Sunday, June 30, 2013

Feudlings, Wendy Knight

Feudlings (Fate on Fire, #1) 75. Feudlings is the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers mixed with a lot of action. Ari, the heroine of the story, is seventeen years old and about to attend the newest in a succession of boarding schools in Park City, UT. Her only job: as the Edren prodigy, she is to find and destroy the children of the Carules. Although Ari doesn't enjoy what she does, she kills to keep her family safe, and to put an end to this war when she finds the Carules' prodigy and kills him.

Ari doesn't make friends. She's never in one place long enough, and getting attached only hurts. Plus, her experience has been that people (girls especially) are generally cruel. So it's much to Ari's surprise when she finds herself befriended by a group of students at her new school almost at once. And their friendship seems genuine--not just some trick to humiliate her later. Her new friends include Charity, Hunter, and Charity's cousin Shane--who just happens to be the hottest guy Ari's ever seen.

Only of course, there's a catch: Shane, Hunter, and Charity are Carules, and she's destined to destroy them. When Ari discovers this, she faces a choice: follow her destiny, or make her own future.

 The premise here is interesting, and I like that Ari is a strong girl character. I also liked the friendships that she forms with the other students, because I felt like they were warm and believable.

I wasn't as won over by her interest in Shane, which felt just a little bit like insta-love--although I did like both Ari and Shane, I think I would have liked it better if their interest in each other hadn't been telegraphed so clearly at the beginning, and if it hadn't been so physical (both of them were instantly struck by how attractive the other was).

The author does tension and action scenes quite well, so the plot moves quickly. Unfortunately, I kept comparing it to Cinda Williams Chima's excellent Warrior Heir, a contemporary fantasy that similarly pits two would-be lovers against each other as pawns in a bitter war, and I think Chima's book has tighter plotting and less obvious plot turns.

I enjoyed reading this book, and I think a lot of fantasy fans would enjoy it as well--I just didn't love it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

First Date by Krista McGee

First Date74. Krista McGee, First Date

2.5 stars

I was excited to read this book, about a girl (Addy) from a private Christian school who gets chosen to create in a reality competition to be the prom date for the First Son. I've enjoyed some similar stories in the past (The Selection, Second Chances) and hoped this would have a similar mix of hijinks and romance. I was also intrigued by the Christian element, as I don't see many books successfully treat religious faith in a non-preachy manner.

I wasn't very far into the book when I realized it was actually a retelling of the biblical Esther story, which made me even more hopeful. (As a child, Esther was by far my favorite book of the Bible--I reread it many times). This had a lot of promise.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite hold up to that promise. While Addy had some interesting complexes, including her reluctance to own her faith and her guilt over that reluctance, the whole Christian issue felt a little forced. Maybe my community is too sheltered, but even in graduate school I never felt like society as a whole looked down on Christians; people might not believe, but so many people in America do claim to be Christian (if not active church-goers) that the premise that Addy might be persecuted if she admits to her belief seemed a little much to me. I also felt like the plot twist that the author introduced to parallel Biblical threat to Esther's Jewish community was sort of unlikely.

A bigger issue for me was the sense that many of the girls (aside from Addy and her roommate Kara) were shallow and stereotypical. I realize you can't go into detail about *all* of the characters, but most of her contestants were just mean girls, without much to differentiate them outside of their appearance. And Addy herself, while she faced challenges, never seemed to be in real danger of losing anything important to her (something that I think is part of most good stories).

Despite all this, the story is clean and light and I can imagine that many readers enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rachel Hawkins, School Spirits

School Spirits73. Rachel Hawkins, School Spirits

3.5 stars

While not as enjoyable as Hex Hall, this story, which picks up with Sophie's cousin, Izzy (Isolde) Brannick, was a cute, fun read.

While Izzy and her mother struggle to come to terms with Izzy's older sister's disappearance, her mother decides to take a small job in a town called Ideal, to let Izzy take charge of a case and attend high school for a little while.

The case seems simple enough--the haunting of the high school by some sort of malevolent spirit. It doesn't take Izzy long to run into a group of high school ghost hunters, who she joins in the hope of pumping them for information. What Izzy doesn't anticipate is how the group makes her feel--Romy is like the best friend she never had, and Dex . . . Izzy isn't quite sure what she feels for Dex, who feels oddly like Prodigium to her, but like no Prodigium she's never encountered. He makes her feel other things too--things that make Izzy pretty certain she's better at dealing with Prodigium than boys. The only problem with all of this? Izzy isn't supposed to have friends (let alone a boyfriend)--this is just supposed to be a job. But the ghost proves unexpectedly difficult to eradicate, and the friend thing proves unexpectedly more enjoyable and enduring than Izzy expected.

 The main plot line wasn't particularly deep or complicated, but I enjoyed reading about the teen ghost hunters and their relationships. Izzy did at times feel a lot like Evie from Kiersten White's paranormalcy--only without the same level of enthusiasm. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

American GodsThis book is quirky, bizarre . . . and brilliant. It's definitely not a book for everyone, but a week after reading it, I'm still thinking about it. To me, that's a good sign.

Gaiman starts from one startlingly original idea: what if everyone who came to America brought their gods with them--literally? Sprawling across the pages of this novel are gods from almost every conceivable mythology, plus a few that I'm not sure Gaiman didn't invent.

