The Golden Lily (Bloodlines, #2)

First Lines: Most people would find being led into an underground bunker on a stormy night scary.  Not me.

Admittedly, Richelle Mead is my favorite author and the world she created with Vampire Academy always makes me feel like I’m reuniting with an old friend, even if it’s a new book.  If I have time to kill and no book to jump into, I will pick up one of the VA books and open it to a random page and begin reading.  So, that’s background information for this review.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead for both VA and Bloodlines*

Sydney Sage, Alchemist and perfectionist, is feeling a bit conflicted over more than one thing.  She’s still tasked with protecting Jill Dragomir in Palm Springs, California, along with Eddie and a few friends.  The more time she spends with Eddie, Jill, and especially Adrian, Sydney begins to question the teachings of the Alchemists.  Things get more complicated when Sydney discovers she may be the key to prevent becoming Strigoi, but she fears being special.  To make matters even worse, Sydney has entered into one challenge she’s never faced before: a romantic relationship with a boy named Brayden.  He’s almost exactly like her…but Sydney finds herself being drawn to someone else.  Can Sydney manage to balance all of this?  Are the Alchemists right about vampires after all or have they totally missed the mark?

I probably relate more to Sydney than Rose, which I kind of find surprising.  Well, not really, but I was very attached to Rose.  I know a lot of VA fans have trouble with the Bloodlines series because it has a much slower pace.  Sydney doesn’t constantly find herself in the middle of a fight, nor does she constantly drop in on someone else’s life through visions.  And I get that.  I love reading VA for all the trouble Rose gets into (especially trouble with a particularly tall guardian in a duster…).  But Sydney is like my literary twin.  I like seeing her think things through and carefully plan things out.  That’s how I am.

And oh my goodness, her relationship with Brayden was equally humorous and horrifying because that’s exactly how I was at her age…ahem…still am sometimes…  Right.  Yes.  Sydney is so socially ill-equipped for a relationship it makes it funny.  I admit it: I have the same trouble with new relationships that Sydney has.  I mean, is there really a rule for when you start calling a guy your boyfriend or when it’s acceptable to hold hands?  It’s so hard to know right at the beginning of a relationship and I really appreciated that one of my favorite heroines struggled with the same things I do.  It made it feel so much more real and I’m sure most girls have at one time encountered some of Sydney’s dating problems.

As I mentioned previously, returning to these stories is like visiting old friends.  It truly is since so many of them constantly return.  I’ve had a soft spot for Eddie since Frostbite.  The boy’s been through so much and I can’t wait to see him be happy.  Adrian…oh man.  If someone had told me while I was reading the VA series that I would end up rooting for Adrian, I would have said you were crazy.  But now that we see him through Sydney’s eyes and not Rose’s, I want him to have his own love story.  One where he won’t get as hurt as he did last time.

The story itself is as funny as it always is.  Adrian is perfect comic relief.  The action is a little less actiony than what we’re used to, I admit, but the repercussions of what happens is going to reverberate through the rest of the series, I think.  I really loved the budding love stories we see (because there is more than one) and I’m really excited to see where some new loyalties and friendships lead.

But mostly, I want the next book!  After that ENDING?!  Ugh.  Who ends with that?

Ruby (Ruby, #1)

First Lines: The man ran through the woods.  He felt his heart beat quickly in his chest, not from exertion, but from fear.  He had failed and he knew the penalty, dealt by her, would be swift and permanent.

I was asked by the author to read and review this.  I was interested and, obviously, took her up on her offer.  When I find (or take) a better picture of the cover, I will replace it.  Probably.

In 1692, Salem was a dangerous place to be.  A particularly volatile witch named Natasha Sullivan trapped a demon inside a music box and made a prophecy saying he would kill the Lumen Child when the time came.  If the Lumen Child were to die, darkness and evil would quickly overwhelm the world, ruling it once and for all.  Natasha’s twin sister Sarah, after hearing what Natasha has done, creates a prophecy herself, foretelling the unity between three girls who would be the Lumen Child’s protectors.  These girls aren’t sisters, but they share a destiny.  Ruby is the first of these witches.  After nearly dying after her identity is discovered and her powers manifest, Ruby is saved by her grandmother, a powerful white witch.  Ruby must learn everything she can to protect what is good.

