Sisters’ Fate (The Cahill Witch Chronicles, #3)

First Lines: I leave Maura in the swirling snow and ice.  I cannot look at her scheming face one moment longer, or I will not be responsible for my actions.

It’s a very good thing I made a run to the library when I did last week, because I’m about to get snowed in for the foreseeable future.  So…yay free time for reading!  I picked up a number of series books, so hopefully that means I’ll be finishing off a few series, like this one!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Life in New London has just gotten infinitely more dangerous, with girls being sent directly to the gallows for even the mere suspicion of being a witch.  The Sisterhood is powerless to act without revealing themselves.  And after an accidental show of power, Cate becomes the most wanted woman in all of New England.  To make everything worse, Cate can’t decide what she wants to do about Finn, who no longer remembers who she is.  Should she try to help him fall back in love with her or should she protect him from more attacks?  Tess’s visions have been getting even stronger, and it’s only a matter of time now before one of the Cahill sisters brings the prophecy to fruition…

To be fair, I haven’t always been the biggest supporter of this series.  There’s always been something that feels off about the sisters to me.  Maybe it’s all of the drama I find off-putting.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I simply don’t have any sisters and so it all feels weird to me, like, “Oh, sisters really do that?  I could never get my brothers to do that.”  I just wanted to say that upfront because I do think it colors my reading of this book.

Ok, so right from page one, it felt like walking into a brick wall of tension.  I started this book before bed one night and had to put it down after the first chapter simply because my blood was vibrating in my veins, which was not conducive to going to sleep.  But hey, at least it picked up immediately where the last book’s nasty cliffhanger left off.

And the action in this was always moving.  There was constantly something going on that involved Cate’s feud/battle/disagreement with someone.  (Cate seemed to be butting heads with a lot of people this time around.)  But yes, the story is pretty much always tense.  There are very few times where it seems to relax.

The characters were exceptionally well written.  Not just the Cahill sisters, but minor characters as well.  Finn (but seriously, who doesn’t love that boy?), Rilla, and the other Sisters.  And there were other amazing new characters like Prue and Alistair, both of whom I quite enjoyed.  I wish they had been a bigger presence in the series.  And on the flip side, the evil characters are also well-written.  Because even though you want to give them their own pyre, you kind of understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.  And they’re consistent in their evilness.

The story between Cate and Finn is still cute, but it’s obviously different than it has been in the last two books.  I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoiling something.  But Finn is still Finn, and that alone is worth a swoon.

Like I said at the beginning, there were just some times that something felt off about the story to me.  I think it’s mostly due to all of the drama in the Sisterhood, with all of the girls scheming behind other girls’ backs, nasty tricks, and an evil abbess playing puppet master throughout the whole story.  It’s just so opposite of the way I grew up and the friends I’ve had throughout my life that I just can’t put up with girls who do that.  I can’t.  So whenever that was happening (and it frequently did), I kept wanting to put the book down and move on to something else for a while.

Overall, I thought it was an action-packed read with lots of great characters and a plot that was always moving and evolving.  If you haven’t gotten into this series yet…what are you waiting for?

Spotlight Friday (124)

Hello, my lovelies!  I haven’t forgotten you!  I mean, I may be see and forgetting a lot of little things today (like at what time I’m supposed to be taking my antibiotics, which is something you’d think I’d want to remember), but I haven’t forgotten that it’s FRIDAY!  So let’s check out some fabulous February reads, shall we?

One of the Guys by Lisa Aldin

Release Date: February 10, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Tomboy to the core, Toni Valentine understands guys. She’ll take horror movies, monster hunts and burping contests over manicures. So Toni is horrified when she’s sent to the Winston Academy for Girls, where she has to wear a skirt and learn to be a lady while the guys move on without her.

Then Toni meets Emma Elizabeth, a girl at school with boy troubles, and she volunteers one of her friends as a pretend date. Word spreads of Toni’s connections with boys, and she discovers that her new wealthy female classmates will pay big money for fake dates. Looking for a way to connect her old best friends with her new life at school, Toni and Emma start up Toni Valentine’s Rent-A-Gent Service.

