Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

Review17772-grey-divider-no-background-hiDeath Sworn

by Leah Cypess

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Series: Death Sworn #1

Source: Won from Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy. (Thank you!)

Book Summary:

When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.

book thoughts

YES to YA High Fantasy! I loved the setting of the Assassin’s Caves. It was cut off from the wider world, so the world-building happened slowly but surely and kept me curious. The author didn’t have a lot to work with for rich setting descriptions, but she still managed to draw me into the world, and the language was always vibrant. I absolutely loved the magic system! Utterly unique and enthralling, but still authentically high fantasy.

“She was only seventeen, but already she felt as ancient as the stones around her.”

First of all, Illeni is about the cutest name ever. I really felt for her character. She fell so far. The author portrayed her almost fatalistic view of her life excellently. I know I relate, and that many young adults will. The assassins were a bit more difficult. They were essentially brainwashed. It was hard to understand them (I’m just as much a pacifist as Illeni starts out), so I found it very difficult to relate. Still, I felt for Sorin, who never asked to be an assassin, but had no other opportunity to even survive.

I’m not really a fan of the fairly modern “Oh, I can’t admit I love you because that might lead to labels, or feelings, or even a relationship! Gasp.” type of ” romance”. Love should be the greatest experience we can have – don’t treat it like a burden or something to  just fool around with. However, with these characters I must admit it made sense. They were both expecting to die soon, or at least had been conditioned to think their lives were not their own. Sorin was sweet and charmingly inexperienced, which I always appreciate. Illeni was a bit cold, but she mostly warmed up. Mostly. Her view of the relationship is half the reason I only gave four stars. She says she loves him, then says she can get over it. Sounds like she doesn’t really love him, then, doesn’t it? Or doesn’t understand the concept. Urgh. So frustrating.

The other reason I took off a star is the violence. Maybe I shouldn’t have read a book about assassins if I didn’t want violence, but it was more the attitude toward it. I get that the assassins are brainwashed into violence, that they’re fighting an evil empire, etc., but what really bothered me was how quick Illeni was  to dismiss her morals and decide killing was “easy”. It just didn’t sit right with me. I did like her last decision, which seemed more in line with her principles, and I have hope that she’ll really take a stand against the violence and conditioning in the next book, and that the romance will actually be a bit more, you know, romantic. Overall, I enjoyed the story and recommend it.

4paperhearts

 


Review: The Battle of The Labyrinth (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #4) by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth

by Rick Riordan

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #4

Source: Purchased

Book Summary:

Percy Jackson isn’t expecting freshman orientation to be any fun. But when a mysterious mortal acquaintance appears on campus, followed by demon cheerleaders, things quickly move from bad to worse.
In this fourth installment of the blockbuster series, time is running out as war between the Olympians and the evil Titan lord Kronos draws near. Even the safe haven of Camp Half-Blood grows more vulnerable by the minute as Kronos’s army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders. To stop the invasion, Percy and his demigod friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth – a sprawling underground world with stunning surprises at every turn.

book thoughts

The book opens perfectly, with picked up threads and demon cheerleaders (but PLEASE, fantasy writers everywhere, I implore you, can I kindly get a portrayal of the Goddess Hecate that is NOT negative? Goddess of Magic and Queen of Witches need not automatically equal “bad guy”.)

*rant over. we now return to your regularly scheduled review*

[Edit: Since writing this review, I’ve read subsequent Riordan books in which Hecate gets a proper representation. Yay!]

 
Then we get to camp half blood, and THIS happens:

“You are okay?” he asked. “Not eaten by monsters?”
“Not even a little bit.” I showed him that I still had both arms and both legs, and Tyson clapped happily.
“Yay!” he said. “Now we can eat peanut butter sandwiches and ride fish ponies! We can fight monsters and see Annabeth and make things go BOOM!”
I hoped he didn’t mean all at the same time, but I told him absolutely, we’d have a lot of fun this summer.”

TYSON! Tyson is amazing. Possibly even as amazing as fish ponies.

