Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faelorehn by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson

Title: Faelorehn
Series: Otherworld
Author: Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
Length: 3684 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Meghan has always been a little strange. Her abnormal height and color-changing eyes have always been a source of bullying from her peers. She doesn’t discover why until one night, she accidentally sleepwalks into the swamp near her house, where she is attacked by a pack of violet-eyed corpse-dogs. Fortunately she is saved by the homeless man who hangs out by her school… and who magically transforms into an attractive boy named Cade before her eyes.  Cade tells Meghan that there is a reason for her oddness that she never could have imagined – she is a Faelorehn from a world where Celtic myths are real, and she is in horrible danger.

The Good

Faelorehn is a perfectly readable book. It centers on Meghan as she discovers her true heritage. She knows from the beginning that she is adopted, and I find myself wondering whether her five brothers are also adopted. Either way, I have to give her family credit for either adopting six kids, one of whom is autistic, or for integrating a family of natural and adopted children so seamlessly. Meghan also has a group of quirky friends who are eclectically reminiscent of the outcast kids at a high school.

I like that Faelorehn is based on Celtic mythology. I find the various pagan mythologies interesting, and Celtic has the advantage of being familiar but not overdone. We learn a little bit about the holidays of Samhain and Beltane through Meghan’s friend Robyn, and we actually get to meet the death goddess the Morrigan. Most of the rest of the mythology Meghan is trying to piece through, so hopefully we will learn more about it in the next two books of the trilogy.

The Bad

My biggest issue with Faelorehn is that nothing really happened in it. Most of the book consisted of Meghan waiting around for visits from Cade. He would show up one day, give her limited information, and then disappear for weeks on end. So Meghan got exactly one lesson on how to use a bow and arrow and some vague instructions to look up her heritage on the internet.

I personally am glad that no one has ever expected me to do detailed research on a historic and/or mythical way of life via the world wide web. Though the internet has a plethora of information on almost every topic, there is no guarantee that any of the facts are going to be consistent across web sites. In fact, I have done research on mythological systems for papers in the past, and the more research I did, the more I discovered that the myths with which we are familiar are simplified versions of a more complex belief structure. I definitely would not want to have to do what Meghan did, which was basically figure out the rules of her universe by synthesizing information from web pages.

The Romance

Those of you who are familiar with YA paranormal romance will be unsurprised to learn that Meghan quickly develops a crush on Cade, her often-absent resource on all things Faelorehn. This makes sense, as he is the only attractive boy who has ever been nice to her. We do get a description of Adam the bully that led me to believe that he might also receive a role as a love interest, but I think we are only supposed to realize that his looks are a large contrast to his personality. Cade, on the other hand, is both attractive and kind, so he is clearly winning. Of course, he is also described as being six-and-a-half feet or taller, so I have concerns that he is more realistically “so freakishly tall that attractiveness is irrelevant.”

One thing that kind of irritated me is that Meghan is too strange and “other” to be attractive to her peers. When she meets Cade and the Morrigan, though, she finds them both super-humanly beautiful. I don’t understand why Meghan is not similarly attractive to her peers. It doesn’t make sense that some Faelorehn would be freakish while others are not. I suppose it is possible that, were Meghan’s peers to meet Cade and the Morrigan, they would find them strange, and it is just Meghan who thinks they are attractive. We do not have enough human-Faelorehn interaction for me to test this theory.

Will I read more?

I don’t have any strong feelings about reading more of the Otherworld trilogy. Like I said, not too much happened in this first book, so I’m not sure why I would be excited to read on. I suppose I would like to know what Meghan’s mysterious and ultra-dangerous heritage is, and I am interested to know more about the Celtic mythology, so I might pick up the next I installment to find that out.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Clarity by Claire Farrell

Title: Clarity
Series: Cursed
Author: Claire Farrell
Previous Books in Series: Verity
Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: 3944 Kindle units

Refresher: Perdita’s life takes an unexpected turn when she learns that she is the soulmate of a werewolf named Nathan, a situation that puts her and Nathan’s families in great danger.

Something that I have noticed about a lot of YA paranormal romance novel series: the second book is a lot different from the first. The series generally start with ordinary teens with regular high school drama who have no idea that their lives are about to take a turn for the bizarre. So we see their ordinary lives and watch as they slowly puzzle out the strange things that happen to them. Why did I dream about this boy before I met him? Isn’t it odd that his sister reads tarot cards? And who are the creepy people following me around town?

Then by the end of book 1, the characters are faced with the truth of the situation - The world is not as they thought it was and they are all in horrible danger. This usually culminates in a violent and dramatic first book ending climax in which our characters make it through alive but with more than a little post-traumatic stress. So then we are into the second book where the characters are constantly under threat of death and their attention is no longer focused on trivialities like moody friends and arguing parents.

The above description is exactly what happens in Verity and Clarity. And it’s not that Clarity is a bad book, but it is a very different book from Verity. In the first book, the major conflicts were Perdy’s oppressive home life and her friend Tammie’s attention-seeking behavior. Perdita’s home life is still a (lesser) factor in Clarity, but Tammie hardly makes an appearance at all. A large part of the story – it might even be more than half– is told from Nathan’s point of view as he deals with werewolf politics, and the rest is Perdita being worried about her father and lamenting that she doesn’t know how to be normal anymore. Nathan’s sister Amelia is barely even a presence in the book, though apparently the novella Adversity is about what is going on with her. (Which is good because her problems were clearly plot-relevant.)

