Strange and Ever After (Something Strange and Deadly, #3)

First Lines: I was not supposed to be here.  Oliver would be furious.  Joseph even more so.

You know, every now and then it’s fun to read a zombie book.  It’s a nice change of pace.  Though I think zombies may be losing their favor in the book realm.  I seem to be running across fewer and fewer of them.  But…zombies!  And the Victorian era!  What a combination!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Marcus has taken almost everything from Eleanor. Her brother, her mother, Jie.  Determined to get her revenge, Eleanor and her friends end up in Egypt as they follow Marcus.  But things are tense between the Spirit-Hunters.  Eleanor’s relationship with Daniel is uncertain, and Eleanor’s demon, Oliver, isn’t making things easier with anyone.  Top it off with Allison, Eleanor’s old friend who hitched along for the ride, and you could cut the tension with a knife.  The Dead wait for no one, and the consequences are higher now.  Eleanor’s magic comes with a price, and only some will have their ever after.

I hope that was satisfyingly tantalizing.  I tried to make it interesting.

As a little bit of background, I rated the previous book in this series 3 roses.  I was a bit leery about this book for that reason, since I wasn’t sure whether I would love it (like the first book) or sorta like it (like the second book).

As it turned out, this was a much better book than the previous.  I really liked it.  Everything from the settings to the characters seemed better.

Let me break it down.  I’ll start with Eleanor.  I disliked her in the previous book because she seemed like a snot who didn’t realize she was hurting those around her.  (Which was the point, but it was terribly difficult for me to find anything redeeming about her.)  Thankfully, this time around, she was much better.  She still had moments where she accidentally hurt those around her, but she at least realized that she had done wrong.  And I could accept that.

The other characters were great as well.  The two characters that really seemed to grow the most were Daniel and Oliver.  I loved watching both of them change.  Stories are so much more entertaining when they grow throughout the story.  I ❤ Character Development.  I should get that on a T-shirt.

I also adored the setting.  It’s not very often I get to see Egypt in a story, but I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen Victorian-era Egypt in a story ever.  So that was fun and exciting.  Plus, because we’re talking about zombies and the afterlife, a decent portion of the story was devoted to Egyptian mythology.  Yay!  Something else new!

There was a nice amount of action in the story as well.  Plenty of zombie attacks as well as suspenseful situations.  These were nicely balanced with tender moments between Eleanor and her friends as well as with Eleanor’s internal conflicts where she’s pensive and brooding.  Also, there were a handful of really good twists in the plot.  Many of them I saw coming, I admit, but there were a few I was in serious denial about and it still hurt, even though I saw them coming.

Still, I had some issues with the story.  There were some plot twists that seemed to blip up for their scene and then were never seen or talked about again.  Some scenes seemed drawn out or weren’t described in a way so I could picture what was really going on.  Obviously, these aren’t exactly deal breakers here, but they hurt my reading experience.

Overall, it was a great end to this series.  Well, for some characters, it was.  (I said nothing!)

The Lost Sun (The United States of Asgard, #1)

First Lines: My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you.  But only if you’re paying attention.

This was on my to-read list for a while, but I finally nabbed it.  I was a little leery, considering I was never much of a fan of Gratton’s debut novel, but this sounded unique.  I never see many books about Norse mythology, so I wanted to learn more.

Soren Bearskin wants nothing more than to escape his past.  His father’s battle-frenzy murder of 13 innocent people hangs over Soren, especially since he knows that one day he will give in to the same battle fever.  But he fights it.  He avoids as many people as he can and tries to stay calm as he makes his way through school.  That becomes nearly impossible when the beautiful and famous Astrid Glyn tells him that she’s been dreaming of him.  Daughter of a famed prophetess, Astrid is starting to come into her abilities.  When Baldur, son of Odin, goes missing, Astrid convinces Soren that they can find Baldur if they work together.  This road trip may be more than just about finding a missing god.  It may be about learning who they are when they aren’t in the shadow of their parents…

Um…erm…well…this book didn’t work for me.  Apparently Norse mythology is just not my thing.  And I want to blame The Avengers for this because I am just completely sick of people talking about Loki.  I could go the rest of my life never hearing his name and I would still hear it too many times.  So every time Loki’s name came up, I wanted to roll my eyes and give up.

