Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: Seraphina (Seraphina #1)

Seraphina (Seraphina #1)
 
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
(Cover & Description from Goodreads. Source.)
 
Kat's Review
 
This book makes me want to erase every word I've ever written and start again. The story is nuanced and complex, yet written in a way that it appeals to a wide audience of both young and old.  The writing itself is so beautiful that it seems as though each word was chosen with deliberate care, forcing me to slow down and savour this book in a way I haven't done in a while.
 
The main character, Seraphina, is a young woman with a big secret.  Her character is both strong and vulnerable at once.  She is surrounded by a cast of supporting characters almost all interesting enough to have a novel written about their individual experiences, yet doesn't fade into the background.  Although the overarching thread is that of Seraphina's secret, it is a book about what it means to be human, about acceptance, about how we see ourselves and the other.  It also a book about love in its different forms, and what people are willing to risk for it. 
 
This book has won several awards, and deservedly so.  It's a timeless story, one that could have easily been written fifty years ago, and that will still be relevant fifty years from now.  Marketed as a book for young readers, I think it would appeal to both girls and boys.  There are castles and knights, dragons,  secrets and the threat of war.  It also has immense appeal for adults, as the nuances of some of the themes are more complex than they may seem to a younger reader.
 
Rating: All Consuming
 
I tried my best to pace myself, but I still read the last hundred pages in one sitting.  My only disappointment is that this is a debut novel, so I can't go searching for more from this author until something else is released.  This is a book worth owning!
 
Buy on Amazon.com
 
Buy on Amazon.ca
 
 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: Deeper We Fall

Deeper We Fall (Deeper We Fall #1)
   
Two years after her best friend was involved in a car accident that caused a traumatic brain injury, Lottie Anders is ready to start her freshman year of college. Ready to move on. Ready to start forgetting the night that ripped her life apart.

Her plans come to a screeching halt when not one, but both brothers responsible for the accident end up back in her life again.

Zack is cruel, selfish and constantly rubbing what happened to her friend in Lottie's face.

Zan is different. He listens to her awkward ramblings. He loves "To Kill a Mockingbird" as much as she does, and his dark eyes are irresistible. His words are few and far between, but when he does speak, she can't help but listen.

The trouble is, Zan was the driver in the accident, and now Lottie's discovered he lied to her about what happened that night. Now she must decide if trusting him again will lead to real forgiveness, or deeper heartache.
(Cover & Description from Goodreads. Source.)
Publisher:  Chelsea M. Cameron
Publication Date: January 24, 2013
 
Kat's Review

This book is the quintessential beach read.  Love, hate, friendship, sex, secrets.  It's all there.  With a college campus as the setting and a group of attractive coeds as the main characters, this book is perfect for a fun read. 

The book is told in alternating points of view, which seems to be popular these days.  People either love it or hate it, but since it continues throughout the book, if it's something you hate, then take note.  Personally, I don't mind it if it's done well.  I like seeing into the brain of different characters, getting their perspective on things.  Additionally, this book makes frequent reference to classic literature and the poet Rumi.  Again, this doesn't bother me, but if you've never read To Kill A Mockingbird, or don't know who Mr. Darcy is, some of these references may not make sense to you. 

I found the main characters likeable, and Lottie's hatred for Zan was understandable, given his role in the accident that seriously injured her best friend.  Zan's character is the reformed bad boy, full of tattoos, avoiding his old life of drugs and alcohol, and replacing them with books, music and running.  Cliché? Sure. Sexy? Yup. Everybody loves a reformed bad boy.  I also liked that he kept in contact with a therapist throughout, and that his runs were almost obsessive, like an addiction.  The struggle was always there, present, rather than something alluded to once and then forgotten as the story progressed. 

The love story develops slowly, which I appreciated.  There was no falling into each others' arms after a night of drunkenness, or after locking gazes across a crowded room.  It grew and developed over time.  If there's one area of the story that I thought was predictable, it was Zan's confession at the end.  I don't want to give anything away, but I think it might have been more interesting if they had been forced to work through a certain thing, rather than have it conveniently resolved.  That's all I'm going to say about that! 

Rating: Worth A Look

I finished this book in a day, reading from start to finish in almost one long sitting.  It's the type of book that's perfect for lounging by the pool or on the beach, with just enough romance to be exciting without crossing over into I-don't-want-to-be-seen-in-public-with-this-book territory.  This author has several other books already published, and is writing a companion novel to this one.  I haven't read the last of her books!

A copy of this book was provided for review by the author.


Buy on Amazon.com

Buy on Amazon.ca

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: There (On the Otherside #2)

There (On the Otherside #2)
 
Julia Phillips’ world is an alternate universe away.

Trapped in a land where government leaders want her dead, Julia is forced to run for her life with Evan and Reece, the two boys who brought her here. They’re on their own in a hostile landscape ruled by scavengers and thieves.

But Evan is battling a deadly infection, and Julia finds herself racing against time as she tries to find the medicine that will save his life. She and Reece find an unlikely ally—Jo, a girl they free after finding her captured in a bandits’ hideout.

