Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch

Title: The Magnolia League
Author: Katie Crouch
Publisher: Hachette Book Group/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 3rd, 2011
Pages: 238 pages (Adobe Digital Editions document)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher through NetGalley (and thank you so much for it!)

After the death of her free-spirited mother, sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must leave her home in northern California to live with her wealthy grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. By birth, Alex is a rightful, if unwilling, member of the Magnolia League, Savannah's long-standing debutante society. She quickly discovers that the Magnolias have made a pact with a legendary hoodoo family, the Buzzards. The Magnolias enjoy youth, beauty and power. But at what price?

As in her popular adult novels, Crouch's poignant and humorous voice shines in this seductively atmospheric story about girls growing up in a magical Southern city.

Review:

After her mother's death, sixteen-year-old Alexandria "Alex" Lee is forced to pack up her things and move from her Mendocino, California commune to Savannah, Georgia. If all goes according to her grandmother Miss Lee's plans, Alex will become a proper Magnolia girl and take over the League's reins when Miss Lee retires or dies or something. To help Alex get caught up, Hayes Anderson and Madison Telfair, two fellow Magnolia girls, will help her. As she settles into her new high-class life, Alex notices how the Magnolias have so much money, beauty, and power that it seems supernatural. And it is--the Magnolias use hoodoo to keep themselves rich and beautiful, but that power comes with a price.

The book's opening passage, a diatribe against sweet tea that made me laugh for all the right reasons, seems to promise a good book ahead, one with a heroine who's going to fight tooth and nail against her grandmother's silly society group. If only that were what it actually promised. The novel's closing line (I don't think it's spoiler-ish, so here it is: "The White Glove War has begun.") has to be one of my new favorite lines from a book. The material between that wonderful opening passage and that final line could have used some more work, but it was enough to keep me tuned in for the next installment in this series.

I've been to the city of Savannah before, though it was when I was eleven or twelve and my memory is foggy, and most of my knowledge of Savannah comes from a book about the city's many famous ghosts. Crouch manages to really bring the city to life in her descriptions and make me feel like my trip to Savannah happened just last week. The descriptions of the city are vivid and for the most part, the descriptions of the people share this quality. It verges into repetitive at times (almost everything Miss Lee does seems to be tagged with "patiently" and I'm amazed at whoever can forget that Thaddeus is hot and snobby), but I've seen much worse from other books.

Despite slow pacing that suddenly explodes at the end of the novel, The Magnolia League flew by as a read it. My interest in Madison, Hayes, Alex, and hoodoo's part in the Magnolia League kept me reading through annoyances both big (you shall see later) and small (many predictions I made came true). The present tense point-of-view got on my nerves at times, but that's just my personal pet peeve. What little we saw of the other characters through the small pieces that were in third person made me wish we spent more time with them instead of in Alex's head. Hopefully, future novels in the series will shed a little more light on Madison and Miss Lee, the two characters who had the most potential for true depth.

At the beginning of the novel, I liked Alex. She didn't care about designer labels and would rather spend her money on a charity that helps people in impoverished nations than on a new purse. As time went on, I began to like her less and less. Most of the Magnolia girls are unbearably shallow and and care far more about their appearances than anything. Alex, healthier than her friends (as we are constantly reminded by people calling her names or Alex herself pointing it out) and wearing dreadlocks, was a great contrast. Then Alex is informed of all the hoodoo and it gets worse from there. Alex goes from the unique, interesting person she is to the same sort of shallow girl she criticized Hayes and Madison as being.

There are all sorts of underlying messages there, but I'll talk about just one. Hayes and Madison use hoodoo to replace Alex's dreads with normal hair and give Alex a talis (bracelet) that will make her skinny. Shortly after this makeover, her love interest Thaddeus finally takes the plunge and asks her out. It was obvious before the makeover that they both liked each other, so why couldn't they have admitted their feelings beforehand, when Alex was still fat and had dreads? A comment from Madison in the middle of this event about how Alex looks great now, combined with the timing of this event, implied an anger-worthy message to me and could do the same for a lot of people. I hope it doesn't turn out I'm digging deeper than is possible here. I don't want it to turn out that I dug a hole a mile deep in ground that isn't there.

Alex gets called out at least twice for how she's gone from being the unique girl from California who refused to be a Magnolia girl to the same shallow girl her friends are. She reflects so little on this that it's almost infuriating and did little to make my experience with the novel any better. I really thought she would be better than using hoodoo to change herself and so easily becoming what she detested, but it looks like I was wrong. She had touches of naivety, but not enough of them for some of her actions to seem in-character. It surprised me when only one person took serious notice of Alex's rapid changes and had a feeling something was wrong. So much about Alex changed so quickly that I find it implausible that only one person had serious suspicion something other than hard work was at... well, work.

And I hate to tag it with the "ugly covers" tag, but that blurring effect on the bottom half of the cover kills me. I like the part of it that's crisp and clear, but hate that they did the blurring thing. Ruins the cover for me.  Her facial expression also strikes me wrong. Naturally, my impression of the cover did not affect the book's rating--I just love examining book covers when I can and wanted to mention what I thought of it this time.

Starting out strong, The Magnolia League started going downhill shortly after all the hoodoo hoopla was revealed. It gained some strength back at the end of the novel when Alex got called out by multiple people for what she was doing, but it wasn't enough to save this novel completely. I'm definitely picking up The White Glove War when it comes out next year because I want to see where it can go from here. Will Alex take a look at what she's become and change or will she continue with her hoodoo use? We shall see.

Never mind what I had scratched out. Considering the author's Slate article, I won't be picking up my own copy of The Magnolia League, I'm not going to read The White Glove War, and I'm going to make sure people know what she thinks of her fans before they buy her books. Why should I support an author that doesn't value me as a fan and thinks of me as just another sucker to lure in and scam money off of?

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Mercy by Rebecca Lim

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Title: Lost Voices
Author: Sarah Porter
Publisher: Harcourt Books
Release Date: July 4th, 2011
Pages: 291 pages (Adobe Digital Editions document)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher through NetGalley (and thank you for providing the book to me!)

Fourteen-year-old Luce has had a tough life, but she reaches the depths of despair when she is assaulted and left on the cliffs outside of her grim, gray Alaskan fishing village. She expects to die when she tumbles into the icy waves below, but instead undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.

