Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Academy - Thief

Kayli Winchester is a dirt-poor girl living out of a hotel, forced to be the parent for a drunken father and teenage brother who she’s desperate to keep in school. The only way she scrapes by is to utilize her one skill: pickpocketing. But even though she’s a thief she has a moral code: no kids or old ladies, only targets who can defend themselves. Not that they see her coming…

Thinking she’s been working under the radar, Kayli has no idea The Academy has been watching and taking notice. Now a team that needs her skill has offered her a way out of her predicament and it’s her last chance: work with them, or face jail time. Kayli resists at first, but slowly the boys reveal they can be trusted. With Marc, the straight man, Raven, the bad-boy Russian, Corey and Brandon the twins as different as night and day, and Axel their stoic leader, there’s a lot Kayli can learn from these Academy guys about living on the edge of the law. If only she can stay on the good side instead of the bad.

Especially when the job they offer her is more than any of them bargained for. After it’s done, the hunters have become the hunted and their target is now after Kayli. The Academy boys do their best to keep her hidden, but a thief like Kayli will never sit still for long.

Beth says 1.5 Stars...
Ugh, this book.  It starts out with Kayli, who I initially liked.  At the beginning she's working and picking pockets to try to make rent because her alcoholic father can't keep a job.  When the "team" catches up with her, the action supposedly starts.  I say supposedly because Stone doesn't actually reveal much information and has things happen without explanation.  The plot is totally confusing, with the actual badness of the bad guys constantly up for debate.  Throughout most of the book the team is chasing this guy without knowing any real details of what's going on.  The pacing was always off; sometimes really slow and other times all together too fast.  The climax of the book left me very unsatisfied and didn't serve to actually resolve any of the issues brought up during the story.

So I initially liked Kayli, but that quickly faded.  I thought she was going to be reasonably interesting because she seemed conflicted, but with morals and a giant protective instinct.  However, when she met the boys of the team it completely turned me off.  Literally every time a new young male character was introduced she had the hots for him.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.  Then she started feeling conflicted because her heart got all aflutter when the super sexy mancandy entered the room, no matter who it was.  At that point all of the potentially compelling parts of her personality were shoved aside to make room for romantic longing and thought.  Either she was sinking into angst about her thieving lifestyle or wanting to make out with someone.  I couldn't even pay attention to the male characters because I was so frustrated with the insane focus on flirty romance at the expense of all development.  It basically evolved into a love star with Kayli at the center connected to most of the guys introduced in the book.

My advice about this book: don't bother with it.  There were occasionally quips that made me laugh, but the rest of it isn't worth the time it takes to read the novel.
ebook from publisher

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Night Itself

When fifteen year old Mio Yamato furtively sneaks the katana - an ancestral Japanese sword - out of its hiding place in her parent's attic to help liven up her Christmas party costume, she has no idea of the darkness she is about to unleash on modern day London, or the family secrets that she is going to uncover.

The paralysing paranoia that descends on her before she gets to her friend's party is her first clue. The vivid and terrifying visions that nearly get her killed are a pretty good warning too.

The giant nine-tailed cat demon that comes after the sword and tries to rip her throat out? Overkill.

Seconds away from becoming kitty-food, Mio is saved by Shinobu, a mysterious warrior boy. But it's already too late. Mio has ruptured the veil between the mortal realm and the Underworld, and now the gods and monsters of ancient Japan stalk the streets of London, searching for her and the sword.

With the help of her best friend Jack, a fox spirit named Hikaru - and the devoted protection of the betwitchingly familiar Shinobu - Mio attempts to discover the true nature of the sword and its connection to the Yamato family. Because if she doesn't learn how to control the katana's incredible powers, she's in danger of being overwhelmed by them. And if she can't keep the sword safe from the terrible creatures who want it for their own, she'll lose not only her own life... but the love of a lifetime.