But that’s not really the book’s fault, is it?  It’s mine, for being the one who wanted to read this.

I think another problem I had was that I just didn’t understand the basics of Norse mythology.  And that made the book harder to read.  I’ve never heard of Baldur before.  I know about Odin and Valhalla and all that, but beyond who/what they are…yeah, I’ve got nothing.  It was difficult for me to understand what parts of the story were actually fantasy and which were mythology.  And I didn’t understand how last names worked.  Soren goes by like, 3 different last names and that threw me for a loop.

I never really bought into the characters much either.  I liked Astrid, for sure, but Soren still seemed somewhat of a mystery to me and he’s the narrator!  I didn’t feel like I could pin down his characteristics.  He was kind of a stick in the mud, as a character.

I will admit that Soren has a really interesting backstory.  And there are some nice twists along the way.  But it just didn’t keep my attention.

Anatomy of a Misfit

First Lines: Pedaling fast fast fast, this is the moment.  One of those movie moments you never think is going to happen to you, but then it happens to you, and now it’s here.

After picking up 3 new books from the library, the struggle is always which to read first.  I chose this one because, after my high fantasy excursion, I needed something a little normal in my literary diet.  I’d been hearing good things about this book, so I gave it a shot.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads: Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

My reactions to this book were (are) all over the place.  But I think most importantly, we all need to acknowledge that we have been in Anika’s shoes at some point in our lives.  We have felt like the person we are on the outside is not the same person we are on the inside.  In fact, sometimes we think we’d be all alone if people even got a glimpse of the person we truly are.  I love that the author made these feelings come alive through Anika.  Because we all feel like our insides are spider soup (as Anika says).  She has to weave her way through who she is, who she wants to be, and how that impacts her social life.

I thought the voice in this story felt incredibly authentic.  Anika seems to try to have a conversation with the audience, saying things like, “I guess you’re wondering now why I did this.”  It felt conversational, like I was listening to someone’s story.  (Now that I think about it, the audiobook for this would probably be really spectacular.)  It seemed more relatable because it knew there was an audience.  Plus, not many stories have this kind of narration style, so that helped it stand out.

There were other things that helped it feel authentic too.  The story doesn’t shy away from showing the darker side of things.  There is racism in Anika’s town (though to Anika, a girl who is frequently made fun of for her Romanian heritage, racism is ridiculous).  There are mean girls who tear other girls down just because they’re bored.  And there is a lot of cursing.  I had an issue with this last one, probably because my time as a middle school teacher had desensitized me to all this language.  I’m not saying I can’t handle the language, but there were some words that, I think, go above and beyond just “bad words”.  Suffice it to say I can never ever have this book in my classroom bookcase, no matter what grade I teach.

I didn’t like Anika much at the beginning, which is the point.  I kind of liked that Anika was somewhat unlikeable yet still redeemable.  She always had these little moments where I saw something more in her than she wanted to show.  That was a great way to nuance the character.

But that ending…oh my gosh.  I don’t want to say it blindsided me, but it was just a peg down from that.  I started to see it coming, but I didn’t want to believe it.  It was 100% real, that’s for sure.  The ending shifts everything you thought you knew about the book.  After I finished, I had to reevaluate the whole story.  It all changed so suddenly.  And to think that it’s based on actual events…

This was a very lovely story that had some great messages for readers.  It’s so easy to understand where Anika’s coming from and why she acts the way she does.

Ascension of the Whyte

First Lines: Sara Carson didn’t believe in fate, she didn’t believe in magic, or reincarnation, or any form of life after death.  In fact, if there was no empirical evidence to support its existence, then to Sara Carson it did not exist.