A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: the mermaids feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks. Luce's own remarkable singing talent makes her important to the tribe—she may even have a shot at becoming their queen. However, her struggle to retain her humanity puts her at odds with her new friends. Will Luce be pressured into committing mass murder?

The first book in a trilogy, Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.

Review:

Stuck living with her drunk uncle after her father dies, Luce, full name Lucette, has few friends and even fewer happy moments. After her uncle attempts to rape her, Luce rolls off the cliffs and into the sea, where she transforms into a mermaid. A tribe of mermaids led by beautiful queen Catarina take her in and it feels like she finally has a home she belongs to, with friends and everything! While bringing down ships of humans with her song is fun at first, Luce comes to dislike it and try to train her voice so that she won't kill. Meanwhile, a storm of new mermaids, all young girls abused in their human lives, join the tribe, including one girl with dreams of stealing Catarina's title as queen and ready to use any methods to do so.

Right away, we leap into Luce's life with her drunkard uncle. Anyone who lived with an alcoholic the way I did will understand Luce's plight, and outcasts may connect with her as well. After undergoing her change into a mermaid, her character only becomes more interesting as she struggles between the mermaid urge to kill people and her humanity, which sticks with her and makes her not want to kill people. Most, if not all, other mermaids seem to lack this empathy. It almost breaks your heart to find that just when Luce thinks she's found a home and family, it's gone again just like that. This broken bird of a heroine only gets more broken from the starting point and few readers will be able to dislike her. There's just something about her that makes her difficult to dislike.

Catarina, the queen of the mermaid tribe when Luce arrives, may seem bland at first, but then her character takes a few turns that strike as strange at first--in fact, they seem strange for most of the novel. Readers don't understand a thing about her until literally the last few pages of the book and in those last pages, she gains more complexity than I expected. As a fan of characters who are a little bit out of it and are more than they first seem, I liked Catarina.

 There were a few stumbles in the prose narration (I laughed a little when I came across a section where "the rocks trilled in a wheezy soprano." (p. 273)), but I otherwise loved how the book was written. The images of Luce swimming underwater are crystal clear and the writing really shines when describing any of the mermaids singing, either to train their voice or when they're trying to bring down a ship. While the story was predictable in some places and able to throw unpredictable twists at me in others, it took well over two-thirds of the book for the conflict to arise. I assume that one of the mermaids stashed it in their cave until that point, but I didn't mind. I enjoyed Luce and her interactions with the other mermaids in place of the late-arriving plot.

One of the things that bothered me about the novel was how much potential it wasted in the characterization department. With abused girls, there is a lot of depth that can be had. After dealing with all the abuse they took in human life and taking on the "humans are all evil, they must die" mentality in mermaid life, there is a lot that can be explored there. How did each individual mermaid's experience affect her mental state and psyche, then lead to what she thought of humans as a mermaid? Partway into the novel, I began to look forward to such an exploration and was disappointed to never find one.

All the characters not named Luce (who, as it was, bordered heavily on Mary Sue territory with how different she was from other mermaids) or Catarina lacked depth, and antagonist Anais is nothing but a caricature. Can you name something an evil person would do? Anais probably did it. Victim blaming, manipulation, bullying the larvae (who, for the record, are girls who were younger than three or four when they became mermaids),... This girl is pure, unadulterated, no-shades-of-gray evil, and that's not fun to read about. Maybe she'll get depth in later books, but it does not appear so right now. This kind of stuff really pushes the allegory of humans abusing other humans and creating monsters.

On that thought of abuse, why is it that this specific group of humans turn into mermaids? What is so different between abused young girls and other humans that enables them to become mermaids when others can't? Asking for an explanation of the unexplainable may seem stupid, but I like a little more explanation than "it's MAAAAAAAAAAAHHHGIC!" If just anyone could turn into a mermaid, I would not ask this question. If you're going to make it so that a specific group of people turns into mermaids, there has to be a reason why. As far as I remember, no such reason was given.
Even with my complaints, I'm on board with this trilogy. I'm keeping my eyes out for further information on sequels and such and when Lost Voices hits bookstores in July, I'm getting a copy of it. Porter's tale of mermaids and forgiveness won me over and when it comes out, I hope it tops all the bestseller lists it can. Any paranormal book lovers like me, tired of trite romances, will love this fresh novel where there is (gasp!) no romance, a break from the new norm. Recommended for anyone who loves mermaids or paranormal teen fiction in general.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Spoilers for the entirety of The Goddess Test are within. Beware! No, seriously. I spoil the entire novel and then some. If you want to keep things a mystery, move on!
Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 297 pages (Adobe Digital Editions document)
How I Got the Book: I recieved a free copy from Harlequin Teen through NetGalley and I thank them for providing it to me.

EVERY GIRL who has taken the test has DIED.

Now it's KATE'S TURN.

It’s always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he’s crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.

If she fails...

Review:

As her mother dies of cancer, eighteen-year-old Kate Winters takes her to Eden, Michigan so her mother can die in peace in her quiet hometown. Kate's plans are to stay until her mother dies and then return to new York City, but it doesn't work out this way. She meets Henry, who calls himself a Greek god, and will keep Kate's mother alive a little longer, along with bringing a dead girl back to life. In exchange, Kate will spend every fall and winter for the rest of her life with him and undertake seven tests. If she passes the tests, Kate will become a goddess and Henry's wide. If she fails, it's probably because someone murdered her.

Since there's only one or two good points to this novel, I may as well get them out of the way. At first, I kind of liked Kate. Despite being whiny at first about being in a small town and some guys maybe-liking her, she sucks it all up when she gets stuck in a tough situation. I admired that. She did something not many people would do: risked her life and have away half of the rest of her life because she cared so much about her friends and family. The emotion Kate felt when dealing with her mother's impending death felt real instead of over-exaggerated. She also cared enough about having her choice that someone died because of her determination to have a choice. By the end of the novel, I not longer liked Kate at all. More on that later.

There were two points in this novel that could have been expanded into something more interesting: Kate's feelings for Henry and one other point I can't even remember because this book lacked so little originality. Having Kate be in love with Henry when he didn't return her feelings would have been awesome because that's CONFLICT, and it's also a conflict few young adult authors are willing to touch. She would have been forced to deal with it and that's something that keeps people reading. Nope, just shortly after Kate's realization, Henry reveals he's in love with her too. Point that could have taken this book from "just another YA paranormal" to "that book where the heroine's love stays unrequited" is null and void. Ugh.

