Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

Title: Heart's Blood

Author: Juliet Marillier 

Rating: 4.5 Stars 

Although Heart's Blood is only my second Juliet Marillier novel, I can already count her amongst my favorite authors...ever. Marillier has a distinct style of writing stories about kind, but fierce, female protagonists and tortured romantic interests, creating beautiful love stories all against a backdrop of fantastical imagination. If that isn't a recipe for success, then I don't know what is. Yet, with Heart's Blood, Marillier has surpassed her previous prowess, writing one of the most remarkable fairy tale re-telling of Beauty and the Beast that I've ever come across. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Heart's Blood has replaced Beauty and the Beast in my heart for I loved it far more than I did the original.

Unlike many authors who allow the constrictions of a fairy tale re-telling to constrain their limits of creativity, Heart's Blood is based only loosely off of Beauty and the Beast. Instead of brave Belle who replaces her father's place in the Beast's tower, we have strong Caitrin who seeks a job as a scribe on Whistling Tor, home to many mysteries. Instead of Beast, a truly horrific character, we have Anluan, a crippled and unhappy man who is oh-so-very-human. Instead of talking candles, clocks, and teapots, we have a motley crew of enigmatic spirits. And, most importantly perhaps, instead of a curse to correct the vanities of a foolish young prince, we have an age-old burden of evil and terror which is a curse like no other. While there are many similarities between the two tales, Marillier's takes on a life of its own quite often and the true linkage between these two fables is their combined theme of hope.

Caitrin is a heroine I love. On the surface, she seems to be perfect: kind, gentle, fierce, and brave. Yet, as the novel progresses, we are able to slowly peel back the many layers to Caitrin's personality, revealing her insecurities, vulnerabilities, and flaws every bit as egregious as Anluan's. When we first meet Anluan - bitter, angry, and stubborn - it's hard to warm up to him, but before long, he becomes a love interest every bit as swoon-worthy as the next. Although Heart's Blood is, at its core, a novel about hope, it is also a romance and the slow, subtle, and skillfull manner in which Marillier brings together these two flawed beings is utter perfection. It will make you sigh with contentment for theirs is an epic tale that will worm its way firmly into your heart.

In all honesty, there isn't very much more to say about Heart's Blood. Its realistic characters came alive for me, its intriguing setting grabbed me in from the first page, and the lore that this book is filled with is every bit as interesting as the fable it's based upon. If there are any faults to be found, they lie with the middle of the novel which became far too cheesy for my liking. Caitrin is the driving force behind Anluan's character change and much of that stems from the hope she gives him, but at times, this could borderline on preachy and become increasingly repetitive. Furthermore, the villain in this novel is rather obvious, but the multiple layers to the villain's evil nature will keep you on the edge of your seat, guessing until the end.

Heart's Blood is, in so many ways, a perfect novel. Wonderfully flawed characters, atmospheric setting, and a romance that will make you crave for something that real yourself, it is a fairytale you won't want to leave. It has made me a die-hard Marillier fan and I will be rushing out to get my hands on all her other novels at once - this type of writing is just too good to wait for. It demands to be read, savored, and cherished like no other.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mini-Reviews: The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay and Body & Soul

Author: Rebecca Sparrow 
Rating: 3 Stars 
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Hill is the girl most likely to succeed. And the girl most likely to have everything under control . . . that is, until her dad invites Nick McGowan, the cutest boy at school, to live with them. Rachel worries that this could only be a recipe for disaster, but her best friend Zoe thinks it’s the perfect opportunity for lurve. Sparks start to fly for all the wrong reasons. Nick finds Rachel spoiled and uptight and Rachel dismisses Nick as lazy and directionless. But a secret from Nick’s past draws them together and makes the year Nick McGowan came to stay one that Rachel will never forget.
I hadn't heard of this novel until I came across Mandee's review of it on Vegan YA Nerds or Maggie's review of it on YA Anonymous, but I knew upon reading both their gushing reviews that I had to get my hands on this one. Luckily enough for me, The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay was readily available in the US and I was thrilled beyond measure to be diving into this short, but witty tale. Ultimately though, while this novel was definitely satisfying, it wasn't satisfying enough.

Rachel, our protagonist, is a cute, laugh-out-loud funny, and all-round adorable character. Her flaws are obvious, her childish behavior endearing, and her friendship with her best friend Zoe oh-so-amusing, not to mention the riot that her relationship with her parents is. When Nick moves in, Rachel and Nick don't quite get along, but as the novel progresses, you can see them develop a close bond of friendship. I'm not denying the refreshing nature or pure enjoyability of this short story, but it was somehow disappointing as I wanted more. more character development, 
more growth, more depth. 

The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay tackles some heavy topics, but it really could have been better novel if Sparrow had chosen to extend it, even by another hundred pages. Nevertheless, if you're looking for something short, sweet, and sure to bring a smile on your face, you simply can't go wrong with this story!

Title: Body and Soul (The Ghost and the Goth, #3) 
Author: Stacey Kade 
Rating: 4 Stars 
Alona Dare has been living as Lily “Ally” Turner for over a month...and it's not been easy. Besides being trapped in a body so not as good as her original one, she's failing miserably at playing the sister and daughter of people she barely knows. Plus, she can't help but think that Will Killian - the boy she hates to care about - somehow wishes the real Lily were back. She and Will have been trying to find a solution, looking for a two-for-one miracle that would free Alona and keep Lily alive. Visits to local psychics have proven useless, but then they stumble across Malachi the Magnificent, who seems to be different. His office is full of ghosts, for one thing. But Malachi doesn’t seem to hear or see them, which is odd. Plus, he bolts the moment he sees Will. To make things even weirder, Misty Evans, Alona's former best friend, is waiting in Malachi's lobby and claiming that she's being haunted. By Alona. Will's convinced that Malachi has answers, while Alona is all kinds of pissed that someone's impersonating her. But their efforts to uncover the truth will bring them much unwanted attention and put them directly in the path of a ghost who will stop at nothing for another stab at life. Even if it means destroying Alona.
*No Spoilers* 
I am both simultaneously deliriously happy by the ending of this novel and sad that this trilogy is truly over. When I first picked up The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade, I expected a cute, fun, and mindless read – I was right, but only in part. The Ghost and the Goth surprised me by having well-rounded characters and a romance that was slow, started with friendship, and actually had me rooting for it. Body and Soul ties up the loose ends in this novel perfectly.
Nevertheless, it took me awhile to warm up to this series. It’s one of those trilogies where you have to let go of science and reason and simply go with the flow. It isn’t all realistic – but we’re dealing with ghosts here, so what could be? – but it does have substance to it, along with a truly remarkably written romance. Its characters, Alona Dare and Will Killian, are flawed, realistic, and intensely unlikable at times, but they grow on you and make their way into your heart. Although their romance seems typical with its flirty banter and clichéd stereotypes, it actually tackles on complex issues such as loving someone for their soul or their body or even parental issues.