We get to go into the Labyrinth! I want one. Okay, so it’s super-dangerous, full of monsters, nearly impossible to navigate and makes you go crazy? So what! It connects the whole country and has crazy adventures around every corner.

Annabeth finally gets to lead a quest! Against tradition, she chooses three, not two companions. Percy, Tyson and Grover. Tyson and Grover are both kind of scared of each other, which I found rather adorable. Inevitably they have to learn to work together and mutual respect develops, and it is a nice process to watch unfold. It felt like everyone really grew in this installment. Especially Grover.

Nico is freaking amazing. He got such a raw deal, but he’s so likable and such a bad-ass. I love how much of a presence he has in this book, his personal story-arc. Awesomeness.

Things are rather frenzied (in a good way!) in the Labyrinth. More Gods are met (excellent!), monsters are fought, volcanoes explode…oops, getting ahead of myself. It is neat how they go in and out of the Labyrinth as it transects the country. And eventually they go back in with…

Rachel: You’re a half-blood, too?
Annabeth: Shhh! Just announce it to the world, how about?
Rachel: Okay. Hey, everybody! These two aren’t human! They’re half Greek god!

(Naturally, in NYC, no one bats an eyelash.)

Rachel is great. A mortal who holds her own, and is just an intriguing character in herself. She bothers me as a potential love interest, and the fact that she and Annabeth don’t get along (while understandable) and that her presence causes friction between Percy and Annabeth (also understandable) makes me sad. I hated to see Percy and Annabeth at odds.

The ending was intense. Really sets the stage for what’s to come.

5paperhearts


Review: Something Strange & Deadly by Susan Dennard

Something Strange & Deadly

by Susan Dennard

Genre: YA Historical Steampunk Gothic Paranormal

Series: Something Strange & Deadly #1

Source: Purchased

Book Summary:

There’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family as fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walkers by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor… from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. An now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

book thoughts

I loved this book so much more than I thought I would. I mean, it sounded great, and I was hoping I’d enjoy it, but WOW. I LOVE this book! It’s the first thing I’ve read that has even put a dent in my Gemma Doyle withdrawal, even though the stories are quite different, despite both taking place in Victorian times and involving a heroine who can do magic and is attracted to a man below her station. I think that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Aside from the fact that both series are epic, of course. I’ve read a fair amount of books set in Victorian England, but this was my first set in Victorian America. It was great fun noting the differences. Eleanor’s family, for instance, is wealthy because her father ran a successful company; something that in Victorian England would have been looked down upon, since most wealthy English Victorians were born into their wealth and made money simply because they already possessed it. Young Victorian women in America also seemed to enjoy a great deal more freedom than their English counterparts, though both countries were of course restrictive.

The setting of 1876 Philadelphia was refreshingly unique. And I suppose it helps that I lived in Pennsylvania, so I actually know how to pronounce the world “Schuylkill”. I’ve never been all that into zombies, but I do find necromancy fascinating, so I loved that this book came at zombies from a necromancy angle – there was no infectious disease, the tedious “turning” of characters – there were just corpses animated by dark magic. I thought this was a really unique, interesting concept. The author also clearly did her research about necromancy, and about the 1876 International Centennial Exhibit. I think at one point she even referenced what page something was on in the pamphlet. It was this level of detail that made this “alternate history” world feel completely authentic. And I’d rather live in a world where magic is accepted as a normal part of the world, anyway, so these aspects greatly appealed to me. We also get to see a Victorian seance!

I loved the relationship between Eleanor and her brother, even if we didn’t see much of it. They were so clearly devoted to each other. I felt bad for Eleanor that her mother was so hard on her, though it explained her personality in many ways. Eleanor is a likeable heroine, but she has many flaws, and never apologizes for being who she is. I found this refreshing. I appreciated her curiosty as well, since I too have an insatiable curiosity. I also liked that every character had such depth, so many facets to their personality. Clarence Wilcox, Eleanor’s wealthy suitor, wasn’t a bad guy but wasn’t terribly likeable either. Daniel Sheridan, the young Spirit-Hunter with a troubled past whom Eleanor falls for is fiery and stubborn, yet also quite intelligent and emotional. Even Jie, the quintessential tomboy still retains some femininity.
Joseph Boyer, leader of the Spirit-Hunters, is a powerful magic-user, but possesses a quite gentle nature. I loved experiencing Eleanor’s adventures with the Spirit-Hunters as she searched for her brother, and watching the way the four of them worked together was highly entertaining. I definitely recommend this book. It’s a perfect summer read. Not that it can’t be read in another season, but the summer in Philadelphia setting, combined with the general mischief of the plot do seem well-suited to summer.