Most of that lengthy synopsis takes place in the first chapter.  All the historical stuff gets taken care of quickly.  It’s mostly just background information to the rest of the story, but the Salem aspects are what caught my attention.

Alright, so this could have been better.  At 170 pages, it seemed entirely too short.  This hindered so much: plot development, character development, etc.  I really wish it had been longer.  I don’t know if this was because of a page limit that was enforced or just how the story was.  But there could have been much more attention put into allowing the characters to blossom and allowing us to know them better.  Near the end, I realized I didn’t know Ruby well enough to tell you what kind of clothes she would normally wear.  Or what her favorite color was.  This made dialogue feel awkward and some of the action to feel rushed or out of place.

I did like Ruby.  She’s got spirit.  But I just didn’t know enough about her to forge a real connect to her.  The sympathy card seems to be the main one that is played here to get you to connect to her.  It would have been better if more of her personality was allowed to shine.

A few smaller plot points seemed to have been dropped as well.  They were wrapped up quickly or explained away in a sentence or two.  This again goes back to the shortness of the book.  I like to think that if it had been longer, this would have been fixed.

All that said, I saw some promise in this.  The writing style is good and parts of the magical world are inventive and charming.  There were little things that I was quite taken with.  I think that if the series is allowed to grow and flourish (and expand its page numbers), this could turn into an entertaining series.  Something to watch, at the very least.

I struggled a little with ranking this.  Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 is where I want to put it, but I’ll settle on a low 4.

Spotlight Friday (50!)

Look at this!  Look at this!  We’ve made it to our 50th installment!  Yay!!  I started this over a year ago now (I missed a few weeks here and there), and it’s pretty incredible how this has hung on this way.  Let’s see if maybe this week I can’t get out a Next Big Thing as well, in honor of this 50th installment.  Anything else you guys want to see in its honor?  Drop a comment and I’ll see what I can do!  For now, enjoy my 3 upcoming picks to watch for!

The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long

Release Date: August 16, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads): A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction

The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she’s lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice–and not just her own.

What’s To Like: It’s been a while since I’ve seen a faerie book that looks like it would swallow me whole (in an amazingly awesome way).  This cover is so freaking gorgeous, I pretty much want a poster of this to hang on my wall.  I’m so envious.  Gah.  Anyway.  I’m really intrigued to see how Jenny has dealt with her brother’s disappearance up to the point she discovers the fae.  And this Jack is certainly alluring.  Secrets, secrets, as far as the eye can see…

The Blood Keeper (The Blood Journals, #2) by Tessa Gratton

Release Date: August 28, 2012

Summary (from Goodreads)Paranormal romance fans who are looking to up the ante will be drawn to this tale of horror, fantasy, and romance. For Mab Prowd, the practice of blood magic is as natural as breathing. It’s all she’s ever known. Growing up on an isolated farm in Kansas with other practitioners may have kept her from making friends her own age, but it has also given her a sense of purpose—she’s connected to the land and protective of the magic. And she is able to practice it proudly and happily out in the open with only the crows as her companions. Mab will do anything to keep the ancient practice alive and guard its secrets. But one morning while she is working out a particularly tricky spell she encounters Will, a local boy who is trying to exorcise some mundane personal demons. He experiences Mab’s magic in a way his mind cannot comprehend and is all too happy to end their chance meeting. But secrets that were kept from Mab by the earlier generations of blood magicians have come home to roost. And she and Will are drawn back together, time again by this dangerous force looking to break free from the earth and reclaim its own dark power.

What’s To Like: So, this installment in the series seems to have no connection whatsoever to the first blood besides the magic itself.  Interesting.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the main character is named Mab and one of the most famous faeries in literature is also named Mab.  I know she’s not a faerie, but faeries have their own magic.  I’m really interested in seeing this community of magicians…er, practitioners.  It just looks interesting.  I may not fall in love with it, but I’m definitely still going to read it.

