The Warrior Heir (The Heir Chronicles, #1)

First Lines: The scent of wood smoke and roses always took him back there, to the boy he was and never would be again.

So, the other day as my kiddos were taking a standardized test, I happened to finish the book I was reading.  (The horror!)  So I grabbed this off of my classroom bookshelf, figuring it was best if I actually read something I was allowing them to read.  Funny how that works.

Before the Roses, Jack lived a normal life in Trinity, Ohio.  He loves soccer and the only thing that really sets him apart from his friends is the medicine he has to take daily since his heart surgery as a baby.  But then Jack accidentally skips his medicine.  Now he’s stronger and more confident than ever–until his newfound strength nearly kills another soccer player in practice.  That’s when Jack learns the truth–he’s a Weirlind, a member of a magical society.  Ruling the Weirlind are two families: the Red Roses and the White Roses, whose power is determined by who wins a deadly tournament known as the Game.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Jack finds out that he’s a Warrior…and one of the last when both sides are searching for a champion.

Initially, I thought it was pretty interesting.  I really like it in stories when someone “normal” gets absorbed into a magical world.  (Maybe because I’m holding out the hope that it will happen to me?)  Jack is completely unaware of all the danger he’s in, though he quickly figures out he’s in over his head.  And something about that appealed to me too.

There were some really interesting plot twists, but there were at least two big ones that I called from way too early in the story.  So while it was fun to be taken by surprise a few times, I really just rode out the surprises with “Aha!  I was right!” moments.

I tended to like the world this story was set in (you know, outside of Ohio).  It was interesting, but I also felt that by the end I still didn’t have a great grasp on the rules and customs of the Weir.  (*snort* I accidentally typed “Weird”.  Fitting.)  I felt like I was missing something…and maybe I happened to read an important section too fast.  I’m not ruling that out.

Perhaps the most interesting part for me was the obvious pull from the War of the Roses.  (Medieval English history for the win!  The Houses of Lancaster vs. York.  Look it up.)  With my recent adventure into the world of the British monarchy via extensive genealogy research, I was more than a little proud to see the parallels.  Do I expect my students to know this?  Not even close.  If they do, they’re my new BFF.

Overall, I thought it was a fine read, but it seemed to be missing something for me personally.  For others who maybe don’t read as much, I’m sure this is great.

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Falling Into Place

First Lines: On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s Laws of Motion in physics class.  Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.

This was an impulse-grab at the library.  It was on my to-read list, yes, but I just needed one more book and I decided to try this.  (Having the author’s name start with a Z may also have impacted this decision.  Why?  Because I’m weird.)

Liz Emerson had most things going for her in life.  She was one of the most popular girls in school.  But inside, Liz feels like she’s falling apart.  She begins to realize how she’s impacted the lives of those around her…and so many times, she’s hurt them.  How do we impact others?  How do we change their lives?  What does it mean to be loved?

I want to begin by saying that this is a YA book for mature readers.  I’m 24, and there were times where I didn’t feel mature enough to be reading this.  There are so many heavy topics in this book.  Sex, drugs (the really bad ones), hard-core partying, and obviously suicide.  (There’s also a lot of language in this book.  Be prepared for that.)  I had the misfortune of reading this during a particularly rough week at my job as well as during the Virginia reporter shooting.  I spent two days on the verge of tears at all times.

The blurb on Goodreads says this is good for fans of Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall).  It’s been a while since I’ve read either one of those books, but this was far darker than Oliver’s book.  I’d admit that it’s very similar in tone to Asher’s, but I still thought this was darker.

Actually, Liz is a dark character.  She’s troubled to the core.  She becomes popular because she’s mean to other kids.  She’s mean because there’s nobody at home to tell her not to be, so she acts out and makes others as miserable as she is.  Then she feels miserable and the cycle continues.  Liz is nobody’s role model.

I don’t even think we’re supposed to like Liz by the end of the story.  I certainly didn’t.  But I think we’re supposed to understand her.  It’s certainly hard to like someone who knows that their actions are actually ruining lives.  She has evidence to back up that she has destroyed people.  It’s awful.  And I can’t like a person who knowingly does that.  But I can understand them.

I will say that the narration of this story was unexpected.  (I’m not going to spoil who the narrator is, but it’s not Liz.)  It was interesting, though.  The narrator does bounce around to other characters so we can understand what everyone who was affected by Liz’s drive off the highway is doing and going through, but it always returns to the narrator.  It really hammered home the consequences of suicide.

Overall, I thought the writing style was interesting and engaging, but the story itself was too dark for me.

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, #2)

First Lines: One swift act.  I had thought that was all it would take.  A knife in the gut.  A firm twist for good measure.