5paperhearts


Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth: A Let-Down of Matrix-Level Proportions

Allegiant
by Veronica Roth
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Series: Divergent #3
Source: Purchased
 
Book Summary:

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

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book thoughts

I’ll say it again: a let-down of Matrix-level proportions. Why do I say it? Because, like the Matrix Trilogy, with the last installment, the entire story collapsed under its own weight, crushing (ie. killing off) basically all of the characters, to the point where the audience is so horrified that they lose all emotional attachment to said characters and start to wonder if maybe everyone would have been better off staying blissfully ignorant?

Now, as with the Matrix, I experienced the whole series back-to-back. I can’t even imagine the betrayal felt by fans who waited and waited for each book to come out, only for it to end like this. The same emotional reactions could have been elicited without the story becoming so unnecessarily tragic. Actually, there would have been a better emotional reaction, because the reader would not have been struck numb by shock. The tragedy was simply unnecessary.

So that was the ending. Let’s talk about the book:

The more I think about it, the Great Revelation of the last book was just okay. Not bad, really, but not enough, given the ending.

I did like that Tris and Tobias each got to narrate. Tobias is so, so much more sympathetic a character that I found his narration refreshing after Tris’ harsh, judgmental coldness.  However, the narrative “voice” of both Tris and Tobias sounded virtually identical, and I often had to go back and check to see whose chapter I was reading. I know it can be hard to pull off dual narration, but I do wish there had been more differentiation.

This is how it should have ended: Allegiant Alternate Ending

And this should have been the epilogue: Allegiant Alternate Ending Epilogue

If, like me, Allegiant either ripped your heart out or numbed you to the whole series, read those, and salvage yourself.

I can only hope they fix this massive mistake in the movies. I won’t hold my breath.

2paperhearts

 


Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent

by Veronica Roth

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Series: Divergent #2

Source: Purchased

Book Summary:

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

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book thoughts

Definitely better than the first book. Insurgent opens up the world and gives us a peek at the other factions, specifically Amity and Candor. Amity is my favorite faction, so I enjoyed getting to see them up-close, even if they too have major flaws.

But that peace serum they make? I think Tris needs to be on it all the time. She’s so much easier to like that way.

I liked her better in this one, even when she was spinning out of control and alienating everyone. And I especially liked her more when she finally got it together

The Candor truth serum sounded terrifying in Divergent, but we get to see it in use here, and you know what? I think it’s awesome. I wish it existed. So many problems are created by dishonesty, especially in this book, that Candor started to look really appealing, even if their leadership was composed of spineless idiots.

We get more character interaction here, which I always like. We get to know the Dauntless-born initiates better and even some characters from unexpected factions become allies and friends.

Oh, and the factionless! I still think it’s weird they exist. This world was supposed to be a utopia, with a place for everyone, so why so many displaced? Perhaps things would have worked better if there had been fewer or no factionless. Either way, it was cool getting to meet them.

The thing about this series: I like it intellectually, but I don’t love any of the characters. I’m not sure why, but it’s a shame.

And like many people, I wish I’d stopped reading at Insurgent.

4paperhearts


Review: Daughter of Chaos by Jen McConnel

Daughter of Chaos

by Jen McConnel

Genre: YA Paranormal

Series: Red Magic #1

Source: Purchased

Book Summary:

Witches must choose the path they will follow, and Darlena Agara is no exception. She’s been putting it off long enough, and in her case, ignoring it has not made it go away. In a moment of frustration, Darlena chooses to follow Red Magic, figuring she had outsmarted the powers that be, since there’s no such thing as Red Magic. But alas, Darlena’s wrong (again) and she becomes a newly declared Red Witch.