If there are any flaws with this series, it is that some things could have been explored in greater depth, but overall, this series always manages to put a smile on my face, so I can’t complain. You need to be in a certain mood to read The Ghost and the Goth, one where you need laughter, fun, but also a tad bit of depth thrown in. Needless to say, this is the perfect rainy-day-re-read type of novel and I’m already eagerly anticipating Kade’s next novel which will hopefully contain the same steady and developed romance, unique concept, intriguing characters, and signature wit which I’ve come to love. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Showcase Sunday (#16)

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Vicki at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Its aim is to showcase our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders this week.

I have to apologize for not doing a "Showcase Sunday" post in what seems like...forever. It's not that I haven't been receiving books, but simply that I've been too busy to sit down and compile this post, so here are all the books I've received/bought/borrowed in the past month! :)

For Review: 
I was originally very excited to receive this one, but I haven't been hearing very good things about it, so I don't even know if I'll wind up reading this one after all, but we'll see. I do love that cover... ;)
I. Love. This. Book. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds so good! I mean, do you see that cover? That title? That synopsis? I can't wait to start this one, so hopefully it lives up to my expectations of it! :)

For Kindle: 
I found these two for free on my Kindle a few weeks ago and figured I'd snag them, especially with all the raving reviews, so I hope I enjoy them! :) 
I've actually already read Heart's Blood and I loved it! A definite must-read! (I believe my review will be up later this week!)
I've heard so much about this one, so I'm curious to see what all the hype is about. I hope I enjoy this one once I get around to it!
This has got to be one of the most fun, interesting, and addictive series I've read. I adored the first novel, the second wasn't bad, but this one is infinitely better. If you want something to put a smile on your face, this is definitely the series to read!
Dairy Queen & The Off Season (Dairy Queen, #1 & 2) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
I started this series this past week and I'm loving it! I'm so glad I bought the second book on my Kindle too as I'm planning to dive into it right away! Sometimes, a good chick-flick is exactly what you need!
Enclave (Razorland, #1) by Ann Aguirre
Confession: I haven't read anything by Ann Aguirre. I have tons of her books on my TBR List, so I figured it was about time I actually read one of them and with Outpost already out, what could be a better choice? It was Maja from the Nocturnal Library who finally motivated me to pick this one up with her stellar review of this series and her recent interview with Ann Aguirre (not to mention her previous one with her as well) so thank you Maja! :)

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Yet another novel I've already read this month. I wasn't a huge fan of it, but this is a short, fun, and cute read for sure! (Once again, my review for this is going up this week!)
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater 
I loved the last two Stiefvater novels I picked up, but this one? Ehh, not so much. I still adore her writing style though and can't wait for her future releases! (You can read my review HERE.)
Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally 
I loved Catching Jordan, but somehow, this book just didn't do it for me. (You can read my review HERE.)
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Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan 
Unfortunately, this is my least favorite Brennan novel, but it was still an incredible read and a wholly satisfying conclusion to an epic trilogy. (You can read my review HERE.)
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst 
I've been seeing this book crop up everywhere, so I figured it was about time I saw what all the hype is about. I love the cover and the synopsis sounds very intriguing, so I think I'll enjoy this one.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
I've been in the mood for some John Green lately, not to mention I'm curious to try out David Levithan's writing style, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone with this one. I can't wait to start it - I've heard so many great things about it, so I'm sure it'll be excellent!

For those of you who don't know, Quintana of Charyn only releases in America next year. Needless to say, I refused to wait and pre-ordered a shiny copy from Australia and while it has been sitting on my shelf for the past few weeks, I simply refuse to pick it up. I just don't want this to be my last Marchetta novel for a looong while! I'm more torn up over that than curious to see how this series ends, so it'll probably wait on my shelves indefinitely until I need an immediate fix out of a reading slump. Actually, who am I kidding? I won't be able to wait that long...I'm not ready to read this novel of perfection quite yet, but I'll definitely be reading it before the end of the year. It's going to be a masterpiece...I can just tell. 

I was expecting a lot more books to arrive on my doorstep this week, but since they haven't, I'll take pictures and post a ton more books next week since I did buy...ermm...six (seven?) books this month! ;) I also, as many of you may have noticed, finally have a blog header! I don't know how I feel about it to be honest...I'm terrible with computer/graphic/design shtuff, so it's the best I could come up with. What do you think? I'll probably wind up changing it/playing around with it later this year, but for now, it is what it is. Anyway, sorry for such a long post! I'd love to see what you all snagged though, so leave me a link to your haul and I'll visit right away! :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Title: The Demon's Surrender (The Demon's Lexicon, #3)

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan 

Rating: 3 Stars 

*If you haven't picked up SRB's Demon's Lexicon Trilogy, you probably won't understand too much of this review. In my opinion, the spoilers are minimal and not likely to affect your reading experience, but if you prefer not to know anything about the rest of the trilogy before picking up this series, I suggest you skip this review.* 

I hate to say it, but The Demon's Surrender is my least favorite of all Sarah Rees Brennan's work. Brennan first blew me away with The Demon's Lexicon, a novel with such complex relationships and so much depth that it made its way to my favorites shelf instantly. The Demon's Covenant, the sequel, was just as good, deep, and rich in complexity which I loved. While the love triangle did lower my rating for that one, it left me more than a little excited for this installment. However, when I heard the narrator would be Sin, I didn't bother to pick it up - until now, of course, after reading the brilliance that was Unspoken and being reminded of just how much I love SRB.

The Demon's Surrender contains SRB's signature wit, dialogue, and tight plot lines. I love the direction she takes the story of this trilogy and it's one of my favorite trilogies simply because this ending was so satisfying in terms of plot. Not only that, but her characters are ones that stay with you for a looong time, proving to be unique and each carry their own special voice. Yet, what proved to be a massive disappointment in this installment was none other than Sin's narration.

Sin has never been my favorite character. Ever. Thus, I have to applaud Brennan for making me appreciate, understand, and even like her with this book. Yet, Sin represents too much of what I hate in protagonists. I love that she's a feminine character who uses her body, but with the just the right boundaries that she never appears as a slut. I love that she cares for her family so much and would sacrifice her life for them. I love that she is so fiercely strong. What I don't love, however, is that I was expecting more from her narration than I received. I was expecting Sin's love for the Market to seep through these pages, making the Market take on a life-form of its own that it had never done with Nick and Mae's narration. Instead, the Market isn't a huge part of this novel and instead, romance unfortunately is.

