Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sweet Unrest

Lucy Aimes has always been practical. But try as she might, she can’t come up with a logical explanation for the recurring dreams that have always haunted her. Dark dreams. Dreams of a long-ago place filled with people she shouldn’t know…but does.

When her family moves to a New Orleans plantation, Lucy’s dreams become more intense, and her search for answers draws her reluctantly into the old city’s world of Voodoo and mysticism. There, Lucy finds Alex, a mysterious boy who behaves as if they’ve known each other forever. Lucy knows Alex is hiding something, and her rational side doesn’t want to be drawn to him. But she is.

As she tries to uncover Alex’s secrets, a killer strikes close to home, and Lucy finds herself ensnared in a century-old vendetta. With the lives of everyone she loves in danger, Lucy will have to unravel the mystery of her dreams before it all comes to a deadly finish.

Beth says 3.5 Stars...
This book has a really cool premise and interesting narrative structure. Weaving past and present together in the form of dreams isn't necessarily new, but allows for creating a richer story. The old plantation/New Orleans setting helped enhance the weight of history on the current action of the plot. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that I guessed wrong as to the identity of the final villain. The plot was reasonably well executed, although it could have been tighter in parts. I was mildly frustrated with how long it took for Lucy to figure out some fairly obvious facts. With some information reveals a bit earlier (more in line with how long it takes the readers to put pieces together) the flow would have been much smoother. It also would have allowed for a little more time spent in the past to fully flesh out the characters and plotline there.

The biggest problem in the novel is the lack of development of the secondary characters. It's primarily Lucy's story and it shows in the flatness of everyone else. We get a slightly better picture of Alex than anyone else, but it takes until pretty far into the novel to really get anywhere with even him. The other characters severely lack depth and other interest, at least for me. I liked Lucy well enough, despite occasionally being a bit slow on the uptake. She did grow over the course of the novel, always a plus for the main character. I can't do too much more commenting about the characters because the others aren't worth it. The only other note is that the voodoo priestesses are quite fun and bring in a very different edge to the world.

Overall this is fun and well-timed coming close to Halloween. It's just enough spook for me to not freak out reading alone at night, but still compelling. If a bit of old school Creole voodoo and romance sound good to you I'd suggest giving it a whirl.
ebook from Netgalley

Monday, September 29, 2014

Of Scars and Stardust

Publication 10/8/2014

Claire knows they're after her. For two years, they've been hunting her.

Two years ago, Claire Graham ran away from her hometown and a tragedy that still haunts her, even in New York City. But when she learns that her sister, Ella, has gone missing, Claire decides to return to Amble, Ohio, and face what happened there. And her involvement in it.

Determined to find Ella, Claire turns to Grant Buchanan, the soft-spoken boy from her past who, like Claire, has secrets he guards closely. The two of them navigate their growing attraction while following clues that Ella left behind. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire tries to unlock the keys to Ella's past - and her own - in order to prevent another tragedy. But not all things lost are meant to be found.

Beth says 4 Stars...
This book intrigued me, despite being a fair bit off my normal path as far as genre is concerned. I guess that I initially thought that there would be a supernatural component with the wolves. Instead, it was much more of a psychological mystery/thriller. It starts off in Amble just before the initial tragedy strikes and then picks up two years later with Claire living in New York City and going about a different life.  Unfortunately for Claire, she can't escape the trauma and horror in Amble; it follows her to New York.  Upon her return to Amble, old and new mysteries combine and intertwine as Claire tries to prevent history repeating itself.  The plot kept me guessing and moved along at a good pace.  The reality of what happened is a complete mystery that I didn't guess in its entirety (I got part of it, though!).

Claire works well as a narrator, although her strong perspective colors everything that she sees. Throughout the book I was questioning if what Claire was seeing was real.  Claire had decent depth, but her instability and unreliability made her so much more compelling.  She reacted to different situations by either shutting down or lashing out and being inside her head allowed me to always know what she was thinking.  Ella (although physically absent for most of the book) plays such a huge role in shaping the plot.  Every appearance of hers adds a little light to the darkness that Claire carries with herself.  Of course, it wouldn't be complete review without mentioning the sweet, freckled Grant.  He brings out the best in Claire and helps her investigate while keeping her from losing her way.

I enjoyed this book despite having the wrong idea about its topic. The ending completely unexpectedly broke my heart and the mystery kept me guessing for the whole book.  If you're looking for something that's off-kilter, mysterious, and filled with creepy wolves pick this one up.
ebook from Netgalley

Monday, September 15, 2014


It's the return of Point Horror for the Internet generation! Don't open the door. Don't answer your phone. And whatever you do, DON'T turn on your computer...

Cole and Gavin love playing practical jokes through Wikipedia. They edit key articles and watch their classmates crash and burn giving oral reports on historical figures like Genghis Khan, the first female astronaut on Jupiter. So after the star soccer player steals Cole's girlfriend, the boys take their revenge by creating a Wikipedia page for him, an entry full of outlandish information including details about his bizarre death on the soccer field.