Wait, I take back what I said about the book lacking originality. It does have some originality in there: It is original in how badly it slaughters Greek mythology.

You see, when you write Greek mythology, it should resemble Greek mythology when done well. That means that the gods lack morals, do what they want, screw around, and do stuff that is inappropriate for young children to read about.. If you don't, the biggest Greek mythology fans will make you rewrite the book by hand and use your blood as the ink in your pen. The people who are supposedly Greek gods in this novel act nothing like the gods people know from the myths. If you have to put a table at the end of the book that tells you which character was which god or goddess, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. You're also calling your reader an idiot who can't figure out who's who. Maybe you should try showing the reader within the confines of the story which person is which god/goddess.

Another thing you shouldn't do is mix mythologies. Greek and Christian mythology have nothing to do with each other. Heck, the stuff in just one Greek myth would violate at least fifty Christian principles. The Greek gods are not going to base their tests off the seven sins of Christianity. They have no morals, so why would they use tests of morality to decide whether or not a girl became a goddess? This makes no sense. Some may also find disturbing undertones when realizing that the men did great quests or physical and mental feats to earn immortality and for girls, it's apparently a test of their morality.

Oh, another bit of nonsense! We all know who Hera is, right? Goddess of marriage? Wife of Zeus who did not take adultery lightly? Yeah, she's in love with Hades here and kills all the girls who have even the slightest chance of becoming his new wife. It makes no sense at all for Hera to be the villain because according to who she is, she is the last one that would commit adultery or break the vows of marriage. She was never in love with Hades and screwing around with the myths for the sake of the plot will not win over any fans of Greek mythos. Then again, considering that these gods and goddesses are nothing like the "real" gods and goddesses...

No one in this novel gets any depth whatsoever. Henry, James, Ava, Kate, everyone else--they're pretty much caricatures. They get touches at certain moments, but it's all for nothing. The plot plods along, the functional writing keeps up with that slow pace, and the chapters always end with cliffhangers that are closer to frustrating than enticing. If you're observant, you'll see twists and the big shocker ending coming from a mile away. I started seeing hints of it halfway through when all these people Kate knew in Eden start showing up in Henry's home as people who will help Kate pass her seven tests. The prologue has to be one of the most blatant hints in the novel.

And the ending. Oh God, the ending. The reader will either love it or hate the crap out of it. In the circles I run in, most hate it, including me. The implications that Kate was born just so she could be raised and "given the opportunities" to become Henry's wife are very uncomfortable. Kate's reaction wasn't anything close to in-character. This girl, who cared so much about having a choice that it killed Ava a second time, suddenly finds out that it was more like she had an illusion of choice instead of an actual one. And she's okay with this? (Just a side note, but Demeter hated Hades. She would never do what she did for him in this book.) Yeah, that's not the Kate I knew.

 This could have easily gotten a worse rating. The few good parts were pretty good and the bad parts were bad a on a level I wasn't sure existed. This is just another title in the young adult fantasy crowd, one girls will pick up and fall in love with despite all of its inaccuracies and uncomfortable implications. Anything that could have made this novel something new was killed off before it could even sprout. I thought about picking up its sequel Goddess Interrupted in 2012, but I'm not sure I want to now. That would be a waste of my money.

2 stars!


Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead

Spoilers for all six books are contained within. Beware!

Title: Last Sacrifice
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: December 7th, 2010
Pages: 594 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it from Amazon.

Rose Hathaway has always played by her own rules. She broke the law when she ran away from St. Vladimir's Academy with her best friend and last surviving Dragomir princess, Lissa. She broke the law when she fell in love with her gorgeous, off-limits instructor, Dimitri. And she dared to defy Queen Tatiana, leader of the Moroi world, risking her life and reputation to protect generations of dhampir guardians to come.

Now that law has finally caught up with Rose--for a crime she didn't even commit. She's in prison for the highest offense imaginable: the assassination of a monarch. She'll need help from both Dimitri and Adrian to find the one living person who can stall her execution and force the Moroi elite to acknowledge a shocking new candidate for the royal throne: Vasilisa Dragomir.

But the clock on Rose's life is running out. Rose knows in her heart the world of the dead wants her back...and this time she is truly out of second chances. The big question is, when your whole life is about saving others, who will save you?

Join Rose, Dimitri, Adrian, and Lissa in Last Sacrifice, the epic, unforgettable finale to Richelle Mead's international #1 bestselling Vampire Academy series.

Review:

After the cliffhanger ending of Spirit Bound, Rose is set to stand trial for the murder of the Moroi queen Tatiana, the great-aunt of her boyfriend Adrian. However, her friends and family don't plan to let hr go on trial. They break her out with the help of some explosions and she goes on the run with her Lissa-appointed bodyguard Dimitri. Their plan is to get her somewhere safe until she can be proven innocent, but Rose has her own mission: find Lissa's illegitimate half-sibling. Meanwhile, Lissa works hard at court to clear Rose's name, find Tatiana's true killer, and maybe even become the next queen.

When I first read the book and wrote the review for it in December 2010, I was on a cloud of euphoria and not thinking very clearly. None of my favorite characters died (even if two of my favorites were given serious crap), the series had what I thought was a good ending, and it was eleven at night. I just wanted to write my review and go to bed. That was a mistake. Without a critical mind in my head, I reviewed this book, the book I anticipated more than any other in 2010. This time around, I've got my head on straight.

First comes the good parts: Lissa. each piece of the story that showed what she was doing at court and her growth as a character were amazing. From what I know, very few fans liked Lissa at the beginning and I didn't care much for her either. Now she's my favorite female character. She underwent staggering growth in six books and I'm proud of the person she's become. This girl's cutting is long behind her; now she is true royalty, a woman who can stand on her own without leaning on Rose to support her. I think she'll make an amazing queen. Too bad I won't be able to see it for myself.

The expansion into the world of the Keepers, the Moroi and such that live in caves away from civilization, was fun while it lasted. I don't see any reason why it was there other than set-up for the spin-off (because you know that's exactly what this is), but I liked it. Angeline, a dhampir girl in the Keeper world, was an interesting one and it would be a crime if she didn't appear in the spin-off. We do learn who Lissa's sibling is and anyone who figured out Mead's style will know who it is. That doesn't mean it can't still be a shock, though.