Sin's gradual romance with Alan is, in my opinion at least, rather sudden. I understood it and all the reasons behind it, but I never felt it. Sin and Alan making out for pages on end? Yup, I couldn't care less. Why couldn't Nick and Mae make put for pages on end? Furthermore, what bothered me about their love story was that Sin was constantly angsting over it for the first half of this novel. It was literally just so much angst when she had so many other things to think about too! If that wasn't enough, Sin actually has to resort to hiding in the shadows for us to hear any of Nick and Mae's conversations! I am a huge Nick and Mae shipper - you can throw any realistic justification of those two you want at me, but my romantic heart still keeps beating for them. To have their moments marred by the presence of Sin lurking in the corner was just...irritating! I didn't enjoy it. I also felt as if a lot of important conversations occurred between Nick and Mae during the second-half of the novel and the fact that we weren't able to hear them grated on me. Sin's narration simply didn't work with this book and it took away some of that essential depth I always feel with Brennan's work. I honestly think that if this was written from the perspective of one of the other characters, it could have been so much stronger.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that this is a fabulous trilogy and, despite my disappointments with the narrative style, I loved the ending of this series. SRB is a fantastic author - that much is evident from this series - and I can only hope her next trilogy will end off on a slightly more satisfying note. 

Reader's Note: I sincerely hope this review doesn't discourage you from picking up this trilogy! It's one of my favorite series ever and the first two books are simply mind blowing! I cannot recommend them enough and I'm convinced other readers will love this installment unlike I have.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ARC Review: After Dark by Emi Gayle

Title: After Dark (The 19th Year, #1) 

Author: Emi Gayle 

Rating: 2 Stars 

Release Date: October 31st, 2012 

In all honesty, I don’t have much to say about After Dark. When I first heard about this new debut, I was more than a little excited and thrilled to pick it up: a paranormal novel with a protagonist who could shift shape, but only at night? In YA Fiction, shape-shifting hadn’t been explored as widely as everything else, so naturally, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into this one. Unfortunately, I have to admit that After Dark is another classic example of a debut novel chock-full of potential that simply went wrong. Not only were its characters obscure and difficult for me to connect to, but the plot dragged on far too much as well and ultimately, I have to throw this book onto my shelf of “2012 Disappointments.” It isn’t the first debut up there and I doubt it’ll be the last this year as well – I’ve simply become too difficult to please.

Mac Thorne is a Changeling. Nope, she’s not a fey child whose life has been swapped with that of a human’s – don’t make the same mistake in assuming that as I did. Instead, she’s a being who can change her shape at will, but only at night. In the dark, she can shift into any paranormal creature she wants; but there’s a catch. When she’s nineteen, she must choose one form and stick to it, representing that race in a council and thereby making them the most powerful race – until the next Changeling comes along and chooses a different race, of course. Yet, ironically enough, Mac barely knows anything about who she is, her race of Changelings, or what her future holds. When she sees Winn, a classmate of hers, with a book about paranormal creatures, she makes it her mission to befriend him. What she doesn’t count on is falling in love. What she doesn’t count on is danger. What she doesn’t count on is a lot more than what she did count on and that just may not be so good...

After Dark starts out by immersing you into the world Emi Gayle has created, straight from Chapter 1, and while that isn’t a bad thing, you are floating around rather clueless for…awhile. Nevertheless, the world-building does kick in, and while I wasn’t a fan of the way it was introduced, it’s there. Thus, while I was rather disconcerted about the world Gayle had imagined, it didn’t bother me too much. What did bother me, however, was Mac. Mac was a character I couldn’t really connect with, no matter how hard I tried. You see, Mac is a human for the entire duration of the day, but she hates humans. Why? I don’t know. I honestly just don’t know. Mac is antisocial because she doesn’t want to talk to humans, she sticks to herself, and she generally doesn’t want friends. But, this entire book is about how Mac makes human friends and falls in love with a human and while I recognized that this was meant to be a moment for character growth, I didn’t understand why Mac hated humans or why she suddenly didn’t hate them.

Furthermore, Mac’s back story seemed too unbelievable. Much like Pia in Origin, who was brought up as a scientist but never felt curious about the world outside her “fence”, Mac never begins to wonder about her unique race or what she is and can do until she sees Winn with a book about paranormal creatures. Thus, from that moment on, Mac’s curiosity is completely insatiable. In fact, she even follows Winn into his house just to see this book because she is so desperate for answers when she didn’t even care for the past eighteen years. While reading this book, all I could feel was that it was so outlined and convenient; the only reason nothing happened before this book was because it needed to happen in this book and overall, that left me feeling more than a little detached from this novel.

Mac aside, I found the plot of After Dark to be disappointing. It isn’t boring or slow, but nothing much really happens in it. If anything, it can easily be condensed into a few short chapters and I’m sure this entire trilogy could be contained as a stand-alone novel if the author really tried. Also, plot-wise, as the romance goes, it was cute, but nothing earth-shattering. Winn was a decent love-interest, one I even liked, but I couldn’t understand why Winn grew to like Mac, especially since all they did was sit in his basement and read a book. Furthermore, there is no way that these two love each other; at least, it definitely didn’t feel that way to me. It wasn’t that the romance in this novel was bad, but it was such a clichéd and typical school-project-romance and unlike Kelly Creagh in Nevermore, Emi Gayle didn’t manage to make it meaningful, deep, or, for that matter, even work.

Overall, After Dark is a good book, but it didn't live up to my expectations or "wow" me in the least. Its MC was confusing and hard to connect with, many of the other characters were present for "comic relief" and weren't very amusing, and overall I think I expected this book to be something different from what it was. I contemplated giving it up more than once, but I did manage to finish the whole novel, even if I skimmed the last 30%. Thus, I'd recommend After Dark to the majority of people whose opinions don't correlate with mine since I tend to be that picky reviewer, but if you tend to feel the need to understand your character well, crave a more well-developed romance, or even want to read this book because the character can change into multiple paranormal creatures (not the standard 2-3 she flits between – seriously, haven’t vampires and faeries been overdone already?), then, I'm sorry to say, look elsewhere. 

I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher, J. Taylor Publishing, on behalf of the DAC ARC Tours in exchange for a honest review. Thank You!  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

Title: Night Beach 

Author: Kirsty Eagar 

Rating: 2.5 Stars 

I read this book with Jasprit from The Reader's Den for a read-along and honestly, if it hadn't been for the fact that I had to read three chapters every day, I would have given up on this one a looooong time ago. Night Beach is, in many ways, the perfect October read. It opens up with an interesting premise and there are more than a few hair-raising events within the first couple of chapters to keep your attention and leave you hanging on the edge of your seat but unfortunately, that's all Night Beach does. You see, there's such a thing in a book called a plot and a purpose and while Night Beach built up to what seemed to be an intriguing pinnacle, it was ultimately the most anti-climatic peak I've come across and from there on out, Night Beach just lost me. 

Night Beach opens up by introducing us to Abby, our protagonist, who is hopelessly in love with her cousin, Kane. When Kane returns from a trip to an island, he is more different than usual. Not only does he exhibit strange, aggressive forms of behavior, but there seems to be a shadow following him. Abby, who is obsessed with Kane herself, cannot help but be worried about him. Yet, as time wears on, Abby will come to realize that there's more to stake here than Kane himself and moreover, that the "shadow" she sees near Kane is more than just a shadow...