So, the moral is, Clarity is still a good book. But if you’re expecting it to be just like Verity, you might be disappointed.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Other Dark by Ronan Gallagher

Title: The Other Dark
Author: Ronan Gallagher
Length: 3164 Kindle units
Rating: 1.5 stars

The Plot

Everything in Court’s life seems to be going wrong all at once. His father was laid off a few months ago, so the family is struggling to get by on his mother’s retail job. And things get even worse when his father declares that he hates the entire family and is moving out. Court has to move to another house on the other side of town, across the street from a juvenile delinquent. And to top it all off, there is a strange rash of murders in town, where bodies are turning up drained of blood.

The Good

The Other Dark made a valiant effort at discussing serious issues. Court’s parents were both recovered alcoholics, and they were dealing with the difficulties of limited income after his father was laid off from his job. There are characters who have to deal with crippling disfigurement and how getting along in society is difficult for them.

Court has a great relationship with his five-year-old sister Jocelyn. Since his parents waver in their responsibility and availability, Court has been one of the few stable things in her life. The way they care about each other is really quite sweet.

The first few pages of The Other Dark were actually humorous. I found myself laughing at the absurd depiction of a driver’s ed teacher and his penchant for yelling and using the second pedal. I am sad to say that the book only went way, way downhill from there.

The Bad

Most of the books I read to review for my blog are pretty good. Some of them need polish or some plot elements reconsidered, and I know I tend to nitpick, but most of them books really are okay. Every once in awhile, though, I find a book like The Other Dark that is, very sadly, just terrible. Sometimes this at least means that I can write a bad review that will entertain my readers who like it when I trash books, but in this case, I don’t even really know what to say.

The book is not well written; the sentences are choppy and don’t flow well. A lot of the paragraphs contain three or four sentences that say the same thing with different words. The dialogue is not particularly believable, and calling the series of events that comprise the book a “plotline” is being generous. Basically, a lot of random things happen to different people, and we are not even told about them in order, which makes it really hard to follow what is going on.

The “main” plot of the book deals with a series of murders in town. Mostly what this means is that Court reads about the murders in the paper. He thinks about what was going on in his life at the same time as the murders and briefly suspects his father.  He later sneaks into the victims’ house with his friend John, which they are doing for fun even though the entire thing terrifies them. Then a whole bunch of other stuff happens that has nothing to do with the murders, until Court “solves” the mystery by magically knowing all the complicated factors that went into it without any evidence whatsoever.

The Romance

The Other Dark doesn’t have much going on in the way of romance. Court befriends a woman in her early 30s named Stephanie, but clearly the age difference there forestalls any romance happening between them. He also has a number of emotion-laden conversations with his friend John that lead me to believe they might be some romantic undercurrents to their relationship, but I think they are just supposed to be “true friends.”

Will I read more?

I think that The Other Dark is a stand-alone novel, but it will nonetheless be a long time before I will be persuaded to read anything by this author again.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Deadgirl by B.C. Johnson

Title: Deadgirl
Author: B.C. Johnson
Length: 4965 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Lucy is having the best night of her life. She finally has a date with Zack, the boy she has been flirting with all year, and everything is going perfectly. Until she gets chased into an alley by a team of would-be attackers. One accidental gunshot fire later, and it’s all over for Lucy. Not just her perfect evening, but her life.

Except that it isn’t. When Lucy wakes up in the morning without a scratch on her, she tries to go on with her life as normal. But she quickly discovers that some things about her have changed. She’s not hungry or tired anymore, and sometimes she can read minds. And every so often she gets really cold, and the only way to stave off the chill is to siphon life energy from another person. And she finds herself in constant danger from a man made of light. But if Light is working against her, what does that make her?

The Good

I really liked the voice of Deadgirl, especially at the beginning. I felt like I was actually inside a teen girl’s head as she plotted with her friends to escape an ill-timed grounding. Lucy had a plethora of friends, with real flaws that irritated Lucy, no matter how much she liked them, like her too-beautiful friend Morgan and the overly insecure Wanda.

Deadgirl was also not afraid to talk about sensitive issues. At three different points it addressed rape as something that is a very real and present fear for young women. The story also explored teen misbehavior, such as sneaking out or running away, and the impact that it can have on parents and relationships. And, of course, the eternal moral quandary of whether it’s okay to feed off of someone else’s life force in order to survive.

The Bad

Deadgirl creeped me out. I suppose theoretically this could be a good thing, since it’s evoking emotion, but I didn’t really feel like they were emotions I wanted to be feeling. The gray world and Lucy’s uncertainty of everything that was going on around her gave the book a sluggish, zombie-like feel. This is exacerbated by what I feel is the book’s most objective flaw, which is that it moves very slowly. I wasn’t sure if the pace was intentional to give the book more of that grey-death feel, but it did its job a little too effectively.