Now then, on to the bad... And there's a lot of it. First stop: Adrian. He'd had so much bull thrown at him over the course of the series and he didn't deserve any of it. Adrian was always more compelling than Dimitri, especially in the later books, because he's (figuratively) human. He has his issues and problems and his character has such life, but he's given such horrible treatment. This guy funds your trip to Siberia so you can kill the guy you love (or try and fail, more accurately) and then you repay him by cheating on him and using his credit card for things like a hotel in Las Vegas? Wow... I'm glad they broke up. Adrian deserves better than that.

What I hate worse is that he won't get over his heartbreak on his own. No, everyone and their kitchen sink knows by now that people are already making calls of "Adrian/Jill!" and "Adrian/Sydney!" and "love triangle!" because everyone knows it will happen in the spin-off. Allow me to make a statement to counter one I saw a Vampire Academy fan make once: FALLING IN LOVE IS NOT THE ONLY HAPPY ENDING. Apparently, it's not a happy ending until they're in love with someone. Conquering a massive case of heartbreak and being free to live life without that burden does not seem to count. Other Vampire Academy fans really make me angry sometimes, you know?

I really thought this would be one paranormal book where the female love rival wouldn't turn into a raging bitch. She didn't get the guy, but Tasha seemed like a true ally of Rose's and a friend who could be trusted. Tasha was my favorite female character until now (Lissa pushed her off the pedestal) and I hated to see that her character became the villain. Well, we can always try again elsewhere... I should have expected it. For Pete's sake, I'd read the fifth Georgina book a few months earlier and the same thing: love rival/friend to main character turns into a horrible person over the guy they both like.

A series-wide problem that became obvious to me in this book is how women would use a man's feelings for them to get stuff done. There were at least two instances in this book and what Rose got Adrian to do for her in previous books would account for many more. I advocate the equality of men and women. That's what being feminist is about. In this series, women are often painted as manipulative creatures that are above men and act like puppeteers. Whether real or fictional, women do not need this kind of image! Why is playing with the heart, something most can agree is an unforgivable crime, so common within these novels?

Thinking over this book again, I suddenly realized it: I hate Rose Hathaway. Adrian's speech at the end of the novel was dead-on. Over the course of the series and especially the last two books, Rose became a manipulative girl trying to pass herself off as a hero and left a lot of collateral damage behind on the way to her happy ending with Dimitri. Whatever Jill wanted to do with her life is pretty much screwed now, Eddie will be lucky to get any sort of job after what's happened, and Adrian's got one heck of a broken heart. She just brushes all of this off with "you're only a victim because you're letting yourself be one." I need help for this one:



Let it be known that I am delusional. I loved this series so much at the beginning that my poor inner child can't accept the ending as a natural one and I made up two scenarios that explain the mess it turned into. One: The news of Dimitri becoming Strigoi drove Rose insane and her mental instability accounts for her thoughts and actions from Blood Promise onward. Two: Avery's spirit magic did something to Rose's brain during that fight and everything that happened from that point onward is because of that. I liked Blood Promise, so I use the second explanation. Either way, Rose stopped acting like Rose and that's how it fell apart.

Make fun of me. Comment and tell me how pathetic I am. I don't care. All I know is that this wonderful series that I fangirled and pushed on everyone I could (even my mother!) fell apart sometime around Spirit Bound  (or Blood Promise, but I liked that book and didn't notice if it happened in there) and I will not invest my money in the spin-off or its first book Bloodlines. I read the Georgina and Dark Swan books too, but I'm not reading anymore of Mead's books after the final Georgina book comes out. I'll leave Dark Swan unfinished and look it up one day. Why keep reading when I know the series will eventually implode? It happened in Georgina, then in Vampire Academy, and it will happen again.

2 stars!


Moonshine by Alaya Johnson

Title: Moonshine
Author: Alaya Johnson
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: February 16th, 2010
Pages: 288 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Zephyr Hollis is an underfed, overzealous social activist who teaches night school to the underprivileged of the Lower East Side. Strapped for cash, Zephyr agrees to help a student, the mysterious Amir, who proposes she use her charity worker cover to bring down a notorious vampire mob boss. What he doesn’t tell her is why. Soon enough she’s tutoring a child criminal with an angelic voice, dodging vampires high on a new blood-based street drug, and trying to determine the real reason behind Amir’s request—not to mention attempting to resist his dark, inhuman charm.

Review:

In 1920s New York, vampires and other such Others are minorities with few to no rights and Zephyr Hollis is the singing vampire suffragette, famous for how much she gives and her never-ending crusade for Other rights. She teaches classes for Others and immigrants so they can learn how to function in American society and it's normal for her to give all the money she has and have trouble paying her rent. Then along comes Amir, who offers her money to help him find Rinaldo, a vampire mobster. In her quest to find Rinaldo and do a few other things, like find the parents of a young, recently turned vampire boy, Zephyr runs into more than a few problems and gets a visit from her past.

I haven't read any books set in the 1920s before, so I don't exactly know whether the minute details of the setting are true or not, but they ring true to me. It feels like Johnson did her research on life back then and applied everything she learned to this novel. Despite how much fantasy is in this novel with all the vampires running around, this New York seems like the kind of New York that would have existed if vampires were real. It's just the right blend of reality and fantasy, something only a few authors can do. Johnson appears to be one of them.

Zephyr as a character has a good background and she is the only character I have ever seen that pulled off the "too giving" flaw without making it seem like a non-flaw. If you give your money away so much to the point that you nearly get kicked out of your apartment multiple times, that's a flaw. Her pre-New York background and her current actions as an Other activist provide a fun contrast and really shows how people can change in a few years. The supporting characters were fun and the plot moved along smoothly, tying itself up well in the end. If there was any sort of mystery, it is solved during the final confrontation. With an ending such as the one in Moonshine, the novel could be left as a stand-alone or be given a sequel. I haven't found any evidence of a future sequel yet, so I'm not sure there will be one. And...

And...

