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Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

22 Jul

Dearly, Departed

Dearly, Departedwill forever be remembered as the novel that made me fall in love with zombies. I’m actually not a very big fan of zombies. At all. Much like my fear of heights, which unexpectedly showed up one day the first time I attempted rock climbing, I’m not sure where my zombie fear came from. One night I was re-watching 28 Days Later, and then next thing I knew, I was terrified, and having re-occurring zombie nightmares on a regular basis.

Dearly, Departed definitely has it’s freakier moments–and quite a few straight up nasty scenes–but the love story surrounding it all is so cute and refreshing, it’s easy for a zombie-phobic girl like me to overlook.

The story starts out a bit slow. Lots of background info is given about the protagonist Nora, her recently deceased father, and their futuristic world. But Habel doesn’t fall into the usual debut author traps, so it never feels info-dumpy. Thankfully after Nora’s world is introduced, the action really picks up around chapter 4, and even more so once Nora first encounters zombies.

The action does irregularly jump around from multiple points of view, which can be jarring and get confusing at first. But I also managed to get used to that aspect after a few chapters, after I “got to know” who each of the characters were.

Once Nora is abducted, and begins to interact with the ragtag band of zombie army men and women, the story really hits its stride. The secondary characters have amazing, hilarious personalities, and the camaraderie between them is endearing. I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions.

And the boys? When discussing this book with a fellow blogger friend via twitter, I, much to the amusement of Lia Habel herself, described the male characters of Dearly, Departed as boys “so hot, you’ll forget they are rotting!”.

Obviously, it helps to have a story full of plenty of hotties. Yet it’s the interaction between Nora and Bram, the love interest that really won me over. Their slowly developing (and strangely realistic considering one of them IS DEAD!) love is adorable. Nora is a strong, kick ass protagonist, and independent woman. But with Bram, she really begins to come into her own, and discover who she really is, and what she truly believes in.

I can’t remember the last book that had me giggling, and squeeing like a 12-year-old schoolgirl this much. (Actually, there was one book that similarly affected me, last year—Anna and the French kiss.) Everything from brushes of arms, to sniffing the shirt of the boy you like, to the eventual first kiss was both realistic, and adorable. Seriously, this story can only be described as epicly cute.

In the beginning, Nora thinks Bram is downright disgusting and terrifying. Lia Habel is such an amazing writer, who understands the psychology and motivations behind her characters, that you get exactly why Nora would become attracted to Bram, and find yourself falling in love with him much in the same way. There are dozens of books where teenage girls fall in love with the undead, weirdos, and just plain freaky men that just leave you shaking your head and asking “WHAT?!”. Never have I seen fear and disgust lead so naturally to true love.

Other things I liked: this book had some of the best and most original world building of anything I’ve ever read. It’s steam-punky, but without alienating people who might not be into the Victorian era and clockworks. (I admit I’ve only read a few steam punk short stories, but found my limited exposure to the genre to be weirdly repetitive.) The Neo-Victorian futuristic world Nora lives in is fully developed, and seems 100% logical considering the back-story that led to its creation.

Overall Dearly, Departed was an adorable, unique love story and survival tale that captivated me from page one. Lia Habel, a first time author (who FYI is just as adorable as this book!), has earned a place on my “auto buy” list. I wanted to re-read Dearly, Departed as soon as I finished. And of course, it’s safe to say I am now “dying” for the sequel.

5/5 Stars!

Dearly, Departed will be released on October 18, 2011.
Thanks to Del Rey for providing me with an ARC for review.

10 Days of Anathema Blog Tour Stop #10

15 Jul

Anathema

Evangeline has spent her teenage years in obscurity. Her foster parents have the emotional aptitude of robots and her classmates barely acknowledge her existence. About to turn eighteen and feeling like a social pariah, she is desperate to connect with someone. Anyone.

When Evangeline meets Sofie after literally stumbling upon her café, she believes she’s found that connection. Willing to do anything to keep it, she accepts a job as Sofie’s assistant and drops everything to fly to Manhattan, where she is thrust into a luxurious world of Prada, diamonds, and limitless cash.