Beth says 4.5 Stars...
I've been a fan of ZoĆ« Marriott for a while and was super excited to find her new book while perusing the shelves of the library.  I didn't even bother to check the description before grabbing it!  Marriott's previous work has been high fantasy, so the urban setting took me aback at first.  I got over my surprise quickly enough to enjoy it!  The plot moves really rapidly once the initial set up is over.  The combination of Japanese mythology overlaying modern London was a delight to read.  I should also admit that I find reading about various mythology I don't know much about fascinating.  I actually learned while reading!  I must admit that I love the whole magic sword bit (one of my all time favorite books is The Blue Sword), especially when said sword isn't exactly easy to deal with.  Throw in various animal spirits, good, evil, and indifferent, and I'm hooked.  The actual plot isn't that original (read: heroine must defeat evil monster by discovering new magical powers), but is executed in a wonderful way.  Marriott juxtaposes ancient and unfamiliar traditions atop of the expected and familiar.  It doesn't hurt that her writing is just wonderful and expressive, drawing you in with every new word.

I loved the characters ever so much.  There's so much sass that happens and it makes my little heart smile.  Mio has her moments of doing stupid things, but then who doesn't at 15?  Granted, most of those mistakes don't release evil ancient spirits, but welcome to literature. Mio manages to remain strong and resilient while freaking out like a normal human being.  Although I'm not a huge fan of the immediate relationship between Mio and Shinobu, Marriott posted some tidbits about their future on Goodreads and I'm excited to see what happens in the next book.  Shinobu is the least compelling and realistic character in the book.  He doesn't have a strong individual personality and I want to see it develop.  I think my favorite character might have to be Jack, though.  Sassy and fiercely loyal, she's a perfect counterpoint to Mio.  Plus, a constant stream of witty remarks always makes me a happier girl.  Her ability to believe in the seemingly impossible is an added bonus when dealing with legendary creatures.  I want to see where some of her relationships (not spoiling the fun!) head as well.

I'm still a huge fan of whatever Marriott does.  Although this represents a change for her, it worked out well.  I'd recommend this for people who enjoy urban fantasy, but are tired of reading about the same vampires/werewolves/faeries over and over.  I can't wait to see where the series is going next and will certainly pick up the next book when I get a chance!
book from library

Thursday, April 24, 2014

In the Shadows

Book released 4/29/2014

Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.

Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t.

Beth says 4 Stars...
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book - I initially thought it would be in more of a straightforward graphic novel format.  Instead there are parallel stories told alternatingly through written chapters and the drawings.  This is one of the few times that I'm really sad that I had an ebook version of a novel because I'm sure the illustrations are even better in the hardcover.  I spent quite a bit of the book a bit confused about what was happening in the visual part.  By the end I realized what it was, but it definitely took a while.  Because of the transitions between the text and illustrations, the book can be a bit harder to follow than if it was exclusively text based.  However, Di Bartolo's artwork fits in perfectly with the style of the rest of the story.  I ended up going back and looking over the narrative from the pictures after I finished the book and got so much more out of it on the second go round.  The plot isn't a wild thrill ride, but instead relies on creating and unsettling and mysterious atmosphere while lettting the mystery slowly unfold in a surprisingly short number of pages.  I did wish that there would have been a bit more explaination around the mythology of the evildoers, but I always want more!

The characters were all quite well done.  Since the beginning of the story is told in chapters that center on the different characters before they all meet, it's easy to get a sense of their individual natures before the main action takes place.  Although there's romance between various characters, it doesn't feel false.  None of them immediately fall in love with one another; in fact, some of them even mention just having fun and flirting with someone they just met!  The shock.  What's nice about having an ensemble book rather than one with a single main character (and their love interest) is that everyone responded to the situations differently.  Thus, White was able to explore a vastly greater range of human emotion and action.  Arthur had a completely different history and knowledge base from, say, Thomas and thus acted in another manner entirely. Even though the book was short, the characters got time to grow, change, and connect with readers.