Lucy also seemed to lack emotional attachment to the people in her life, to a point that I found some of her behavior borderline sociopathic. She didn’t seem to have any empathy for the terror that everyone in her life experienced when she disappeared. And occasionally she would lie about things like her curfew with no real reason or remorse. Toward the end of the book she starts showing actual signs of concern for the people around her, but for awhile in the middle, I really disliked her.

The Romance

Lucy has been flirting with Zack for over a year, and he finally takes the next step and asks her to be his girlfriend. When Lucy dies, that puts a crimp in their relationship, both because Lucy can’t tell him what really happened to her and because her parents have gone into over-protective mode, which precludes things like dating. And even though Lucy is having trouble dealing with her apparent lack of mortality, all she really wants is to go back before the time she died and be a normal teen girl with a new boyfriend.

Will I read more?

I think my reaction to Deadgirl was more a matter of personal preference than anything actually wrong with the book, but I kept thinking that I really didn’t want to be reading it. I just felt like around every corner that something was going to happen to make me more sad or uncomfortable, and I was usually right. I don’t know if there are going to be more books in the series, but if there are, I am going to opt out of reading them.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Uncertainty by Abigail Boyd

Title: Uncertainty
Series: Gravity
Author: Abigail Boyd
Previous Books in Series: Gravity
Rating: 4 stars
Length: 4425 Kindle units

Refresher: Ariel sees the ghosts of missing girls, and their disappearances seem to point to something much more sinister going on in the town of Hell.

Uncertainty is a very good continuation of the story that began in Gravity. It centers on what happened to Ariel’s friend Jenna, who had disappeared three months before the beginning of the first book and whose body was found at the end. Assisting Ariel in this process is Jenna herself, though her ghost form refuses to focus on the circumstances surrounding her death. But she definitely gives Ariel motivation to investigate this newfound ability to communicate with ghosts – if only to confirm that she’s not going insane.

Abigail’s true (/only) love Henry did not win too many points with me in this book. Ariel is not sure whether she can trust him because she thinks he may be lying when he says he really likes her. This is a totally fair consideration on her part, since he goes back and forth between kissing her and dating her archenemy. But I think the bigger issue is not whether he really likes her but whether he will keep waffling back and forth between wanting to be with her and thinking they should be apart. Because even though his motives are understandable, his lack of reliability is unattractive.

Avid readers of my blog will recall that one of my biggest potential problems with Gravity was that I had no idea what the root cause of all the supernatural phenomena was. After reading Uncertainty, I feel more than 50% certain of what the answer is, but we get more in the way of death omens than actual answers. I’m okay with this, but I think that I will definitely want some answers by the end of the third book, or I will start to lose patience. I don’t need all the answers, of course, because then why would I want to read more of the story? But some answers would be appropriate.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Wolfsong by Kodilynn Calhoun

Title: Wolfsong
Author: Kodilynn Calhoun
Length: 4230 Kindle units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

Kia thinks of himself as a rather ordinary teenage boy, going to school and trying to work up the courage to talk to the beautiful Ariiantha. But when he is attacked by a wolf in the street, and the stray dog he has befriended turns into Arii before his eyes, he learns that he has a stranger legacy than he ever could have imagined. His father is a werewolf from an alternate world where he rules the Altehrei pack. But now that their leader has disappeared, the wolves want Kia, as his only son, to come rule them. Kia doesn’t want to leave his friends and family, but if he doesn’t, he may be condemning the Altehrei to a horrible fate.

The Good

Once I got past the first quarter of the book or so, which I will tell you all about in the next section, Wolfsong was pretty good. The Altehrei wolves live in an alternate reality that I pretty much picture as a full-time Rennaissance Fair. It was an original environment, and I wanted to know more about the structure of wolf society and the different roles that people played. For this book we mostly focused on Kia learning how to defend himself and kill things when necessary, but if there are future books in the series, I’d be interested to see more about the world.

I am not a huge fan of werewolf books in general, and one of the main reasons for this is that it’s really hard to make werewolves not sexist. But I would say that Wolfsong succeeds in doing so. Sure, the Altehrei judge people based on absurd things like eye color, but women seem to be able to do all the same things as men. And the relationship between wolf mates seems to be one of equals.

The Bad

Wolfsong was not a bad book, once you got past a certain point. But the beginning was so full of problematic plot elements and bad dialogue that I probably would have put it down if I wasn’t reading it to review it. And one of the difficulties with a book that starts off poorly is that you’re more likely to interpret neutral stimuli with a negative bias.

Arii tells Kia that the Altehrei wolf pack needs a strong leader, and she needs Kia to come be that leader. Kia, well aware that he has about as much leadership ability as an ant who got lost on his way back to the anthill, refuses to leave his friends and family. So Arii sticks around in human world anyway, not to try to convince Kia to change his mind, but apparently just to be his girlfriend. (In the interests of fairness, I must point out that there is eventually an explanation that makes Arii’s actions make more sense. But at the time, there is no apparent reason for her to behave in this manner, so it comes off as ridiculous.)