With such generosity and kindness, it’s easy for Evangeline to dismiss certain oddities . . . like Sofie’s erratic and sometimes violent behavior, and the monstrous guard dogs. She’s even willing to dismiss her vivid dreams of mob-style murders, beautiful homeless people living in caves, and white-eyed demons that haunt her each night as figments of her imagination—especially when one of those figments is the gorgeous Caden. When she wakes up with bite marks on her neck, the fairy tale quickly turns into a nightmare. She slowly unravels the mystery surrounding Sofie and friends, and the reality of the bites and the “dreams.” What she discovers is far more mysterious and terrible than anything she could have imagined.

In a world where everyone has motive to lie for personal gain, Evangeline must decide which deception is least likely to get her killed.

For the very last stop of the Anathema blog tour, I’m sharing my review of this unique and compelling story. Along with an opportunity to win your very own copy! See after the review, for more details. 🙂

Anathema is one of those amazing stories that you want to run out and tell everyone you know to read—but not tell them anything about the plot. Just reading the book description was enough to make me shake my head and wonder what exactly will happen in this story. Like a movie with a twist ending, I was glad I went in only knowing that this novel came highly recommended from some fellow book blogger friends.

The action in Anathema starts right up within the first few pages. As soon as Evangeline agrees to accompany Sofie to NYC, things get weird. I’ll admit, it took me a bit of time to suspend my disbelief and understand exactly why Evangeline would pick up and move to NYC with someone she just met, but once you understand more about her background, and everything lacking in her life, it makes perfect sense!

I found the story to be a perfect mix of old-time fairy tales (a “princess”, locked in a castle!), mystery (what is happening to Evangeline at night?), and creepy old gothic novels (mysterious voices, deception, possible insanity). In short, many of my favorite genres, blended together!

Mixing “our world” and a parallel world isn’t a new concept. At times, the story actually reminded me of the later seasons of LOST, but spookier. But in Anathema, the two worlds blend together flawlessly, making the concept of “alternate realities”, along with some old familiar paranormal aspects (which I won’t mention, in fear of spoiling you) fresh and new. I really felt as if I’d gone back in time, to my younger days in the 1990’s, when not every book I read seemed suspiciously redundant.

Anathema is also on my short list of “realistic romances in YA”. Yes, there are paranormal elements, but the interaction between the characters, their problems, and how their relationship develops in the first place was refreshingly realistic. Also, it helps that Caden is really hot.

So much happens in this story that in the beginning, you can’t help but wonder “where is this going?”. What is real, and what’s in Evangeline’s head? Who can she trust, if anyone? How much of her life was chance, and how much was straight up manipulation? As soon as I finished, I wanted to go back and re-read it to catch all of the things I may have missed my first time around. The last book that left me feeling this way was CHIME, one of my favorite reads of this year so far.

Overall, I am very glad I went in to the story not knowing exactly what to expect. Anathema is an intriguing tale of lies, destiny, and romance. Plots are tied up (unlike in LOST!), but you’re left with a killer cliffhanger that will have you begging for book two.

4/5 STARS
Thanks to Kathleen Tucker for my review copy!

Kathleen is giving away a signed, print copy of Anathema to one lucky winner at the end of the blog tour. Anyone can enter by visiting her site at http://www.katuckerbooks.com (read giveaway rules posted). Do you want up to 10 extra chances to win? Visit each blog stop for an Anathema Quiz question. Answer it correctly and your name is entered! Simple!
Here’s your quiz question for today, Blog Stop #10: “What does Evangeline need to do to be free of the curse?”
To submit your answer, click here http://www.katuckerbooks.com/10-days-of-anathema-grand-prize-entry-form.html
And if you haven’t read Anathema yet… what are you waiting for?!

Kathleen has also been generous enough to provide an e-copy for a giveaway! All you have to do is comment here to enter. The contest open until 11:59pm on Sunday July 17. PLEASE Leave your email in your comment to enter! No email, no win! 🙂

Review: Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz

6 Jun

Witches of East End

“It’s the beginning of summer in North Hampton, and beautiful Freya Beauchamp is celebrating her engagement to wealthy Bran Gardiner, the heir to Fair Haven and Gardiners Island. But Freya is drawn to Bran’s gorgeous but unreliable brother Liam, and sparks fly when the two decide to play a dangerous game of desire, following an ancient story of love, betrayal and tragedy that harks back to the days of Valhalla.