Her friends are shocked and her parents horrified by the choice Darlena has made. As a Red Witch, she now governs one third of the world’s chaos. She is the walking personification of pandemonium, turmoil, and bedlam, just as the patrons of Red Magic would have it to be.

But Darlena believes there must be more to Red Magic than chaos and destruction, and she sets out on a journey to achieve balance. Only doing so puts her at odds with the dark goddess Hecate, who simply will not allow Darlena to quit. She encourages Darlena to embrace who and what she is and to leave good magic to the good witches. If only Darlena could, life would be simple, and she would not be the Daughter of Chaos.

DAUGHTER OF CHAOS is the first in a YA paranormal trilogy.

book thoughts

“Slowly, I raised my eyes, sweeping my gaze up her inky black robes that shimmered like water, past the blood-red stone dangling from her throat, and up to her golden eyes. They weren’t human, but from what I remembered of the myths we studied at school, Hecate had never valued humanity. Her eyes were the eyes of a night predator—an owl or fox—and they held me spellbound.

“Darlena. Darlena, I have been aware of you for some time now.” Her words came slowly, creaking into existence and lingering. I was frozen with fear. “Child, you stand at the brink. A choice must be made.”

I had incredibly high expectations for this book and I am happy to report that it surpassed all of them. Here is well-written witchy fiction jam-packed full of accurate mythology, but with its own intriguing twists. As a Wiccan myself, I adored how magic, gods and goddesses, seasonal rituals, etc. were woven in with everyday life. It all just felt so normal but at the same time…well, magical. Witches are portrayed as real people, with lives and jobs and families, who just happen to have awesome powers.

The main character, Darlena, experiences tons of growth. She is slightly frustrating at first (I imagine that was intentional). A bit of a rebel without a cause, perhaps. But she handles the obstacles her declaration of red magic throws at her with more strength than she knew she had, and it is highly satisfying to watch her come into her own. I liked that Darlena’s best friend, the Black Witch Rochelle, and Darlena’s ex-boyfriend, the White Witch Justin, feel like authentic characters, but at the same time represent the struggle Darlena feels within herself. The romance between Darlena and Justin was sweet and never overpowering. It made sense, and though Darlena’s reactions were frustrating at times, I still felt for her, and could see why she cared for Justin, since he was so supportive and really non-judgemental for a White Witch (which to me is how a White Witch should be).

Darlena’s parents play an active role in her life! It is clear that once a witch declares, she is essentially an adult, so while Darlena’s parents give her space, they are still involved and invested in her, something we don’t always see in YA. Darlena’s mother especially feels like the mortal embodiment of her patron, the mother-goddesses Demeter, swearing to help her daughter no matter what.

Gods and Goddesses abound in this book. I loved it. Their portrayal is at once very human and accurate to their existing mythologies. Hats off to the author for that! I was disappointed that once again, my own patron goddess, Hecate, was cast in a negative light, but it worked for the story and since it’s s trilogy, who knows, she may yet be redeemed. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. We do get a sympathetic portrayal of Hades that I found incredibly touching. We even see the vulnerable side of Aphrodite. The gods and goddesses were definitely one of the things I loved best about this book, especially when they were helping teach Darlena magic. The magic itself was excellently done. Much of it felt authentic to the way magic is practiced today, but with the author’s own unique flourishes.

The other thing I loved was the way magic, even red magic, chaotic as it may be, was portrayed as neither good nor evil. Darlena is determined to use red magic for good and watching her go about achieving that propels the story forward and makes for a great journey. I would have liked a bit more information on Black Magic – it is said to not be evil, per se, but I’d still like to know more about it. Just to sate my curiosity. Much more magic in general, please! I need more.

This is by far my favorite read this year and I suggest you go pick it up and then, like me, eagerly await the sequel.

5paperhearts


Review: The Fracking War by Michael J. Fitzgerald

The Fracking War

by Michael J. Fitzgerald

Genre: Adult Fiction

Series: A sequel is planned.

Source: Provided in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!