The book continues to be about Kia’s transformation into the strong leader that the Altehrei need, but I’m not entirely sure I believe it. I mean, the pack has basically decided that his word is law just because he has gold eyes. So when he starts forcing his democratic human values – like not basing class on eye color and hanging out with the lowest ranked members of the pack – and refuses to do wolfy things like hunting, I expect the wolves to be like, “Dude, you suck as a werewolf leader.” But they just go along with it all, which kind of makes me lose respect for them as a culture.

I also have no idea how many werewolves there are in the Altehrei. Sometimes it seems like it’s easy for Kia to know everyone’s name, and sometimes it seems like there’s a whole large town of them. Or maybe he’s just really good at names and faces.

The Romance

I don’t really have too much to say about the romance in Wolfsong, because it was pretty straightforward. The book opens with Kia admiring Arii, and their romance progresses from there. Sure, there are a few complications. He’s the king’s son, and she’s at the bottom of the wolf hierarchy, which doesn’t bother Kia, but it causes some backlash for their relationship. And they have a couple of misunderstandings, and one of their motives is not entirely pure, but for the most part they’re pretty happy. Sometimes I would even describe it as sickly sweet.

Will I read more?

I’m not sure if this is a standalone novel or if there will be more in the series. I’m not necessarily opposed to reading more about the world. I think this is a case where I would read the author’s work again if she asked me, but I probably won’t seek it out on my own unless the story sounds really appealing.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Orphan's Gold by David Loeff

Title: Orphan’s Gold
Author: David Loeff
Length: 853 Kindle units
Rating: 3 stars

The Plot

Now that he’s finished the 8th grade, Virgil only wants to travel out to Colorado to meet up with his miner father. But when he finally gets permission from his uncle to join a party and make the trip, he learns that his father has disappeared during a cave-in. Determined to find out what happened to his father, Virgil digs through the rock until he finds the place where his father was last seen. But as he goes deeper in the mine, he finds a strange chamber with a magical power that lets him travel to the same place… in different times.

The Good

Orphan’s Gold is an interesting little story – and I mean that literally in terms of “little story.” It’s the shortest work I’ve reviewed so far, and I would hesitate to even call it a novella. It chronicles Virgil’s quest through four or five different time periods, beginning in the mid-1800’s and traveling back to caveman days and forward to the present day and beyond. The story describes how someone in their mid-teens was perceived in different times. As time moves forward, Virgil is given less and less responsibility even though he remains the same age. I thought the na├»ve way that Virgil interpreted times foreign to his own was particularly well done.

The Bad

I would have to say that my biggest issue with Orphan’s Gold is, to use an oft-quoted phrase, “I don’t get it.” Most stories have some kind of theme or message attached to them, often something as simple as love or loyalty. I have no idea what the reader is expected to pick up from Orphan’s Gold. There are a couple of morals that make brief appearances – rape is bad, people should use cleaner energy sources – but none of these pull the story together as a whole. I feel like the lesson is supposed to be that one of these times that Virgil travels to is optimal, but I’m really not clear on which one it is and why it is best.

I also had some issue with perspective in the story. For awhile, we’re going along seeing things through Virgil’s head, and then suddenly we’re not. And it’s not really clear that this transition has taken place. Then we seem to alternate between the viewpoint of no one and Virgil’s girlfriend Argoura. We eventually get back to Virgil, but we keep flashing back to Argoura, even though the two are in different times. All in all it was confusing and made the story less smooth than it could have been.

The Romance

When Virgil is back in what I am going to call caveman times, he befriends a girl named Argoura. They are both in their mid-teens, which means that they are undergoing the rites to become full adults. However, the way their relationship is described made me question whether they were really mature enough for the responsibilities involved. They kept thinking about being friends and spending time together in a way that seemed naively unaware of the mechanics of or even desire for a romantic relationship. So while I feel the romance was meant to demonstrate how mid-teens were considered adults in this culture, all I could think was that they didn’t seem any different than today’s teens in terms of their ability to take on the responsibility of a relationship.

Will I read more?

I’m pretty sure that this is a stand-alone story, which means that the real question is whether I would like to see more of this author’s work. I’m not a huge fan of short stories in general, mainly because I don’t feel like I get enough to tell whether I like it. Of course, there are those who would say that a great writer can make even a few pages compelling. I’m not entirely sure that I believe that, or that someone needs to be a writer of that caliber to capture my attention. Regardless, there is not anything in Orphan’s Gold that makes me particularly eager to come back for more.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Elemental by Maddy Edwards

Title: Elemental Rising
Series: Paranormal Public
Author: Maddy Edwards
Previous Books in Series: Paranormal Public
Rating: 4 stars
Length: 6140 Kindle units

Refresher: Charlotte discovers she has magical powers and goes off to Paranormal Public University in a reminiscent of Harry Potter manner

Avid readers of my blog will recall that I did not love Paranormal Public, which made me very sad, mostly because Maddy Edwards is really nice. Because I like her other stuff, and because a lot of what happened in Paranormal Public was interesting, I decided to give the second book in the series a chance. I’m really glad I did because I enjoyed it tremendously. I read the whole thing in about two days, and there were some parts that I liked so much that I had to go back and read them twice.