Witches of East End follows the Beauchamp family—the formidable matriarch Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid. Freya, a sexy bartender, has a potion to cure every kind of heartache, while Ingrid, the local librarian, solves complicated domestic problems with her ability to tie magical knots. Joanna is the witch to see when modern medicine has no more answers; her powers can wake the dead. Everything seems to be going smoothly until a young girl, Molly Lancaster, goes missing after taking one of Freya’s irresistible cocktails. As more of the town’s residents begin disappearing, everyone seems to have the same suspects in mind: the Beauchamp women.

Fraught with love affairs and witchcraft, Witches of East End will capture any reader who craves a page-turning, heart-stopping story of myth and magic from an author who knows how to deliver”.

Warning: due to this novel using elements of the author’s previous books in a different series, this review may be spoiler-y for some.

Witches of East End is Melissa de la Cruz’s first book for adults. Having been of fan of hers since her the days of her magazine journalism and the Au Pairs series, and also a huge lover of the Blue Bloods books, I have been eagerly awaiting Melissa’s first foray into adult fiction for ages.

It even made my 11 Must Reads of 2011 list!

Witches definitely does not disappoint. While the novel could have been a bit longer, the story by no means felt short, or unfinished. I found writing for an adult audience to be a nice change for Melissa. She has always catered to a more mature (if not in age, in mentality) audience, so writing an adult novel seems to be a natural progression for her.

After a slow first chapter or so, the story kicks off with a bang. Ummm, literally. It’s no secret that an adulterous tryst takes place very early on in the story. But it does not in any way overshadow the rest of the plot! I’ve seen a handful of reviewers on Goodreads saying the adultery ruined the book for them. When it comes to immortal fictional characters who have lived, lets just say much longer lives than most of us can expect to, I do not feel as if said characters should be held up to normal human morals and standards.

Even more importantly, for all the reviewers & readers spazzing out over Freya’s affair, especially those who DNF the book: reading about it doesn’t mean you have to condone it! And, fortunately it really does all makes sense in the end.

I feel that only truly great authors can write characters who do despicable things, yet make you still care about them. Along with the adultery, Freya, Ingrid, and Joanna make plenty of bad choices. They keep harmful secrets. They don’t heed potential omens and warnings. They begin practicing magic again, but solo, without telling each other. They make mistakes with vast consequences. Yet their love for each other holds them together, until once again luck is on their side. In many ways, Witches is as much a tale of the relationships between mothers and daughters as it is a story about three women practicing magic.

Loved:

* Melissa’s world-building is always phenomenal. WOEE is no different! Mysteries and secrets are slowly exposed, without ever giving too much away at once. And the way MDLC incorporates historical details and facts into her stories is beyond comparison.

* Cameo appearances from Blue Bloods characters. It made me even more anxious for Lost In Time.

* The Norse mythology incorporated within the story. The way it fits together with the witchcraft= AWESOME.

* The huge variety of paranormal characters/beings included in the story.

* There is a cliffhanger, but not an “I want to throw this book across the room” when I’m finished cliffhanger. Thank you, Melissa, for not torturing your readers.

* Just the fact that Melissa wrote one adult novel makes me hopeful for more in the future!

Didn’t Love:
* Honestly, the cover. It just doesn’t do it for me. And I’m not sure what it has to do with the story contained inside. The cover screams “Fall!” to me, while the book takes place during the Summer.

* And of course, I am not a fan of having to wait over a year for Book #2 (Rumored to be entitled “The Serpent’s Kiss”!) 😉

I’d recommend Witches to new fans of Melissa de la Cruz looking for a delicious and quick reading experience. Note: You do not need to read the Blue Bloods series beforehand. But reading at least book #1 would lead to a much better understanding of events in this book.

Overall Witches of East End was a fast, fun, and sexy read. Perfect for both a day at the beach, or just lying around the house. It’s a total guilty pleasure read, without a dumbed down storyline, or cheesy writing.

I can’t wait to learn more about the Beauchamp family backstory in Book #2!

4/5 STARS.
Witches of East End will be released by Hyperion, June 21, 2011.

Disclosure: I received my copy of Witches of East End at BEA.

Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

5 May

Dead Reckoning

“With her knack for being in trouble’s way, Sookie witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte’s, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is now known to be two-natured, suspicion falls immediately on the anti-shifters in the area. But Sookie suspects otherwise and she and Sam work together to uncover the culprit – and the twisted motive for the attack. But her attention is divided. Though she can’t ‘read’ vampires, Sookie knows her lover Eric Northman and his ‘child’ Pam well – and she realizes that they are plotting to kill the vampire who is now their master. Gradually, she is drawn into the plot -which is much more complicated than she knows. Caught up in the politics of the vampire world, Sookie will learn that she is as much of a pawn as any ordinary human – and that there is a new Queen on the board…”

My review of Dead Reckoning is going to be short and sweet. This being book #11 in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series, I don’t really feel the need to provide much back story. With that said, if you are spoiler-phobic, don’t read what lies below.

I had high hopes for Dead Reckoning after reading quite a few 4.5 and 5 star reviews the week leading up to publication. While the book is definitely an improvement over the last 2–Books # 9 and 10, which felt like plot “filler” –by the end of the book, I wasn’t that impressed with where the overall story is leading.

The two main mysteries/problems in the book seem to be tied up too neatly. The main antagonist in Sookie’s personal drama was predictable. And Sookie herself seems to have become someone tired, desperately in need of a vacation, and sadly, a bit judgmental in her old age. She has always been a slightly conservative Southern woman (funny for someone who dates supernatural creatures), but again and again I got the opinion that Sookie needs to get off of her high horse.

The males in the story didn’t fare much better. I found the “nearly every male in her life continually disappoints and lets Sookie down” plot boring. Honestly, at this point, I’m rooting for Sookie to either end up living HEA with Sam (who just barely makes it out of the above category), or alone. Jason was the only non-screwed up male in this book, which was probably because he’s barely in the story!

All in all, the fairy drama, and vampire politics have grown tiring. Parts of the book seemed to drag and go nowhere. And the completely unnecessary info dumps regarding Sookie’s “disability” and character background information (If you are unaware who Bubba is by book 11, STOP READING THIS SERIES) distracted me and took me out of the book.

If you truly love this series and world, like I do, then keep reading. Supposedly, everything ends with book #13. Unless #12 ends up advancing the overall plot light years ahead of where it currently lies, I have a feeling future books in this series will be for hardcore Sookie fans only.

3/5 Stars.
I purchased Dead Reckoning myself, via Amazon.

Review: Possession by Elana Johnson

25 Apr

Possession

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.
But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them….starting by brainwashed Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous: everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.
This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.” –Description Via Amazon

Possession is a book that plays with your emotions. Like the dizzying after effects of the mind control techniques used on the citizens of the Goodgrounds, I was left confused, wondering if I loved or hated how the story ends.

While the book has the potential to leave you sad, or maybe even angry by the time you finish, it’s by no means a bad story. In fact, it’s great! And probably one of the more thought provoking, sci-fi tinted YA dystopians I’ve ever read.

Possession has more in common with psychological thrillers, and adult suspense novels than most of the new crop of redundant YA dystopian novels currently available. (Yes I laugh at wussy dystopian novels where lack of love, or an arranged marriage is the worst thing to happen to its characters.)

There were definitely a few times I was confused and had to re-read a multiple paragraphs. Things are not what they seem. It’s very easy to be mixed up by some of the terminology of Goodies, Baddies, Goodgrounds, Badlands, Greenies, and Thinkers. But by the end of the book they all made sense, and you understand why the different factions exist, and why you can’t always trust what you just read to be true.

I’ve seen other reviewers complain of insta-love (something I also loathe), but in this case, I disagree. Vi and Jag are strong willed, independent main characters, and it’s easy to see why they’d quickly bond with each other when thrown into an impossible situation. Their love causes great conflicts, yet they aren’t afraid to make hard decisions to protect each other, and the people they care about.

The story progresses at an incredibly fast pace, with non-stop action that left me feeling anxious and wanting to read faster to find out what happened next. And once I did? Wow… Possession is a book made to be re-read a second time after you figure out all of its secrets. Now that I know— I’m hoping for a sequel.