I really enjoyed this book.  It's definitely something different in a good way.  If you're tired of all the paranormal romances, but still want something magical this could be for you.  I would strongly recommend getting the physical book because I think it might be a better experience rather than reading it on a computer/tablet.
ebook from Publisher

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Alpha Goddess

In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

Beth says 3 Stars...
I really like the idea of this book.  I'm not particularly familiar with Hindu mythology, so the idea of learning something through the novel was exciting.  Granted, I do know more now than I did when I started the book.  I know it's common, but I really wish that the end notes that actually described the gods, goddesses, and other parts of the philosophy and mythology would have been at the beginning.  I probably would have been less confused and had a lot more fun while reading it if I'd known more about the different gods, goddesses, and other mythological players.  I had an issue with the pacing of the book and its distribution of information.  Although the plot summary makes it seem like the book moves quickly into the main action, that isn't the case.  It took (for me) too long for Howard to explain the basics of the plot; we spent far too much time with Sera attempting to figure out what's going on with her.  Once the action finally got going the book pulled me in, but it just took too long.  Had I not been both a compulsive book finisher and given this for review, I might have put it down.

Sera handled the situation pretty well.  I kind of liked her as a character and thought that she did have a bit of depth.  However, I couldn't muster up really strong feelings for her even when she was in danger.  I didn't emotionally connect with her or her journey.  There is, of course, the requisite love triangle putting our magical heroine in between two extremely different, yet still amazingly hot, guys.  The different heros vying for Sera's attention do make sense, but I sometimes get irritated with how overused the plot device is.  Of course, one guy appeals to her light side and the other to her dark side like romantic duct tape.  I actually want a story about Sera's parents and more details about how they ended up together because that would be juicy.  I guess that's telling; I found the vaguely detailed romance of the main character's parents more compelling than the central love triangle of the book.

The book was just okay.  I feel as though this might be the set up of a series and I'm a bit torn as to whether or not to continue if Howard does.  On one hand I now have a better grasp of the mythology, but on the other I don't find the main character particularly compelling.  This might be good for someone who's really into Hindu mythology, but I've heard a few things about some inaccuracies.  Regardless, this one was just okay.
ebook from Publisher

Friday, April 18, 2014


A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.

Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

Beth says 3.5 Stars...
The cover of this one absolutely sucked me in.  The subtle fern pattern and fabulous-looking dagger gave me a case of the wants.  Combine that with the blurb and the book starts ringing all of my bells - court intrigue, kick-ass heroine, magic, and a touch of romance.  However, it didn't quite live up to my admittedly high expectations.  The world building was really lovely, with a lush jungle land of darkness and magic.  The book laid the framework of a complex society and world that I wanted to know more about.  The plot moved along pretty briskly and attempted a few twists and turns.  I was surprised a couple of times, but managed to guess most of the main reveals.  Granted, even without the shock factor the plot kept me reading.  It might not be the most original concept, but I still enjoyed it.  One thing that I really wish Larson had examined in more depth was the breeding houses and the reasons behind their existence.  It's a twist that I haven't seen before and one of the more original points of the novel.

Alex/Alexa has some good qualities, but I didn't find her incredibly compelling.  I understand that her struggle to continue with her disguise as male and the difficulties it presents would be at the front of her mind constantly, but I found it super annoying.  There was so much "is this how a boy would do it?" throughout the book.  It also made it seem that any sort of reveal of her femininity equated with exposing weakness and I don't agree with that.  I couldn't help comparing it to the first book in the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce.  While that remains one of my favorite series (full disclosure of bias here), I think it struck a balance with its lead character where she could maintain her disguise without thinking that anything feminine made her weak.  Hopefully Alexa will exhibit some growth into her identity as the series progresses.  The other members of the requisite love triangle were moderately well characterized.  However, I really think there was a major flaw in how they were written.  Mainly that they, in a culture that appears hypermasculine, fall for someone who is dressed like a guy.  Shouldn't that cause some sort of internal discord?  I wish that had been explored.