Eagar's novel is written beautifully and if you're a fan of gothic literature, you'll definitely find something to love here. If, however, you prefer gothic literature similar to Jane Eyre where we have a mystery, plenty of red herrings, clues, and scary events, but eventually are told little tidbits to keep us going, then this isn't for you. Night Beach gives you a mystery. It gives you scary event after scary event. What it doesn't offer you, until the last quarter of this book really, is any type of clue, or hint, or tidbit to keep you going. I can essentially equate it to walking in a dark tunnel, not knowing where the tunnel ends or even if there's a light at the end of it; all you know is that you're lost, confused, and have no idea what's going on.

In addition to the lack of a plot - because I don't know how else to describe this! - the characters were unfortunately extremely flat too. Our main character, Abbie, only finally gains some depth and connection with the reader over half-way through the book and I am still no closer to understanding Kane than I was when I first picked up this book. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that people such as Abbie's friends, surfers, and even neighbors were more fleshed-out and easy to connect with than the main characters themselves, so that felt more than a little disjointed for sure. 

Night Beach was a book I really wanted to like, but ultimately I couldn't summon up much feeling for it. It started out well enough, but leaving me confused for dozens of chapters is not the way to make me appreciate a novel. If anything, I wish the majority of the middle of this book had simply been condensed into a few chapters, allowing me to experience more of the mystery and less of the build-up. Furthermore, the ending was just...I don't even know. It left me confused just when I thought I had everything figured out and while I'm sure it serves as a deeper meaning for something I'm missing - because in many ways this entire novels feels like one giant metaphor - I don't feel as if I'm losing out on much by not understanding it. I've read other books that have tackled on the eventual subject in this book better, and as such, Night Beach was just not the book for me. 

Quick Note: I sincerely hope this review doesn't put anyone off of reading Kirsty Eagar's novels. I adore her writing and Raw Blue is one of my favorite books ever, so I really can't recommend it enough. Read. It. Now. Seriously. You won't regret it. :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: In the Woods by Tana French

Title: In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1) 

Author: Tana French 

Rating: 3.75 (?) Stars 

In the Woods is one of those books that you finish feeling bereft – bereft of answers, bereft of joy, bereft of happiness. Suddenly, grief and sorrow and despair are your companions as this is a novel that leaves you feeling so, so sad and heartbroken. It’s a story that will shock you to your very core, rattle your nerves, and make you re-think everything you ever thought was true. It is, in every sense of the term, a psychological thriller like no other.

When Katy Devlin, a twelve-year-old ballet dancer, is murdered and found on an archaeological excavation site, Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox suddenly find themselves taking on the case. Not only is Katy’s case extremely mysterious, with red herrings and suspects popping out from every nook and cranny, but her death happened in Knocknaree. Years ago, three children disappeared into the woods of Knocknaree and only one came back alive. Adam, the lone survivor, was unable to remember anything of the events he was witness to and the bodies of the other two children were never found. Adam, however, has grown up now and changed his name to Rob Ryan, who is now back in Knocknaree after avoiding the area for years. Thus, Rob cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between the two cases. What he and Cassie do uncover though is a trail of secrets, mysteries, and horror so sick it will thoroughly mess with your mind.

In the Woods is one of those novels that all of my GoodReads friend’s seem to love and very few other people in the world seem to know about. Thus, while I knew it would be a mind-blowing mystery and psychological thriller going into it, I don’t think I quite expected what I got. You see, In the Woods starts out much the same way as any other mystery novel. We have our detectives, Cassie and Ryan, who conduct their investigations, rule out their suspects, add more suspects, conduct more investigations, etc. In fact, the true psychological mind-warp of this story doesn’t even emerge until the last 30% or so of this tale. Yet, what makes it such a brilliant story isn’t merely those last few chapters which suck all the breath out of your lungs – it’s the steady build-up throughout the entire tale.

I suppose I should make myself clearer, so I will explain. In the Woods felt, at many times, very redundant to me. It was as if Cassie and Ryan were interrogating the same person or asking the same questions and the investigation seemed to go around in circles at times. This, as I soon came to learn, was purposeful and served to broaden the bigger picture by the end of the story. So, I guess what I’m really saying here is that you should stick with this one because it is so rewarding in the end. You won’t feel like putting this one down while you read it, simply because it’s a mystery and like all mysteries, you can’t leave it unfinished, but that doesn’t mean that while it’s down you’ll feel like picking it back up again, because sometimes you won’t. In fact, at times the writing can even become too cluttered with prose and details, but much like how Stormdancer is worth the wait and slow build-up, In the Woods is too.

What makes In the Woods such a phenomenal – and original – thriller is not only the psychological aspects of it, but the characters themselves. Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox make themselves slowly a part of your heart with their endearing habits, sarcasm, and quick wit. I feel as if I know them so well now; as if they’re real and sitting in front of me this very moment. I feel as if I can see into their very souls – that’s how well-rounded and deeply they are written into this story. If it were not for my intense feelings towards these two – feelings that the author developed and made me feel before it even registered I was feeling them – this novel would not have been as strong as it was.

Rob really is our main character in this tale as it is his narration which guides this story, so while we get a deeper look into his mind and the psychological effects of the trauma he suffered through as a child, Cassie is also an equally important character. You see, the friendship between Rob and Cassie was hands-down my favorite aspect of this story. It was beautiful, filled with understanding, and is the type of friendship you can only dream about. I do have to warn you though that the hint of romance in this novel is simply heart-breaking. I could hear my heart shatter…that’s how real it felt.

In all honesty, there isn’t much more I can say about this book. It’s a mystery and as such, not much can be described without revealing the big plot twists. Ultimately though, In the Woods is a truly phenomenally-written novel by an author who not only knows how to write a chilling mystery, but also knows how to get into your mind and twist your very emotions along with those of her characters. In the Woods doesn’t provide too much closure at the end either, but all this just contributes to its eerie mood. I did feel extremely depressed the moment I closed this book, but I am impressed with French’s ability to make me feel so strongly for something I first thought was a mere murder mystery. Will I be picking up the sequel? Absolutely, although not without a few happier reads in-between. In the Woods is a must-read novel for any mystery/psychological thriller fans. If, however, you don’t appreciate having your mind bended and warped in every direction possible, you may just want to pass up on this one because no matter how good you are at predicting mysteries, you will not see this plot twist coming. ;)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall

Title: Queen of the Night (This is Shyness, #2) 

Author: Leanne Hall 

Rating: 5 Stars 

If This is Shyness was a portal into an unbelievable dream-world, Queen of the Night is the tender few moments suspended between that dream and reality. When I first read This is Shyness a few months back, I was exhilarated beyond belief at the remarkably original tale Hall had managed to create, yet, I never felt as if anything was missing. With Queen of the Night, however, Leanne Hall enables us to see just how much more there is to the unique world she imagined. While we are thrown, once again, into the world of Shyness, its mysteries, and the enigmatic lives of Wolfboy and Wildgirl, we are also given, for once, a much more slower, brooding, and thought-provoking experience than we ever had before.

