Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Chameleon (Supernaturals, #1) 110. Kelly Oram, Chameleon

I like a good supernatural novel every once in a while (I'm a huge fan of Patricia Briggs' books), and I enjoyed Oram's novel, V is for Virgin. Oram has a great, snappy writing style that's perfectly suited for YA.

That said, I didn't love this book as much as I'd hoped to. Dani Webber is an ordinary girl--a little on the rebellious side, with just one really close friend (a guy)--but she doesn't think there's anything too unusual about that. Until, just after she turns sixteen, her best friend Russ reveals that he's a warlock . . . and then Dani herself stops time at a dance.

Turns out, nothing Dani thought about herself or her life is real. After a werewolf shows up to abduct her, Dani reluctantly agrees to turn herself over to the Council, who regulate supernatural activity. The Council promises to protect her and train her--but after they betray her trust, Dani finds herself struggling to know who to trust:  Russ and his father, Alex, who always treated her like his own daughter, but lied to her for years about her ability? Or the Council who only seem interest in using her unique powers--and who forced her into a marriage against her will to the gentle Seer, Gabriel? Still more questions rise when both Dani and Gabriel see visions of someone trying to raise the Angel of Death (a powerful demon), and they have to unite to try and stop this from every happening.

The plot really has some interesting and engaging ideas. I think what I struggled with was that some of the elements were just too much. The love triangle, for instance. Oram does such a great job making you care about Russ, that when Gabriel gets introduced, it's hard to love him as much--particularly when Dani's situation with Gabriel is something imposed on both of them from the outside. There were also some major plot twists that I saw coming.

The book does read quickly, and, as mentioned above, Oram has a great YA voice. The book is worth reading for the interactions between Dani and Russ alone. So if you have a reasonably high tolerance for dramatic love triangles, you'll probably really enjoy this book. I couldn't get into the love triangle, which ultimately made the book less enjoyable for me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Wicked

109. Helen Boswell, The Wicked

Mythology: The WickedI was lucky enough to read bits of this as Helen was writing it, but I was thrilled to find out that the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts (and the parts themselves were quite good). This is a sequel to Helen's Mythology, but I think this is one of those unique cases where the sequel is even better than the first novel.

The book opens with Hope and Micah struggling to find a way for Micah to live with his demon status; Micah's values mean that he refuses to steal souls from others, but without this energy, he will die in a matter of years. At the same time, they're drawn into a local conspiracy as young demon boys keep surfacing, dead. As the two struggle to solve this mystery, Hope continues to master her own powers and Micah finds himself as a pawn in still another power-struggle, this time with the powerful Praxidikai, who strive to maintain balance between demons and guardians. All of this sounds like it might be too much, but Helen does such a great job weaving together different storylines.

And at the heart of it all is Micah's relationship with Hope. Where book 1 was from Hope's perspective, book two interweaves Hope and Micah's perspectives. And I have to say, I really love Micah. He's sweet, but real, which means he has flaws--and he makes mistakes with real consequences.

The story itself was fast-paced, the writing generally clean, and the romance itself had some definitely swoon-worthy moments. I really enjoyed this--and I can't wait to read book three! (No pressure, of course, Helen . . . )

Monday, October 21, 2013


108. Julianne Donaldson, Blackmoore

Blackmoore: A Proper Romance I loved Donaldson's debut novel, Edenbrooke, so I was thrilled when my sister loaned me her copy of Donaldson's newest book. And while I'll admit that I like Edenbrooke better, Blackmoore kept me entertained for the last couple of days--and it fulfilled really the only requirement I have for a good romance novel: at some point, my  heart has to hurt. And Blackmoore did that for me.

The story opens with Kate Worthington fretting about an upcoming trip to Blackmoore, the estate caught between the sea and the moors that will someday belong to her childhood friend Henry. She's dreamed about this trip almost her whole life, but now, through her mother's manipulativeness, she may be denied this visit. Desperate to go--and more, to go to India with a maiden aunt after the trip is over--Kate makes a bargain with her mother: she will receive (and reject) three proposals of marriage, or else she will do whatever her mother commands her. Granted, this agreement seems sort of silly (Kate herself realizes quickly how foolish it is), but if you can suspend your disbelief of that for a while, it helps engineer some of the most interesting tension of the novel.

The novel is a little slow getting going, as we only gradually realize why Kate is so set against marriage through a series of flashbacks in the middle of the story. This novel is darker than Edenbrooke, as Kate's family is particularly wretched. Maybe the setting lends itself to that impression too, as the moors encourage Kate to a wildness she didn't realize she had.