It's all in good fun, until the soccer player is killed in a freak accident... just as Cole and Gavin predicted. The uneasy boys vow to leave Wikipedia alone but someone continues to edit articles about classmates dying in gruesome ways... and those entries start to come true as well.

To his horror, Cole soon discovers that someone has created a Wikipedia page for him, and included a date of death. He has one week to figure out who's behind the murders, or else he's set to meet a pretty grisly end.

Beth says 2.5 Stars...
So I have to comment on two things first: I absolutely loathe the cover and the summary is flat-out wrong. It doesn't actually tell what happens in the book and gets key information completely wrong. Not really the best way to go about selling your book... As far as the plot goes, the concept is cool and put a new twist on the creepy death prediction subgenre. However, the actual execution of the idea was utterly off and really not very entertaining. The deaths were definitely a bit grisly, so it has that going for horror fans. The issue is that some of them were more than a little absurdly constructed. I'm pretty sure that giggles happened because of said ridiculousness. The whole reveal of the killer was poorly done, including the final scene of violence. The characters didn't react in any manner of a normal way and there are serious questions of plausibility. I totally get suspension of disbelief in novels, but it seemed like this was (for the most part) attempting to be realistic. I had an issue with the formatting as well, with the tweets featured in some chapters coming from most to least recent like in a news feed. However, that's not particularly helpful for someone trying to read a bit of narrative through them - they should have been chronologically arranged like what happens when you click on a thread of tweets.

None of the characters were compelling in the least. One of my favorite moments in the book was when we got a peek into the mind of the crotchety old teacher. Cole annoyed me with his utter obsession with Winnie, his ex-girlfriend, and by being incredibly uninteresting. Gavin, Winnie, and the other players weren't any better. All of them played their flat, one-dimensional roles with nothing extra. There really isn't much to say, except that the murderer is pretty obvious before too long.

Overall this is a book to skip. I did manage to get a little baking inspiration and some unintended laughs out of the novel, so it's not a total loss. However, when that's the best that can be said about a horror story it's obvious there's a problem somewhere.
ebook from Netgalley

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bitter Kingdom

The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa ne Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.

Beth says 5 Stars...
This series hits perfectly in my sweet spot of epic high fantasy. I adore the complexity of the universe, with the intense mythology, religious overtones, and games of power and politics. The Bitter Kingdom delivers on the promises of the other novels in the series, and then throws some more epicness on top of it just because it can. The pacing is pitch perfect; the action flows from one event to another without ever seeming rushed or boring. Moreover, the plot progress actually makes sense with the characters and their motivations. There's a logic to how everything unfolds that I thoroughly appreciated. Another joy of reading these books is Carson's writing; it's so enrapturing. I found myself sneaking a few pages in wherever I could because I didn't want to stop reading. The only issue I had with the book was that I wanted more! I do really wish that more of the history of Invierne had been included because the glimpses Carson provided into their culture were utterly fascinating.

The characters are beyond wonderfully written. All of them have layers that Carson exposes throughout the novel and the relationships between them are equally nuanced. Elisa grew by leaps and bounds from the beginning of the series to the end, starting as a naive, reasonably incompetent princess and becoming a strong and resourceful ruler. What's done so well is that you can see, in retrospect, that Elisa had those qualities in her and they were merely revealed by hardship, change, and allowing her a chance to explore herself. Another thing that's totally wonderful is the friendship between Elisa and Storm. There's love there, but it's completely platonic; no love triangles here (thank goodness). Unfortunately, it's rare to see a non-romantic or antagonistic relationship between a male and female character. Another smart thing about the book was how Carson didn't introduce a ton of new characters at the end. We meet a few new individuals, but they're all necessary to the plot and actually add to the story.

If you haven't read this series I'm not sure what I can do for you besides suggest you pick up Girl of Fire and Thorns and barricade yourself in a room for the rest of the day. Then, surface to pick up the rest of the series and devour them like I did.
book from library

Monday, September 8, 2014

All Those Broken Angels

Comforted by a shadow. Haunted by the truth.

Richard Anderson was the last person to see his friend Melanie alive. She vanished when they were six and while the police never found Melanie, a part of her remained - a living shadow that is now Richard's closest friend.

For ten years, Richard has never questioned the shadow that keeps him company... until a new girl moves into town, claiming to be Melanie. Desperate to prove the girl is a fake, the shadow leads Richard to the place where the killer buried her bones. But Richard finds skeletons from several different children... and evidence suggesting that perhaps the shadow isn't who she says she is.

Beth says 4 Stars...
This book definitely falls into the category of super creepy. I will say that I'm not a huge fan of the cover; I don't see the strong connection to the story, especially since Richard is a visual artist. There were so many other options that would make the initial sight of the book much more striking. I really enjoyed having a book set in Savannah, having just recently visited, because I could recognize some of the locations. The story also made a lot of sense in the context of the city, which claims to be one of the most haunted in America. The plot was definitely the highlight of the novel. It had a great combination of meandering moments and edge of your seat twists and turns. The ending was masterfully done, with the reveal of the killer happening in a subtle manner that still made me gasp. Authors take note; that's the way to begin the final unraveling of a mystery.