Book Summary:

“It was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, not economic data, that turned the page on slavery. It was The Grapes of Wrath, not demographic reports that opened a nation’s eyes to Dust Bowl dislocation. Out of that tradition comes Michael J. Fitzgerald’s The Fracking War. Here, within a smoldering crucible of social crisis, is a tale of power, money, fateful choices, and consciences aroused. If you like your drill rigs served up within the context of a fast-moving plot line, you’ve got what you want right in your hands.”

—Sandra Steingraber, author, Living Downstream and Raising Elijah 

In The Fracking War, veteran investigative reporter Jack Stafford relocates from California to rural Upstate New York to take a job with a small weekly newspaper after the death of his wife, and immediately discovers a citizen rebellion that models itself after Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. In The Fracking War, activists use sabotage to defend their land and lifestyle against what they perceive as industrial terrorism, perpetrated by multinational corporations’ environmentally damaging practice of hydrofracking for natural gas and oil. 

Set in the pristine Finger Lakes wine country of New York and neighboring Pennsylvania, Stafford and the newspaper staff witness the tragic impacts of fracking on local citizens and their communities—the health risks, water and air pollution, and a rapid increase in crime. 

The fictional events in The Fracking War were pulled from newspaper headlines and other documented occurrences not only in the Northeast United States but also across the globe. The fast-paced novel offers a glimpse into an escalating conflict between citizens who want to protect their communities and the nearly out-of-control expansion of the natural gas industry’s controversial method of hydrofracking to extract natural gas, affecting homes and communities in uncharted ways. 

Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, said of The Fracking War: “If you’ve thought the debate over energy policy was a tad dry, this novel might change your mind. God hopes it never comes to this!”

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book thoughts

I spent five years living in Pennsylvania, so I’ve seen first-hand how hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) can contaminate drinking water. Mine never caught on fire, but we tested it every few months just to make sure and no one drank it. No one I knew even let their pets drink tap water. So I was familiar with the issue when I picked up the book. And considering the recent accident at the Marcellus Shale natural gas well in southwestern Pennsylvania, this book could not be more timely.

You can definitely tell that Michael J. Fitzgerald has worked as a journalist. His prose is rich and attentive to detail, with meticulous effort used to set the scene. This style definitely served to give the reader a better sense of the atmosphere of the Finger Lakes, anchoring the story in this lush setting, and with the people who inhabit it. At the same time, the setting feels universal, which I’m sure was intentional, as fracking is occurring all over the country.

The events of the book feel ripped from the headlines, and it’s easy while reading to forget that the book is fiction. I think this was an effective technique. A lot of nonfiction has been penned and filmed on the subject of fracking, but with the exception of Gasland, not much of it has hit home with most people. Ficti0n helps us connect, and if that was the author’s intention – to connect the reader to the characters, and therefore to their situation, then he has definitely succeeded.

5paperhearts

 


Review: Mesmerized by Julia Crane & Talia Jager

Mesmerized

by Julia Crane & Talia Jager

Genre: Young Adult Paranormal

Series: Standalone

Source: Purchased

Book Summary:

Seventeen-year-old succubus Lily Anderson can’t have a normal life: She isn’t allowed a boyfriend, she has no friends, and school is just one mess-up after another.

Lily’s parents send her away to the prestigious Emerson Academy. It doesn’t appear to be any different from the others. That is, until she meets her roommate, Hannah, and a blue-eyed boy named Jake.

Lily makes an almost deadly mistake, and Jake has a mysterious past that has come back to haunt him. Together, they must go on the run from things neither of them understand in order to save the people they love—and each other. But, Jake’s foe is more dangerous than they realized, and it will take the help of friends and family to save the man Lily loves.

She must learn to use her powers for good before it’s too late.

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book thoughts

Let me begin by saying that I’m posting this review now because this month Mesmerized is being re-released with an additional 15,000 words. I read the original release ,and since most of the issues I had with the book involved lack of detail and world-building, I am hopeful that the re-released address these. The review below is for the original release. But first, check out the new cover:

 

I wanted to try a paranormal YA with more adult themes, and the cover, name and blurb were enticing, so I used some of my Christmas book money and ordered this one.