As the four travel across the country, Julia has something else to worry about—her memories are slowly being replaced by the Julia of Evan and Reece’s world. Will they find a way to send Julia home before it’s too late? Or will Julia’s body and mind be trapped THERE?

(Cover & Description from Goodreads. Source.)
Publisher: Denise Grover Swank
Publication Date: December 2012

Kat's Review

(Spoiler Alert: If you haven't read the first book in the series, there will be some spoilers here because it's impossible to talk about the plot without giving some things away.)

I liked the first book quite a bit, but this one was even better.  Although I'm not generally a fan of love triangles, this one was written in such an original way that it actually made sense.  The Julia of this world is in love with Evan, but as the memories of the Julia of the other world continue to invade her consciousness, she finds herself drawn more and more to Reece, the boy the other Julia loved until the day she died.  On the run for their lives, looking for Reece's mom and trying to find a way to send Julia back home, the love triangle is the least of their worries.  More concerning is Julia's precarious hold on reality and battle to stay sane.  When they decide on a whim to take along a girl they found bound and alone, they hope they've made the right decision.  Jo is a survivor, living outside the limits of the town Evan and Reece call home, and no one is certain where her loyalties lie.

This book is fast paced and action packed.  As we follow the group toward their destination, obstacle after obstacle get thrown in their path, testing them physically, mentally and emotionally, tugging at their precarious bonds of trust.  Every time I thought I had a character figured out, something happened to make me question my assessment.  I really enjoyed the way the author allowed Evan and Reece to struggle with their emotions for Julia, wanting to hold on to the girl they had lost, but coming to accept and love the girl that was in front of them.  I wasn't always certain that either truly let go of their old Julia, but it was obvious how hard they were trying. 

The ending was shocking, and the alternate ending the author offers a glimpse into a "sliding door" reality, emphasizing how one decision can change the course of our lives. 

Rating: A Good Read

This book held my attention and kept me up late.  I've never read anything from Denise Grover Swank except for the two books in this series, but I will certainly be fixing that oversight soon.  A really good read.

  Buy on Amazon.ca


Buy on Amazon.com





Book Review: HERE

Here (On the Otherside #1)
  
Sixteen year old Julia Phillips buries herself in guilt after killing her best friend Monica in a car accident. Julia awoke in the hospital with a broken leg, a new talent for drawing and false memories of the accident, in which she dies and Monica lives. The doctors attribute this to her head injury, but no one can explain how a bracelet engraved with her name ended up at the scene of the accident. A bracelet no one has ever seen before.

Classmate Evan Whittaker paid Julia no attention before the accident, let alone after. Now suddenly he’s volunteering to tutor her and offering to drive her home. She can't ignore that his new obsession started after his two-day disappearance last week and that he wears a pendant she’s been drawing for months. When the police show up one night looking for Evan, he begs Julia to run with him, convincing her that Monica is still alive. Julia agrees to go, never guessing where he’s really from.
(Cover & description from Goodreads. Source.)
Published by: Denise Grover Swank via Create space
Publication Date: November 2011
 
 
Kat's Review
 
The description for this book doesn't do the story justice.  In fact, if someone hadn't recommended this book to me, I would never have picked it up based on the description above. It sounds a bit silly and simplistic.
 
Instead, I found a book with tight writing and characters that drew me in right from the start.  Julia is struggling with the death of her best friend, and blames herself for the accident.  As a result, she's pushed everyone away, including her family, and sleepwalks her way through life.  No one wants to be around her, so when one of the most popular boys in the school is assigned as her tutor and suddenly takes an interest in her where there was no interest before, the story begins to get interesting.  Rather than becoming cheesy, the story becomes more interesting.
 
It's rare that a book with such a seemingly simple storyline can deliver truly surprising twists and turns.  I can honestly say that this one did.  I had no idea where this was going.  The twist near the end was so original and expertly handled by the author that what started as an OK book turned into a book I didn't want to put down.  What's even more impressive is that it's all accomplished within the confines of a book that's truly suitable for young teens as well as older readers.  There is some romance, yes, but it's pretty innocent, without any graphic sex scenes.  There is also violence, but the main character struggles with it. 
 
Without giving away spoilers, this is a very realistic story about a heartbroken girl who meets a heartbroken boy, and together they begin to work through their pain.  With a twist.  A very, very, big twist.  A twist that in some ways is more interesting than the relationship itself. 
 
Rating: A Good Read
 
This is one of the more original books I've read in a while, although at the start it seems to be a typical girl meets boy story.  I picked up the second book in the series immediately after I was finished reading this one. 
 
BUY FROM AMAZON.CA Here (On the Otherside)
 
 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Would You Like To Check Out a Human Book?

January 26, 2013 is National Human Library Day in Canada.

In 15 cities across the country, libraries will have human "books" available for check-out.

What is a human book?