-sigh- I'm sorry, but I have nothing to say. I lacked any emotional involvement in this novel, so I'm just pulling stuff and trying to put my thoughts in order about them. I didn't care who lived or died, who turned Judah, what was wrong with Amir, where Faust was coming from--absolutely nothing caught my interest. I had a full PDF of this book before I started doing book reviews and got bored halfway through it, then closed the document and decided to get a print copy one day. Back then, I never thought on what was going on in the book and I didn't this time around either. It was neither bad nor good and in certain cases, this is worse than being bad. At least you care enough about a bad book to dislike it.
I wish I could give it a better rating than this. I really do. Sadly, a rule is a rule and if a book cannot earn my emotional investment, then it automatically gets this rating. Unless it's a special case, I make no exceptions. For anyone that's looking for a good book about the 20s and doesn't mind the large helping of fantasy mixed in, I recommend Moonshine. Maybe you'll get invested in it the way I couldn't.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Title: Always a Witch
Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: August 1st, 2011
Pages: 276 pages (Adobe Digital Editions copy)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher through NetGalley (and thank you so much for it!).

Since the gripping conclusion of Once A Witch, Tamsin Greene has been haunted by her grandmother's prophecy that she will soon be forced to make a crucial decision—one so terrible that it could harm her family forever. When she discovers that her enemy, Alistair Knight, went back in time to Victorian-era New York in order to destroy her family, Tamsin is forced to follow him into the past.

Stranded all alone in the nineteenth century, Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady's maid in the terrifying mansion of the evil Knight family, avoiding the watchful eye of the vicious matron, La Spider, and fending off the advances of Liam Knight. As time runs out, both families square off in a thrilling display of magic. And to her horror, Tamsin finally understands the nature of her fateful choice.

Review:

Tamsin Greene once thought she was a Talentless girl in a family of Talented witches and wizards/warlocks/whatevers, but she now knows that she isn't. She has the power to keep others from using their Talents and copy someone's Talent if it is used against her three times. After the dangerous events that hurt her sister and led to Tamsin discovering her powers, all Tamsin wants is to take part in her sister's wedding in peace. Too bad she can't. Alistair Knight, member of the Knight family that rivals the Greenes, has traveled back in time to warn his family against what the Greenes will do to them and using the Domani, Tamsin follows him back in time. Getting a place as a lady's maid in the Knight home, Tamsin must stop their plans and may have to make the greatest choice of her life.

I read Once a Witch earlier this year (review here) and loved it for being a fast, entertaining read. I wasn't sure that a sequel could improve on what I liked there, but Always a Witch managed to be even better than its predecessor. Who says that sequels are never as good as the original?

The pacing is much tighter and instead of spending much of the book's opening setting everything up and developing suspense the way the first book did, Always a Witch was able to jump right into the action. By chapter three, it was going full speed ahead. The solid plot was handled well, making me wonder at time if everything would work out well or not. I can count at least three occasions where the combination of the wonderful writing and emotional scenes made me start tearing up. It took the third tearjerker scene, the ending, to finally make me cry.

Tamsin's family was as delightful as they were in the first book (except for Rowena, of course, but I did like that she cared at least a little bit for her sister), but I wish there had been more pages devoted to Tamsin's interaction with her family. The big secret was finally out that Tamsin had Talents after all, and they were very powerful Talents. How did this affect her interactions with her family? I would like to think that such a huge change would do something to the family dynamics.

Tamsin's depth was still being explored and another character I had a soft spot for, Jessica Knight, had her touches of depth too, but pretty much the only character who got any development or depth was Tamsin. In a few ways, Always a Witch reminded me of an action movie. They both move at a frantic pace when at their best and you can't stop watching. To keep that pacing, time that would be spent fleshing characters out is instead spent on action and big scenes. I see many movies where characterization is sacrificed for the sake of plot or time constraints and Always a Witch is pretty much just like that. If it weren't in Tamsin's point of view, she would probably have less development too.

And I'm sorry, but while I did find the book suspenseful and interesting and unstoppably readable, the mood never stayed serious for long. Why? Lavinia "La Spider" Knight, the Knight family matriarch. Her name ruined it. La Spider as a villain name is just so... well, it's silly! Each time someone mentioned her name, it made me want to giggle rather than feel fear. Even something as small as a character's name can set or ruin a mood. when you give an intimidating, evil, and scary character like her a name like La Spider, the contradiction hurts the mood.

This book was so close to a perfect rating, but fell just short for two reasons: a name that ruined the mood of the story each time it was said and a continuing lack of depth for characters that aren't named Tamsin Greene. A few other little reasons niggled at me like how perfectly Tamsin picked up 1880s life, but they were not enough to really bring down the rating by themselves. I don't expect to see a sequel for this book (though I wouldn't refuse to buy one if it came into being) and that's fine with me. Always a Witch ended on a fantastic, if sad, note. It and its prequel Once a Witch are worth a read, especially for any fellow witch fans.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Title: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Release Date: March 7th, 2011
Pages: 293 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Won it in a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.

The summer of 1889 is the one between childhood and womanhood for Amelia van den Broek--and thankfully, she's not spending it at home in rural Maine. She's been sent to Baltimore to stay with her stylish cousin, Zora, who will show her all the pleasures of city life and help her find a suitable man to marry.

With diversions ranging from archery in the park to dazzling balls and hints of forbidden romance, Victorian Baltimore is more exciting than Amelia imagined. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset--visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. Newly dubbed "Maine's Own Mystic," Amelia is suddenly quite in demand.

However, her attraction to Nathaniel, an artist who is decidedly outside of Zora's circle, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own--still, Amelia finds herself irrepressible drawn to him. And while she has no trouble seeing the futures of others, she cannot predict whether Nathaniel will remain in hers.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia's world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she's not the seer of dark portents, but the cause of them.

Review:

Thrown into 1889 Baltimore for the summer, Amelia van den Broek's given purpose is to find a husband to marry and learn how to be a proper wife and young lady. While staying with her relatives, the Stewart family and their teenage daughter Zora, Amelia is fascinated by all Baltimore has to offer, including an artist named Nathaniel who seems interested in her too. When the sun starts to set, strange visions strike Amelia and eventually, some of them come true. Amelia and Zora's friends, all interested in the realm of the unknown, clamor to have Amelia over so she can have a vision of their future. But these visions may not bode well for Amelia in the end. She doesn't always see happiness in the future and when her bad visions come true, the blame may fall on her.