It has been six months and thirteen days since Nia last saw Jethro in Shyness and not a day has gone by without her thinking of him. Jethro, however, has not called Nia in the long months they’ve been apart and although Nia doesn’t know it, Jethro is constantly thinking about her too. With the passage of time however, more than just Nia and Jethro have changed; Shyness has changed as well. While the city remains to be as dark as ever, stranger things than usual seem to be happening, one of which is Paul, Jethro’s best friend, wandering the streets with a group of trance-like people dressed in blue. Thus, with more questions than answers and no way to help his friend, Jethro is forced to turn to Nia and request her to return back to Shyness with him. Yet, this time, more than simply their relationship is at stake – their very dreams and reality are too.

One of the first things to strike you about Queen of the Night, either than Leanne Hall’s beautiful prose, is just how much you missed the world of Shyness, and, in particular, Wolfboy and Wildgirl although really we all just missed Wolfboy if we’re being honest. Hall’s imaginative land, whether you are aware of it or not, has wormed its way into your heart and returning back to these pages with their languid phrases and contemplative dual narration feels exactly like returning home. While the pacing and focus of this novel is far different from its predecessor, it is also, strangely, exactly right. We are exempt from the shy endearments of Wolfboy and Wildgirl’s first love and are instead treated to a subtle awkwardness as they attempt to re-learn each other without the craziness of one night tying them together. Queen of the Night spans, instead, over a longer period of time as Wolfboy and Wildgirl grow back together and I simply adored the realistic manner in which their romance played out as the novel unfolded.

Yet, even more than that, Queen of the Night focuses on Shyness, making this land the most mysterious character of all. Hall begins to peel back some of the clouds covering the origins of this city and while we are granted more answers by the end of this novel, we are also left with an even larger pool of questions. Even more than that though, with her sophomore novel Hall makes us think. While This is Shyness was a journey we were forced to undertake without too much thought, Queen of the Night is a novel that starts out much like any other romance and slowly transforms into a symbolic tale, forcing the reader to question the very substance of dreams, our imaginations, and the barrier between reality and our subconscious. It’s one of those rare stories that leaves you feeling satisfied at the end, but also leaves you hanging and praying fervently hoping for another venture into Shyness.

In reality though, Hall’s sophomore novel is far stronger than her debut ever was. It is a much more contemplative and thought-provoking story and I doubt that no matter how many times I re-read it, I will ever even begin to graze the hidden meanings and reflective themes incorporated into this tale. It contains the trademark imagination and gorgeous writing that Leanne Hall is known for, but it also goes above and beyond to show us a glimpse into a flawed world wrought with vulnerable characters and overshadowed by both a literal and metaphorical darkness. It is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes these books work, for I am not one to embrace unusually open endings or unexplained subjects, but despite all that, it is impossible not to fall head-over-heels in love with this tale. Queen of the Night is sure to satisfy fans of This is Shyness and win over those on the fence about Hall’s debut. Me? Well, it’s safe to say that I fell in love with Wolfboy Shyness all over again and can only hope that Leanne Hall chooses to write a sequel so that I can crawl into Wolfboy’s lap and stroke his cheek like I so desperately want to. ;)

If you haven't read/heard of this series before, you can follow the links above to read my review of the first novel, This is Shyness or just click here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Stealing Parker 

Author: Miranda Kenneally 

Rating: 2.5 Stars 

Stealing Parker is, logistically speaking, not a bad book. In fact, I have an immense amount of respect for Miranda Kenneally for tackling on real-life, modern-day issues such as lesbian parents, gay friends, and even student-teacher relationships. Yet, I found myself to be sorely disappointed by this one. While I will admit that Catching Jordan had its flaws, mostly stemming from its dramaticism, it never altered by enjoyment and emotional investment of the novel. Stealing Parker, on the other hand, make me increasingly uncomfortable, leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth at the way many of the situations in it were handled and ultimately yearning for more closure.

When Parker's mother comes out about being a lesbian, divorcing her father and leaving her family to live with her best friend, Parker's life is turned upside down. Not only is she confused, torn, and upset that her mother has abandoned her, but the church which is such a huge part of her life has turned against Parker and her family, publicly ostracizing them. Furthermore, Parker must now leave behind her good-girl image to prove that unlike her mother, she isn't a lesbian, and as she begins to earn a not-so-good reputation, she also quits playing softball, the sport whose love she shared with her mother. Thus, when a hot new baseball coach comes into the picture, Parker can't help but want more - even if it's from a teacher. In the middle of this mix is her growing friendship with ex-valedictorian-rival, Will, more commonly known as Corndog, and her emerging suspicions about her gay best friend. Now, Parker must struggle to come to terms with what happened to her family, her passion for softball, and ultimately, what's really the right thing to do.

I think the premises of Stealing Parker is fascinating, and honestly, I wish Kenneally had simply stuck with it. We don't have many contemporary novels taking on lesbian mothers and the impact that that situation has on a family, so I was looking forward to reading this one. Unfortunately, however, while Parker's mother is a huge part of this novel and Parker's life, an equally large portion is Parker's student-teacher relationship with Coach Brian Hoffmann. In all honesty, I felt uncomfortable reading about their relationship, simply because of the subject matter, but more than that, I wasn't a fan of the way in which it was handled. I feel as if student-teacher relationships stem from issues in both the student and the teacher's life and while I definitely understood Parker, I didn't quite come to understand Brian the same way. Furthermore, the ultimate conclusion to this relationship wasn't what I was hoping for in terms of punishment and my biggest qualm has to lie with the fact that this relationship took away from many of the other qualities that Stealing Parkerhad going for it.

You see, Parker's student-teacher relationship took time out of her friendship with Corndog, which I wanted to see more of, her rocky relationship with her father and brother, which I wished had more depth, and even her own tangled feelings towards her mother. While I did appreciate that Kenneally touched upon all these issues, I wanted more. I didn't feel as if a student-teacher relationship was necessary to drive the point about this novel home and towards the end, it felt as if things came together a little too easily, simply because their complex plot threads couldn't be further explored because the student-teacher relationship exhausted practically everything else. Thus, while I found myself enjoying the story of Parker's growth and her very cute romance with Corndog, I wasn't completely satisfied with it by the end of this novel. (Or the lingering questions about Parker's church, friendships, brother, or her father's potential girlfriend for that matter...)