A human book is a person who volunteers to be available for one-on-one conversations with library patrons, in order to share their stories and connect with people they may not otherwise interact with.  Library patrons can "check out" a human book for a set period of time, with the goal of increase understanding and interaction among people of different ages, backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientation. 

History of the Human Library 

The first human library event was held in Denmark, organised by a group of young people after the stabbing of one of their friends.  The main goal was to increase dialogue and understanding, and decrease violence.  The first event was held at Northern Europe's largest summer festival, encouraging festival attendees to get to know one another.  The event was a success, and the human library was born.  (Source)

Why Would I Want To Participate?

Why wouldn't you want to participate?  This is a chance to hear the incredible personal stories of people who have lived interesting lives and often overcome great personal adversity to get to where they are today.  It's a chance to ask questions, to learn about someone whose life experiences differ from your own.  A chance to overcome prejudices, to gain more insight and understanding, and to make connections with people you may not otherwise ever meet. 

You can meet with a female firefighter, the man who founded the Black Daddies Club, an amputee hockey player, a transgendered youth, an Olympic sprinter.  The list is long and varied, and the participants fascinating. 

How Do I Get Involved?

This year in Canada the CBC has partnered with local libraries and cultural centres to hold the event.  Participating is as simple as finding out where an event is being held near you, and showing up.  To find a list of participating venues, click HERE.   All events are free.

No event near you?  No worries.  The CBC has also launched a digital version of the program, with some notable figures sharing their stories on line.  On the list, authors Margaret Atwood and Robert Munsch.  I know right?  To learn more about how to participate in the online event, click HERE.

Everybody has a story to tell.  Unfortunately, we often only really hear the stories of those who are just like us.  This is a chance to get to know someone with life experiences that are different from our own, and to see the humanity in each other.  To someone like me, who lives her life in books and the stories they tell, an event like this is like a book come to life! 

If you do choose to participate, leave a comment and let me know how it went!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Pushing the Limits

Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits #1)
   
No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
(Cover and Description from Goodreads. Source.)
 
Kat's Review
 
Pushing the Limits goes beyond the typical teen romance by saddling the main characters with personal issues that separate them from their peers.  Told in the first person, the book alternates chapters from Echo's and from Noah's point of view.  I was a bit wary at first of how this technique was going to work, but it suits this particular story.  Both personal backstories are so central to the narrative that I don't think the novel would have been as powerful if told from just one side.  Understanding how each character came to be outcasts in a sense and how they were trying to heal from their emotional scars was vital in order to understand the romance that grew between them.

Echo and Noah are thrown together at the beginning of the book when Echo is assigned as Noah's tutor in an attempt to make enough money to fix her (dead) brother's car.  Katie McGarry lays out the issues early: Echo was involved in some sort of incident involving her mother that left her with scars up and down her arms and little memory of what actually happened, and she is also mourning the death of her brother, killed in the military.  To top it off, her father and his new wife are expecting a baby.  Echo is struggling to find a way to cope with everything life has thrown her way.

Noah is the resident bad boy, but we learn early that it wasn't always this way.  His social worker lays out a vision of the old Noah- good student and athlete, all lost when his parents are taken in a tragic accident and he is separated from his brothers.  Moved from foster home to foster home, he developed a hardened exterior to cope with the challenges of his new life.  Noah's only goal now is to get his brothers back.

What I liked about this book was the author's ability to tackle difficult topics from the perspective of teenagers.  Echo's need to see her mother and restore that relationship, Noah's ambitious dream of adopting and raising his brothers are seen through the filter of adolescence.  The characters are growing and maturing and worrying about adult issues, while at the same time dealing with friends, reputations, and the thorny issues of relationships and sex.  It's a more complex view of adolescence than most teen romances portray, but it's what elevates this book above so many others that only focus on the thrill of a first kiss. 

The author puts the characters in situations that seem real, using language that feels authentic.  She does a great job of changing the tone of the narrator's voice when she switches from Echo to Noah, highlighting the different ways that each character handles difficult emotions.  I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would when I initially picked it up.  The characters were complex, showing maturity at some points and the lack of maturity that comes with adolescence at others, and the story struck a good balance between serious issues and typical teen drama. 

Rating: A Good Read

This was a really, really, good book.  I am looking forward to the release of Dare You To, the book that centres on Beth, a supporting character in Pushing the Limits.   


 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: From The Ashes

From The Ashes (The Fairville woods)
Simone Snaith


Imagine that every sixteen years, you died and started over, with no memory of the past. Could true love ever find you? Only if it were immortal.

In 1915, a coven of vampires attacked the town of Fairville, MA, the disappearances making headlines. Sixteen-year-old Lundy Guillory and the boy who loved her, Harlan Wallace, discovered the culprits, so the vampires devised a cruel punishment: Lundy was cursed to die and be reborn every sixteen years, each time retaining no memory of her past lives. Harlan was turned into a vampire, so that, immortal, he would be tortured with the task of finding her again in every new life, and telling her their story. Over ninety years later, Lundy Lawson and her parents move into Fairville, one month before her sixteenth birthday, with desperate hopes that the doctors there will be able to help Lundy, whose health has been diminishing steadily.