I loved the prose in this book. Fresh and flowery as a piece of writing might have been in the 1880s, the narrative voice Amelia provides matched her time and entertained me. Some of the turns of phrase are absolutely lovely. I wish I could name one off the top of my head, but I'm pulling a blank right now. Modern language gets a little boring sometimes, especially with narrators who aren't the least bit interesting. Having an itneresting heroine like Amelia with such beautiful language in her head was a good change from my usual reads. The other characters, left with little development, don't hold a candle to Amelia, the free-thinking girl who still worries about her reputation as any girl of her age would. Realistic heroines? Finally!

If you ask me, Amelia isn't in love with Nathaniel. It's a mere infatuation. Think about it: Amelia comes from the small town of Broken Tooth, Maine and she was probably somewhat sheltered or restricted. She's sent to the big city of Baltimore, a place very different from her small town, to find a husband. She's out from under her brother's watchful eye and hanging with her fun-loving cousin Zora. Then Amelia meets Nathaniel, a city man who is "free" from society's strict demands and traditions. Compared to the men in Zora's circle that follow society's rules, this man is more interesting and unlike anyone she's ever met. She is a small town girl infatuated with the mystery and idea of"freedom" from society that Nathaniel represents. Crush? Yes. Infatuation? Yes again. Love? Heavens no.

In addition, that "vision coming true" thing mentioned in the blurb? That doesn't happen until about page 250 of 293. Before then, where was the conflict? I suppose it could be Amelia's decision whether to be a good rule-following girl or a girl who thinks for herself and does as she pleases, but that conflict couldn't keep me reading. What other conflict was there to keep me reading, then? Nathaniel and Amelia's forbidden romance? That didn't cut it, either. Conflicts are beautiful. A good one makes a great book. This book had no conflict until the very end. Until then, the book crawls by as the adventures of Amelia and Zora are detailed. To be frank, I was reminded of Gossip Girl in how it's less about the plot and more about this person's misadventures and love life. There is a good reason I only read one Gossip Girl book.

Once the big thing happens, the plot jumps out from behind the curtain, does a strange dance for the audience, then takes a bow with all the other players. Then it's over, just like that. The climax and the action both happen so quickly that the events at the end of the novel--two characters die, for Pete's sake!--have little time to sink and and take effect on the reader. It's no use killing people if the reaction it's supposed to get out of readers doesn't have time to happen. If given some more page time and had the plot been more present throughout the novel, this would have been a good ending. A little explanation as to why Amelia and Nathaniel had their powers and why Amelia's visions didn't start until she got to Baltimore would have been nice too.
It didn't live up to all of my expectations, but The Vespertine wasn't horrible. It could have been much worse (though never Angel Star bad), but it also could have been much better. I've heard about another book the author wrote called Shadowed Summer and I'll seek that out sometime soon. There will also be a companion to The Vespertine called The Springsweet, which will come out next year. I'll probably buy it. Give The Vespertine a try if you think you'll like it, but be wary if any of the issues I talked about above bother you too.

3 stars!


What am I reading next?: Moonshine by Alaya Johnson

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Title: Shine
Author: Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: May 1st, 2011
Pages: 366 pages (Adobe Digital Editions document)
How I Got the Book: From Amulet Books through NetGalley (and thank you very much for this!)

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. 

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

Review:

Cat's best friend (or former best friend, seeing as they haven't spoken much recently) Patrick is nearly killed in a hate crime and she's determined to find out who could hurt Patrick, the saintly guy who was such a sweetheart. Her search for the truth will take her to friends she abandoned a long time ago around the time of that incident for help, to the very person she hates the most, and to people she'd never thought she'd meet otherwise. It will even take her back to when she was thirteen years old and that incident happened. But someone doesn't like that Cat is sniffing around and isn't afraid to threaten her.

I had no plans to read this novel until I came across a phenomenal review of it by the Sparkle Project, which spurred me to pursue a copy. From the sight of the cover (which I think is beautiful) and the first few pages, where a newspaper clipping (that I, as a journalism student of three years, thought was very good) detailed the events of Patrick's attack, I was caught in the book's trap and unable to get free. Other commitments were all that kept me from finishing the book sooner!

As with anything, cliches would have been easy to fall into, especially the ones for small towns. All cliches I can think of were avoided in the course of Shine. Not one character was perfect. Not Cat, not Patrick, not Aunt Tildy, not Beef or Bailee-Ann or Tommy--no one. They all had their secret problems and their flaws and the things they'd done wrong once upon a time. The unofficial small town motto seems to be "everyone has secrets" and this motto is especially true within the pages of this book. Cat was my favorite character in particular, but maybe that's because I relate to her in a way that others might not. It's a personal matter that I don't feel comfortable disclosing in this review, but the way she reacted to what Tommy did to her was very similar to how I reacted when a similar situation happened to me. Myracle took a reaction that can vary from person to person and nailed it perfectly. Cat's eventual decision to face up to the past is more than I'll ever be able to do with what happened to me.

In places, the novel is almost chilling because all the awful things that are said about Patrick because he's gay? They aren't completely fictional. Every day, I hear similar slurs and even worse slurs on the streets. Every word in this book comes together to form a picture so real that it's uncomfortable. No one wants to think that the things that happen in this novel might just be possible, but a little bit of research and maybe some firsthand knowledge on what some small towns are right will show a person that what happens in Shine is completely possible. In fact, a similar situation may have already happened. Who's to say it hasn't?

I'm a big city girl, but both of my parents were born in and grew up in very small towns like Black Creek. They don't tell me much about what their lives were like there, but I'm a magnificent eavesdropper and overhear things when my parents reminisce with other people over the phone or when we're visiting family in their former hometowns. From the drug use to the narrow-minded slurs to the church being the center of the town, Black Creek almost perfectly mirrors the towns my parents lived in for over half their lives. Because of this, the town came to life for me in a way that few settings do anymore.

I had exactly one annoyance with the novel, but it was so small and more an opinion than a matter of quality that I refused to count off for it: Robert. I was this close to coming out of this novel and hating eleven-year-old boys for the rest of my life. I swear, I must have said soemthing along the lines of "Robert, you idiot!" at least seven times. Is... Was anyone really that stupid when they were eleven? I know I was because I was evil then, but I'm not really normal. Is it really normal to be so unaware at that age?