4/5 Stars
Possession will be released June 7, 2011 by Simon Pulse.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC of Possession! For more about author Elana Johnson, see my post about having lunch with her during her recent visit to NYC.

Review: Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

20 Apr

Shade

Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan’s band playing a critical gig and Aura’s plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend’s life. She never thought it would be his last.
Logan’s sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He’s gone.
Well, sort of.
Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan’s violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.
It doesn’t help that Aura’s new friend Zachary is so understanding—and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.
As Aura’s relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura’s heart…and clues to the secret of the Shift. –Via Goodreads.

Shade, the first novel in a trilogy, reminded me a lot of a TV pilot. You get a glimpse into Aura’s ghostly world, the main conflicts are tied up, but enough unanswered questions remain to tease you of what’s to come in the series.

I loved the unique take on ghosts, and that only those sixteen years old or under can see them. In a way, it made the concept scarier, yet also sad since only the youngest people in the book can see their friends and family who have passed on.

Shade is also one of the rare books where a love triangle actually serves a purpose. Instead of Aura being too indecisive to choose between two boys, she’s torn between her ghostly former boyfriend, and moving on with her life and her new crush.

Aura is a strong, likable main character, and it’s easy to relate to her feelings of confusion and uncertainty about the role she plays in the post-shift world. I empathized with her heartbreak over the loss of her boyfriend, who was dead, but not really “gone” from her life, while still understanding her attraction to Zach.

Shade is a fast, fun read, with engaging characters and an action driven plot that propels you through the story. There is enough mystery, hint of conspiracy, and spookiness to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

As soon as I finished Shade (which I read in about five hours), I immediately moved on to the e-arc of Shift. I’m so curious about what’s next in Aura’s life, and dying to know more about what caused the original Shift in the world.

Keep an eye out for my Shift review soon!

4/5 Stars

Shade is available now from Simon Pulse. Shift (Shade, Book 2)will be released May 3, 2011

Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

19 Apr

Enclave

New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20’s. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters—or Freaks—who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight, in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs. As the two are guided by Fade’s long-ago memories, they face dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.

Enclave is one of the more frightening YA dystopian novels I’ve read. Like the upcoming Blood Red Road, it presents a stark view of a future world where everyday is a battle to survive.

Raised underground, and trained to be a huntress her whole life, Deuce is a nearly fearless warrior. Her life changes the day she comes of age, is given her new name, and paired up with the quiet but vicious hunter Fade. Deuce and Fade fall into an easy partnership, based on respect of each other’s fighting abilities. After encountering freaks ( absolutely terrifying zombie-like beings who definitely gave me nightmares) who have appeared to genetically evolved, they know their lives must change.

Once they realize they both are questioning the enclave’s elders, who have ignored their warnings of a new breed of freaks, a friendship develops. Together, after discovering more truths about their underground world, they’re banished topside, and leave in search of a better life.

Enclave is unique in that it shows a true breakdown of society as we know it, where humans band together and live the most basic lives, only concerned with eating, breathing, and breeding.

The story might have had a more profound impact on me since I live in New York City, and see how eerily plausible it would be for society to crumble. If the city was mostly evacuated, those that remained could easily begin living in the subway system, or fall into roaming gangs who terrorize what’s left of Manhattan.

Really the scariest thing about this book is how easily this horrible life could all become a reality. The plagues, starvation, in-fighting, and lack of information…maybe not the cannibalistic freaks, but then again, who knows what 100 years of inbreeding and starvation could do to the human race.

I’d recommend Enclave to anyone in search of a fast, enthralling read showing the grittier and gorier side of post-apocalyptic life. Aguirre never shies away from showing the nastier side of survival, but still lets her characters carry a hope in their hearts that there is indeed a better place out there in the world.

Deuce and Fade aren’t perfect, but they are refreshingly real, and incredibly strong characters both physically and mentally. Odds are, that like me, you’ll be left anxious for the second installment of their story.

4/5 Stars

Enclave the first book of the Razorland trilogy, is available now from Feiwel and Friends.