But Lundy begins to have strange dreams. First there seems to be a ghost in the library, trying to reach her; then a stranger shows up at her window at night - Harlan, unearthly, impossibly pale and sharp-teethed, and madly in love with her. It's Lundy's first lifetime back in the town where it all began, and this time she and Harlan have their chance to break the vampire's curse.

(Cover from Author's Website. Source. Description from Amazon. Source.)
Published By: Simone Snaith
Publication Date: November 26, 2012

Kat's Review

When I read the synopsis of this book, my mind immediately went to another YA series, where a fallen angel searches for his love across lifetimes, as she dies in his arms after learning about their curse.  I was wary of reading a book that would essentially be the same story, only with vampires instead of angels.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that beyond the initial similarities in concept, the books are nothing alike.  From The Ashes lays it out on the line almost right from the start, and the plot moves along at a fast pace.  Since this is the first book of a series, I was wondering how there would be enough drama left over to continue to a second book.  By the time I got to the end, I realised just how much there is left to discover.

The main character Lundy is a likeable teenage girl, who is dying from a mysterious illness.  As her parents scramble to find out what's wrong, they move her to a new town to be closer to a special clinic.  Lundy discovers what's really wrong when Harlan, a vampire and her long lost love, shows up at her bedroom window and tells her about the curse.  This is the first lifetime that Lundy has shown up back in the town, and house, where it all started.  They embark on a journey to break the curse and stop Lundy from dying all over again.

This was a quick read for me.  I started it one afternoon, and then stayed up late to finish it.  The author does a nice job of interspersing action and back story, enough so that I was never lost in the plot or anxious for the story to move along.  There are a lot of characters that are introduced quickly near the end though, and a few times I had to slow down and figure out who was on which side, and could have benefited from a more gradual introduction. 

What did work, however, was the pace of the romance between Lundy and Harlan.  Although he has been in love with her and followed her over several lifetimes, the author paces their gradual increase in affection for each other quite nicely.  She is not falling into his arms the first time they meet, which is refreshing.  Lundy is also strong willed and independent, two qualities I never get tired of in female main characters.  Overall, this book did a good job of holding my attention and leaving me wanting more.

Rating: A Good Read

This is an original addition to the vampire genre, with enough action and intrigue to keep me turning the pages.  I am looking forward to reading the next installment in the series.




Book Review: Easy

Easy
Tammara Webber
 
A girl who believes trust can be misplaced, promises are made to be broken, and loyalty is an illusion. A boy who believes truth is relative, lies can mask unbearable pain, and guilt is eternal. Will what they find in each other validate their conclusions, or disprove them all?

When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup two months into sophomore year. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she's single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, and failing a class for the first time in her life.
Leaving a party alone, Jacqueline is assaulted by her ex's frat brother. Rescued by a stranger who seems to be in the right place at the right time, she wants nothing more than to forget the attack and that night--but her savior, Lucas, sits on the back row of her econ class, sketching in a notebook and staring at her. Her friends nominate him to be the perfect rebound.
When her attacker turns stalker, Jacqueline has a choice: crumple in defeat or learn to fight back. Lucas remains protective, but he's hiding secrets of his own. Suddenly appearances are everything, and knowing who to trust is anything but easy.
(Cover and Description from Author's Website.  Source.)
Publisher: Tammara Webber
Publication Date: May 25, 2012
 
 
Kat's Review

I really liked this book.  I feel like I need to get that out there, right off the top.  It deals with many issues, but front and centre is the issue of sexual assault, and how it can affect those who survive it.  The rape aspect is not the only issue the book tackles, but it certainly informs the decisions and behaviour of the main character, and the way she moves in her world after her  assault.  The author writes about it in such a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner that it could bring up painful memories for anyone who has experienced something similar in their lives, but I think that it's a better approach than the glossing over it so often receives in fiction.  I also really respect the fact that the author made the attacker a friend, someone the victim was familiar with and trusted, since so often this is the case.  The stranger who jumps out of the bushes does happen, but so often it's the friend, the boyfriend, the colleague who are the perpetrators.

The main character, Jacqueline, is assaulted while leaving a party, but she is rescued by someone who happens to be in the right place at the right time.  As she struggles to deal with the assault, recover from her break-up with her boyfriend and salvage her grade in her economics class, she reassess what is important in her life.  Jacqueline makes a connection with her econ tutor online, as well as with Lucas, the guy who stopped her attacker.  As she gets closer to Lucas, she realizes that he is hiding secrets of his own, and she wonders if she'll ever really be let in.  At the same time, Jacqueline finds herself face to face with her attacker, a fellow student and former friend, on a regular basis.  Rather than allowing the attempted rape to fade into the background as a minor plot point that served to bring Lucas into Jacqueline's life, the author keeps the issue front and centre, much as it would be in real life.