But the business meets a scandal when Toni falls for one of her friends–the same guy who happens to be the most sought-after date. With everything she’s built on the line, Toni has to decide if she wants to save the business and her old life, or let go of being one of the guys for a chance at love.

What’s To Like: I love stories where there are tomboyish girls.  Like, the tomboyish girls who don’t have a prayer of even knowing what Gossip Girl is.  Because that is so me.  And there’s just something so unself-conscious (if that’s a word) about these kind of girls.  I love that.  And this book just sounds like something out of a Shakespearean comedy.  The concept of this just makes me giggle.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Release Date: February 10, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex’s brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn’t have to be real to keep you from moving on.

What’s To Like: I probably looked at this book five times before it dawned on me how I knew the author’s name.  This book is so vastly different from her Unearthly series that I never would have put the two together.  There’s something deep about this book, and all I have to go on is this little blurb.  I want to know what was in that text, why she blames herself.  I want to know what happened with her brother.  It’s going to be a difficult read, undoubtedly, but I think it’ll be worth it.

The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines, #6) by Richelle Mead

Release Date: February 10, 2015

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.

After their secret romance is exposed, Sydney and Adrian find themselves facing the wrath of both the Alchemists and the Moroi in this electrifying conclusion to Richelle Mead’s New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series. When the life of someone they both love is put on the line, Sydney risks everything to hunt down a deadly former nemesis. Meanwhile, Adrian becomes enmeshed in a puzzle that could hold the key to a shocking secret about spirit magic, a secret that could shake the entire Moroi world.

What’s To Like: Welcome to the part in our regularly scheduled program where the blogger forgets how to breathe from sheer excitement.  I have been hooked on Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy world since I discovered VA in like, my sophomore/junior year of high school (and I’m a teacher myself now).  While I’m terribly sad to see this world come to an end, I’m so looking forward to how everything wraps up.  I never ever ever would have thought I’d want a happy ending for Adrian, but I find myself craving it more than the happy ending I wanted for Rose.  This book is going to BREAK MY HEART, I just know it.

My review of The Ruby Circle

Famous In Love (Famous in Love, #1)

First Lines: Listen.  I’ll tell you what it’s like to be with him.  How he kisses me.  How he touches my cheek.  I’ll tell you what he whispers to me before we go out and meet those screaming crowds.

After nearly 2 weeks of being sick, I have finally been told that I suffer from a sinus infection, my friends.  Which is miserable, but it does give me a pretty good excuse to lay around and do nothing but read, so…a devil in disguise?  This was a book I received months ago as an ARC and sorta forgot I had.  Oops.  (In my defense, the first year of teaching is so busy at times that I’m lucky I remember my name.)

Before she was discovered, Paige Townsen was nothing but the youngest in a family of four with a passion for acting.  Now, she’s the lead in the latest bestseller-turned-blockbuster movie, a nobody that now everyone knows.  Within a month, she’s traded Oregon for Maui and is spending time with Rainer Devon, one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive.  Life could not get better for Paige.  And then Jordan Wilder shows up on set.  The dark, brooding Jordan plays the other corner in her character’s love triangle…and maybe part of the triangle in Paige’s own life.  Can Paige decide which boy she wants with the whole world watching?

For whatever reason, I have always been drawn to stories where relative nobodies are plucked from obscurity and thrown into the spotlight via royalty, the arts, whatever.  There’s just something about these stories that really speaks to me.  If they are a guilty pleasure of mine, then I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

First of all, I loved seeing all this “behind the scenes” stuff about making movies.  I’ve always been curious about what goes into making a movie, and it was really cool for Paige to discover some of this along the way.

I thought the characters were pretty cute (which will be a running theme here: “cute”).  While Paige is a celebrity in her own right now, she’s completely unsure of herself, especially since the director comes down hard on her.  Rainer is a sweet guy who makes Paige laugh just when she needs it.  But it’s Jordan who really steals the story.  He’s so wrapped up in mysteries that Paige spends the whole book peeling off layer after layer.  He’s Rainer’s antithesis, and that mysterious angle makes him far more interesting than Rainer, who tends to wear his heart on his sleeve.