The characters themselves aren't the main draw of the book and really exist to serve the plot. Richard was fine as far as protagonists go, with the nice little addition of having a sentient shadow living inside him to make it more interesting. I did appreciate hearing about Melanie's previous trauma and how her reaction is different than the standard resilience. Her early experiences broke something inside her instead of strengthening it. There is some weird development with Richard, Melanie, and the shadow that I'm not entirely sure how to feel about. It might give a bit of an ick factor to some readers, especially when you put everything together at the end.

Overall this is a great read if you're looking for a murder mystery with a creepy supernatural twist. It's nice and atmospheric for the fall, with enough turns to keep you engaged. The ending is absolutely awesome and makes the book completely worth reading from cover to cover.
ebook from Netgalley

Friday, September 5, 2014

Faces of the Dead

When Marie-Therese, daughter of Marie Antoinette, slips into the streets of Paris at the height of the French Revolution, she finds a world much darker than what she's ever known.

When Marie-Therese Charlotte of France learns of the powerful rebellion sweeping her country, the sheltered princess is determined to see the revolution for herself. Switching places with a chambermaid, the princess sneaks out of the safety of the royal palace and into the heart of a city in strife.

Soon the princess is brushing shoulders with revolutionaries and activists. One boy in particular, Henri, befriends her and has her questioning the only life she's known. When the princess returns to the palace one night to find an angry mob storming its walls, she's forced into hiding in Paris. Henri brings her to the workshop of one Mademoiselle Grosholtz, whose wax figures seem to bring the famous back from the dead and who looks at Marie-Therese as if she can see all her secrets. There, the princess quickly discovers there's much more to the outside world - and to the mysterious woman's wax figures - than meets the eye.

Beth says 3 Stars...
Sometimes a girl just wants to read about the lush world of an Old-World monarchy, even as it breaks down during a revolution. This book did a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of the end of the French monarchy at the hands of revolutionaries. The details were delightful and really rounded out a full picture of the time, from describing the luxury of the palace to the squalor of the streets. I think that has to be the book's greatest strength; the ability to transport the reader back to the end of the 18th century. Unfortunately, the plot fell extremely short of the lovely world it was supposed to fill with action. I already knew the basics of how it was going to end from my brushes with European history, so I wasn't really on the edge of my seat. The most disappointing part of the novel was the how the supernatural element was handled. There's a way to delicately add a bit of the strange and paranormal, and then there's just severely underwhelming writing. I expected so much more and just ended up disappointed with the result. I wanted some excitement, or for there to be some actual influence on the plot from it. There would be almost no difference in the book if it had been straight up historical fiction, and it probably would have been better.

Marie-Therese was a decent character, but not entirely believable in my mind. Her reactions are too calm and collected for someone brought up to be a well-mannered princess. I can't imagine that someone in her position would take a fall with such grace and ease. The rest of the royal family served their purpose to give Marie-Therese motivation to do various risky things that somehow worked out fairly well for her. Henri was a fairly standard love interest. A poor boy who could show her how the rest of the French lived and offer her a new perspective on the world, all with sweetness and kindness. There was nothing wrong with him, but he lacked a spark to bring him off the page. Most of the characters fell a bit flat, unfortunately.

Overall, I'd say this is one to skip. Lovers of paranormal stories won't find enough to interest them and it strays a bit too far from traditional historical fiction to appeal to fans of that genre. This is a case where less probably would have been more.
ebook from Netgalley

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tabula Rasa

Publication 9/23/2014

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She's been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa - a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who's trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won't be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.

Beth says 3.5 Stars...
The concept behind this book is absolutely fascinating and I love the idea of a breakneck story with this kind of intensity.  I enjoyed my reading, but definitely felt like there were some problems with the novel.  A major issue I had was with the setting.  For the attempted scope of the story, keeping everything located within the hospital ended up problematic.  The feeling of claustrophobia created by limiting the setting worked against the feeling of the book.  Enough intensity came from the plot; the extras were unnecessary and distracting.  The plot itself moved fairly quickly, but the information drops weren't particularly well timed.  All of the action did work in the book's favor with the battle sequences coming off as unpredictable and exciting.  I can totally see how they would pull action fans in, and it definitely made the book a page turner.

Sarah is fairly well characterized and interesting.  She's easy to root for, despite how little she knows about herself.  Her struggle to learn about her past is a bit mishandled, which goes back to my earlier note on the information pacing.  The other characters did certainly add to the narrative.  Thomas was particularly awesome with his snark and thoughtful attitude.  He didn't take undue risks, but wasn't afraid of going for it when necessary.  The only individual that I felt really lacked depth and that I was ambivalent to was the villain.  I think that's one of the reasons I didn't like this book as much.  It's hard to love something when the "evil" force in the story feels contrived and elicits no strong response.

Overall, I wanted more from the villain and better information reveals.  This book is for people who want a thrill ride or fast-paced adventure.  If you're looking for depth, look elsewhere.
ebook from Netgalley