Whenever I pick up a book from an author I know nothing about I always skim through some reviews to see what others are saying.  This time was no different, and although I read mostly positive reviews, I came across some negative ones too.  Much of the negativity was reacting to either the subject matter itself, arguing that sexual assault has no place in a book aimed at teens or those in their early twenties, or that the victim's reaction to the assault was unrealistic, since she then pursued a romantic relationship with someone else.  I disagree with both of those assessments. 

Sexual assault, when handled well, certainly has a place in fiction aimed at teens or those in their twenties.  It is a reality for so many young people, and there are so few books aimed at that target audience that deal with it in a realistic and sensitive manner.  Pretending that uncomfortable or terrible things don't happen to young people does them a disservice.  One of the best responses I've read on this subject from an author is the piece written by Cassandra Clare, in response to some of the backlash to a scene in one of her novels.  It can be found HERE.

Regarding the argument that the main character in the story reacted inappropriately or unrealistically by pursuing a romantic relationship with someone after having been sexually assaulted, I couldn't disagree more.  The notion that there actually is a correct way for someone to react to rape is deeply flawed, putting pressure on victims to prove their innocence or to show how much they've been hurt in a manner that others decide is correct.  I sat in a courtroom once and listened to a judge tell someone very close to me that because she hadn't screamed (even though no one else was around), or told anyone for two weeks, that it was difficult to believe that she had been raped.  Many victims don't tell for years.  That the character in this novel starts a physical, romantic relationship soon after her assault in no way lessens the reality of that assault.  Everyone reacts differently, and those reactions shouldn't be used as an assessment of whether the assault affected the victim or not.

It's not a perfect book.  The political names of  the characters with the Jackie reference is a bit odd, but I forgot about it rather quickly once into the story.  There are times when the message about rape is obvious, rather than blending into the narrative.  It can also be argued that the love interest, Lucas, is almost too perfect and that his personal story is too coincidental to occur in real life.  Sure, I can agree with that. It's still a book that I think would be useful in the hands of many young men and women, with a powerful message. 

Rating: A Good Read

This is a really good book, and it makes me want to read more by this author.  The message is strong, certainly, but the book is more than the message.  There are interesting characters, a well paced plot and a great romance.  I bought this book, and it was worth the money.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful #1)
INTENSE. DANGEROUS. ADDICTIVE.

Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate number of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance from the darkness of her past, but when she arrives at college with her best friend, her path to a new beginning is quickly challenged by Eastern University’s Walking One-Night Stand.

Travis Maddox, lean, cut, and covered in tattoos, is exactly what Abby wants—and needs—to avoid. He spends his nights winning money in a floating fight ring, and his days as the ultimate college campus charmer. Intrigued by Abby’s resistance to his appeal, Travis tricks her into his daily life with a simple bet. If he loses, he must remain abstinent for a month. If Abby loses, she must live in Travis’s apartment for the same amount of time. Either way, Travis has no idea that he has met his match.
(Cover and Description from Goodreads. Source.)
Publisher: Jamie McGuire
Publication Date: May 26, 2011
 
Kat's Review
 
I am probably the last person on the planet to read this book, and as such, missed out on the joy that has been the online battle over reviews of this book.  For that, I am thankful.  This review is a difficult one to write, and as I'm  sitting here writing, I'm still not sure what I want to say.  Maybe I should start by clarifying a few things. 
 
This book is a novel, categorized as a contemporary romance by some, Young Adult or New Adult depending on where you look, and controversial on so many levels.  Since my feelings about the book are conflicted, I'll break the review down into my thoughts about the story from a purely reading point of view, and my thoughts on the controversy that is the storyline and how I feel about the relationship that was portrayed in the novel.
 
The book title Beautiful Disaster is a pretty good description of how I felt about the book.  There were parts I enjoyed and parts that made me cringe.  Overall, I think the book was a little too long.  It could have wrapped up around Thanksgiving, rather than being dragged out long past.  Four hundred plus pages is long for most books, but is more reasonable when the book includes a large cast of characters or does quite a bit of world-building to ground the story.  Regarding the characters, I liked that Abby had her own story, and fought her own demons.  Her unhealthy relationship with her parents and familiarity with the underground of Vegas helped better explain her attraction to someone like Travis, who is dangerous, aggressive and volatile.  Many have characterized it as a "good girl saves bad boy" type story, but it seemed to me that it was intended to be a story about two deeply flawed and hurting people who help each other.  The whole good-girl image was very clearly explained as being a carefully cultivated front by Abby to redefine herself in college.
 
That being said, I can't review the book without addressing the moral dilemma that many people seem to have with it.  This is where I'm torn.  Do I think that Abby and Travis have a healthy relationship?  No.  Is it the type of relationship I would like to be in? Absolutely not.  Travis is angry, violent to the point of brutally assaulting people for simply insulting his girlfriend, uses sex with other women as a coping mechanism for his pain, and is completely jealous and over-possessive.  Not the kind of guy I want to hang around with.  Most women have met at least one guy like this in their lives, and they're scary, not sexy.  I also know that there are legions of girls with Travis on their list of book-boyfriends, wishing they had someone so "fiercely in love" with them in their own lives.  Does this bother me?  Yes.
 