Charlotte is back at Paranormal Public for her second semester, this time as a full student instead of a probationary one. She starts to learn to use her magic for real and even has a prestigious internship at the Museum of Masks. I’m not entirely clear on why the school has a collection of magical masks that various paranormals have made over the years, but it’s kind of cool that they do.

The characters from the first book continue to support Charlotte in her various quests to save the school – and the entire paranormal world – from the forces of evil. Keller is still perfect, and his aunt doesn’t think Charlotte is good enough for him, but, really, who could be? Hyper Sip and sarcastic Lisabelle are now roommates. We get to see more of vampire princess Lanca, and there are a slew of new and powerful paranormals to suspect of a variety of evildoing.

In terms of negatives, Charlotte often goes off on her own to do things that can only be described as colossally stupid. She gets points for the fact that she acknowledges afterwards that she probably could have made wiser choices. Nonetheless, she only lives through the book alive because she is extremely lucky, and because her boyfriend is superhumanly perfect beyond even the paranormal mean.

Regardless, Elemental Rising is a good read, and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series (and Maddy’s new book Spiral, which should be coming out any time now). If we continue at the current rate, we should have six more books before Charlotte graduates from college. Except I think that Keller graduates after another two. Will he find a way to stick around campus after his graduation? Or will there perhaps be new boys to capture Charlotte’s interest? Only time will tell…

Update: I received word today that the name of the book was changed to Elemental Rising, so I have changed the review accordingly. I have not updated the cover image because, well, I do not trust my own ability to not completely mess up the layout. I apologize for any confusing this may cause.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Poke by Dayla Moon

Title: Poke
Series: Paranormal Poke Chronicles
Author: Dayla Moon
Length: 2264 Kindle units
Rating: 4.5 stars

The Plot

Zan has a special power. When a girl puts her finger in his belly button, he sees a glimpse of her future that reveals her secrets. Theoretically such a power would be great, but he always learns something that makes him reluctant to continue the relationship. Then one day he meets Austin, the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, but when she puts her finger in his belly button, he doesn’t see anything. Does Austin have no secrets? Or are her secrets too terrible for even his power to discover?

The Good

Poke cracked me up. Zan is a great narrator in that he is the kind of idiot that only a 17-year-old boy can be, but he is still really likable because he doesn’t mean to be completely clueless. Even though a lot of the events were quite serious in nature, viewing them from Zan’s perspective made even the worst problems seem surmountable. Especially in comparison to the horrible fate of having to kiss a smoker with a tongue ring.

The mythology of Poke is unique to say the least. I mean, I’m pretty sure that if I had a power that required people to put their fingers in my belly button, I would probably never even discover that I had it. And I don’t think I would be comfortable with the required experimentation to determine the limits of said power. Of course, Zan has powers beyond that of precognition via belly button, as we discover as the novel goes on.

Also, Zan has a diabetic cat who he loves, and his concern that Mibs always gets his shots is reminiscent of real cat ownership.  And I just really like kitties.

The Bad

I seriously debated whether I wanted to put Poke on my quick pick list because there were a couple of things that bothered me about it. But then I decided that it was sufficiently humorous to counter that. And besides, I really need a book about a male protagonist on my list, even if the author is a woman.

The scenes that involve people who know more about Zan’s powers than he does get a little bit confusing, especially the first one. The evil witch starts manipulating perceptions so that Zan and his friends don’t know what’s going on, which leads to the uncomfortable situation that I also did not know what was going on. This was a recurring theme with the scenes with the bad guys. Zan didn’t know what was going on, so the reader didn’t know what was going on, which made things seem kind of random and confusing.

We know early on that Zan’s parents are dead and that he lives with his grandmother, but we don’t get a story of how his parents died. This led me to believe that the story was unimportant, except that it turned out to be important. And consequently, I wish we had learned it earlier in the story.

Also, this may be because I spent some time in England, where the less innocent usage of the word “poke” is used more frequently, but the title of this book seems kind of dirty to me.

The Romance

Zan has a hard time with girls, mostly because once he sees their secrets, he doesn’t want to spend time with them anymore. So when he meets Austin, whom he quickly concludes is the most beautiful girl in the world, he doesn’t want to see her future. This becomes moot when a. his power doesn’t work on her and b. she doesn’t want to see him again. Thus we see the plights of a teen boy who has been rejected in love. Which is complicated by the fact that he is simultaneously rejecting other girls like Raye-Anne, whose future seems to involve him getting beat up, and Julie, who is one of his best friends but who he doesn’t like in “that way.”

Will I read more?

I definitely found Poke entertaining enough to want to read more of the series. I’m hoping they all turn out to be as funny as the first.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Death Seraph by Ashley Bruce

Title: Death Seraph
Author: Ashley Bruce
Length: 4329 Kindle units
Rating: 2.5 stars

The Plot

Minky knew her life was going to change after her parents were murdered, but she had no idea how much. She’s okay with moving to Oklahoma with her Aunt Maggie, even though her life there is a far cry from the one she had in Philadelphia with her social climbing parents. And she can accept that her aunt wants her to start at a new school right away and maybe see a therapist. But she really wasn’t expecting to suddenly start seeing people who aren’t there. People who are, in fact, dead. Including a very attractive boy named Nicolaus who may have an explanation for these events that is beyond anything Minky could have imagined.

