Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Review: Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Published by: MIRA Ink (Harlequin)
Release date: 1st Feb 2013
Series: n/a
I got it from: NetGalley

"'Hate's too easy,' he says. His face calm, calmer than it has any right to be, his eyes not wavering from mine, like he's so completely sure of what he's saying. 'Love. Love takes courage'."

Goodreads summary:
Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret

Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.

Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.

But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.

My review:
Speechless was a grower. I was looking forward to it as I absolutely loved Saving June (see my review), but I was kind of disappointed a few pages into Speechless. Chelsea Knot is annoying. At the start of the book she's not really a nice person, and it's hard to identify with her. The thing is though, that's kind of the point - she actually realises that she's not a good person, and she cares enough to want to change. It's brave to make the central character of the book an annoying bitch, as you risk the chance of people not being patient enough to get past the first few pages. It's definitely worth persevering though - Chelsea has some major growing up to do, but she actually does learn from her mistakes, and it's nice to follow her story.

It was interesting to see Chelsea turn from a shallow it-girl into an actual person with a bit of depth. Harrington's writing is really very good - while Chelsea is undertaking her vow of silence, we get to know her inner thoughts pretty well, and she's a very believable character. Being British and the kind of person who would be more likely to be friends with Asha than Chelsea, I did find there was quite a lot about Chelsea that annoyed me even when she started to mature a bit, but that aside I did enjoy reading the book. There's something very compelling about Harrington's writing. She doesn't use up paper on flowery descriptions, instead focusing on feelings and the thoughts behind words. We really get inside Chelsea's head, and the story is a real reminder that people are complex - just because you hang around with the mean-girl, it doesn't automatically make you a mean-girl. I think all kids of Chelsea's age should try being speechless, even if it's just for a day. The importance of words is a lesson that we all need to learn at some point in our life, and not speaking out when you want to makes you think a lot harder about what to say when you do speak out.

Speechless deals with lots of schoolkid issues, homophobia and bullying chief among them, and I did feel a little like the book was a bit too much about the life lessons, but it dealt with the issues in a sensitive and realistic way. I think it's a YA book that's definitely for YA readers, as opposed to many YA books with a cross-over appeal that adults can enjoy too. Personally, I'm way past high school age, so for me it was a bit like a tutorial in what kids are like these days - I can't imagine any kids at my school admitting to being gay, even to their closest friends! An interesting and appealing read - I look forward to seeing what Hannah Harrington comes up with next.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

Published by: Tor Teen
Release date: 5th Mar 2013
Series: The Arkwell Academy #1
I got it from: NetGalley

"I closed my eyes and exhaled, placing my fingers against his forehead. Bright light burst inside my mind like professional- grade fireworks as my consciousness left my body and entered the dream world of Eli Booker."

Goodreads summary:
Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.


Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

My review:
The Nightmare Affair was a fun little book, a bit of a change from the YA norm. It was refreshing to read a book that wasn't all about the romance. Sure, there's a light strain of romance weaving through the story, but it's not the be-all and end-all. Instead, what we're presented with is a creepy, flirty, fun and adventurous murder mystery. 

Dusty is a Nightmare - a supernatural being that feeds on the dreams of humans. It's not a type of monster I've come across before, and I liked that. I don't know if Nightmares are beings that have been written about before or if it's a new invention of the author's, but it's an interesting departure from the paranormal norm. Dusty goes to school at the Arkwell Academy - a school for supernaturals. The other students are a mixture of the usual suspects - faeries, shapeshifters, sirens and the like, and the school does have certain parallels with Hogwarts, but it's a good setting for the story. Using a school as the setting gives us the usual teen issues of bullying, self-confidence, image and so on, and being a school of supernaturals gives scope for all sorts of interesting situations. 

Using the murder mystery angle is a good hook - Dusty's position as a dream-seer means that she is thrown right into the mystery, and along with her dream partner Eli and her friends, she has to try and solve they mystery and stop the murderer before he strikes again. Arnett's writing is light and witty - we're treated to scenes of sqirmy teem awkwardness and delightfully feisty ripostes. Eli's acceptance of the supernatural world he's been introduced to was a little too easy I thought - would a human boy really be so sanguine at being told he has to change schools to a magical academy and take part in sessions in which a girl sits on his chest and feeds on his dreams? I know I'd be freaking out a lot more if it was me! But we don't really need to be subjected to pages of boy-angst, so Arnett's treatment of the situation is acceptable and keeps the story tripping along at a good pace. 