I liked the central tension between Kate and the main love interest (I won't name names, though it's pretty clear early on who this will be)--but I loved the setting. And, as an amateur birder myself, I loved the recurring bird motif throughout the book. I didn't love the ending, which seemed to resolve pretty quickly (particularly in comparison with how slowly the early part of the book unfolded), but the romance itself was satisfying to me.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Navigating Early

107. Clare Vanderpool, Navigating Early

Vanderpool won the Newberry award for her debut novel, Moon over Manifest, so I was of course interested in reading her newest novel. And if I didn't love it as much as Moon over Manifest, it was still a lovely, engrossing story.

Navigating EarlyJack Baker is struggling to find his footing in an all boy's school in Maine in the mid 1940s, following the death of his mother and his removal from the Kansas plains he's known all his life. At his new school, he meets Early Auden, the only boy at the school even more of an outcast than Jack himself. Early is some kind of mathematic genius who sees numbers in colors and patterns and who is obsessed with the number pi. He shows up for class only when he wants to, and for the most part, the other students leave him alone. But Jack finds himself drawn to Early. And when the two of them are the only students left at the school for their fall break, Early and Jack take a daring trip up the Appalachian Trail in pursuit of the Great Appalachian Bear and the number pi. What they find on their trip (including pirates!) is beyond both of their wildest expectations . . .

Things I loved: I loved the voice of this novel, and the loving detail that Vanderpool gives to imagining her characters, particularly Early Auden (who we would today recognize as autistic, but back then was merely considered strange). And I loved how what was ultimately an adventure story proved to have so many layers. No character, no matter how seemingly minor, was incidental to the plot--Vanderpool wove the different characters together in wonderful and surprising ways.

The only thing I didn't particularly like was the story of Pi--Vanderpool alternates some of the chapters with the story Early  makes up about pi. And while I see the symbolic parallels between the story of pi and the adventure Early and Jack were living, I still couldn't get into the parallel stories.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blood Moon

106. Blood Moon, by Teri Harman

Blood Moon (The Moonlight Trilogy, #1) Willa has always known there was something different about her, starting with her weird, almost prophetic dreams and her best friend--who happens to be a ghost. But she doesn't think much of it, until she meets Simon, and they are immediately drawn together by a power that's more than just physical magnetism. Simon, too, has a secret: he has a powerful ability to heal living creatures. When Willa and Simon save a woman from being tortured in the basement of an abandoned house that belonged to one of the town's founders, they discover that they are both witches, and heir to a powerful legacy begun by the town's founders. It's not long before they are drawn into danger and have to make a decision--do they embrace who they are and fight this great evil, or walk away and hope to reclaim their former lives.

I really went back and forth on this book. I like the magic system here quite a bit. Harman has devised six different branches of witchcraft, and twelve witches (a man and woman from each branch) together are capable of forming a Covenant--a particularly powerful union of Covens. The story also flashes back to a catastrophe that happened decades earlier in the town, and I found myself increasingly intrigued by the historical figures. To be honest, sometimes I was more interested in what was happening to these minor characters (perhaps because there remained a big mystery about them) than I was with what was happening to Willa and Simon. While I liked Willa and Simon well enough as individual characters, I didn't love the fact that theirs was a kind of insta-love--the fact that they were drawn so powerfully to each other by magic seemed to rob their relationship of individual choice (and a lot of romantic tension). The writing style was a little uneven too: some of the descriptions, particularly, were lovely--well-written and vivid. But at other times the prose seemed almost over-written, as if it could have benefited from just a little more pruning. There were a few typos in the book, which I often don't notice (I read quickly), but were sometimes enough to pull me out of the story.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Abby Road

105. Abby Road, by Ophelia London
Abby Road
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up this book, about a celebrity musician whose personal life is spiraling downward after the unexpected death of her brother. When we first meet Abigail Kelly, she's just about hit rock bottom. Her manager has given her an unexpected summer off to recuperate, so she heads to South Florida to stay with her sister. There, she meets Todd--and falls into a romance she wasn't expecting and wasn't looking for. But just as their relationship seems to be taking off, Abby gets swept back up in her music career. As Todd gets increasingly frustrated by the difference in Abby--particularly the way she lets her creative judgment be overriden by her overbearing manager--Abby finds she may have to make a choice between the two things she loves best in her life.

I think what I liked best about this book is the glimpse into Abby's life as a musician and the creative energy that drives her. The romance, for me, had some ups and downs. Initially Todd seemed almost too perfect--and then over the course of the novel he makes some decisions and acts in ways that seemed abrupt and a little inexplicable (though they were explained later). But I liked how real Abby was and I enjoyed following her journey to find herself. The writing style, too, was clear and enjoyable. Overall, I'd say it's a fun, fairly clean romance. Not perfect, but a fast, enjoyable read.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I'm feeling lazy today, apparently, because I'm going to post three reviews in one. All are by LDS authors, and all are young adult speculative books, but aside from that there is not a lot linking the books together. 