So we meet Lily, who is highly attractive and hates it. This aspect is done very well. The angst of being a succubus, hated by all females and desired by men for all the wrong reasons. Lily’s struggle is well-executed. She meets her new roommate Hannah, an awkward girl who manages to see past her inevitable envy of Lily and be her friend. Hannah was a nice character we didn’t see nearly enough of. I felt the insertion of the cliche Mean Girl Samantha was a bit unnecessary to the plot and didn’t add anything.

Jake is a nice love interest. Not too perfect. At first, his relationship with Lily was sweet, and I liked being in his head and seeing Lily through his eyes. Of course, they end up on the run due to an accident involving Lily’s powers, and it doesn’t take long for them to get down to it. A lot. Which is fine – she’s a succubus, after all, and the rating is mature YA. Plus, there’s real love there and I don’t have a problem with that. It was the constant “our relationship can’t be all about sex” angst, and then not a whole lot of showing of their non-sex relationship, which grated me a bit.

But what really killed the rating for me was the second half of the book. Lily’a problems can be taken care of solely by her mother, like an afterthought, which really took away from the sense of conflict in the story. Jake’s problems are a bit harder to solve, but again, the issue is left to Lily’s parents. I suppose that this might be more realistic and perhaps more moral, since most YA has teenager saving the world while their parents do God-knows-what, but it did make it harder for me to connect to Lily and Jake’s struggle.

So Lily’s mom – powerful succubus, enlists the help of her friend Camille, a powerful witch. Lily looks up to Camille as a powerful woman, but her character is really too mysterious. I’m sure that’s what the author was going for, but it is overdone. I just don’t understand who she is or what her powers really are or what makes her tick. And when Camille simply disposes of an antagonist because “he was too evil to live” it is done more as an afterthought. This is unfortunate. That could have been a serious source of conflict and rumination between the characters, but instead the character is just conveniently killed of so the plot can breeze on into Lily and Jake’s relationship. Lily’s mortal father also helps out, through his super-secret job, that is never remotely explained, though it does conveniently advance the plot. Which would have been fine, if it had been explained.

But my biggest problem was definitely the lack of explanation of Lily and her mother’s powers. The entire plot hinges on what these succubi can do, but it is basically brushed off – Lily never asked much, and her mother never told much. How old is her mother? From where did her mother get her succubus powers? What other supernatural creatures are out there and how do they get along? These issues are never really dealt with and that didn’t work for me.

All in all, I think this book just wasn’t for me. I don’t read straight romance, entirely BECAUSE I need conflict, depth and high stakes to make me care about the characters and feel invested in their relationships. Lily mentions several times how much she likes romance novels, so maybe that is more what this is intended to be. I felt like everything that wasn’t immediately concerned with their relationship was considered afterthought and throwaway. But this made me LESS invested in their relationship, not more. I don’t have a problem with romance AS AN ASPECT, but as I said, I need high stakes and a multi-layered plot and a well-formed paranormal world to back it up. So fans of straight romance will probably like this more than people who need solid paranormal world-building.

3 paper hearts

 

 


Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent

by Veronica Roth

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Series: Divergent #1

Source: Gifted

Book Summary:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

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book thoughts

Okay, so I knew I had to read this before the movie came out, and I loved the Hunger Games, so I had high hopes. Did I love it as much as I loved The Hunger Games? No. (Though I still gave two books to go!) Was it a really good story? Yes. The Chicago setting was excellent. I spent an accidental five hours in Chicago once (thankfully not during winter) and it is a beautiful, interesting place. I was constantly curious about the world outside the city, and hopefully we’ ll get more of that in the next two books. I also want to know why the lakes dried up. Having seen them in person, the imagery of empty marshland being all that’s left was haunting.

I was lucky enough to read the special edition paperback, which had all sorts of fun extra features like author interviews and a playlist, but the best feature was definitely the Faction Manifestos. I read these before I started the novel for some background and was glad I did. Unfortunately, the faction I would fit in best, Amity, was the one mentioned least in Divergent. Probably because Tris would never pick it. Early in the book, she irritatingly says something like “but I could never be Amity”. Like it should be obvious. Later on, you realize that given her personality, Tris would never fit in there, but at the time the brush-off bothered me. I wish my favorite faction wasn’t dismissed so easily.