But there were some things this story didn’t excel at.  The romance was one of those things.  I thought there were many scenes that felt artificial.  And I know the actors have all these kissing scenes where they’re not actually kissing each other but really are.  Some things just seemed too…convenient.  Like how Paige would look at one of the boys and suddenly the entire world would disappear around her and someone would have to say her name 5 times to get her attention.  Maybe it’s just because that’s never happened to me, but it felt artificial.

Aaaaand there’s the love triangle.  Sigh.  Can we banish these yet?  Admittedly, this one did a good job of twisting me from liking one boy to liking the other, which does not happen very often.  But nothing good ever comes from love triangles in stories.  It’s all about creating drama.  As this book evidenced.

Overall, it was a cute story with a focus on filmmaking and what it means to be a movie star.  Just don’t count on a love story that’s any deeper than that of Bella-Edward-Jacob.

Side Effects May Vary

First Lines: If my parents ever gave me a religion, it was the gospel of honesty.  Babies don’t come from storks, and my mom never dared to tell me that a flu shot would hurt her more than it hurt me.

This is a book I’ve been dodging for a while, even though I wanted to read it.  I mean, it’s a cancer book, which almost assuredly meant it was going to be sad, right?  I’m really hit and miss with cancer books, so I just kept waiting until I felt like I was ready for it.  Ironically, I read it while sick with something unidentifiable. Maybe a cold, maybe the flu…no one knows.

When Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her outlook is grim.  She’s not likely to make it to her 17th birthday next year. But she knows she’s going to spend her remaining time righting the wrongs in her life.  She convinces her best friend Harvey to help with her list that is as much about revenge as it is about spreading hope.  But just when Alice is ready to die, she goes into remission.  Suddenly, Alice is forced to face the consequences for things she never imagined.  Has she caused irreparable damage around her, and to the one person who matters the most to her?

Slightly off-topic, but for those of you about my age, you might remember this 2001 movie called Max Keeble’s Big Move, where this kid discovers his family is being relocated and he decides that he’s going to get back at the bullies before he leaves…and then he finds out that they’re not moving after all.  When I read the premise for this book, it strongly reminded me of that.

Ok, back on topic.  I had a really hard time deciding what I thought about this book.  It wasn’t one where I finished and went, “Well, that was awesome!”, but I also didn’t go, “Eh, that could’ve been a lot better than it was.”  I just…I don’t know how I feel about this, and I finished it a couple of days ago.

Alice is one of the reasons.  She is an incredibly unlikable character for approximately half of the book.  (But I’m really trying not to let that impact my rating because unlikable characters are usually intentionally written–and well written at that.)  It fit her character that she’s be so bent on getting revenge against a couple of her classmates.  I mean, she’s dying and these people made her life miserable.  So I understood her motivation and that aspect of her.  But her personality came off as whiny, obsessive (about the list), and uncaring.  She used the people around her to reach an end and didn’t seem to care as she did it.

If the story had been simply about Alice, I think I would have quit partway through it.  But there was sweet Harvey there as well, telling his half of the story.  Harvey had my complete sympathy.  He stood by Alice through everything, even though he knew she was using him.  One of the characters described him as having a “porcelain heart,” and I thought that was pretty accurate.  It was his love for Alice that made me see the good in her.

The narration frequently switches not only between Alice and Harvey, but between the timeframes of “Then” and “Now.”  It’s so easy to get lost if you don’t pay attention to the chapter headings.  The only complaint I have about the narration is that it seemed to completely stall out the beginning of the story.  I felt like I was trudging through knee-deep mud, that was the pace it set.  It felt like it took half the story for me to finally sink into it and want to keep reading.

I do think this book is worth taking a look at.  The character transformations were fantastic, which is something I really like in stories.  But, you know, you have to get through Alice’s early attitude to get to that part.