I was asked by the author to read and review this book.  It’s been a few months (eep!) but I finally got around to it.  I didn’t know too much about it besides that it was a high fantasy, which sometimes are quite great.  (*cough* Girl of Fire and Thorns *cough*)

Sara Carson had no way of knowing that she would die today.  Now, she’s ascended to a parallel world known as the Afterlands where she is Whyte ascendant, the first in over one thousand years.  Now known as Rose (and with no memory of her former life), she’s entered a land in turmoil.  For one thousand years since the Great Dragon War and the destruction of Lord Ka, there has been peace in the Afterlands.  But that peace has been shattered.  An ancient prophecy foretold that a Whyte would ascend and be the only hope for the Afterlands.  It would seem that Rose is that girl.  Can she save the Afterlands?

I have greatly condensed the summary here to hit the highlights without going into too many details.  However, if you’d like to see the full summary, go here.

Alright.  So, as a general rule, I do like fantasies.  But high fantasies…those are hit and miss.  This one was a miss.

I will say that there are some really cool aspects to the story.  The characters all have some kind of magic, which is fun.  And there are some really adorable characters in the mix.  (I was particularly fond of the goofy Ash.)

But…it just never clicked for me.  It was a chore to keep reading it, especially when I really needed something to unwind with after a long day at school.  The first couple of chapters are incredibly confusing as you’re thrown in to the world of the Afterlands.  Just trying to understand everything took all of my concentration.  There were so many names and slang and terms thrown at me.  I just couldn’t keep them all straight.  I mean, I understand.  It’s a fantasy, set in a world that isn’t our own.  Still doesn’t mean I wasn’t royally confused.

Also, I was never gripped by the story.  There was suspense–I think–but there really weren’t any moments where I went, “I have to keep reading!  Just one more chapter!”  I think part of it might be because of the narration style.  It’s kind of a roaming third person narrator.  It jumps from random observers to minor characters to Rose and her friends.  It never really settled on one or had a set pattern.  I didn’t really feel a connection to Rose, which did not help the situation.  There weren’t any characters where I wanted to keep reading it for them, to learn what happened next.  I didn’t care.  And that’s really weird for me.

I thought it was a creative attempt at a story and there were many good elements, but it just wasn’t for me.  Something didn’t work.

Spotlight Friday (118)

Hello again!  Oh, I’m so glad to be back.  I have SO MANY THINGS to post this weekend!  (I really can’t post much when I’m exhausted and trying to grade ALL THE ESSAYS.)  But I have time now!  And I thought I’d start us off with some books you can look forward to this month!

The Queen of Zombie Hearts (White Rabbit Chronicles, #3) by Gena Showalter

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

I have a plan.

We’ll either destroy them for good, or they’ll destroy us.

Either way, only one of us is walking away.

In the stunning conclusion to the wildly popular White Rabbit Chronicles, Alice “Ali” Bell thinks the worst is behind her. She’s ready to take the next step with boyfriend Cole Holland, the leader of the zombie slayers…until Anima Industries, the agency controlling the zombies, launches a sneak attack, killing four of her friends. It’s then she realizes that humans can be more dangerous than monsters…and the worst has only begun.

As the surviving slayers prepare for war, Ali discovers she, too, can control the zombies…and she isn’t the girl she thought she was. She’s connected to the woman responsible for killing—and turning—Cole’s mother. How can their relationship endure? As secrets come to light, and more slayers are taken or killed, Ali will fight harder than ever to bring down Anima—even sacrificing her own life for those she loves.

What’s To Like: This book is going to be amazing, but I am super scared to see who dies here.  I think this is the first time I’ve read the summary and I’m having a minor panic attack.  It’s so carefully worded after it announces that that I fear Cole may be one of the dead.  Gah!  I’m just gonna curl up in the corner now until Sept. 30.

My review of The Queen of Zombie Hearts

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Release Date: October 7, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sometimes danger is hard to see… until it’s too late.

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there… and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

What’s To Like: I love that I’m already confused about what’s going to happen in this book.  It’s a full-fledged mystery, I think.  And I’m really excited to see how Fitzpatrick handles that.  She did really well with paranormal/angels in her last book series, and I’m curious to see how her newest venture will turn out.

My review of Black Ice

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez

Release Date: October 7, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

Valentina Cruz no longer exists.