Of course, Tris herself drove me nuts because we are absolutely nothing alike. At one point she says “I could never be attracted to someone so weak” and I just wanted to shake her. Like wow, who are you to judge? Dauntless is absolutely the last faction I’d ever chose, and of course that’s the one whose initiation process we get to see up close. I could understand the comradeship that would form, and I acknowledge that once Dauntless was more about protecting people and less about suicidally stupid, pointless risks, but still. Not my favorite faction. Thankfully I did like that character of Four. At one point, Tris expresses that she likes him even though he isn’t particularly gentle or kind (another line that had me rolling my eyes at her), but I think she got it wrong. At least Four has legitimate reasons for his hardness, and beneath it he was a really good person.

I found the world of Divergent rich and fascinating, but I kind of wish I could have explored it though a different character, in a different faction. I never really clicked with Dauntless and Tris got on my nerves repeatedly. She IS selfish, and even arrogant. Thankfully she does acknowledge her mistakes and grows a bit especially after the events towards the end of the book. I hope we see lots more growth to come. All in all, a promising start to a series that explores complex issues of identity and virtue.

4paperhearts

Take Control of Your TBR Pile 2014

ARC Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

White Hot Kiss

by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Genre: YA Paranormal

Series: The Dark Elements #1

Source: Won an ARC from Two Chicks on Books. Thank you!

Book Summary:

One kiss could be the last 

Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she’s anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses. 

Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she’s crushed on since forever. 

Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she’s not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn’t an issue, considering Roth has no soul. 

But when Layla discovers she’s the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

book thoughts

So yes, the cover and title are pretty bad. I actually had zero interest in this one when I first heard about it, because from the title and cover I assumed it was New Adult Contemporary Romance, which is definitely not my thing. But then I won an ARC from the awesome and generous Two Chicks on Books. It was in a mystery box, so I picked it up and read the description. With that cover, I was still worried it might be mostly sleaze romance, and not so much paranormal, but since it was written by the highly regarded Jennifer L. Armentrout, I tried the first page.

And was of course hooked. The main character’s voice reminded me a bit of Rose from Vampire Academy (another series whose covers and titles don’t remotely live up to the story). Now don’t get me wrong, I love romance. I find it much easier to become invested in a story that has it. I can’t get invested in is a story that is basically all sexual tension and zero emotion. Likewise I’ve never been very interested in Contemporary Romance, because the emotional stakes always seem so much higher when I get to watch the two lovers overcome the supernatural crazy. And this book definitely had supernatural crazy to overcome. Because of her half-demon blood, Layla can’t kiss anyone with a soul, for fear that she would suck it right out. She grapples constantly with a gnawing hunger she can only keep at bay with heavy sugar intake. She’s been taught to hate her demon blood, and to know that because of it she can never be more than half-warden (gargoyle) Most painfully, she can’t marry and give birth to more wardens, because of her tainted blood.

When she meets Roth, a “soulless” demon who she can (and wants to) kiss, she’s tempted. But she’s grown up believing all demons are evil, even the demon part of herself. But what she thinks is just a physical attraction to the kind of relationship she never thought she could have, eventually grows deeper and more complex as the two are forced to work together and trust each other. There was a bit of a love triangle, involving Layla’s best friend/adoptive warden brother Zayne, but it was a sensible one, and I can guess where it’s going (or at least where it better be going).

I worried that the Christian mythology would be too black and white, but the issues of good and evil, innocence and darkness, family and belonging were quite complex and well-explored. Having a soul, even a “pure” one, did not necessarily make you better than a “soulless” demon, much to Layla’s surprise.

There was just enough high school interaction to ground the story, but thankfully it was free of the typical silly drama that sometimes serves as filler. Layla’s two human friends were entertaining and it actually felt like they added to the story, and even progressed the plot at times. And the plot certainly kept me guessing, just the way I like. Some mysteries were left unresolved, but since this is the first in a series (yay!), I’m not worried. 🙂

5paperhearts