103. Tamara Hart Heiner, Inevitable
InevitableAside from a lovely cover, this book had an interesting premise--Jayne can See people who are about to die violent deaths, presaged by the strong smell of lemons. Though she has tried in the past to alter these deaths, she's mostly been unsuccessful. So when she smells the scent of lemon on her younger sister, she does her best to avoid eye contact with her sister, hoping to avoid the knowledge of her sister's death. And when she meets a hot new British student at her high school, Aaron, who smells strongly of lemon, she does her best to avoid him, too.

But the complications in her personal life pale when Jayne Sees the death of a young woman at the hands of a local serial killer--and sees the face of the killer himself. Now Jayne has to decide how involved she wants to be--and how to convince the local police that she isn't, in fact, crazy, without risking her life or the lives of those close to her.

Like I said, the concept, I think, is great. My problem was that I had a hard time relating to Jayne--initially, her passiveness drove me crazy. Why *wouldn't* she just meet her sister's eyes? Even if she hasn't been able to prevent deaths in the past, maybe she could do something about her sister. (If it were me, I would). It also wasn't until half-way through the book that we found out Jayne really *had* tried in the past to prevent deaths (up to that point, all readers see is Jayne saying that she can't do anything. It was hard for me to believe this without seeing it.) And then there was Aaron--Jayne kept blowing hot and cold about him, but he remained steadily interested in ways that didn't quite make sense to me. And what guy would keep pursuing a girl who wouldn't make eye contact with him for days at a time? I get why Jayne didn't want to See his death, but I didn't get why Aaron kept after her, when all he got was a brush-off.

After the action picked up in the middle of the book, I stopped being so irritated by character flaws and actually enjoyed the end of the book.

104. (Review from Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Abigail Johnson is Gifted.

Blessed—or cursed—with Sight and Healing, Abby lives an unsettled life, moving from place to
place and staying one step ahead of the darkness that hunts her. When she arrives in Jackson, Wyoming, she is desperate to maintain the illusion of normalcy, but she is plagued with visions of past lives mixed with frightening glimpses of her future. Then she meets Kye, a mysterious boy who seems so achingly familiar that Abby is drawn to him like he’s a missing piece of her own soul.

Before Abby can discover the reason for her feelings toward Kye, the darkness catches up to her and she is forced to flee again. But this time she’s not just running. She is fighting back with Kye at her side, and it’s not just Abby’s life at stake.
I'm a sucker for this kind of book (provided it's well written): an interesting blend of mythology and contemporary setting. I loved the unfolding relationship between Abby and Kye and the mythological elements were interesting. I was not as enamored with the historical flashbacks that provided readers with an explanation of why Abby and Kye were bound together, and what they were fighting against. (I suppose it's because I didn't have the same connection to the historical characters). The writing was generally good and the plot fast-paced.

105. Heather Ostler, Siren's Secret.

This wasn't my favorite book that I've read recently. While there is a lot of potential in the story, it didn't quite live up to that potential for me. This is the second book in a series--in the first book, Julia Levesque discovered she was a shapeshifter, a werecat, and that her family was part of a royal line of another kingdom. She left her home in the US and travelled to a special school for werecats in Ossia, her new home. In book two, Julia's position in Ossia is threatened as she makes a new discovery about her identity--that she might be part siren. Since sirens are feared and ostracized in Ossia, this is a discovery she must hide at all costs, even as it begins to threaten her ability to shapechange. To keep things complicated, she also has to help her father and friends fight off the looming threat of her evil mother.

This was another case where I had a hard time with the main character because she was sometimes irrational. Sometimes she was passive--for instance, she finds out that she's cursed and instead of trying to fight it or find a cure, she just accepts it and starts moping. But in other cases, she acts quickly (often rashly) without thinking things through and she blows hot and cold in her relationships (both with friends and romantic). And maybe this is authentic teenage behavior, but I've read lots of teenage heroines who don't rub me quite the wrong way as much as Julia did. Lots of readers seem to have really enjoyed this book, so it's possible that it's just me.