Shine is a powerful novel. It's more than just a "whodunnit?" mystery; it's the portrait of a small town, the workings of its people, and one girl's coming-of-age in the middle of a crusade for justice. Slurs and cussing and drug use abound may make some readers uncomfortable (it made me uncomfortable for a little bit because I'm a bit of a prude), but don't let that stop you from reading Shine. Give it a chance when it comes out in May and I almost guarantee you won't be sorry.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Monday, March 7, 2011

Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Beware! Spoilers for both Hex Hall and Demonglass lie within.

Title: Demonglass
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: March 1st, 2011
Pages: 359 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Borrowed it from a friend.

Sophie Mercer thought she was a witch.

That was the whole reason she was sent to Hex Hall, a reform school for delinquent Prodigium (aka witches, shapeshifters, and fairies). But that was before she discovered the family secret, and that her hot crush, Archer Cross, is an agent for The Eye, a group bent on wiping Prodigium off the face of the earth.

Turns out, Sophie’s a demon, one of only two in the world—the other being her father. What’s worse, she has powers that threaten the lives of everyone she loves. Which is precisely why Sophie decides she must go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that will destroy her powers.

But once Sophie arrives she makes a shocking discovery. Her new friends? They’re demons too. Meaning someone is raising them in secret with creepy plans to use their powers, and probably not for good. Meanwhile, The Eye is set on hunting Sophie down, and they’re using Archer to do it. But it’s not like she has feelings for him anymore. Does she?

Review:

It's been about a semester since the events of Hex Hall. Archer is long gone and hasn't come back to Hecate Hall, Elodie is still dead, and the Vandy still hates Sophie's guts. After a very eventful lesson, Sophie's father comes to Hex Hall to ask her about her decision to go through the Removal and strip herself of her powers. He asks that she doesn't and also wants her to spend a summer with him. After that summer, he will allow her to go through the Removal if she still wants to. With pink-loving vampire Jenna and groundskeeper/healer Cal in tow, Sophie and her father fly out to England... which is where Archer has been sighted recently. But she's over him, right? Yeah right.

I haven't had a chance to reread Hex Hall since my initial reading of the novel in March 2010, but Demonglass did a great job of bringing me up to speed without doing an info dump, and that's always a good sign for a novel's beginning. From the first few paragraphs of the first chapter, I was laughing and smiling and that continued until the last pages, where the reader is left with a huge cliffhanger and probably a dropped jaw.

Sophie's voice hasn't changed a bit from the first novel. She's still a sarcastic, zinger-producing girl whom anything and everything seems to happen to. She gets a little more serious in this installment (which is warranted, considering the content), but no one will be short of laughs at her comments and/or expense. She even does a little bit of introspection! The other characters, both old and new, are just as likable. I developed a soft spot for Sophie's father James, someone she shares more than a few qualities with, and fellow demon Daisy. I continued to love Jenna and wish I could cuddle her without the possibility of being bitten. She's just so adorable1

Cliffhangers are everywhere in this novel. They end chapters and the book and pretty much anything else you can think of, even if it isn't possible. This rapid succession of cliffhangers, combined with Sophie's flowing voice, many twists in the plot that provide shades of gray instead of being black and white, and the writing style, make Demonglass a quick read. I devoured this book all in one day (though is also due in part to me being on an airplane and needing something to do). Stumbles were few and very far between. Either someone has a natural talent for avoiding stumbles in narration or they have a great editor who takes care of the problems they find. Considering how bad editing seems to have gotten in the past few years, I'm inclined to say that it's the former.

My big annoyance with this novel was all about Sophie's interactions with her two guys. I was irritated that a love triangle stepped in, but it wasn't unpredictable; I knew by the end of Hex Hall that Cal would be the hypotenuse in the love triangle. Sophie always knew that she loved Archer, not Cal. The latter was merely a friend to her. In this case, why didn't Sophie ever speak to her father about breaking her betrothal to Cal? If her father asked why, she could make up a Sophie-esque excuse why. The betrothal feels like a cheap device meant solely to throw a love triangle into the mix. and the last thing this genre needs is more love triangles where the third party is thrown in for the sake of drama.
I have no clue when the next book comes out (I estimate March 2012 due to the release dates of the past two novels), but it's not soon enough. Hawkins favors cliffhangers as endings for her novels and chapters and this particular cliffhanger has me impatient for the final installment in the Hex Hall trilogy. Anyone looking for a fun, laugh-out-loud paranormal series should give the Hex Hall books a try.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Shine by Lauren Myracle and The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Title: Five Flavors of Dumb
Author: Antony John
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: November 11th, 2010
Pages: 338 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Birthday gift.

Eighteen-year-old Piper has gotten herself into a mess. Because of her big mouth, she has one month to get a paying gig for her high school's hottest new rock band, called Dumb. In Piper's mind, the band couldn't have a more perfect name. Just look at its members: one egomaniacal pretty boy, one silent rocker, one talentless piece of eye candy, one angry girl, and one nerd-boy drummer--five discordant personalities who, when put together, seem ready to self-destruct at any moment. Getting them an actual gig seems impossible. Add to that the fact that Piper doesn't know if their music is good or not, because, well, she's deaf.

But Piper is determined to get the band a gig to show her classmates that being deaf doesn't mean she's invisible. And as she gets to know the five flavors of Dumb, some hidden talents, secret crushes, and crazy rock music emerge. She doesn't need to hear the music to sell it, but Piper wants the chance to feel the music too. Does she have what it takes to manage Dumb and discover her own inner rock star?

Review:

(First off, I apologize for the delay. I finished this book on Saturday but between being sick on vacation again and Pokemon White, I've been a little preoccupied.)

After mouthing off to her high school's "it" band Dumb, Piper is stuck being their manager and has one month to get them a paying gig. She doesn't want to do it, but her parents raided her college fund to pay for an operation for her sister and Piper needs money. However, it's going to take a lot of work to turn Dumb into a commercial band. Between recruiting new members (one of whom lacks any talent), keeping the five flavors of Dumb from killing each other, pulling some cunning tricks to get Dumb places, fighting and making up with her family, and learning what music's all about, Piper has a lot on her plate. She can handle it. Well, she can if people will stop using her deafness as an excuse why she can't handle it.