But.
 
Here's the thing. 
 
While there is a part of me that completely agrees with the unhealthy nature of this relationship and how inappropriate this behaviour would be in real life, I don't think that this book particularly stands out from so many other books with the "bad-boy" main character.  Women fantasizing about male characters in books that they wouldn't actually want to date in real life is nothing new.  The angry, tortured male who can only be saved by that one special woman is an overdone theme in fiction marketed to women.  Sometimes it's done well, other times not, but it certainly isn't new. 
 
What I think is missing from this book is any real examination of just how dysfunctional Travis's behaviour is.  It is a stereotypical view of masculinity, with Travis being the quintessential macho, alpha-male.  He doesn't limit his fighting to the ring, lashes out and destroys things when he's angry, and is irrationally jealous.  There is never any real confrontation between Abby and Travis about those issues.  The idea that Travis needs Abby to maintain control and find peace is problematic, because it fails to put any responsibility for his behaviour on his own shoulders. That would be a heavy burden for any woman to carry, and one that is bound to get too heavy at some point.    
 
These are issues that could, and should be discussed when reading this book, particularly if it is being read by someone with little experience in romantic relationships.  While I didn't particularly enjoy his violent streak, I can appreciate the fact that it's a story, and not meant to be a lesson in morality.  There is an opportunity for learning here too, for discussing the difference between love and addiction, romance and possession, personal responsibility and dependence.  There is room for all types of stories in fiction.  This story was a little outside of my usual taste, and I read it mainly out of curiosity.  While the characters weren't always my favourites, and I didn't always think the scenarios were realistic, it was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end. 
 
Rating: Somewhere between a Heavy Page Turner and a Good Read. 
 
Sigh. 
 
The good read part comes from the fact that I read it to the end, curious to see what would happen next.  The heavy page turner part comes from the fact that I felt that the story was too long, the characters too extreme in their behaviours, and some of the scenes unrealistic. 
 
And to the girls who think that boys who fly into a jealous rage over little things are romantic, they're not.  They're possessive and immature and likely to get more violent over time.  I'm just sayin'.
 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)
by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Drawn to one another despite longstanding taboos, and in pursuit of Diana’s spellbound powers, the two embark upon a time-walking journey.
Book Two of the All Souls Trilogy plunges Diana and Matthew into  Elizabethan London, a world of spies and subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night.  The mission is to locate a witch to tutor  Diana and to find traces of Ashmole 782, but as the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them they embark on a very different journey, one that takes them into heart of the 1,500 year old vampire’s shadowed history and secrets. For Matthew Clairmont, time travel is no simple matter; nor is Diana’s search for the key to understanding her legacy.
Shadow of Night brings us a rich and splendid tapestry of alchemy, magic, and history, taking us through the loop of time to deliver a deepening love story, a tale of blood, passion, and the knotted strands of the past.
(Cover from Goodreads. Source. Description from author's website. Source.)
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: July 10, 2012

Kat's Review

I awaited the release of the second installment of this trilogy with much anticipation, and I wasn't disappointed.  Diana and Matthew time-walk back to England in the late 1500's to continue their search for the missing manuscript, Ashmole 782.  Diana finds herself thrown into the world of Matthew's past, encountering a very different vampire from the one she has come to love, full of secrets that she must come to terms with.  Finding her place in a new (old) world isn't easy, especially when confronted with the challenge of further learning to control and use her magic.  She finds herself surrounded by some of history's most famous personalities, and struggles to stay safe in a world that is all too aware of the presence of witches and vampires. 

This is a long book, well over 500 pages, and you probably won't read it all in one sitting.  Actually, I would advise you not to.  There is so much in this novel that to race through it would mean losing some of the subtler references that could easily get lost in a mad dash to get to the finish.  I admire the author's ability to weave so many threads of a story together, coupled with a multitude of characters, so seamlessly while never losing the main objective of the story.  This is a skill that not all authors possess, and yet she uses her skill in a way that seems effortless.

 I was pulled into the interweaving storylines, alternately wondering if Diana would ever learn to control her magic, if Matthew would confront some of his personal demons, if they would change history in irreparable ways, and if they would ever find the manuscript.  This book is an intriguing and challenging read, insisting on one's full attention.  It's a wonderful follow up to the original, and left me wanting more.  I'm eagerly awaiting the announcement for the release date of the third and final book.

Rating: All Consuming

This is a series you should get your hands on now! I appreciate a series that delves into the paranormal without turning into a tired cliché of what's been done so many times before.  This series will have a special place on my bookshelf for years to come.