One moment, she was wrapped in Emilio’s arms, melting into his kiss. The next, she was witnessing the unthinkable: a murder in cold blood, ordered by her father and carried out by her boyfriend. When Emilio pulled the trigger, Valentina disappeared. She made a split-second decision to shed her identity and flee her life of privilege, leaving the glittering parties and sultry nightlife of Miami far behind.

She doesn’t know how to explain to herself what she saw. All she knows now is that nothing she believed about her family, her heart, or Emilio’s love, was real.

She can change her name and deny her past, but Valentina can’t run from the truth. The lines between right and wrong, and trust and betrayal, will be blurred beyond recognition as she untangles the deceptions of the two men she once loved and races to find her own truth.

What’s To Like: I’m really curious about this book.  I think it sounds like a great thriller, since her family and her boyfriend were in on this murder.  (I get the sneaking suspicion that they find her in the end/she returns to them.)  I enjoy stories where life gets turned upside down and boy, does Valentina’s fit the bill. Also, I like that this seems to have Latino edge to it, and I think so few books like that make it mainstream.  I hope this does well.

Amber House (Amber House, #1)

First Lines: I was almost sixteen the first time my grandmother died.

This was a book I saw at a book sale and well, it looked like something I would like.  And even if I didn’t like it, my students might.  I mean, how could I turn down a pretty dress and a creepy old house in the background?  You just know there’s something weird going on.

Sarah Parsons has more family history than she could’ve guessed.  When her grandmother dies, Sarah and her family visit Amber House, her family’s ancestral home that spans 3 centuries of Sarah’s family.  With its tall hedges, secret corridors, and local legends, Amber House is a mystery to Sarah.  Jackson, a local boy who works at Amber House, convinces Sarah that one local legend, one about lost diamonds being in the house, is true.  As they explore, Amber House seems to come alive.  Sarah begins having visions of events that the house remembers, like those of the old Captain who lost his diamonds or a fiery great-grandmother who might have been insane.  Then there’s Richard Hathaway, the son of a local senator, who catches Sarah’s eye and maybe even her heart.  But when the visions/ghosts of Amber House begin threatening the living, Sarah has to make a stand before they change the course of history–and the present–to something horrible.

Alright.  There’s a lot up there.  If I could, I’d tell you how I categorize this book.  But it’s just so many things.  It’s kind of an adventure story, but it’s also kind of a paranormal story.  Yet paranormal isn’t quite right, it’s almost sci-fi.  And then there are hints of a romance novel as well as a problem novel.  There isn’t any easy way to label this book, like it had its fingers in too many pies.  Not that I want books to easily be labelled, but I just never knew what this book was even trying to be.

I was a bit conflicted with this book.  Well, “bit” may be an understatement.  I’ll start with the good stuff.

First of all, there’s a nice, low undercurrent of “spooky” in the story.  As the story goes on, we know just enough to be suspicious of things/people, yet not enough to really know what’s going on.  It keeps a low level of suspense and that helped keep me interested.

Also, I really found myself drawn to some of the minor characters.  They were nicely created and usually added something to the main characters.

And the ending.  Let’s just say I didn’t see that coming.  There was a lot of action there, and it just helped build up everything that had previously happened.  It was pretty exciting and most of our questions were answered…or were they?  Oooooh.

But there were a lot of issues too, and I wonder if some of that comes from having 3 writers.  I was constantly getting confused throughout the story as it jumped between the present and the past.  I realize that part of it is because these shifts are sometimes supposed to throw Sarah off too, but there were just too many for my liking.  I don’t like to spend half the book questioning when I am and who the characters are.

That’s another thing.  With three centuries worth of ancestors, there are a heck of a lot of ancestors that pop up in the story and never really resurface.  For many of them, if I had a name, I would have remembered them better.  When they’re only described as the “girl in white”, well, that doesn’t really tell me anything and I forgot from one chapter to the next.

Also, there were almost too many secrets for the story.  The first half of the story doesn’t really answer any of your questions.  That was frustrating.  I didn’t see why I needed to keep reading if I still didn’t even know what was going on.  Plus, it kept making mountains out of molehills and trying to make those sound like major plot twists.  I guess I just felt that a few key points missed the mark.