The Nightmare Affair is an entertaining debut. I think it would suit the younger end of the YA market best - it was a little bit too light for me personally - but I would definitely read any further books if it becomes a series. I'd like to see the author mature a bit more with experience, and look forward to reading what she has to offer in the future. Oh, and I love the cover!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Review: Wolfsbane/Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer

Published by: Atom Books
Release date: 26th Jul 2011/21st Feb 2012 (UK Paperback)
Series: Nightshade #2/3
I got it from: Library

"Love wasn't forged by circumstance or changed by sorrow. It simply was. Fierce and free as the wolf within me."

Goodreads summary:
This thrilling sequel to the much-talked-about Nightshade begins just where it ended.Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemy, and she's certain her days are numbered.

But then the Searchers make her an offer,one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack and the man she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

My review:
I've just finished reading Bloodrose, and I'm left with that bittersweet feeling you get at the end of a really good series. There's sadness that it's the end of the story, a little regret that I didn't take my time over it more and string it out, but mostly satisfaction from a properly good read, and happiness because it was a truly good ending. 

I'm reviewing Wolfsbane and Bloodrose together, partly because I couldn't bear to stop reading for long enough to review Wolfsbane before getting started on Bloodrose, and partly because the story flows so smoothly from one to the next, and the cliffhanger in Wolfsbane means that you really need to have Bloodrose ready to go if you want to avoid frightening your friends and family with your wails of frustration!

I love Andrea Cremer's writing. She somehow manages to hit exactly the right balance between character and action, romance and thrills. Her characters are so real, with barely any prompting at all they come alive in my imagination as I read. Yet there's no time wasted on flowery descriptions of how blue his eyes are, or the feel of his hand on her skin. Cremer deals out just enough description to form a picture in my mind, without losing myself in filling in all the minute details. What really makes her characters is the dialogue between them, the way they all have a fully-formed personality and aren't afraid to use it. I mentioned the group dynamics in my review of Nightshade, and I'm going to add more praise here - the wolf pack and the Searchers team are wonderfully-written groups. The interaction between the group members makes you feel as if you are a part of what's going on - the relationships between the various people are what makes these books so special. 

In some ways Cremer's writing reminds me a little of Rachel Caine - her Morganville Vampires series is another of my favourites, and I can definitely see parallels between the two - the pace of the action, the realistic characters and the irreverent dialogue make for ridiculously readable books. I'm also very impressed by the world that Cremer has created - rather than going along with a ready-made werewolf legend, she has built a world of magic that has me hooked. I would have liked it if there'd been a bit more about the Guardians in other countries - why didn't the Searchers attempt to make alliances with any of them? Perhaps they did and it didn't work out, but I think it would have been nice to include at least a couple with the 'good guys'. It might just have confused things though, so I can understand Cremer's decision not to go down that route.

Anyone who bailed out after Nightshade because of the focus on the love triangle is really missing out - Wolfsbane and Bloodrose do continue the theme, but they're also so much more. The twists and turns in the story kept me guessing and glued to the book for hours - I'm afraid my usual schedule was abandoned somewhat while reading these books. I'm disappointed by the number of poor reviews on Goodreads - personally, I think Calla is awesome - maybe as an older reader I get it more - the way she feels she has to do what's best for her pack, whilst at the same time struggling not to give in to her own selfish needs. Life isn't all about just doing what you want, and I think some younger readers may not have learned that lesson yet. 

Just one more point - the ending. I am rarely satisfied by endings, but the end of Bloodrose was just about perfect. I really didn't see it coming, and I think it's a brave way to end the series. Congratulations to Cremer on an original and worthy finish to a brilliant series. I will definitely be saving up to buy my own copies, and I look foward to reading the prequels Rift and Rise, as well as the new Nightshade book Snakeroot, set for publication later this year.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Review: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Published by: Atom Books
Release date: 26th July 2011 (UK Paperback)
Series: Nightshade #1
I got it from: Library

“My eyes moved over his face. His chiseled jaw and high cheekbones twisted in agony. Even writhing he was beautiful, muscles clenching and unclenching, revealing his strenght, his body's fight against its impending collapse, rendering his torture sublime. Desire to help him consumed me.
I can't watch him die.”