Entice (The Violet Eden Chronicles, #2) by Jessica Shirvington

Release Date: September 4, 2012

**Caution: Potential Series Spoilers in Summary**

Summary (from Goodreads)Violet Eden is Grigori – part angel, part human. Her destiny is to protect humans from the vengence of exiled angels. 
Knowing who to trust is key but, when Grigori reinforcements arrive, it becomes clear everyone is hiding something. Even Lincoln. The only thing Violet does know: Phoenix’s hold over her is more dangerous than ever. 
The race to find the one thing that could tilt the balance of power brings them all to the sacred mountains of Jordan, where Violet’s power will be pushed to the extreme. And the ultimate betrayal exposed.

What’s To Like: Is it sad if I say I’m practically bouncing right now to get my hands on this?  I mean, my God, the first book was impossible to put down.  Violet’s whole world is so captivating.  And I’m really really really really really really really curious to see what this “ultimate betrayal” is.  I suppose if you’re in/from Australia, you already know the answer to this (since it was published there last year).  You lucky ducks!

Sweet Evil (The Sweet Trilogy, #1)

First Lines: I tugged the jean skirt down and tried not to fidget with the straps of the tank top as we stood in line for the show.  My shoulders and arms felt naked.  The outfit had been picked out for me by Jay’s older sister as an early sixteenth-birthday present.

I bought this a couple of months-ish ago based on the good reviews I had seen.  And really, I just found the premise fascinating…well, fascinating enough to spend a coupon on at least.  What?  College girl.  Cheap = fantastic.

Anna, a sweet Southern girl, is probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet.  She has the ability to read and feel emotions of those around her.  Secretly, though, Anna feels a pull toward danger and sin, thanks to her heritage as the daughter of a fallen angel  She would never act on it, but still.  Then she meets bad boy Kaidan Rowe, who puts her willpower to the test.  Kaidan, also the offspring of a fallen angel, is that ultimate threat to her good-girl image, yet he makes her feel…something amazing.  Will Anna embrace her halo or the horns?

I liked this.  Anna really is that sweet girl you want to befriend.  Occasionally, she does pass into that area where it feels like she’s better than you because she does all this nice stuff, but that’s pretty rare.  She really is just a sweet girl who has lived a pretty sheltered life compared to Kaidan and his friends.

There’s something interesting about Kaidan (pronounced like Ky-dan and not Kay-dan like it looks.  Threw me off too).  As the ultimate bad boy, there’s that appeal that most girls have.  That, “Oh, I can change him if I show him some love” mentality.  He plays up this image of himself, but it feels a little false.  I’m interested to get a closer look at him in future books.

As with every book I read about angels and demons, I’m always concerned about whether or not it will go preachy.  This one did cross that line a few times.  I just feel that a book limits its audience when it pulls in a specific religion.  Plus, I’m really more of a fan of universal themes of kindness, caring, and generosity instead of “God is great.”  That’s my personal feeling, and I realize that.  For some people, maybe this occasional touch into religious themes is exactly what they want.  If so, this is probably perfect for you.

I liked the tension between characters, especially Anna and Kaidan.  And I liked that this took place over a number of months instead of condensing the story into less than a month like a lot of books do.  But it wasn’t a fantastic story.  There were things I didn’t quite like much, most of which I have already mentioned.  Still, it will draw you in.

The Forsaken (The Forsaken, #1)

First Lines: At first I think the hammering sound is the noise of waves crashing down on white sand.  I’m dreaming I’m in Old Florida with my parents, before the government restricted all travel.  Then, as I start to wake, I realize the noise is something else.  Something real.

I was sent a copy of this by the author/publisher.  It was a case of them sending me a link to the book’s trailer.  (It’s pretty freaking amazing.  You can find it here.)  Naturally, I asked if they were giving out copies to review.  Yadda yadda yadda, here were are.

Alenna Shawcross thought there was no way she would fail the test that sees whether or not you are a threat to society.  Until she did.  She’s immediately sent to Island Alpha, also known as “The Wheel.”  All 16-year-olds who fail the test are sent here.  They are cut off from what they know as civilization, separated from everyone and everything except the other forsaken.  These kids are supposed to be the worst sorts…and the lift expectancy on the wheel is only 18.  Alenna will fight to stay alive, fight to escape, and fight the new feelings that a boy named Liam stirs inside her…But exactly how long can she last?