I was a furtive thief at the library when I saw this.  I snatched it and held it tightly to my chest, daring anyone to take it from me with a sideways glare of my eyes.  I have been dying for this book since the cliffhanger at the end of the last book.

*Series Spoilers Ahead.  Serious spoilers from the first book.  Read ahead with caution*

With little chance of escape, Lia and Rafe have to navigate the entirely new land of Venda with caution.  One misstep could cost one or both of them their lives.  Kaden, Lia’s would-be assassin, is desperate to keep her alive.  He’s gone so far as to tell the Komizar of Venda that Lia has the gift and could be valuable to the nation.  But he never anticipated the Komizar’s extreme interest.  For Lia, nothing is as straightforward as it should be.  Rafe, who lied to Lia, sacrificed his freedom to protect her.  Kaden, her assassin, has saved her life.  The Vendans Lia always thought were barbarians aren’t as different from her people as she thought.  Wrestling not only to protect herself but also with her desires, Lia will have to make choices that have dangerous consequences…for herself and her country.

I love a good fantasy and I’m so glad this fell into my lap when it did.  I needed it.

Lia is an excellent example of a strong heroine who doesn’t rely on men to save her.  (Even if she does have two waiting in the wings.)  She clever and shrewd and unpredictable to her enemies.  I loved following her story because every time someone (usually a man) thought they had her cowed, she came back swinging with something unexpected and clever.  I love a good comeuppance when it’s needed.

And the introduction of the Komizar was a good move.  He’s the kind of bad guy you almost have to respect for it.  Like, he actually seems to have had good intentions at one time, but they got lost along the way as the power corrupted him.  He’s not inherently evil, but there’s definitely something rotten at the core.  He’s…interesting.

I did think the plot of this one was less suspenseful than the previous book.  I mean, we knew by this book who was the assassin and who the prince, so it couldn’t build suspense from that angle.  This was more of a mental challenge for Lia.  Could she control her temper, could she wait until the perfect moment to strike?  Could she withstand the Komizar’s punches?  I like to think of it as a giant chess match.  Which is a lot of fun, but not always the most suspenseful.

The end does leave us on a cliffhanger again (I know, right?), but it’s not as dramatic as the last one.  Partly, this feeling may come from the fact that I read this book over the course of many days, diluting the suspense.

Overall, it’s an impressive fantasy.  Love the strength of the leads and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Speak Easy (Speak Easy, #1)

First Lines: The woman approached me at the counter, keeping her eyes low.  “A quart of maple syrup,” she said, her voice hushed.  I didn’t recognize her.  “What kind?”

These first lines probably have you going, “Um…what does this have to do with the story?”  (Trust me, it does.)  This has been sitting on my Kindle for some time now because…well, my Kindle is where books go to die a slow death as I forget about them.  But for whatever reason, I remembered this book and it seemed like the perfect time to read it.

Quick note: this is a New Adult book, so it’s going to be for more *mature* audiences.

It’s 1923 and 20-year-old Tiny O’Mara would like nothing more than to move out of her father’s house.  By day she takes care of her sisters and helps out with her dad’s bootlegging business.  By night, Tiny wants to be part of the flapper lifestyle–until her father gets kidnapped by rival bootleggers.  Tiny has a week to come up with the ten thousand dollar ransom.  Enzo DiFiore, the sexy son of the mobster who kidnapped her father, is willing to help her…for a price.  But their undeniable chemistry has unforeseen consequences for both of them.  And Tiny’s irritating childhood friend Joey Lupo can get her the money she needs, but he has his own reasons for helping.  Forced into the mob underworld, Tiny will have to outwit and outmaneuver those with more power than she has.  Can she get the money and save her father before the terms change?

I’ve recently been obsessed with historical fictions, so this was a natural read for me.  And really, it was pretty good.

Tiny is a pretty feisty character.  Most of her other friends are working more mundane jobs, but Tiny’s job as a bootlegger always has this undercurrent of danger.  When her family life blows up in front of her, she scrambles to find all the pieces again.  And while she does get a lot of help in putting the pieces back together, she does a lot of the leg-work on her own.

There is a bit of a love triangle in the story, which would normally have me rolling my eyes.  But this was set up differently from most love triangles I’ve read.  It didn’t feel like a plot ploy to bring more drama to the story.  It was more like one guy was too late about sharing his feelings and Tiny had already picked someone else.

As for the romance (keep in mind, this is for *mature* audiences), there were some moments where it felt rushed or flat.  (Or a combination of the two, possibly.)  Mostly, it’s good.  Some of it even gets steamy.  But there were just those moments where trying to deny attraction and abrupt rudeness just kind of made things…eh.  Still, I didn’t really think that that rushed feeling impacted the story much.