Goodreads summary: 
Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything- including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

My Review:
Nightshade is pitched as a paranormal romance, a love triangle with werewolves. Don't let that fool you though - it's so much more than that. Cremer has created a complex and intriguing world for her wolves. These aren't your run-of-the-mill werewolves - the Guardians are a race created by magic, loyal warriors of the Keepers, a group of powerful, magic-wielding Old Ones. Protectors of the Haldis Cavern and enemy of the evil Searchers. At least that's what the Guardians have been taught to believe...

Calla Tor is an alpha, destined to be leader of a new pack of wolves charged with the responsibility of protecting Haldis Cavern. At her side will be Ren - Renier Laroche, the boy who Calla has been promised to since birth. But then Calla comes across Shay, alone on the mountain being attacked by a bear, and everything changes. 

Cremer eases us into her world, taking just the right amount of time to explain things along the way. She reaches the perfect balance between action, emotion and information, ensuring that once you start reading it is very hard to stop! Calla is the ideal heroine - she's strong, but has a vulnerable side. She's beautiful, but she shies away from it, seeing herself as a warrior rather than a princess. The Keepers have made sure that she has been kept pure, so at seventeen she has never even been kissed. I don't entirely approve of the way so many YA heroines have absolutely no experience with guys until 'the one' comes along, but when it comes to Calla's story it kind of works. 

Calla is supported by her pack - her brother and her friends, who follow her in everything and would die for her. Opposite Calla is Ren - hot alpha wolf and Calla's destiny, backed by his own pack. Cremer has created a great supporting cast here, a group of characters who between them cover just about every type of person, making sure we all have someone to root for. Then into the mix comes Shay - the third point in the love triangle which keeps the romance-lovers happy throughout the book. I'm not going to focus on the love triangle too much - I'm not a fan of them on the whole. In twilight I was team Edward all the way - it seemed so obvious - but in Nightshade I'm torn. I can't help finding Ren's strong alpha character sexy, but by the end of the book Shay really comes into his own and you can see why Calla finds him so hard to resist. Cremer has done a great job of creating the storyline and keeping it going - I really felt for Calla all along the way, sharing her confusion and inner turmoil. Her pack is her life, and the union between her and Ren has always been her destiny. She can't change that... can she?

If you're not all about the romance, you might not appreciate Nightshade so much - I've seen a lot of mixed reviews, and many people seem to be disappointed by how much the book centres around the love triangle. Personally, I'm becomming a bit jaded by the whole love triangle thing, but I found Nightshade different enough that it really reeled me in and kept my interest. There's plenty of intrigue and action to keep you going - Cremer's world is fraught with danger, and as Calla begins to discover that her history isn't what she thought it was, you're into the realm of conspiracies, censorship and even a spot of philosophy. The group dynamics between the pack members are a strong feature, and the characterization is of the best quality. 

I've already started reading the next book in the series, Wolfsbane - luckily for me the library came up trumps with my order, and I have Bloodrose all lined up and ready to go as well. Anyone thinking of reading Nightshade should make sure they have access to the other two book in the series, because if you have to wait before continuing the story you are going to be screaming with frustration!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Review: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Published by: Simon and Schuster
Release date: 2nd Feb 2012
Series: Everneath #1
I got it from: Library

“We’d both been stripped of all the evasiveness, all the lies, everything we’d ever kept from each other. Layer by layer, we had given up our defenses and our excuses and our demands for whys and hows, and what was left were two broken beings. Clinging to one last shred of hope. Tethered to each other.”

Goodreads summary: 
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she's returned--to her old life, her family, her boyfriend--before she's banished back to the underworld... this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance--and the one person she loves more than anything. But there's just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's queen.

Everneath is a captivating story of love, loss, and immortality from debut author Brodi Ashton.

My review:
It's not the first time that Greek mythology has been used to inspire a book, but Ashton has done a nice job with her version of the tale of Hades and Persephone.

It took me a little while to get my head around the Everneath - the underworld where Nikki spent a hundred years pouring her every emotion into Cole, feeding him so that he could survive for another hundred years. At first, I had to check to make sure I hadn't missed something and accidentally picked up the second book of a series. Part of my confusion came from the way the book is split into two different time-frames - 'now' - covering the six months that Nikki has left before she's dragged back to the Everneath, and 'last year' - the six months leading up to her choice to join Cole and be his Forfeit. However, once I got used to the style - using the two time frames to tell the story, revealing bits of information here and there - I really got into it.

For some reason I'm finding this book hard to review. I think it's because I feel kind of ambivalent about it. I did enjoy reading it, but I didn't love it. I would definitely read the next book in the series, but I wouldn't rush out and buy it. I think another problem is that I'm on Team Cole. I don't really know why, but I'm just not getting Jack. I did at first - the way his face was the only thing that Nikki remembered from the hundred-year feed, the reason she chose to go back... but as the book progresses I found myself liking him less and less. He's just a bit too good and nice for me.

On the other hand, bad-boy Cole is totally doing it for me! However much Nikki tries to push him away, she can't help reacting to him. He's strong and wild, but every now and then you catch a glimpse of something more inside him. His heart is empty, he feeds off the emotions of humans, so can he really have feelings of his own? He's dark, dangerous and sexy. Oh, and he plays the guitar - what more need I say? It's a nice change from the standard vampires/werewolves/faeries - Cole is a new and addictive kind of monster.

YA paranormal books seem to fall into two main factions - the action-led, and the character-led. There's books that are non-stop action, a rollercoaster-ride of excitement, where people die, heroes fight and villains offer up ultimatums. Then there's books that are full of emotion, where we really get into the character's psyche, feel what they feel and, if the writing is good enough, we develop quite an emotional attachment to the main character, so that what happens to them really matters. (There are a few rare books that manage to merge both types successfully, but we'll talk about that another time). Everneath comes into the character-led camp. It's not as fast-paced as some teen books, with the events covering a whole year - six months in the past and six months in the present (not counting the time that Nikki was missing while the feed happened). That's not a bad thing though - a lot of books rely on a very fast pace and a continuous string of action sequences in order to get you through to the end. Not so with Everneath - we are carried through the book on a tide of emotion instead. From the beginning, where Nikki's emotions are sucked out of her by Cole, it's all about the feelings. Nikki returns to her life empty of emotion but sensitive to the feelings of those around her, and as she goes through the next six months, she gradually learns how to feel things again. Ashton's writing is wonderfully emotive, and it's easy to put yourself in Nikki's place.

I have to admit, I started reading the book a second time in order to write this review, and I'm actually enjoying it more this time around. I guess it's a grower - like some albums, some books take a couple of reads to grow on you and really get into your head. I'll definitely be looking out for Everbound, the next book in the series. Read Everneath if you're into intense romance, love triangles, Greek mythology and loveable villains!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

I wish I'd gotten around to reading this book before Christmas! Although it's quite a good antidote for a cold, wet February - I can wallow in memories of Christmasses past and lose myself in the romance of this wonderful book.

Cohn is obviously much better-read than I will ever be. This is a book for book-lovers, a whistle-stop tour of American literary history. Being English, and lacking a degree in English Lit, I can't help but feel that I'm missing quite a few points, but at the same time I feel like I'm being educated in a rather charming way. Literary references fight for space with sarcasm and angst in a most teenager-ish way, making the book feel as though it really is written by Dash and Lily, rather than an author. The way Cohn and Levithan write, taking a character each and trading chapter for chapter, produces a brilliantly individual pair of voices, and a wonderful story line that evolves in line with the relationship between the two main characters.

Little by little we get to know Dash and Lily, as little by little they get to know each other. The path of true love rarely runs smooth, so of course there are going to be obstacles, but don't worry - I feel confident in letting slip a little spoiler that nothing truly heinous occurs to sully this most charming of tales. Along the way, we are introduced to a supporting cast of family and friends - a gorgeous collection of characters who help Dash and Lily to set up and carry out their dares. I think Boomer is my favourite - he always says the right thing, no matter how ridiculous it is.

I'm almost always affected by the books I read - if a book doesn't flavour my inner monologue, then it's not really that good. In reading Dash & Lily, I can't help but feel I've become a better person, for a little while at least. I'm more considerate, I think carefully about the words I choose to use, I have an urge to dress in a somewhat zany way which is altogether me but the me that I'm usually too afraid and conventional to show. Also, I need to bake lebkuchen spice cookies.

I'm very critical of endings. I love books that come in series form, as it means I can happily read away without fear of coming across a disappointing ending. Dash & Lily has the perfect ending, though. No sequel required, no let-down, no 'end of something beautiful'. Just hope and dreams. I've had to thesaurus 'charming' - I've used it twice in this review already to describe the story and the writing, so I don't feel I can really get away with using it again. Therefore, I pronounce Dash & Lily's Book of Dares to be captivating, delightful, sweet, winsome, pleasing and beguiling. If that sounds too girly and fluffy, rest assured that it's also witty, droll, scintillating, jocular, piercing and original.