It's my hope that since this is the first in a series the subsequent books will improve.  There's definitely potential for the series to grow, especially because this is Larson's debut novel.  I wouldn't buy either this book or the next, but this is a series to consider borrowing from the library unless the next book is great or terrible.
ebook from library

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Here and Now

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

Beth says 4 Stars...
I was a bit apprehensive about this book, because I'd read some of Ann Brashares books before and they weren't quite my cup of tea.  However, the set-up for this one made me want it in the worst way.  Time travel, pandemics, and attempts to save the human race!  Count me in.  The vision of the future that Brashares presented was chilling in its basis on current events.  Imagine what might happen if the whole world becomes tropical, resource scarcity is major problem, and insect vectors never die.  I will say that the plot got a bit confusing at times, but it moved really quickly.  The book is fairly short, which means that there's not a lot of filler meant to boost word count.  Everything is meant to propel the story forward in some way.  I found the structure of the 'immigrant' community particularly interesting.  I have a thing for totalitarian type societies and how they're interpreted in different contexts.  The formation of such a distinct subculture focused on secrecy and blending in added another dimension to the story.  Sometimes the trajectory of the story was a bit difficult to follow and the different threads took a while to converge.  However, the book was short enough that the confusion couldn't last too long.

I really liked Prenna.  She wasn't the bravest or most ferocious, but she had a determination to do what was best and help as many people as possible.  I also enjoyed that her strength was in her intelligence and not something physical.  The glimpses we gained into her past/our future were absolutely fascinating and I really wanted more of them.  I found Ethan to be well-developed and a nice counterpoint to a lot of the current leading men.  Again, he was smart, determined, and just generally likable.  Occasionally it's nice to read about a character without a tortured past.  The supporting characters have enough of a backstory to add complexity to the story, but the book really centers on Prenna and Ethan.

Overall, this is a quick and fun time travel book.  I have no idea if this will be a series, but I hope so.  I have so many questions that I want answers to!  Pick this up if you want a fun time travel book that might just make you think about humanity's current path.

ebook from Publisher

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Truly, Madly, Deadly

They Said It Was An Accident...

Sawyer Dodd is a star athlete, a straight-A student, and the envy of every other girl who wants to date Kevin Anderson. When Kevin dies in a tragic car crash, Sawyer is stunned. Then she opens her locker to find a note:

You're welcome.

Someone saw what he did to her. Someone knows that Sawyer and Kevin weren't the perfect couple they seemed to be. And that someone—a killer—is now shadowing Sawyer's every move...


Beth says 3.5 Stars...
I'll start off with a problem I had with the book; I spent the whole time I was reading the novel with the Savage Garden song "Truly, Madly, Deeply" stuck in my head.  Just like Impossible by Nancy Werlin had me humming "Scarborough Fair" there are some books that automatically become associated with songs.  However, the book and the song have no common sentiments.  The book is a mystery/thriller and tons of fun.  The main draw is the plot that moves at a quite rapid pace.  Sawyer finds herself drawn into a complicated web of violence and psychological play that she isn't prepared for.  The twists and turns weren't all that shocking and I found that I was able to figure out the culprit by the end of the book.  Although there were a few surprises, nothing blew me out of the water.  I will say that this is an extremely well-paced novel and I thoroughly appreciated that.

Sawyer was a decent character.  She's easier to relate to than many heroines because her reactions aren't always full of strength.  She freaks out quite a bit, which is understandable when someone is stalking you and doing unsettling things.  I will say that I like my leading ladies feistier, so that might be why I didn't bond with Sawyer as much.  Her responses are probably much more like my own would be, but I'd rather pretend that I would be all kinds of awesome instead.  The biggest issue of the book was the lack of depth the secondary characters were given.  They flitted on and off the page without making the substantial impact necessary.  Sawyer was the only character who really felt multidimensional.

Overall this is a fun book.  If you're looking for something a bit creepy and mysterious, you could do a lot worse.  It's a quick, page-turning read that will keep you involved until you reach the conclusion.
Book from Library