I have heard nothing but praise for this book and was dying to get my paws on it and read it. That praise? Yeah, it is all deserved. This book is so good that it gave me the strong urge to cut my hair and dye it Atomic Pink.

It's not everyday you see characterization this strong in a young adult novel anymore. Get this: For once, the characters are deeper than puddles! Piper, as our heroine, is not perfect. She isn't always nice, she tricks people many times, and she provokes people more than once. She's also cunning, good at finding loopholes, and comes to see the band as more than a way to make money. Instead of her deafness characterizing her and being a disability, it's just another part of her. In fact, the abilities of lip-reading and signing that she gained because of her "disability" turn out to be valuable assets that help Dumb get ahead. She is deaf, but deaf is not her.

But the real star of this novel? That would be Kallie Sims, the "perfect girl" deconstructed. Initially, Piper dislikes her for being so perfect and as the novel goes on, the reader discovers that Kallie isn't perfect; she's a girl just like Piper. Kallie has a not-so-ideal home life, her fashionable clothes (that are bought with her mother's employee discount) get made fun of by her "friends" for being last season, and while she loves music with all her heart and connects with it in a way few people do, she can't play an instrument to save her life. This perfect girl is as imperfect as everyone else and even when she takes center stage late in the novel, she is still just a girl. I love Kallie. I'd love to see a sequel one day through her point of view.

Other characters, like angry green-haired guitarist Tash and Piper's music-loving brother/translator Finn, get their touches of depth too. Even Piper's parents get some depth! How often are the parents more than just background characters like this? The scenes where Piper fought with her dad or exhibited jealousy towards her baby sister Grace genuinely tugged at my heart strings. In fact, this had to be one of the most "real" novels I've ever read. Everything about it, from Piper's discovery of what music is about and who she is to the fight she has with her family to the fight the band has among themselves, felt so real to me.

Five Flavors of Dumb also gave me the worst case of novel whiplash I've ever had. On one page, I would be laughing so hard (my favorite quote came off page two and to preserve the magic, I will not speak of it) that I was given strange looks by other people if I was reading in public; in a few more pages, I would be ready to bawl like a baby because of any particular scene I found heart-wrenching. My poor Mom thought I was having mood swings! And keep in mind, of course, that I'm not an emotional reader. If I weren't so lazy, I would make a "made me cry" and "made me laugh" tag so people could see just how rare it gets.

Five Flavors of Dumb is now one of my favorite books of all time and I don't slap that label on books lightly. Only four other books have that title and this one right here is number five. I recommend this book to absolutely anyone. As long as you don't hate music (especially rock music), I think you'll enjoy Five Flavors of Dumb.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Shine by Lauren Myracle and The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

Title: The Summoning
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 1st, 2008
Pages: 390 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Borrowed it from a friend.

She sees dead people--and they see her.

Chloe Saunders used to have a pretty normal life. But that changed on the day she met her first ghost. Locked up in Lyle House, a group home for troubled teens, she finds out that there's more to the home's teen residents than meets the eye. Will Chloe be able to uncover the dangerous secrets of Lyle House...or will its skeletons come back to haunt her?

This thrilling first volume in the supernaturally charged Darkest Powers series by international bestselling author Kelley Armstrong will keep readers awake well into the darkest time of night.

Review:

Despite what a dead mother, a barely-there businessman father, and being an art school student might imply, Chloe Saunders is a fairly normal girl. Well, except for one or two things like having her period at fifteen and seeing ghosts. After her powers kick in at school, she is sent to Lyle House, a group home for teens with mental disorders like schizophrenia and anger issues. Making friends and enemies among her housemates, Chloe's powers, waved off as hallucinations, grow stronger and it appears that she may not be the only teen in the house that is the supernatural kind of different.

Until Kayla finally convinced me to take a look at the book and give it a try, I had no plans to ever read The Summoning or any of its sequels. The blurb just didn't do it for me and I wasn't interested. Then I lent Kayla my favorite book (oh The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, how I miss you!) and I decided a book exchange was in order now that I had time to read The Summoning. Thank goodness for friends that push books at you because otherwise, I might never have read this great book.

I love, love, loved Chloe. In a sea of heroines who rarely have any idea where they're going and have love on the brain, she was a breath of fresh air. Boyfriends were at the bottom of her list and the career she had in mind was so cool too--being a director?! So awesome. I liked Rae and my psychic senses made me like Tori because I know she's going to get development and become a great character even if she's just the mean girl right now. If she doesn't, it a true crime. Simon and Derek... I didn't really care for either of them. I didn't hate them (well, maybe I disliked Derek a little because of the way he treated Chloe half the time), but I didn't get in a tizzy over them either.

And Aunt Lauren? I really, really dislike her. That is all.

One could tell that the premise had a lot of thought put into it. Using the excuse of mental disorders to cover up supernatural powers was smart. That would explain the abnormal things they do (as long as witnesses are taken care of, which they usually are) and possibly, as it happened with Chloe, convince the actual patient that their powers are just delusions and make them question themselves. No one will believe unusual things said by a person in such a home, so any confessions of truth are less believable to an outsider. Another thing I loved? The lack of romance. Breaks from love are appreciated in a genre where every book and its cousin has a romantic plot or subplot. It makes me kind of sad to know that a love triangle is going to enter the picture in a later book. But that's just me.

Certain elements of the book involving Derek and Lyle House were very predictable for me. I'm not sure whether or not these had already been spoiled for me because I forgot, but I felt that the signs were very obvious. How easily the teens could sneak around the house and trick the employees was also a little implausible. The teens may have been the "learning to deal with it" kind, but they still had mental disorders that required supervision. Would they really be able to sneak around so easily at night and trick the employees into thinking they took their meds? I'm sure they've seen the "hide the meds under the tongue" trick before.

I liked these books and thought the concept was really interesting and all, but I'm not sure if I want to keep reading. I don't really feel the motivation to read the sequels, for whatever reason and I'm aware that there is a lengthy TV Tropes page for this series (which is a great testament to its popularity). I've already got too many books on my hands, including two that are ARC/review copies and slightly high-priority, so I definitely can't read the sequels now. Hold on to The Awakening and The Reckoning for now, Kayla. And give me Frankie back. And maybe even let me snatch a few more books.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter