Saturday, April 30, 2011

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

This was actually a book I kept finding myself drawn to at bookstores, for it’s pretty cover, but then putting down after reading the back. The back makes it sound like a bad Disney movie where the main character has to learn to accept the fact that she is not like the rest of her extraordinary family (especially her gorgeous, almost perfect sister), but that it doesn’t matter because she is great in her own not so extraordinary way.
I am so glad I decided to pick this book up because it was so much more than that. Sometimes after picking up the same book so many times at various locations, I give in and read it. It also helped that there were blurbs from Cassandra Clare and Megan McCafferty, two favorites of mine.
The back of the book pretty much described the first 50 pages or so. Did the publisher actually read it? So it does deal with the main character (Tasmin) feeling super ordinary and under-appreciated in a family full of witches with various talents like mind control and clairvoyance. However, there is also a sweet romance side story, random bits of time traveling, fights between magical rivals, family secrets, and so much more. There is a great action scene at Grand Central Station in NY, involving the constellations on the ceiling, the giant clock, and a magical door that can appeal to anyone who have ever seen those stars.
This was a fun quick read and the sequel is coming out soon. I definitely plan on picking that book up a lot quicker than I picked up this one. However, there were some key annoying things I need to point out: 1) random things her love interest did that did not make sense for a guy (like knowing how to do her hair in a 30’s style hairdo before a particular time traveling experience, and giving no explanation for as why he could style her hair, and it’s not like he has a sister…) 2) the crazy, eccentric family of commune living witches was hilarious, yet not that believable to me. I loved the concept and all the possible, snarky, sarcastic humor that could have gone a long with them, didn’t. For me to care about her family enough to go along with her risking her life for them, I need to know them more (sarcasm or no). And 3) the weird scene jumps did not flow well. I get that chapters can start in new places and times without too much transition, but this was a little much sometimes. Sometimes, it felt like the author did this to avoid writing certain scenes that might have been too complicated. And she does it in a subtle way, in which you don’t really get that she did that till way past the fact, by which point you’re too into the story to think back too much. Like one second, her best friend is in drastic danger, and then she’s not mentioned again till the end and there was no closure or explanation about what happened to her. Everything is just back to normal.
Yet, despite these things, I really did enjoy reading this. It’s not the author’s fault that her publisher did not know how to sell her book right, though I guess something was right if I bought it any way (…the appeal of a pretty cover). And I loved Tasmin. She was sarcastic, witty, and clever in a way that I wish more YA main characters were! Yes, some of her self-doubt and lack of confidence was annoying, but it was very believable given her situation in her family. And I think what I loved about her the most, was her ability to shine through despite all that self-doubt.  I give it a 7/10. And I look forward to its sequel coming out in August.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

I keep finding myself reviewing books that are already far along in a series. This is the third and final book in Ryan’s trilogy. But truthfully, this is the kind of story that never ends. I could keep reading way past when this books finishes.  And each of Ryan’s books could stand alone. However, I recommend reading them in order because that way you will already care for some of the characters who might not mean much to you later.
The series brings together all sorts of things I love: dystopia, love triangles, zombies, philosophical questions about life and death, and drama. Where can you go wrong? The first book made me go “Wow!” mostly because it felt like a mixture of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the movie “The Village,” and a cheaply made zombie flick. And you’d think that all of those combined would be bad…it wasn’t. Well, it kind of was, but it was so much fun!
The second book was not as good as the first. The whole “We might be it,” concept the village presented in book 1 was not there in book 2, and the characters were not quite as interesting. However by the end of book 2, the concept “Some people may be immune” was introduced, which left me finishing it with almost as much awe as from finishing the first book.
Adding to my list of things I love, book 3 also has twins and an urban fantasy feel! Book 2: The Dead-Tossed Waves, introduced Gabry a girl found in the forest by Mary (leading lady from book 1: The Forrest of Hands and Teeth). Gabry eventually learns that she has a twin she was separated from as a young child, and book 2 ends with Gabry’s search for her sister. Book 3 is in the point of view of that sister: Annah.
Most of this book takes place in the Dark City. And before anyone gets their hopes up that a whole city can survive a zombie apocalypse, it can’t forever. Annah has given up waiting for Elias, the boy she grew up with after abandoning her twin in the forest. And just as she is leaving the city for something better, she finds her sister coming in. From that point on, this book is one giant action sequence. Between zombie hordes, the annihilation of an entire city, hot air balloon rides, underground subway chase scenes, gladiator/Hunger Games style zombie versus human caged fights, sacrifices, illnesses, first and second loves, and all the close calls on getting raped and attacked by humans, getting bitten almost seems the least of Annah’s problems.
With all the wonderful plot twists, it is remarkable that Ryan is even capable of having anything serious to say, but she does. So much of this book deals with ethics and choice and the reasons people chose what they do. This was a great conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. And I don’t’ want to love the ending too much because then more books will most likely be announced. But like I said in the beginning, the story could definitely continue. It’s just that I love that it ends with the few survivors coming to work together for something better. It ends with hope, a hope that seems impossible, but a hope that’s there nonetheless, like the hope that’s there for any survivor. I give it a 9/10.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