Ashes on the Waves

Ashes on the Waves 102. In the relatively crowded world of paranormal YA, Mary Lindsey's Ashes on the Waves stands out in a good way. Based loosely on Poe's "Annabel Lee," this novel is told from the POV of the male hero, Liam MacGregor, who's always been considered an outcast on his island, off the coast of Maine. Because the island is quite remote, it lacks a lot of modern amenities, which gives the whole story a more old-fashioned feel, though it is contemporary. All his life, Liam has remembered the kindness of Anna Leighton, daughter of a wealthy family who owns a summer home on the island. When Anna shows up on the island to hide out after receiving negative press in the tabloids, Liam falls for her again--only this time as an adult.

But of course, true love never does run smooth, and in their case, things are complicated by a bet between the island's Otherworlders, testing the couple's love. While I liked both Liam and Anna, I think my favorite part of the story was the Poe angle (Lindsey includes quotes from Poe at the beginning of each chapter), closely followed by the rich Celtic mythology. Lovely, chilling, spooky. The only thing I didn't particularly love was the ending, but if you've read the poem Annabel Lee, it won't come as too big of a shock.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Global Mom

101. Melissa Dalton Bradford, Global Mom.

I'm hesitant to write a review for this book, because I don't think my words will be adequate to the experience of reading the book. I've meet Melissa a few times in real life, and while I was struck by her intelligence and poise, I had no idea that so much was simmering in that brain of hers.

Global Mom tells the extraordinary story of their family, as they adapt to living in first Norway, then Versailles, stateside, then back in France, in Paris. To this point, it's really Melissa's extraordinary voice and observations that make the story: seeing her persepectives on the cultural differences (and the challenges of raising young children in each culture) was fascinating.

Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One FamilyAnd then tragedy strikes. (Note: this isn't a spoiler--it's a central part of the story). That I knew the tragedy was coming because I've read some of Melissa's writings on the topic in no way made the event less poignant. Melissa's oldest son, Parker, dies in a tragic accident at age 18. And from that point on, the story is shot through with grief, and the struggle to make sense of such an earth-shattering event. No matter where her family lives after that (Munich, Hong Kong, Geneva), what they experience is not just a new location, but an extension of the landscape of grief.

More than anything, this book has me thinking about place: about how place is made up of landscape (built and natural), but also history and culture and most of all people, and the relationships among people.

And of course, I'm still thinking about some of the gorgeous prose passages. Melissa's voice is really quite astounding at times: she comes across as warm, gracious, intelligent, thoughtful, generous and deeply philosophical. Here are two of my favorite passages (if among some of the most devastating):

And as his head tipped gracefully to one side, the earth fell off its axis and began spinning strangely, drunkenly, into unchartable and inaccessible regions out of which only a God can escape, or from which only a God can rescue.
This land of major loss was uncharted terrain, a land with its own language of silence. It was something more than a country, it was its own planet with its own air pressure and gravitational pull.
Other readers have parted out that there are two different parts of the story: before and after Parker's death. While this is true, the experience before his death is intimately tied up with its aftermath. Their rich family life underscores the depth of the tragedy.

After reading this book, there's a significant part of me that wishes I could provide this kind of rich international experience for my children, but honesty compels me to admit that I wouldn't reap nearly the harvest from it that Melissa has (nor would I willingly pay the price she has).

This was the best kind of book: it made me think, it made me weep, but it also made me hopeful.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Joan Bauer, Close to Famous

Close to Famous 100. Joan Bauer, Close to Famous

I've been reading a lot of great middle grade books this week (next up, Clare Vanderpol's latest . . .). I think good middle grade is harder to do than it looks, and I thought this book did an excellent job of presenting real-life problems from the perspective of a twelve-year-old. More than that, Bauer took a wide cast of characters and issues, and deftly wove them all together, so that by the end we were cheering for more than just the main character.

Twelve-year-old Sutton Foster is on the run with her Mama, after her Mama's ex-boyfriend, an Elvis impersonater by the name of Huck, hits her. They wind up in the unprepossessing town of Culpepper, a town run-down and discouraged by the presence of a near-by prison (which promised to bring in jobs for the town, but has so far only succeeded in ruining morale). There, the generosity of strangers induces them to stay, and before long Sutton is cooking up her famous cupcakes for a local restaurant and running errands for Miss Charleena, a former Hollywood star. Seems like everyone in town has a dream: Mama dreams of singing on the stage, Sutton wants to be the first Food Network child host, tiny Macon wants to be a documentary filmmaker (and tell the story of the prison's broken promises). But dreams are complicated things, and it will take a lot of work for this crowd to start realizing those dreams.

I think what I liked best about the story--besides the honesty of Sutton's voice--is the way that everyone seemed to have a "superpower," that they were able to use at just the right moment to help someone else. I liked, too, that Sutton and her mom weren't perfect, but they had a warm relationship.