Shadow, the main point-of-view character, is having a rough time of things as the novel starts. He's just been told he's being released early from jail--only to find that his wife and the job he thought he had waiting for him (working for his best friend) are gone, destroyed by a devastating auto accident. Shadow heads home, but with nothing to ground him, he finds himself at loose ends--only to wind up in the employ of a Mr. Wednesday, a man who is definitely odd, but also, as Shadow reluctantly comes to suspect, might just be one of the gods in the title. Through Wednesday, Shadow finds himself drawn into the battle that's brewing between the old gods and the new American gods (television, technology, media, etc.). And Shadow himself might have a pivotal role to play.

There's a lot to like about this novel: the characters, as some have noted, can be a little off-putting but they were so well-drawn that I was fascinated by them. I loved the pantheon of gods, and I thought Gaiman's modern day interpretations were brilliant. (I also loved the idea of roadside attractions as a kind of holy places for old gods). The storytelling was pretty amazing, the way Gaiman wove together seemingly unrelated stories and made them cohesive.

There were also some things I didn't love (things which would make me reluctant to recommend this to some readers): lots of profanity, and some disturbingly graphic sex scenes (more disturbing than graphic, actually). The ending itself was also a little ambiguous--probably deliberately so, but after sticking through a long and convoluted plot, I wanted a little more closure.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Michaelbrent Collings, Blood Relations

Blood Relations: A Good Mormon Girl Mystery First, a disclaimer: Michaelbrent is my cousin, and I've always felt vaguely guilty because I haven't read more of his books--but as his genre of preference is horror/thriller, you couldn't really pay me enough to read them. (I frighten myself enough as it is). When he announced a new book that was a genre I *do* read (mystery!), I was more than happy to purchase it. And perhaps this was a little naive of me, but the noir-ish cover and the "good Mormon girl" subtitle led me to expect something along the lines of classic mystery (Sayers, Christie, etc.).

This was not the book I was expecting.

Lane Cooley (the titular "Good Mormon Girl") is a captain with the LAPD. The story opens with her involvement in what begins to look like a serial murder case: beautiful young blond girls, killed with a blow to the head and then eviscerated. (Smart readers will recognize at this point that these kind of details are not consistent with the sort of mystery I was expecting!) She's struggling to balance her busy, intense work-life with the care of a teenage sister, Izzy, who is busy rejecting the faith that Lane clings to and generally enjoying her teenage rebellion.

But then Lane realizes that her sister, under her dyed hair, is a dead-ringer for the dead girls. More than that, the few clues they find suggest that the killer might be a cop--a cop that knows her, knows Izzy. And when the killer himself comes forward with hints that his next target is Izzy, Lane's case shifts from professional to personal.

The plotting in this story was stellar. It opened strong, but the last third was riveting. I thought I had the killer identified early on and was feeling smug about that, but then Michaelbrent got me to reconsider that not just once, but twice--ultimately blindsiding me with a suspect I did not see coming.

This isn't to to say the story was perfect: I thought the characterization of Izzy, especially at the beginning, was a little overdone, and I didn't think that the story needed the details about Lane being the Relief Society president (particularly as that didn't really add anything to the story). I did like that Lane was open about her beliefs without being preachy, although some of her behaviors (her abhorence of swearing and smoking, for instance) seemed part of a wider LDS stereotype I would have liked to see challenged, or at least complicated.

But it was definitely a book that kept me up later than I should have been, frantically reading to the finish.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Getting Over Garrett Delaney

71. Abby McDonald, Getting Over Garrett Delaney

Getting Over Garrett Delaney I read McDonald's most recent book, a Sense and Sensibility adaptation, a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to enjoying one of her older books. This book didn't disappoint--in fact, I think it should be mandatory reading for teenage girls who are a) convinced their platonic guy friend will eventually love them and/or b) have ever considered making themselves over for a guy.

Seventeen-year-old Sadie has been best friends with Garrett Delaney for two years--two intoxicating and aggravating years where she and Garrett have gotten closer and closer, and Sadie has watched him go through break-up after break-up, all the while convinced that one day he will wake up and realize that they were *meant* to be together.

 But when Sadie fails to get into the summer writing camp she and Garrett were destined to attend together, Sadie has to make other plans for her summer. A chance job at a local coffee shop introduces her to a new cast of characters and friends, who help her recognize that maybe--just maybe--she should stop waiting around for Garrett Delaney.

Sadie comes up with a program to help her get over Garrett Delaney. With the help of some new and old friends, Sadie manages to reinvent herself in delightful ways.

This book was all the things I like in my contemporary YA: some depth, as Sadie comes to some startling realizations about herself. A lot of humor. And a little romance. What I liked best, though, was the novel's focus on Sadie finding herself, rather than finding herself the perfect romantic partner.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

70. Jennifer E. Smith, This is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy Looks Like I adored Jennifer Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, so I was excited to find a copy of her newest book.

It all starts with an accidental email from Graham Larkin (yes, the Graham Larkin, teenage heart-throb) to Ellie O'Neill, asking her to walk his pig. Ellie emails back, Graham responds, and an email exchange is born. The two of them only know each other by initials (G and E), so Ellie has no idea that Graham is a star and Graham doesn't know about Ellie's secret past.

When Graham gets a chance to film his newest film on location in the small town in Maine where Ellie lives, he jumps at it, hoping to see if his friendship with Ellie is the real thing. Of course, the reality isn't as easy as Graham dreams it will be: Ellie's secret means that she's wary of getting involved with a star that comes with paparazzi, no matter how handsome he is.

Smith is a good writer, with clean, uncomplicated prose. Ellie and Graham are both interesting, believable characters. But somehow, I didn't love this. I suppose I wanted more romance, less drama and difficulty. I liked it--I just didn't love it.