Overall, I found it to be a good story with a good moral to it, but it never particularly gripped me.

Spotlight Friday (123)

Hello, my lovelies!  I realize it’s been a while since I have posted any of these Spotlights, but let’s just see what goodies I have coming up, shall we?  I think there are some good ones here!

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Release Date: February 3, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

What’s To Like: I like that this feels like it’s going to be something…profound, I guess is the word I’m looking for.  Skylar wants nothing but to escape and Josh, who managed to escape, comes right back to the world he’s always known.  I foresee a lot of healing happening in this book, something I really do love about contemporary YA.  So far, I’ve heard good things about this book!

My review of I’ll Meet You There

Scripted by Maya Rock

Release Date: February 5, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Reality TV has a dark future in this thought-provoking thriller

To the people suffering on the war-torn mainland, Bliss Island seems like an idyllic place. And it is: except for the fact that the island is a set, and the islanders’ lives are a performance. They’re the stars of a hit TV show, Blissful Days—Characters are adored by mainland viewers, yet in constant danger of being cut if their ratings dip too low. And no one really knows what happens to cut Characters.

Nettie Starling knows she’s been given the chance of a lifetime when a producer offers suggestions to help her improve her mediocre ratings—especially when those suggestions involve making a move on the boy she’s been in love with for years. But she’ll soon have to decide how far she’s willing to go to keep the cameras fixed on her. . . especially when she learns what could happen to her if she doesn’t.

What’s To Like: I love this twist on reality TV.  It feels like Hunger Games mixed with The Selection.  It sounds dark and dangerous, but with a little hopeful note in this possible love story.  After this, I don’t think I’ll look at reality TV the same way again…probably a good thing I don’t watch it anyway!

The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London, #3) by Maureen Johnson

Release Date: February 10, 2015

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they’ll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.

What’s To Like: Maureen Johnson is an evil genius.  This series–so far–has been full of paranormal action, giggle-worthy wit, and characters that are just amazing.  And after the last book’s cliffhanger, how could I not want to read this book as soon as I can possibly get my hands on it?  I just hope there’s some kind of resolution to that awful, heartbreaking ending in the last book!

My review of The Shadow Cabinet

Defy (Defy, #1)

First Lines: The crackle and hiss of the flames devouring our house couldn’t block out the screaming and wailing of those who were still alive.  My friends, the children, and babies.  Orphans.  Most of the men were dead.

I put off reading this for a while due to bad reviews.  Don’t you just hate that?  When I originally read the premise, I thought it sounded awesome.  And then bad reviews started rolling in, and I second guessed myself.  But when a girl wants a fantasy read, she’ll grab what she can find.

Alexa has always been a fighter.  When her life crumbles around her, the only thing she knows how to do is fight back.  So she becomes Alex, a boy in her kingdom’s military.  Her cleverness and skill quickly earns her a place in the prince’s elite guard.  But when a sorcerer breaks in during the night to kidnap the prince, even Alex’s nearly undefeated skill isn’t enough to protect herself, the prince, and fellow guard Rylan from being kidnapped and taken to the jungle by the enemy nation.  And the longer Alex spends with Rylan and Prince Damian, the more she realizes she isn’t the only one keeping dangerous secrets.  When her secret is revealed, Alex finds herself facing a foe she’s never encountered: suitors.  Sweet and dependable Rylan, or the dark and intriguing Damian?  But with danger everywhere, is Alex strong enough to protect herself and her kingdom?

Admittedly, I was leery about the love triangle.  They just make me sigh and want to move on to something else.  But this one wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be.  For the most part, Alexa knows who she wants while the other guy is forced to watch from the wings.  So it did have that going for it.  I hate when the girl agonizes the whole story over who she’s going to pick.  Alexa didn’t do that, at least.