I really enjoyed the 1920s aspect of this story.  Lots of stuff about mobsters/gangsters, lots of illegal liquor, and a good bit of extortion and murder along the way.  Who doesn’t like that?  Also, I can’t help but find it ironic that this was the era when the government tried to exert more control by outlawing alcohol and really all it did was lose control with the rise of bootlegging and gangsters.  Really, with Prohibition, it created crime.

Overall, it’s a fun historical read with quite a few yummy dudes.  It’s exciting (and short), so you’ll never want to put it down!

Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die, #1)

First Lines: I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday–one year after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.

I’m a die-hard Wizard of Oz (movie) fan.  I mean, it’s definitely in the top 5 at least.  So I’ve been really curious about this book.  I enjoy a fresh twist on an old story (look at how many Shakespeare retellings I’ve read), and this seemed like something I’d enjoy.

Amy Gumm hates her life in Kansas.  An addict mother, a home in a trailer park, and mean girls just make life unbearable.  So when a tornado picks Amy up and drops her in Oz, it almost seems like a blessing.  But this Oz isn’t like the Oz Amy knows from the movie or the books.  Here, wicked witches may actually be good, and good witches may be ruining Oz.  The Cowardly Lion is the scariest thing you’ll find in the woods.  Winged Monkeys are executed for sass and rebellion.  But most of all, Dorothy has taken control of everything…and how is Amy supposed to fix Oz?  Simple.  Dorothy must die.

Erm…well, I really wasn’t that impressed by this book.  Partly, I think this comes from my love of the movie, which I’ll talk about more soon.

What I did like was that Amy’s character felt natural.  Back in Kansas, Amy is bullied and her life sucks.  It’s horrible.  She’s looking for an escape (or a death wish) when the tornado comes.  Even though Oz is in shambles, it still feels like a wish come true to her.  And I respected that because that sort of felt like what my reaction would be too.  She acted like a typical teenager and she was relatable.

Also, I kind of liked seeing my old favorite characters turning bad.  (It’s kind of the same reason I’d love to play a villain in a play; it’d be so much fun to just let loose.)  They’re just kind of twisted, in a cool way.  As it happens, this is also something that I didn’t quite like about the book, but I’ll explain soon.

What I didn’t like so much (because it frustrated me) was the mysterious, secretive attitude of literally everyone in Oz.  No one would give Amy a straight answer to save their life.  Oh my God.  Look, I get it.  In an Oz where one wrong comment can earn you a Fate Worse Than Death, you stay pretty hush-hush around anyone you don’t know.  But when at least three characters came up to Amy and went, “Don’t trust anyone, especially me!  Now trust me because I’m about to endanger your life,” I had a problem.  If I were Amy, I’d have been looking for a tornado back home because they’d have made me pull all my hair out in frustration.

As I already mentioned, I also didn’t like this new twist on my old favorite characters.  The word that keeps coming to mind is that they are a “perverted” version of themselves.  I mean that in a “twisted” way, not a “sicko who likes little kids” way.  I understand these characters needed to be taken to an extreme to make it believable, but they became caricatures of their former selves.  It really wasn’t even fun to read about them after a certain point.

Mostly I saw this with Dorothy, though to lesser extents with the others as well.  Dorothy wasn’t a dictator or simply a bad queen.  She basically became the Queen of Hearts with her “off with his head” mentality.  She was completely unrecognizable from the Dorothy I knew.  (Yes, this is the point.  But it would have been nice if there was a shred of the old Dorothy under all that evil.)

And honestly, I just think that the fact that I love the movie so much impacted how I read this.  I mean, I can quote that movie more or less on demand.  I think part of me rebelled against the idea of these characters being bad.

While I appreciated its take on a darker Oz, I simply wasn’t blown away by this book.  (*snort* Um…no pun intended?)

The Stars Never Rise (The Stars Never Rise, #1)

First Lines: There is never a good time of day to cross town with a bag full of stolen goods, but of all the possibilities, five a.m. was the hour best suited to that particular sin.  Five a.m. and I were well acquainted.

I was so excited to get my hands on another Rachel Vincent story.  You have no idea.  It’s been a while since I’ve read one and I was so looking forward to it.  This was a “finders keepers” situation at the library when I spotted it.  I wasn’t going to let it go for anything.

If the Church is to be believed, Nina should be spending all of her time worrying about her soul.  But with a younger sister to take care of and an abusive addict mother, Nina is really only worried about surviving.  Demons have decimated the population of cities around the world, and souls are so precious that not every baby will get one.  When Nina discovers that Mellie, her sister, is hiding a dangerous secret, Nina will do anything to protect her.  Because sins in New Temperance are treated like crimes…and Mellie’s secret could get her serious punishment.  To keep them both alive, Nina will give her trust to Finn, a fugitive who has already saved her life once.  Wanted and on the run, Nina will have to turn to Finn and his friends if she has any hope of surviving and keeping Mellie safe.