I read the whole thing in a day.  It’s been a while since I read a dystopia, possibly as far back as mid-May by my records (there was one a few weeks ago, but that was the only break).  So I was a bit overdue for one, honestly.

I pretty much loved it.  And I really didn’t think I would when I started.  It’s a little hard at first to figure out what exactly is going on, but that’s because we’re jumping into a world that Alenna is quite familiar with.  Once she gets dropped on the wheel and is as clueless as we are, it gets to be a much faster and easier read.

I love the underlying current of danger that resides in this book.  And in all dystopias where the government controls everything.  But here, that danger had so many different forms.  From the civil war on the island to the government’s “feelers” – aircrafts that come to kidnap kids occasionally – danger lurks everywhere.

There were a lot of risks this book took that I didn’t think it would.  More than once during a particularly action-packed scene, I would think to myself, “Oh, surely (insert horrific moment here) isn’t about to happen.”  Then it did.  And then it quietly smirked, “And don’t call me Shirley.”  (Sorry, I couldn’t contain the Airplane! joke.  ❤ Leslie Nielson)  But seriously, it kept me on my toes.  It was really refreshing after reading so many books where I can pretty much guess how they’re going to end.  I had no idea with this one.

There are a lot of ties to other books that can be found here, most of which I think I just happen to be seeing connection to.  If you like The Hunger Games (and who doesn’t?), I suggest you take a look at this.  It’s a bit like the actual games, in that a bunch of teenagers are struggling to survive while the government watches them.  It’s also like Divergent in that these kids are somehow different from the rest of the population in ways that completely freak out the government.  And finally, this one being my personal favorite since I think it’s completely unintended, I even saw a The Wizard of Oz moment.  The reveal/moment is less than a paragraph long, but once you catch it, it makes total sense how I could see this.  Thus I issue my challenge to you: find out what I’m talking about.  It’s a pretty important moment for the book, so I doubt you’ll miss it.  You just may not see the connection like I did.

So yes.  Lots of action, lots of danger, and lots of “What?!  How could that happen?!” moments.  Great for boys as well as girls, if boys can overlook the whole female protagonist thing like they had to do for Katniss.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1)

First Lines: My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something.  A pseudonym.  A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs.  I know that having a fake name is strange, but trust me–it’s the most normal thing about my life right now.

If you remember my post a week or slightly more ago, I referred to this book as the unknown.  The book jacket is so completely vague that I had no idea what it was going to involve.  Was it going to be supernatural or more realistic fiction?  The only way to find out (without ruining the story) was to read it.

Mara doesn’t think things can get worse than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.  Somehow, in that time she can’t remember, she was involved in an accident that killed her friends yet left her mostly unharmed.  How could this have happened?  Why can’t she remember any of it?  And, after everything that’s happened to her, can she possibly fall in love with someone?

Yes, I did just keep in the spirit of the book jacket and tell you practically nothing.  🙂  I can’t ruin all the fun, now, can I?

Alright.  So when I started, I had a little trouble sinking into Mara’s world.  It begins just after her accident when she’s three shades of confused, upset, and frustrated.  It’s hard to jump right into a book when all these negative emotions are being flung your way.  But by page 50, Mara has settled down and it’s much easier to get a feel for her and her family.

Mara is a brutally candid character and I admit, I ate that up.  She curses like a sailor when she’s angry and she invents quite colorful descriptions for people she doesn’t like.  I found that honesty refreshing.  I just think it’s so silly when authors create fake curse words for their characters because there are so few teens who will take the effort to do that.  I know that language offends some people, so this doubles as a warning to you if you are one of those people.

There is a boy in this story named Noah who I came to like.  He, like Mara, has some issues.  I just really liked that he had a sexy English accent.  And the way he and Mara act together…let’s just say that I stayed up 1:30 to finish reading this last night.

This is probably classified as something similar to “psychological suspense” or something.  A lot of the story is Mara trying to figure out what’s real, since she can’t really trust her memory anymore and her nightmares almost feel more real than her waking life.  So a lot of it took place in her head.  But there’s also a lot of suspense flying around as Noah and Mara unravel some of her mysteries.

Very enthralling.  I was pretty well glued to it all yesterday.  Reading 450 pages in a day is a lot, even for me.