Alll of that aside, Stealing Parker is still a novel I enjoyed reading. It was a quick-read, although not a read-in-one-sitting novel likeCatching Jordan, but it kept my interest and my eagerness for Kenneally's next contemporary novel is still present. I have a feeling that fans of contemporary novels will adore this one and for someone like me, who always looks for something more in a story and for whom contemporary is not a favorite genre, this is simply bound to be another "black sheep" read. Nevertheless, if you're looking for another character to connect with, another sports-oriented novel to pick up, or just another story with fantastic friendships, Stealing Parker is, without a doubt, the book for you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mini-Review: Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Title: Five Flavors of Dumb

Author: Antony John 

Rating: 4 Stars 
Piper is a seventeen-year-old high school senior, and she's just been challenged to get her school's super-popular rock band, Dumb, a paying gig. The catch? Piper is deaf. Can she manage a band with five wildly different musicians, nurture a budding romance, and discover her own inner rock star, though she can't hear Dumb's music? 

Five Flavors of Dumb is a novel I’ve had on my radar for awhile, but one I simply brushed off a countless number of times. It was never a priority on my list, but when I found myself stranded waiting for a long time with nothing to read but this novel on my Kindle, I decided to give it a shot. Well, it would be an understatement to say I was pleasantly surprised because more than anything, I was simply astounded by the depth of this tale. Five Flavors of Dumb is more than “just another music novel.” It’s a story about family, friendships, discovering yourself, and ultimately, belonging.

One of the main reasons Five Flavors of Dumb and I hit off so well was because it was a primarily character-driven novel. Piper is the type of protagonist I love. While she knows she’s intelligent, she fails to see the other remarkable traits she possesses in a very realistic manner that never makes her come across as vain. Furthermore, as a deaf heroine, her perspective of life is different, all while seeming to be achingly familiar too. Seeing Piper grow, adjust, learn, and make long-lasting bonds of friendship was simply beautiful. John makes your heart beat in sync with that of his characters, so you as the reader are completely invested in their tale, even if you didn’t think you would be.

In addition, Five Flavors of Dumb sheds a notable amount of light on band dynamics. As a lover of music, I adored seeing the dysfunctional members of this band, Kallie, Tash, Josh, and Ed, finally come together to create something more than just music. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the friendships Piper forms with these band members was reminiscent of the friendships formed in Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca. They were just as heart-warming and touching to read and I found myself cheering for this group the whole way. Lastly though, I have to mention Piper’s relationship with her family. Not only was it achingly realistic, but it is also so rare to see such an honest portrayal of family life in contemporary literature. I can’t do any justice to it through descriptions, but just know that it made tears come to my eyes on more than one bittersweet occasion.

I can’t recommend Five Flavors of Dumb enough. If you’re a lover of music, slow-burning romance, well-rounded characters, and unfailing character friendships, then you simply must pick this book up. Five Flavors of Dumb may have been my first Antony John novel, but it will, by no means, be my last.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #1) 

Author: Maggie Stiefvater 

Rating: DNF/2 Stars

I think this is where Stiefvater and I go our separate ways. I never intended to read Shiver. In fact, I was more than a little convinced it wasn't the book for me, but after loving Stiefvater'sScorpio Races and enjoying The Raven Boys more than just a little, I knew I had to give this one a shot. Surprisingly enough, I found myself admitting that Shiver is a book I could have loved. It is. I loved the idea, the concept, the characters, and how, at the core of this story, was a literal battle for humanity. Yet, what prevented me from finishing this book (even though I was at the 63% mark) and from even liking this novel was, quite unfortunately, the pacing.

I feel as if Stiefvater's book always receive complaints about pacing. "It's too slow." "I was bored." "I can't wait for the plot to pick up." Ironically though, my problem was that the pacing was simply too fast. You see, Shiver opens up by telling us the brief history of Sam and Grace, a werewolf and a normal human girl. When Grace was young, she was dragged into the woods by a pack of wolves and saved by Sam. Thus, ever since then, Grace has been more than a little obsessed with what she calls "her" wolf. What Grace doesn't know though, is that Sam is a werewolf and he's been watching her all these years too, steadily dreading the day when he will no longer be able to shift back into a human. It is only when a teenage boy is reported to be killed by the wolves that Grace uncovers Sam's secret and from there on out, it's a deadly race to see if their love can withstand time as Sam's days as a human only begin to dwindle.

Now, here is where my problem with Shiver begins to creep up. When Grace sees Sam on her front porch, hurt, she takes him to the hospital, waits for him to heal, takes him back to her house, and then they make out in the kitchen. While I have no problem with a novel focused on romance, I did have a problem with the complete and utter rush that their love story became. While Grace and Sam have known each other for years, Grace has been in love with a wolf, not a human boy. Thus, I wanted her to have some type of a logical reaction to Sam. I wanted her to gradually develop a friendship with Sam the human and then fall in love with him. Whatever anyone may say, a wolf and a human are two very different creatures. Sam's role in this romance is believable, but Grace's part? Not so much. Consequently, I couldn't summon up even an iota of emotion for these two although their scenes were cute and should have made me "aww!" on more than one occasion.

What I did love, however, was Stiefvater's unique take on werewolf lore. In her world, werewolves shift not during the full moon, but when the temperature falls, forcing their bodies to change. I feel as if what Stiefvater did with this concept, her portrayal of Sam's constant struggle to retain his human self and not turn into a wolf, was simply superb. I doubt any other author could have handled that situation as beautifully as Stiefvater did and I have to give her props for that. Shiver contains Stiefvater's lyrical prose and quite honestly, her writing and Sam were the only two things that really kept me moving past the half-way mark of this book. Well, that and the plot which was gripping, unique, and really very interesting I have to admit.

While my lack of emotion for Grace and Sam's romance was my primary fault with this novel, I was also disappointed by some of the dual narration in this book. In some areas, Sam and Grace's narrations sounded the same to me and the clear, distinct voices that belonged to them were lost. Furthermore, I was never able to paint a clear picture of Grace from her narration. When we see Grace from Sam's perspective, we see her for the girl she really is - smart, spunky, and fiercely independent, all while having been neglected by her parents and thus seeking comfort from her one savior, the wolf. Through Sam's eyes, Grace's strange beastial affection for "her" wolf doesn't seem so strange, but I did still wish fiercely that Stiefvater would have allowed Grace and Sam to fall in love and distinguished them from Grace and the wolf. With their love story coming to an abrupt completion less than a quarter through the novel, I know it could have been expanded further without taking away from the rest of this story.

Nevertheless, Shiver is a novel I can't really pass judgement on. It didn't work for me, simply because I wanted more from the romance and that's my personal qualm. I, unlike most readers I suspect, am not a romance fan, and as such, I need a little more substance to my love stories. If it hadn't been for the rapid romance in this novel, I know I would have probably wound up giving it 3.5 or even 4 Stars. I really do like Shiver, but without much emotion, I couldn't bring myself to care or possibly continue with the story. Thus, I'd say to give Shiver a try. While many other reviewers have mentioned the implausibilities in this relationship, not to mention the convenience of Grace's absentee parents, I truly think these are small qualms to have with a novel that simply bursts with creativity. I envy the readers who have been able to fall in love with this novel but after all, it takes all sorts to make this world, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Spark by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: Spark (Elemental, #2) 

Author: Brigid Kemmerer 

Rating: 3.5 Stars 

When I went into Spark, I was 100% sure I would love it. Yes, 100%. Not even 99.9%. I devoured Storm in a matter of hours and after seeing such a huge string of glowing reviews for this book, I was confident that for once I wouldn't be the Black Sheep. Well, I was (unfortunately) quite wrong. I loved Spark, but ultimately, there was just something missing from it to make it a truly phenomenal novel. 