It probably didn’t help that I frequently found myself not liking the main characters.  There were very few characters I actually liked.  Most of them were minor characters, maybe because I didn’t have enough time to form a full opinion of them?  I don’t know.  But everyone from Sarah to her mother to Richard had moments where I just wanted to roll my eyes and put the book down.

Oh yes.  The love triangle.  It was a pretty low-grade love triangle that doesn’t even really make a blip on the story, but it’s there.  I really don’t want to talk about it.  Love triangles just…sigh.

Overall, I thought it had some nice moments of history or adventure or paranormal/sci-fi (whatever it is), but I struggled at times to keep my motivation going.  It was good, but it wasn’t great.

The Taking (The Taking, #1)

First Lines: We killed them.  Crushed, to be precise.

When I went to start this book, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I thought the premise looked amazing and I have yet to meet a Kimberly Derting book I didn’t like.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything she’s written.  Even so, I was a little iffy on the sci-fi aspect.

You know what?  I’ll just give you the Goodreads summary here.  It’s better than I could write it:

A flash of white light . . . and then . . . nothing.

When sixteen-year-old Kyra Agnew wakes up behind a Dumpster at the Gas ’n’ Sip, she has no memory of how she got there. With a terrible headache and a major case of déjà vu, she heads home only to discover that five years have passed . . . yet she hasn’t aged a day.

Everything else about Kyra’s old life is different. Her parents are divorced, her boyfriend, Austin, is in college and dating her best friend, and her dad has changed from an uptight neat-freak to a drunken conspiracy theorist who blames her five-year disappearance on little green men.

Confused and lost, Kyra isn’t sure how to move forward unless she uncovers the truth. With Austin gone, she turns to Tyler, Austin’s annoying kid brother, who is now seventeen and who she has a sudden undeniable attraction to. As Tyler and Kyra retrace her steps from the fateful night of her disappearance, they discover strange phenomena that no one can explain, and they begin to wonder if Kyra’s father is not as crazy as he seems. There are others like her who have been taken . . . and returned. Kyra races to find an explanation and reclaim the life she once had, but what if the life she wants back is not her own?

So…sound interesting?  I was hooked by chapter 2.  I mean, it was one of those things where I was like, “I have to finish this book tonight.”  (I failed, but I finished it the next day.)  It was so good.

I couldn’t help but relate to Kyra.  (I think her name is pronounced KEER-ah, though I can’t help but pronounce it KY-ra.)  I could feel all her confusion and panic in the early chapters as she tries to understand how much life has changed in the last 5 years that she’s missed.  I can’t imagine coming back to a life that was similar yet so different from the life I remembered.  But her feelings were so real.  And that quickly made Kyra a character I bonded with.

The plot is pretty well-written too.  There are subtle things dropped along the way that hint at more to come.  Lots of foreshadowing.  And at times, it is kind of hard to pick out what will happen next.  There are some things that are fairly obvious, but it’s still a well-told story.  There’s a lot of suspense, even when you think you know what’s going to happen.

And I must say, if there’s anyone in this story I want to gush over, it’s Tyler.  Tyler, Tyler, Tyler.  Oh my.  I totally found my new favorite fictional swooner.  Tyler is not the typical YA romantic lead.  He’s cute, but he’s not one of those that’s described as big and muscular.  He’s not mysterious.  He’s not the superhero, swooping in to save the heroine.  What Tyler is is a regular guy.  He’s kind of a dork, but a total sweetheart.  He’s understanding and loyal while spouting corny pick-up lines and innocent innuendos.  I loved that he was the one person Kyra could count on.  He was solid in that respect, never wavering in his faith in her.  I think that’s a quality that’s rare in YA, even in our golden couples.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the story started going in a direction I normally hate.  I usually can’t stomach books that have this in them, but just…Derting’s writing…I was more forgiving.  And it didn’t bother me because A) it was well done and different and B) I still haven’t quite figured out exactly what’s going on.  That’s for the sequel, I think.

Right.  So, lots of action, lots of humor, and a good amount of gushy feelings to really hook you.  I pretty much loved this and now talking about it makes me want to reread it.