Buy at Amazon:
 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)
by Deborah Harkness

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.
For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.
Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
(Cover from Goodreads.  Source.  Summary from author's website.  Source.)
Publisher: Viking Penguin
Publication Date: 2011


Kat's Review

I picked up this book in Nice, France, after running out of reading material and with a long bus ride ahead.  I headed into a bookstore looking for a French book, and then realized that I was in a tourist shop that only had books in English.  This one caught my eye, so I picked it up.  The cover of my book is the one you see above, not the North American one, which is why I included it in my review.  The cover drew me in, and the academic setting of what is essentially a paranormal book, won me over. 

This book sets itself apart from much of what's out there in this genre.  We learn early that Diana comes from a long line of witches, but rather than embrace her heritage, she's tried to separate herself from it through her immersion in the world of academia.  When she encounters a long-lost, bewitched manuscript in her research, she is thrown headfirst into the world of magic she has tried so hard to escape.  Her ability to pull up a manuscript that has been lost for centuries calls the attention of witches, vampires and daemons, making Diana a target.  This story follows her as she searches for the manuscript, delves into her history and begins to better understand the depth of her powers, which she has tried for so long to bury. 

 I could spend a long time trying to explain the complicated twists and turns of this book, but it would be completely unnecessary and probably very confusing.  Once I started this book, I didn't want to put it down.  I read it on the bus, before going to bed, and on the plane home.  The plot is unique in a sea of paranormal/ vampire/ witch books, and written for an adult audience without being a pseudo-erotica vampire story.  There is romance, of course, but it's romance grounded in the pragmatic issues that love between a witch and a vampire would entail.  Yes I just wrote that sentence.  If you read the book you will understand why I can write that sentence in complete seriousness.  Harkness takes the supernatural and grounds it in science, with characters struggling to fit into a world that is hostile to their very existence.  The writing is superb, the characters are complex and original, and the story is interesting, with many twists and turns.

Rating: All Consuming

I didn't want to put this book down, and will probably read it again.  I mean it when I say that I read this book every spare moment that I had on my trip.  There was something about it that was so fresh, especially when dealing with such a familiar topic that makes this book stand out in the crowd.

Buy at Amazon: A Discovery of Witches: A Novel

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Review: The Iron Knight (Iron Fey Series #4)

The Iron Knight (The Iron Fey #4)
 
"My name--my True Name--is Ashallayn' darkmyr Tallyn. I am the last remaining son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her. My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl..."To cold faery prince Ash, love was a weakness for mortals and fools. His own love had died a horrible death, killing any gentler feelings the Winter prince might have had. Or so he thought.
Then Meghan Chase--a half human, half fey slip of a girl--smashed through his barricades, binding him to her irrevocably with his oath to be her knight. And when all of Faery nearly fell to the Iron fey, she severed their bond to save his life. Meghan is now the Iron Queen, ruler of a realm where no Winter or Summer fey can survive.
With the unwelcome company of his archrival, Summer Court prankster Puck, and the infuriating cait sith Grimalkin, Ash begins a journey he is bound to see through to its end--a quest to find a way to honor his vow to stand by Meghan's side.
To survive in the Iron Realm, Ash must have a soul and a mortal body. But the tests he must face to earn these things are impossible. And along the way Ash learns something that changes everything. A truth that challenges his darkest beliefs and shows him that, sometimes, it takes more than courage to make the ultimate sacrifice.
(Photo and Description from Goodreads. Source.)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: October 26, 2011
 
 

Kat's Review

(Spoiler Alert: This review contains information that may be spoilers if you haven't read the previous books.  I talk about plot points, but try not to ruin the book for anyone.)
 
Let me begin by stating that without a doubt, this was my favourite book of the series, and that's saying something, because while I loved the character of Meghan from the start, I didn't feel the same about Ash.  He needed to grow on me, and this book allowed him to do that.  I think that was the main point of this book, to be honest, to allow Ash to develop into someone who not only wanted the love of Meghan, but who truly deserved it.  It's easy to brush off a character's horrible past when we're reading a book because often they're written to be so charming in the present that the reader doesn't care about their past.  This is one of the few books I've read where the handsome prince (literally, in this case) is forced to face his past in any real and meaningful manner in order to truly be the type of person who deserves the love of the heroine. 
 
The entire novel follows Ash on his quest to gain a soul.  He is accompanied by Puck, Grim, the Big Bad Wolf, and Ariella.  Yes, THE Ariella.  I won't tell you how that particular bomb drops, but it makes for a VERY interesting trip to the End of the World.  Along the way, Ash must come to grips with his past, starting with his relationships with Puck and Ariella.  Then he endures a series of tests that if he passes, will earn him a mortal soul.  These tests are fierce.  Seriously, he runs a gauntlet, facing his biggest fears, his past regrets and the darkest side of himself.  It's riveting. 
 
There are few series in which the last book is the best.  So often, by the time the last book rolls around it feels as though the author has run out of things to say and just wants it to be over, but doesn't know how to end it.  So, they ramble on for 500 pages to finally get to a point that could have been included in the final five pages of the previous book. 
 
This is so not that book. 
 