I have really come to love Kelley Armstrong. I loved her other YA series and I love some of her adult books. Again though, like with what I said about Cassandra Clare, she’s not the best writer. It’s her stories that draw you in! And this book is a very interesting story.
The book is loaded with symbols and foreshadowing moments. Some things were easy to predict, and other things were never explained. It is a trilogy, and it almost seems hard to believe that everything will ever get answered. It was sort of like watching a very dramatic/teen angst version of LOST. I mean all the interesting characters are on an island (in Canada -at least we have a location), that’s run by a very mysterious science group…Get the LOST connection?
Any way, the book is all about Maya, an adopted girl with a paw print birthmark, who’s really good at healing animals. Some of Armstrong’s symbols were pretty obvious, and by some, I mean all. Any way, the story revolves around Maya who recently lost her best friend in a drowning accident. Her best friend was captain of the swim team, and Maya is fairly certain someone helped her drown that night. Meanwhile, there’s this love triangle going between Maya her dead best friend’s boyfriend, and the new guy in town (Rafe) who is going through girls like Daniel Meade in the show Ugly Betty, except Rafe seems to be searching for something. Between another murder, a deadly forrest fire, all the fights that go down with so many of the teenagers being prone to angry fits (I wonder what this could mean…), secret drugs being handed out to the occupants of the town, wildcat attacks, and mysteries about parental heritage, this book is loaded with drama.
I love the characters. I love the supernatural aspect to the story because it’s not over done. So many YA supernatural books involve ghost/vampire/angel/werewolf/demon plots that sort of overtake important key points. Here, the supernatural parts are mostly in the background until the end. And even then, they come about in a very LOST type way, meaning the characters and the mysteries are more interesting and more focused on then the fact that someone’s sister is changing into a wild animal.
And my all time favorite thing about this book is the end. It’s not necessarily a cliffhanger. You know more books are coming, but that’s not it. It’s like Armstrong writes something obvious, hoping you will guess the obvious thing, but then changes it at the last minute from the obvious to something way more complicated. And the book ends, leaving you not sure if the characters are being saved or being doomed. I liked not knowing this, and I really liked that she was capable of even writing that.
Stuff I was not in love with: the parents who only acted parental when the time was right…And why was no one ever upset that these kids were leaving school in the middle of the day? Also, the whole Rafe and his sister story should not have just been accepted by that town. Someone should have known that his sister “was in an accident.” Maybe these things will get talked more about in the next two installments. I’ll have to wait to find out. And I certainly plan on continuing this series. It gets an 8/10 from me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jane by April Lindner