First and foremost, I have to admit that I thought Gabriel was an extremely well-written character. I could feel his loneliness, his desperation, and his confusion seeping through every page and once again, Brigid Kemmerer proves her talent in writing impeccable male POVs and realistic family dynamics. While I had already fallen in love with the Merrick brothers in Storm, I truly grew to appreciate Michael, Nick, and, of course, Gabriel. Plus, while I hated Hunter after Storm, I was glad that we were able to see a different side of him in this one which I really liked. Even Chris made his small appearances with Becca which were great, so once again, this is a family I am head-over-heels in love with. 

Layne, our female protagonist of Spark, is also an incredible heroine. She is intelligent, strong, and beautiful without trying to be. I think overall, Layne is much more likable character than Becca is, simply because she's the goody-two-shoes while Becca is feistier. Still, I really liked both girls and I could understand Layne's tortured past and home life just as well as I could Gabriel's. Yet, their romance never won me over. For one, it was the extremely overdone and typically clichéd bad-boy-falls-for-geek-math-tutor story line. While I didn't mind this too much, what I did mind was that I couldn't really feel for these two. I loved them as individual characters and I think their interactions together were sweet and they obviously understand one another very well, but I wasn't invested in their relationship at all. Plus, Layne isn't the type of girl I think anyone would expect Gabriel to fall for and unfortunately, Kemmerer was unable to really make me hop on their boat. I think compared to the sweet romance between Chris and Becca, I have to admit I was a tiny bit disappointed with the love story in this one. 

Yet another aspect of this novel that disappointed me was the lack of action in it. While the plot line of Storm revolves around the Guides, Spark is a much more mellow tale focusing on Gabriel’s character development and only hinting at a future clash with the Guides in the next installment. Thus, this unfortunately read like one of the many in-between novels which only serves to set up the plot of the next novel. In addition to that, I found the characterization of Layne’s parents, amongst a few other qualities of this story, to be extremely unrealistic. In my opinion, they were simply too evil and cartoon-ish to be real.

What really made me dislike Spark though, was the lack of character development. Gabriel is hot-headed and he's constantly just a giant, raging mess of angst. Seriously, he slams doors, he runs ten miles, he yells, he punches people, and he fights back. It's always constant angst, and while I understood it, after awhile it began to become annoying. Gabriel goes through a lot of experiences in this novel, especially with his brothers, and I wanted him to learn from them and become a better person who wasn't constantly fueled by his emotions, but even at the end, I just don't think he was. Yes, he gained mastery over his powers, but what about over himself? I still feel as if Gabriel could have grown and developed a little more in this one and the fact that I didn't see that as much as I would have liked was upsetting.

Overall though, Spark is a great novel - I'm not refuting that. It has so much depth and the Merrick Brothers are truly phenomenal. While it lacked a lot of action, which I missed from Storm, and I wasn't totally invested in every aspect of it, I think most readers will love this. I, however, think I preferred Storm, but I can't wait for the next installment in this series either! :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) 

Author: Libba Bray 

Rating: 5 Stars 

The Diviners is, without a doubt, my favorite Libba Bray novel - and I've read all of them except for The Beauty Queens which I didn't get time to finish but which I fully intend to as I loved the few chapters I read of it. I am, truly, a self-proclaimed Libba Bray fan. I know her Gemma Doyle Trilogy had its flaws, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I remember it changed my perspective of literature at that time quite drastically. The Diviners on the other hand, contains no flaws. Well, to be honest I think this 578 Page book should have been longer, but I'm glad there's a sequel. I don't want to say good-bye to these characters anytime soon. 

Evie O’Neill is not like other girls living during the booming industrial age of the Roaring 20s. For one, she’s loud, outspoken, and hilariously full of life, but Evie also contains a gift that few other possess – by merely touching an object, Evie can glean information about its owner while that object was on them. Thus, after a “scandalous” incident forces her to stay with her Uncle Will in New York City, Evie finds herself in the midst of a mystery - a murder mystery no less. While random victims seem to be murdered in a bizarre – and frankly speaking creepy – fashion in New York, we are also introduced to a slew of other characters and story lines beyond just than of Evie’s. Jericho, the soft-spoken and handsome young man who works at Uncle Will’s Museum of Creepy Crawlies American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult; Theta, a beautiful show-star who dreams of making it big; Henry, a piano player with his own slew of secrets; Memphis, a handsome black poet who used to be able to cure with a touch; and many, many more. Nevertheless, even with an enormous cast, Libba Bray’s The Diviners manages to transport you back into America’s Roaring 20s and despite the freaky murders that occur left and right, you won’t want to leave.

I’ll be perfectly honest – I didn’t expect to not love this book. I went into The Diviners with high expectations and I came out of it with my mind blown, itching for the sequel despite the concrete ending and wanting to immediately flip to the beginning and experience this novel all over again. Yes, experience, for what Libba Bray creates is a portal into the realm of the past, full with the blitz, glamour, and utter joy of living in the Roaring 20s. Nevertheless, into this happy-go-lucky setting, she manages to throw in and create one of the most chilling mysteries I’ve ever read. It takes a lot to scare me while I read a book, but The Diviners sent my spine tingling with chills and had me constantly jumping in the middle of the street whenever I heard a whistle. It’s one of those books that assimilate itself into your life because you simply cannot let go of its pure awesomeness.

While the setting and fanatic murders of The Diviners itself make this novel stand out, what truly makes it a remarkable story is its characters. Evie is a gal that I just love. Not only is she fiercely headstrong, independent, and full of spunk, but she has her own share of flaws and can even be hard to like at times, but all this only serves to make her more real, more three-dimensional, and more understanding in my eyes. If I had to pick a book best friend, I’d pick Evie because believe me, this is a girl you want by your side. While Evie startles us with her outgoing nature though, it is Naughty John, the ghost killer in this novel, who truly takes our breath away – not with his dashing good looks, but with his tantalizing murder song, tell-tale whistle, and utter creep factor.

The Diviners is probably one of the few books I’ve read where the reader knows the killer from the beginning and is still utterly invested in the story. It seems as if it’s a storyline that is doomed to fail, but really, the reader is only kept frantically flipping the pages to see how Evie manages to use her power and sharp wit to uncover that this murderer isn’t even alive, but a ghost. It’s a wonderfully spun tale and the cast of other characters who accompany her on this mission are just as heart-warming, well-developed, and deep as Evie is.

