a secret, and it looks like fate has something in store for them.  Something that has to do with demons and the fate of the world.  Folks don’t want them together, but they become fast friends and want to be together.  In a race against time, and to save Sacha’s life, they end up discovering that together, they are extremely powerful.

If you are looking for magic, ancient spells, family curses and secrets, secret societies (of a sort – I don’t want to spoil much since this hasn’t officially been published yet, but suffice it to say that a particular college at Oxford is super selective and important to this story), all going on in the regular world around us with only a select few in the know, action, history, mystery, and a potential love story, then this book is for you!  The book wasImage result for perfect balance perfectly balanced – character development, plot (and it’s pacing), secrets and mysteries, setting and their descriptions, moments of shock and surprise – all of it was well done.  There were moments when I laughed, moments where I gasped in surprise, and moments where I knew I could not read fast enough because I had to know what was going to happen next.  Nothing felt particularly lacking, too sappy or overdone (there was a little teenage swoon going on, with Taylor blushing, but that’s to be expected – it is YA after all), or too predictable.  At exactly the right moment the pace picked up and we watched characters zoom off into the night chasing their adventure and fate.  We got to know our two main protagonists pretty well, but it wasn’t too slow an introduction or set up.  The collateral characters all seemed to serve a purpose and they were not just page fillers.  I love Louisa, by the way…  read it and you will see why!  It was amazing!  This is clearly a stand out in the sea of same-ness that the YA market place has become.  My only complaint?  That it ended and now I need to wait.  I must know what happens next.  I must!!!!