The Good

The relationships in Death Seraph were interesting and complex. Minky often disagreed with her parents when they were alive, but she misses them now that they are gone gone, to the point where her mother’s imagined critiques influence her behavior. Minky gets along well with her aunt, and some of their teasing is pretty funny, but there is some tension when Maggie has to transition from the fun aunt into the responsible guardian. Minky’s new friends at her Oklahoma school appear to be neither the super-popular nor the social outcasts but rather a confident group of teens who enjoy each other’s company. Well, except for the dead girl, but most of them don’t know she’s there.

I also like any book where Death is a character, though in this case they are really more reapers than Death him- or herself. But the mythology is sufficiently unique, with its paired reapers. I thought that the second death seraph couple that we met in the book was particularly interesting, and I would have liked to see more of what was going on with them.

The Bad

I am starting to have a concern. Death Seraph is the second book I have reviewed in the past few months in which suicide was presented as a reasonable course of action for some people. In the other book, a girl who had been sexually abused by her father for years killed both herself and her father. In this case Minky decides to kill herself in order to save her aunt. (This plan actually makes no sense whatsoever, but that is its whole own special issue.) This acceptance of suicide worries me enough that I feel the need to have a brief intervention and say that suicide is never the best solution to your problems. Research shows that almost all people who kill themselves have psychiatric disorders that can be treated effectively with medications and therapy. So if you are feeling that you want to kill yourself, seek help, and if you know someone who may want to kill themselves, recommend that they seek help. You may be worried about what people will think about you if you go see a mental health professional, but believe me when I say they would rather have the opportunity to get over their prejudice than see you kill yourself.

Okay, I’m done now. But seriously, suicide - not good.

The biggest problem I had with the construction of the book was with the organization of the mythology. I didn’t get a consistent sense of how being a death seraph worked. Why did Minky only see Nicolaus for the first time after her parents died? Can she be a death seraph and alive at the same time or is she supposed to die in the near future? Have there always been the same number of death seraphs, and is she, like, replacing one? Or do they add them as the population gets higher? I do not know any of these things, and it doesn’t feel like I just don’t know them yet so much as that the author hasn’t really thought them through.

The Romance

Nicolaus tells Minky that they have been matched together by the powers that be, but he has also been paired with others in the past only to have those relationships fail. Will Minky turn out to be his real soul mate or just another dud? It’s hard to tell, since he is usually rude to her and does not want to give her much information about why her life has suddenly taken a turn for the weird. And Landon, the most popular boy in school, has shown an interest in Minky, so even if the supernatural world kicks her out, she may still have a chance for true love. Unless one of the boys is evil. Which, you know, may or may not be the case…

Will I read more?

Death Seraph had some interesting characters and ideas, but I would have to describe the execution as sloppy. Enough so that I probably won’t be picking up the next installment in the 

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Indebted by Amy A. Bartol

Title: Indebted
Series: Premonition
Author: Amy A. Bartol
Previous Books in Series: Inescapable, Intuition
Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: 7520 Kindle units (includes preview for next book in series)

Refresher: This is the one about Evie, Reed, and Russell. If you read the prior two books, you’ll remember that it’s super-awesome except for the transcribed accents and continuous endorsement of benevolent sexism.

I was leafing through new books on Amazon last week, not expecting to find anything, since I check it every day. But then, on about my fourth page of recommendations, I found that Indebted was out, and I was super-excited. So I immediately downloaded it and reminded myself to add Amy Bartol’s blog to list of sites to stalk for release dates.

So to get the burning questions out of the way first: Yes, the accents are still transcribed. The Gancanagh are still around and talking in Celtic accents that closely resemble lolspeak. And Russell is still transcribing his accent in his narration. More importantly, Russell still has narration, which has us Reed fans concerned that the soulmate is going to win out over the angel. (I am sufficiently scared that the first thing I had to do when I got the book was check the end to make sure Reed doesn’t die. And I’m not going to tell you whether I was satisfied or not, cuz that would be a spoiler.) On the bright side, there are fewer Russell chapters in Indebted than there were in Intuition, and they describe scenes where Evie isn’t present, so they serve a purpose.

We do get a few more pieces about the overall plot – including which side Evie’s father is from – but I have to confess to being largely unsatisfied as far as story development is concerned. Evie spends the majority of Indebted with the Gancanagh. Fascinating as her development of Stockholm Syndrome is – and, really, it’s only moderately interesting – I feel like we really didn’t make too much more progress in this domain, certainly not enough to warrant a book of this length. And the whole time, I’m pretty much thinking that I don’t WANT to be reading about Evie and the Gancanagh. I want to read about Evie and her angel friends dealing with angel politics, finding out more about Evie’s role in the universe, and smiting the new enemies that come up. Russell can even tag along if he has to, but, really, I’d rather leave Brennus out of it.