One of the most memorable side characters, who really is a main character on his own, is Memphis. While Memphis’ and Evie’s storylines don’t intermingle as much as we might like in this installment, his storyline perfectly sets us up for the direction this trilogy is taking. You see, Memphis is a young black man struggling to cope with the loss of his gift of healing – a gift which failed him when he most needed it to cure his mother. Thus, we are introduced to a second storyline in this tale, one of the diviners, a group of people who possess gifts, much like Memphis and Evie. In most cases, multiple storylines, narrators, and characters in general is a recipe for disaster, but yet again, Libba Bray pulls it off perfectly. Naughty John and his murders still remain to be our prime issue at hand, but the subtle manner in which Bray wove together the back stories of her characters and revealed to us the wondrous direction in which her trilogy was heading was all done with a talent that I must admit is unparalleled.

I could go on about The Diviners for hours if I really wanted, but I’ll let you discover the magic that this book contains for yourself. The Diviners is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It’s original. It’s atmospheric. It's vivid and sparkling and jumps out from the pages. Its characters are thoughtful, deep, and full of their own human flaws. Its murder mystery is chilling and creepy. Its setting is beautiful beyond doubt. Its multiple perspectives are written flawlessly. Its plot is only thickening in this book and I can't wait to see where it goes. It is scary. It is funny. It is love. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

ARC Review: Rebel Heart by Moira Young

Title: Rebel Heart (Dust Lands, #2) 

Author: Moira Young 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Release Date: October 30th, 2012

I think we're all aware, and familiar with, the concept of the second novel in a trilogy being the weakest link of the series.  Rebel Heart, however, for all its flaws, is actually a  much  stronger novel than  Blood Red Road ever was. If we think back to  Blood Red Road,  it was nothing more than an engaging, fast-paced, and page-flipping dystopian novel. Yet,  Rebel Heart,  despite its page-flipping action, is also a much slower, deeper, and intoxicating tale. Yes, there were moments when I felt like pulling my hair out and crying into my pillow. Yes, there were characters I wanted to shoot down and plot threads I wanted to burn.  Yet,  this book was perfect. I can't think of any other way this story could have gone and when you step back and really  think about this novel, disregarding your own conflicted emotions, you will come to see that Moira Young is an unbelievable author, for she lets her characters lead the story and that truly does make all the difference. 

Rebel Heart starts out with Saba, Lugh, Emmi, and Tommo on their way to a new, and better, life in the west. Saba, however, is tormented by dreams of Epona and she feels as if the spirits of the dead are walking with her. Thus, when she stumbles upon a small village with a woman who claims she can help, she takes her chances with the strange magic this woman claims to be able to control. Yet, before Saba can fully be cured, she receives a message – from Jack. Thus begins, yet again, a thrilling and tortuous journey to The Lost Cause, an inn in the north where Saba is set to meet Jack. Along the way however, Saba will be forced to confront her inner demons, her strained relationship with Lugh, and most dangerous of all, her own heart.

I think what prevented Rebel Heart from being a 5 Star read were just a few plot threads that went haywire. For one, I found that the beginning of the novel, with Saba’s grief and guilt over the death of Epona, was remarkably well-written, but it was solved rather strangely, not to mention abruptly. In addition to that, Lugh, Saba’s brother, seems to be the ultimate downfall of this novel. It is evident that Lugh has undergone a terrible experience during his time with the Tonton, but we are never told what actually happens to him. Instead, we can simply watch as his relationship with Saba wilts away and while these sibling dynamics were brilliant, Lugh’s angst, rudeness, and constant anger simply wasn’t. If anything, he became an extremely annoying character and I felt like smacking him every time he opened his mouth. Lugh never undergoes any type of character growth throughout this novel and ultimately, he winds up remaining a flat character which was rather disappointing.

Those qualms aside, I loved Rebel Heart. Moira Young’s conscious decision to make this a slower and more brooding novel was definitely the right choice as we are able to see some of the after-effects that the events in Blood Red Road have wrought upon Saba. Furthermore, we are privy to a whole new side of Saba, which only goes to further give her more depth than she already had. While Rebel Heart had its fair share of incredible action, I feel as if it was Saba more than the plot that drove this novel forward. Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the crew of new characters we got to meet as well as the turn in relationships that we were able to witness with some of the older characters. It is hard to imagine just how firmly these fictional beings worm their way into your heart, but they really make a home there, immersing you, the reader, even more fully into this tale. In addition, there were plenty of jaw-dropping plot twists, unexpected reactions, and betrayals to keep this plot moving wonderfully, so fans of Blood Red Road will not be disappointed on that front either.

Now that I have discussed my issues with this tale, as well as the change of pace, new characters, and the heart-pounding plot line, it’s time to turn our attention to the one aspect of this book I am sure everyone is eagerly waiting to hear more about – the romance. I know there are rumors floating around of a love triangle in this novel, but there isn't one! Yes, we  do have another guy creep into Saba's thoughts, but this only happens during the last quarter of the novel. Furthermore, I hardly see this as a love triangle. In my opinion, a love triangle is a situation where the MC is torn between two guys, but Saba is  not torn. Saba loves Jack, end of story. Does she make some terrible decisions in this book? Yes, she does. Is she conflicted over another man? Yes, she is, but not in a romantic sense. I may just be in extreme denial, but from my perspective, what occurs with the other man in this novel is a combination of many things and  love is not one of them. So, while there isn't a love triangle in this, there is another prominent male figure during the last 25% of this novel which definitely makes this difficult to read and worrisome for the sequel.

In all honesty though, I wouldn’t worry. Moira Young, more than just being a wonderful author, has proved with Rebel Heart that she knows what she’s doing. I found her characters and their reactions to every situation to be spot-on and while I didn’t particularly like the direction the last quarter of this novel headed and while I am worried beyond anything for the sequel, that doesn’t mean I don’t see the necessity and truth behind it. I think many authors would have steered away from the path that Young took, but I’m glad she took the more difficult – and frankly speaking, controversial – route. Yet, I must reiterate this, that when you step back and look at this novel without allowing your emotions to distort your perception of it, you can see that everything is just perfect. Yes, even the romance because although Jack and Saba aren’t together for the large majority of this novel, they always remain in each others thoughts and their love only grows stronger with their separation.

Overall, Rebel Heart is a novel I wound up enjoying much more than its predecessor, despite the fact that my rating for this is slightly lower than that for Blood Red Road. While I doubt I’ll be re-reading this installment as much as I will Blood Red Road, there’s no doubt about which book is the stronger one and it is refreshing to see such an original take on this plot line. I will warn you though that plenty of plate-smashing is there in the future of this story and once you finish this, you will spend a countless number of sleepless nights waiting for – and worrying about – the sequel, but it is so worth it. Rebel Heart is yet another wonderful installment from Moira Young and has made me a much bigger fan of hers than I ever was before. I doubt everyone will love this novel like I have, but I truly believe that if you look into the heart of Rebel Heart, you will only find something to love.