This book showcases Julie Kagawa's best talents; her ability to build a world so fantastical you can't help but find yourself getting lost in it, and her skill when it comes to action scenes.  At the same time, the way she handles the shifting relationships and past regrets I'm not embarrassed to say that I actually shed a few tears during this one.  A really compelling read.
 

Rating: All Consuming

 

I didn't want to put this book down, and will probably read it again.  I rated all the other books in this series as good reads, but this one stands out from the rest.  A highly recommended read. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: The Iron Queen (Iron Fey Series #3)

The Iron Queen (Iron Fey Series #3)  
by: Julie Kagawa
                         
My name is Meghan Chase.

I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.

This time, there will be no turning back.
 
 
(Photo and Description from Goodreads. Source.)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: February 2011
 
Kat's Review
True to style, the third book in the series starts off with a bang.  We begin with Meghan and Ash, banished to the mortal world for refusing to renounce their love, trying to figure out how they are going to survive in the human realm.  Less than a chapter passes before Meghan is attacked, we learn that there is a new Iron King, and they go searching for Leanansidhe, Queen of the Exiled.  Phew! Truly, the fast pace of Kagawa's books is always welcome, because I don't have to sit through a hundred pages of chitchat to get to the good stuff.
 
I was pleasantly surprised to see the return of some beloved characters in this book, because I don't think the series would be the same without Grimalkin and Puck, and I welcomed the expanded role of earlier minor characters, like Glitch.  I particularly enjoyed the way the author used Paul as one of the threads keeping Meghan tied to the mortal world, even as she became increasingly important to the survival of the world of the Fey.  Meghan learns how to fight, realizes that she has powers that no other faeries have, and struggles to understand how to control them.  While the Iron Fey continue to expand their influence across the land of the Fey, Meghan embarks on a quest to stop them before the Nevernever is destroyed completely. While I don't always agree with her decisions or like every aspect of her personality, I do think that she's a strong main character, capable of holding my interest throughout the series.  The fact that she kicks ass along the way doesn't hurt.
 
I'm probably in the minority here, but the romance was the least interesting part of the book for me.  Meghan and Ash's love was all or nothing, in every aspect.  I don't always dislike that in a novel, but this time it just seemed like the least important plot point.  I know that most people disagree, and that's OK.  I didn't HATE the romance storyline, I just liked the "saving the world" one better.  Julie Kagawa writes action scenes well, and these were the ones that kept me coming back for more. Also, if I had to choose, I would probably be Team Puck, so there's that.
 

Rating: A Good Read

Like the other books in this series, this book is a solid read, capable of holding my interest all the way through.  Looking forward to finishing the final book in the original series.
 
 
 
 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey Series #2)

The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey, #2)
The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey #2)
Half Summer faery princess, half human, Meghan has never fit in anywhere. Deserted by the Winter prince she thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey—ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her.
Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting a seeming traitor could be deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of longing in her all-too-human heart.
(Photo and Description from Goodreads. Source.)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: August 1, 2010
 
 

Kat's Review

(Spoiler Alert: If you haven't read Book One, there may be spoilers in this review.  Also, I do discuss specific plot points, although I try not to be too specific.)
 
Book two of the series picks up where book one left off, with Meghan awakening in the Winter Court, where Ash had vowed to bring her after helping Meghan rescue her brother from the Iron King.  Kagawa wastes no time in showing just how alone Meghan is there; Puck is nowhere to be found, Grim is absent, and Prince Ash treats her with nothing but disdain in front of the Queen.  The real adventure begins, however, when Prince Sage, Ash's brother, is murdered by the Iron Fey, and the Scepter of the Seasons is stolen.  Ash helps Meghan break out of the Winter Court with the intention of returning her home to the Summer Court, but instead find themselves on a quest to recover the scepter.
 
Maybe it's the allure of forbidden love, but I felt that Ash and Meghan's feelings for each other went from attraction to undying love rather quickly.  I also missed Puck, as he doesn't show up for almost the first hundred pages.  There's good reason for his absence (read the book and find out!), but it seemed as though Meghan barely missed him until he reappeared, which didn't make sense considering he was not only her best friend, but her only friend, for practically her whole life.  Her obsession with Ash seemed to block out her emotions for pretty much anyone else.  Although there is a bit of a love triangle set up, it didn't seem realistic to me.  Meghan's choice was obvious to me from the start.
 
What I did like about the book was Meghan's determination to do what she set out to do.  Although she's clearly in over her head, she takes on the responsibility of finding and returning the scepter, even when provided with opportunities to abandon her mission.  While she doesn't go it alone, she's not a pushover heroine either, relying on others to do the dirty work for her.  This aspect of the story was what I enjoyed the most, above and beyond the love story.  The way she begins discovering her power, which is so different from Ash and Puck's, was fascinating, and made me want to keep reading to find out more.  While I wasn't entirely sold on the romance angle, I really like the world that Julie Kagawa has created, enough so that I have cleared my schedule of all other books until I get through the last two in the original series.
 
Rating: A Good Read.
This book is worth making the time to read, and I will most certainly be finishing the series.