For as excited as I was to read this, I kept waiting for it to really hook me.  And waiting.  And waiting.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t a good story, but I just felt it was missing that “can’t put this down” moment.

The concept of it is really interesting.  Basically, the whole world is run by the Church and demons are very, very real threats.  That was pretty awesome.

And the characters are good too.  Nina is tough, even though she doesn’t always feel like it.  She’s just been forced into that role if she has any hope of protecting her sister.  She’s not the strongest nor is she the smartest, but she makes do.  And while I definitely liked the other characters, I just didn’t feel like I really got to know them well.  Finn was probably the next most seen character and then after that, it was a lot of people in a very small amount of space.

The story had everything I love from Vincent.  There were unexpected twists and turns, hilarious jokes and one-liners, lovable characters, and really crazy creepy stuff.  But I think the thing that made it the hardest for me was the fact that I felt there was instalove in this book.  Sure, it’s on Finn’s side more than Nina’s, but still…it felt really rushed.  And I’m not used to that from Vincent.  I’m not sure why it was used here.

Overall, it’s a good story.  I just wish we had more time to get to know the characters and that the love aspect moved at a more reasonable pace.

Like It Never Happened

First Lines: It wasn’t like he begged me to sit shotgun in his ancient station wagon.  Mr. McFadden only offered me a ride home because I happened to be backstage looking for a taxidermied puffin.

This was a book that I liked the cover, loved the blurb, and thought it was worth the read.  I always feel sort of lucky when I find a new book like this on the library shelves.

Rebecca Rivers is an actress to the bone.  And when she receives a lead role in her school’s performance of The Crucible, her life changes.  She grows close with the other leads and even gets to kiss the handsome Charlie Lamb on stage.  No one can find fault with Rebecca, not even the notoriously picky director.  Though the five friends vow never to date, Rebecca can’t help having feelings for Charlie.  But the drama off-stage can be more dramatic than that on stage.  A life-altering accusation threatens to destroy everything…even if it’s not all true.

To be perfectly honest, this is a DNF at pg. 241.  But before I get to my reasons for stopping (because that will have spoilers), I’ll share with you some other information.

Frankly, the writing isn’t bad.  It unraveled in a logical way, with the plot sometimes dropping clues about things ahead of discussing them to avoid an info-dump.  All well and good.  The characterizations as well were also good.  Charlie, a social chameleon, completely fits the way he’s described.  Sure, the characters are a bit extreme at times, but a lot of real people are too.

Ok, one unspoilery thing I can say about why I stopped is that I can’t stand mean girl-types and horrific, unfounded rumors.  I can’t.  (I actually despise the movie Mean GirlsDespise.)  And I have a very low tolerance for “wild child” behavior (like smoking pot, smoking cigarettes because everything thinks it looks cool, and getting drunk before noon).  All of this plays a role in the story and I hated it.  Should I have realized that some of this would be present before the book started (based on its tagline and blurb)?  Yes.  That’s on me.

Now I’m about to go into the spoilery stuff.  (Well, if you can call it spoilery considering I actually have no idea how the book ends.)  If you care to read on, go ahead.  If not, skip to the part below the lovely symbols.

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Here’s why I couldn’t finish the book: the plot took a dramatic shift into the realm of teacher-student relationships.  At the time I’d stopped reading, nothing had actually happened.  But Rebecca kept fantasizing about kissing her teacher and it really weirded me out.  (I’m a teacher.  This summer, a former teacher of mine was just sentenced to 4 years in jail for his relations with a student.  It’s sick.)

And frankly, trying to avoid those relationships is lesson number one in becoming a teacher.  You think I’m joking, but I can vividly recall one of my professors describing exactly how much you DO NOT want to be even in the ballpark of one of those accusations coming out.  Rule One: NEVER give students rides (which clearly Mr. McFadden just did in the first lines).

I can’t handle those kinds of plots.  Reading about Rebecca’s fantasies and Mr. McFadden’s indiscretions, I wanted to rub my skin raw.  I’m disgusted now just thinking about it again.

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If you skipped the spoilery stuff, I’ll sum it up in this way: the book was making me vastly uncomfortable and I had to make the decision between being uncomfortable and finishing the book or making myself happy and quit.  So I quit.  Why finish a book that’ll practically give me nightmares when I could be reading something I find more engaging?

Overall, it’s probably not a bad book.  But that plot twist killed anything and everything I may have felt for this book.