Like the previous novels in the series, Indebted is eminently readable. But I did not find myself nearly as sucked in as I did with the first two novels, and I’m concerned the shine is starting to wear off the series. But with any luck, Book #4 will get us back on the track of the uber-plot.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Lady Languish by SCD Goff

Title: Lady Languish
Series: Lady Languish
Author: SCD Goff
Rating: 2 stars

The Plot
Eve Languish doesn’t understand why her parents have sent her off to St. Rita’s School for Young Ladies, especially since she has never even left her family’s estate Ballymore. It is not until her parents’ tragic death at the end of term that she learns the truth: Her father is a vampire, and as his daughter, she is a rare half-vampire creature called a dhampyr. Not only that, but her father’s brother Malachy, also a vampire, has determined that he must kill her. Now Eve must gather together what allies she has left in the world to save herself from an untimely death.

The Good

What I liked best about Lady Languish was the tone. The story takes place in modern Ireland, but many of the elements – the elite boarding school, Eve’s ancestral home, the lifestyles of the vampires – evoke a kind of Victorian Gothic feel. The sense of being in both the past and present reflected Eve’s lack of familiarity with the outside world, as well as the longevity of the vampire characters.

I think there is also a potential for some interesting vampire mythology in the story. Vampires seem to form societies that follow ever-changing trends. Right now the vampires in mode are the violent vampire-supremacist kind, but the reader gets the impression that it has not always been this way, and may be different now in other regions.

The Bad

I spent a good deal of Lady Languish thinking that it was a much better book than it actually was. I get this feeling sometimes with books, that I have some amount of certainty going into them that I am in for a decent read, and I am willing to forgive some strangeness of the plot. (I actually have a theory that many people make this assumption going into all books and are reluctant to let it go, which is how they end up praising books that I find completely unreadable. Alternately, I’m just picky.) I think it was a combination of the tone of the book, the antiqued-looking cover art, and the self-deprecating review request that made me expect great things from the book.

Whatever was putting a halo around the book started to fall apart about a quarter of the way through the book when Eve goes home from boarding school. That is the point I realized that nothing that had happened had anything to do with the rest of the book. Yes, the fact that Eve was sent away to boarding school was relevant to the plot, but everything that happened there was totally irrelevant, except for the fact that she made friends with one girl. Which really could have been covered in a single sentence like, “BTW, I met a girl named Sive at boarding school. I’m not quite sure how to pronounce her name, but we became friends.” Actually, that explanation might have made more sense than what we actually got, which was Eve and Sive only being sort of friends and then acting like they had a much closer relationship.

I had a lot of issues with the motivation of the main villain. We get a number of scenes from Malachy’s point of view, which I think are supposed to reveal to us that he is both conflicted and a pawn in vampire politics. Really, these chapters just tell us that he has no consistency of character whatsoever. I mean, if you’re going to kill your own brother, at least have the decency not to be inexplicably wishy-washy about it.

The Romance

Eve’s love interest is a vampire named Lorcan who she finds one night in her parents’ crypt. I’m still not sure what he was doing there in the first place. I think that Malachy was trying to kill him as well, but I’m not entirely clear on why. Anyway, Eve being the nice person that she is invites him into her house and only attacks him once to check and see if he is a vampire. Despite the fact that she has no evidence of him being a good vampire – or actually any personality whatsoever, given that he rarely speaks – she decides that she is in love with him. I can only attribute this to the fact that she has been very isolated her entire life, and he’s the first boy she ever met. 

I do have to say that it was a refreshing change to see the guy being vapid and mute, as this is a trait far more common among female love interests.

Will I read more?

On top of all these problems – story and romance not making much sense, incomprehensible villain motives, large sections of irrelevant narration – the book was pretty boring. Eve spends most of the book waiting around to be killed, or else doing plot-irrelevant things like shopping or playing field hockey. Theoretically she and her allies are simultaneously thinking of ways to save themselves, but they never seem to come up with anything more inventive than “lock ourselves in our rooms and stake the vampire.” All of this combined is enough to make me say that I am extremely unlikely to pick up the next installment, whenever it should appear.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

New Blog Header!

I know you are all super excited to see my new blog header designed by Simon over at The Indie View, which is a great web site that helps connect indie reviewers and authors. I strongly recommend the site to anyone who wants more indie books to read but may not be as dedicated to the YA paranormal genre as I am. (I know it's hard to believe, but apparently sometimes people want to read other things!) Regardless, I love my new blog header, and I hope you do as well!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch by Ashland Menshouse

Title: The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch
Author: Ashland Menshouse
Length: 10309 Kindle units
Rating: 2 stars

The Plot

Aubrey finds his ordinary high school life hard enough to deal with, what with the constant bullying, his father’s lack of understanding, and his mother’s illness. He could really do without the complications of a ghost haunting his room, a mysterious woman appearing in town, and who knows what kind of trouble popping up below the local dam. But if Aubrey wants to get any sleep at night – and avoid getting sent away to military school – he and his friend are going to have figure out what all these things mean, before it’s too late for everyone.

The Good

So first off I must give props to The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch for including characters of varied racial backgrounds. Anyone who reads YA books knows that the genre tends to be about teenaged white girls. This does not make them bad in and of itself, and on some level it’s understandable. After all, white girls are the primary readers of YA fiction, so it makes sense to write books to them. We just end up with a chicken-and-egg scenario where we don’t know if it’s the content driving the audience or vice versa. Regardless, in The Last Seer, one of the main characters is Native American, and another is black, and it was nice to see some diversity for a change.