 I’m actually not the biggest Jane Eyre fan. I prefer Austen to any of the Brontes. Part of this is because I never really fell in love with Rochester. I love Jane, and the inner-girl –power-reader in me feels like she deserved someone so much better. However, I have read Jane Eyre several times. And you don’t re-read a book you don’t like. I guess it’s just hard not to like Jane, especially when she sticks up for herself –against all odds.
Lindner’s Jane is a modern retelling of the classic. And as the author points out in her “Author’s Note,” there are not a lot of retellings of this story, especially when compared to Austen and the many different retellings and versions of Pride and Prejudice. Do you need to read Jane Eyre to appreciate this book? No. The book can definitely stand on it’s own. Hopefully it will inspire more young people to read the classic.
Like with its classic counterpart, this book begins with Jane’s troubles. Both of her parents have recently died and Jane cannot afford to finish her education at Sarah Lawrence in New York. She decides to apply with a nanny company to save up some money so she can eventually get her degree. The company places her with a rock star’s daughter, mostly because Jane does not know much of anything about pop culture and current media. Yes, Rochester is an aging rock star (named Nico)…Jane falls for Nico, who in turn is head over heals for her, so head over heals that he proposes. Too bad Nico has a dramatic secret that gets in the way of everyone’s happiness –a schizophrenic/drug addict wife who lives in the attic. Jane leaves Nico and his daughter, Maddy, the day she was supposed to get married, and finds herself making a new life with a family of do-gooders outside Yale. Jane eventually has to make the decision to stay and possibly go help impoverished people in Haiti or to go back to Nico, who she eventually learns went through a traumatic accident of his own.
I give this author a lot of credit. It is hard to recreate a modern Jane. At first, I wasn’t buying it. What type of college aged girl does not watch any tv or read any magazines? She also only listens to classical music, and spends her free time outside painting landscapes. I was a little worried that Lindner was too focused on making Jane too similar to the old Jane, even when it did not seem too realistic.  However, Lindner either gets better at Jane, or the story eventually just becomes too good for me to really notice as the book goes on. There are specific scenes, conversations even, that Lindner must have studied in great detail in the original because they were completely replicated and modernized for this book at just the right moments (like Jane and Nico’s first real conversation or what Jane tells Nico when he’s teasing her about possibly marrying someone else).
I loved this Jane. She had just the right amount of strength. I liked that she decided to first leave Nico not because he was married, but because he genuinely seemed to still love his crazy wife. And I love how she teased Nico and really taught Maddy about life.
The only thing that still kind of nugs at me is: could Nico really not have divorced his wife after so many years, and still taken care of her? Why did he continue to stay married to her?
I give this a 9/10. And I highly recommend this to Jane Eyre fans, if anything to get to see Rochester be a rock star, and oh to have much better, more “modern” romance than we were allowed before.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare


So, I would like to able to say that I planned to do my first blog entry on this book because I have been waiting for its release for some time; however, it just worked out that way.  Cassandra Clare is not the most talented writer, but I love her stories. You can tell she reads a lot of YA books and knows how certain teens think. 
The first three books in The Mortal Instruments series were wonderful urban fantasy stories. And for one of the few times in following a YA series, I felt the ending was acceptable. And of course, once I felt accepting of her ending, another three books in this same series were announced…So, I was skeptical of what Clare would come up with for these next 3 books.
The book begins right after the last one ended. The war is over. Clary and Jace are dating. Simon is coming to terms both with being a “daylighter,” a vampire who can walk out in the sun, and the new rune Clary gave him that references Cain from the bible. Clary’s mother and Luke are getting married. And Simon is dating two girls at once: Maia and Isabelle. Between all the relationship drama is the serial murdering of certain shadowhunters, a demon-worshipping cult that is drugging pregnant women with demon blood, various organizations who want to recruit Simon, and a whole side-plot involving a very old (Adam and Eve old) demon named Lilith who wants to bring someone back from the dead who she really shouldn’t.  And of course there is stuff happening that pushes Clary and Jace apart, because they can’t ever just be happy together.
At first, I really thought the book focused too much on Simon. Simon is having a hard time with things. I get it.  But, it was entertaining to read his whole love triangle thing. And I grew to really like him in this book, when before I really just sort of tolerated him as quasi-important, but mostly annoying. He seemed so much more real, and I genuinely felt bad for him when his mother rejected him and he moved out. Alec and Magnus were barely in it, and when they were there I felt their part was rather stereotypical, like Clare was trying to come up with stereotypical relationship problems for them so they wouldn’t be too far outside the soap opera drama, but they were really boring and insignificant in this book.
If anything, it’s worth reading this book for the few juicy Jace/Clary love scenes. I also loved reading about Clary training to be a shadowhunter. She came off as a lot stronger because of it.  I am a little tired of reading YA books about two characters who never seem quite able to be together. Can’t all this stuff happen without any romantic tragedy? Haven’t they been through enough already? There are a ton of little things that bothered me (like the bad editing job- too many spelling mistakes! And the fact that Clary’s mom came off as a rather ignorant, weak mom who cared too much about wedding plans), but I did read it all in one sitting, and was sad when it was over.
Was it worth ruining the ending I truly did deem acceptable? I’m not sure yet. Everyone will be able to predict the ending to this one (which is not really a cliffhanger if we can all see it coming). I feel like the route the plot is going is not really worth another two books, but then again, I will be first in line to read the next books. I think it’s because I just love these characters enough to read anything else they are in, despite past endings and possible future romantic tragedy.
I give it an 8/10.