I love strong heroines, and I thought Alexa was a good one.  Who’s stronger than a girl who manages to masquerade as a boy for three years AND becomes the second in command in the prince’s guard?  That’s strong on multiple fronts.  (Some reviewers complain that Alexa is whiny and is overly emotional when it comes to the guys.  Eh.  I saw it at times, though not nearly as often as the reviewers would have you believe.)  I also thought Alexa was a great protagonist because, as a character, she was always keenly aware of what was going on around her.  That made her an interesting narrator.

I thought the plot was interesting.  There were many twists and turns.  And while I saw some coming, there were always more that I didn’t expect.  That kept me reading, easily.

And here we get to what needed work: the love story.  For a book that could be called a fantasy/romance, it seemed lacking on real depth to the love story.  I didn’t really feel it.  It was convenient and things sometimes moved too quickly or without good explanation.  I would have liked it if I could have felt more of the emotional side of things in that regard.  (Other emotions the story evokes were done pretty well, but not so much for this.)  And to some extent, I attribute this to being a debut novel.  Hey, everyone’s got to have a weakness, especially on your first run.

While it wasn’t a perfect novel, it was full of action and mystery, a strong heroine, and an interesting cast of characters.

Tsarina

First Lines: The rioters at the gate were loud, but no match for the music inside the Winter Palace.

As someone who once voluntarily gave a speech in high school about Anastasia Romanov, I knew that eventually I was going to get around to reading this book.  A focus on Alexei instead of Anastasia?  That looked new, promising, and exciting.

Natalya, a noblewoman in Imperial Russia, feels like her life is nearly perfect.  As the intended for Alexei Romanov, Natalya will someday be tsarina.  But the Reds in the streets are on the verge of started a revolution that will threaten Natalya’s world as she knows it.  As long as the strange (and possibly magical) Constellation Fabrege egg stays in the Winter Palace, Natalya’s future is safe.  But when the Winter Palace falls into the hands of the Reds, and the egg as well, how far will Natalya go to save Russia?  To save Alexei?  With the help of a young Red looking for the egg himself, Natalya’s world just got vastly more complicated.

I found this to be a charming story.  It was about a historical time period in which I am already incredibly interested in and it twisted the story slightly by talking about Alexei instead of Anastasia.  The premise was different and moved at a good clip, considering Russia is a powder keg just waiting for a spark.

Natalya was a good lead for this story.  She was strong, stubborn, determined, and compassionate.  It was a good combination, and it was easy to see why she could be tsarina someday.  Natalya’s best friend Emilia was strong but fearful.  She was a nice contrast to Natalya’s stubborn strength because Emilia couldn’t handle some of the same things Natalya could.  And Leo, the young Red, he was quite the character.  Determined, clever, and sympathetic.  Though Alexei wasn’t in the story much, it was easy to see how sweet and charming he was.

One thing that has stuck with me is how the author’s note said she wrote this in part to show how we must remember that our enemies are still people too.  When we see our enemies as simply those who oppose us, they stop being human.  She wrote this to help show that we’re more alike than we think we are.  I think she easily succeeded in her mission.  In this day and age, it’s so easy to forget that our enemies are still people with lives, feelings, family.  We see them as what they stand for, not as people.  This book was a nice example of how we can still work together, even though we have opposing viewpoints.

There were a few things I had small issues with.  First of all, the historical timeline was incredibly sped up.  And I realize why this was done.  (The author even mentions this in her author’s note as well, stating that this book is not a textbook, it’s a novel.)  I don’t know if I would have liked the book as well if there was so much downtime for the characters.  The excitement kept the story going.  But that doesn’t mean I still don’t feel a twinge of something icky inside, knowing that the timeline was sped up.  It’s the history nerd in me.

But I also thought the story could have stood on its own legs without the magical/mystical angle to it.  Of course, most people are aware of Rasputin’s legendary accomplishments that took “magic”, but the story took it beyond that.  Again, it did make the story exciting and was basically the plot.  I just wish it had been more historically factual.  This is, once again, the history nerd in me coming out.  I just think Imperial Russia is exciting as it is.

Overall, though, it was an exciting read that tours some beautiful sites in 1917ish Russia with a nice cast of characters.  I enjoyed it.