I’m going to come down pretty hard on this book in the next section, so I want to say here that the base story of The Last Seer is actually quite good. Once you see how all the pieces of the story fit together, it’s really unique and interesting, particularly the mythology surrounding curses. There was even one part where the characters were exploring a buried house that was seriously creepy. I generally don’t like it when books scare me, but I have to give points to the author for evoking the emotion.

Also, now that I have read it and look at it again, I really like the cover. It’s a good depiction of what goes on in the book.

The Bad

The Last Seer was definitely not the worst book I have read for this blog, but it was the hardest to get through. At over 10,000 Kindle units, it’s also the longest book I have yet reviewed. As I said above, the story itself was pretty good, but it was muddied by swathes of unnecessary text. There were long meandering descriptions that served no purpose to the plot, but then when something relevant actually happened, the chapter was cut short, sometimes to be picked up days or even months later. I think the idea was to make the tone dramatic and suspenseful, but in practice, every scene ended just before something interesting started, so I had no idea what was going on. And there were some scenes that were purely unnecessary. There’s a whole multi-chapter boat race that reminds me of nothing so much as the pod race from Star Wars Episode I in that it was a 15 minute bathroom break in the middle of the movie. But I don’t need a bathroom break for a book.

Also, I never thought I would find a boy getting bullied to be unsympathetic, but it turns out he really can. Aubrey gets threatened by the bullies and immediately just does what they want without even trying to stand up for himself. I mean, if they actually beat him up once, or, like, threatened someone close to him, then I could see him caving. But without any attempt on his part to combat the unfairness, I found myself agreeing with Aubrey’s father that he needed to man up. Magnos the bully actually ended up being a far more interesting character than Aubrey.

The Romance

There is not much in the way of romance in The Last Seer. Some of the characters go to Homecoming with dates of dubious quality, and there are hints that two of the characters might end up together at the end. But mostly everyone is thinking about other things, like not dying

Will I read more?

I really feel like getting through the entirety of The Last Seer was an achievement on par with reading Paradise Lost for my 12th grade summer reading, except without having a work of classic literature on my repertoire. I do not think that my brain cells could handle sifting through more of the extraneous descriptions. Of course, if the second book were like Paradise Regained – by which I mean significantly less than half the length of the original – I might be persuaded to give it a try.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Shades of Blood by Samantha Young

Title: Shades of Blood
Series: Warriors of Ankh
Author: Samantha Young
Previous Books in Series: Blood Will Tell, Blood Past
Rating: 5 stars
Length: 5543 Kindle units

Refresher: Eden has been transformed from a soul eater (om nom nom) into an immortal Ankh warrior who kills soul eaters. But she still really wants revenge on the warrior who killed her brother…

So I’m feeling a little ridiculous reviewing Samantha Young’s novels at this point. It’s a little like reviewing Amanda Hocking. Sure, her books are awesome, but if everyone already knows that, is there really much point in putting yet another review out there to say so? But then I thought about it and decided that even if I were J.K. Rowling, I would still want people to tell me if they thought my books were awesome. So I’m reviewing the last Warriors of Ankh book, and I may or may not review more Samantha Young in the future.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to tell you everything I didn’t like about Shades of Blood.

“But, Elizabeth,” you say, “you have given it five stars. Why would you do that if you did not like it?” And I would have to say two things. 1. I don’t like changing the star rating I give to books in the same series unless there is a major change in quality. 2. The book wasn’t really bad in terms of form or style or grammar or any things I usually judge about book. I just didn’t like anything that happened in it.

For one thing, I think it’s horribly unfair that the Ankh are still testing Eden to see whether she’s worthy of living or not. I thought it was bad in the first book when she was planning, however unwillingly, to eat someone’s soul. Now she just wants vengeance against the person who killed her brother Stellan, the only person who ever loved her. Sure, we’re all rooting for her to choose the moral high ground, but I think a ten year cooling off period would have been reasonable to wait before holding it over her head as a condition of continuing to breathe.

Now, of course, there are other people than Stellan who love Eden, but I realized as I read Shades of Blood that I don’t really like Noah. He’s been a bit of a man-whore for decades, but now he’s totally in love with Eden. I guess this is believable enough, but I really feel like she can do better. I mean, Noah is the only guy she’s ever really known. We see her converse with another boy named Jack in this book, and it makes me realize how little she and Noah communicate. They keep saying they love each other, but I’m really not feeling a deep connection. So I choose to believe that in a few years she’s going to ditch him and find someone better.

And, finally, I dislike the way the characters make morally poor decisions in the name of the greater good. I’m sorry, but framing someone for a crime they did not commit in order to prevent a potentially larger crime is not a good plan. It is a morally bankrupt plan. And I prefer my moral bank accounts to be solvent.

So, anyway, if you’ve read the first two go on and read this one too, because we all like a happy ever after ending. Just be aware that sometimes happy ever after can feel a little bit grimy.

See Details for Book on    Amazon