Review: CHIME by Franny Billingsley

18 Apr

CHIME

Since her stepmother’s recent death, 17-year-old Briony Larkin knows that if she can keep two secrets–that she is a witch and that she is responsible for the accident that left Rose, her identical twin, mentally compromised–and remember to hate herself always, no other harm will befall her family in their Swampsea parsonage at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The arrival of Mr. Clayborne, a city engineer, and his university-dropout son, Eldric, makes Briony’s task difficult. Clayborne’s plan to drain the swamp has made the Old Ones unhappy, particularly the Boggy Mun, who has plagued the village’s children with swamp cough in retaliation. When Rose’s lingering illness turns into a cough, Briony knows that she must do whatever it takes, even revealing her secrets, to save her sister.

While thwarting the advances of an arsenic-addicted suitor, Briony must also deny her feelings for Eldric, even as he helps her solve the puzzle that has become her life. Exploring the powers of guilt and redemption, Billingsley (The Folk Keeper, 1999) has crafted a dark, chilling yet stunning world. Briony’s many mysteries and occasional sardonic wit make her a force to be reckoned with.
–Via Booklist/Amazon.com


Writing about Chime is rather hard for me, because it’s one of those books I loved so much, I feel like no review will ever do it justice. I bought Chime on release day, and devoured it. I was three hours late to a friend’s party because I just had to finish it before leaving.

For the past few weeks, every time someone I follow on twitter asked “what should I read next” I’ve suggested Chime. I’m so glad to see that it looks like word has spread, and more and more bloggers are reviewing it. It is, in my opinion, the best book of 2011 thus far.

Chime is one of the most magical and romantic stories I’ve read in a long time. It is reminiscent of a fairy tale, but with none of the fluff. Because if you can say one thing about Chime, it’s that it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of life. Death, loss, and lies abound.

It’s hard to share my feelings without giving away all the books secrets. Needless to say, there are plenty of plot twists, mysteries, and even a bit of unreliable narration to keep it interesting.

Briony is a self-described “wicked girl”. She’s beautiful, and broken, and believes herself to be an evil witch, who must hide her secret at the cost of her life.

“Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.”

Briony has been torturing herself and silently suffering since the death of her stepmother. A stepmother who as the only person alive who knew Briony was a witch, drilled many “rules” into her head.

“Let’s review the rules, Briony: What, above all, mustn’t you forget? You mustn’t forget to hate yourself.”

Briony is so obviously damaged by stepmother’s rules,thinly veiled emotional abuse, and her guilt over “harming” her mentally handicapped twin sister Rose, that much of the book is her inner thoughts and asides about how evil she is, and why she shouldn’t enjoy life. In many books, this would get rather annoying, but Briony speaks in such a way that you wish with all your heart that her life could change, that she could be happy.

Not everything about her life is doom and gloom, however. Much of Briony’s social commentary about her fellow villagers, and their backwards ways had me laughing out loud. Just as funny: Rose’s unrestrained discussions of who she does not like, or what she does not want to do. Rose is a spitfire of a girl, and much smarter than many townsfolk give her credit for.

The setting of Chime was gorgeously creepy and atmospheric. You can easily visualize the isolation of her small village, surrounded by mysterious swamps overrun with faery folk called the “old ones”. As one of the few people who can see the old ones (due to being a witch), Briony has the run of the swamps. Like Briony, I was a wood-running wild child, who grew up playing in the forest, dunes, and marshlands around my house. Chime perfectly captures the twin feelings of delight and terror you get from running through a forbidden playland that you both love and fear.

Briony’s interactions with Eldric, in and out of the swamp, are one of the only true things in her life. They become best friends, bonding over their shared love of being bad. (This book had me screaming “YES! Finally a truly “naughty” love interest.) They form a fraternity “Bad Boy-ificus” to celebrating mischief, and together they laugh over the Latin language, and learn useful skills like boxing, with hilarious results. Eldric is drawn to Briony, who, like the swamps she lives in, finds her wild and beautiful. Their romance is slow and unsure, and full of sweetness.

In getting to know Eldric, Briony uncovers the horrible truth about her past, and discovers who she really is. Which brings me to the heart of Chime: It could easily be called a mystery, fantasy, or hysterical romance. But at its core, Chime is a story about guilt, forgiveness, and falling in love with yourself. Chime is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. From the magical language, the historical details, to the mythology— it all rings perfect.

5/5 STARS

Chime, published by Dial books, is available now.
Worth Noting: Chime took six years for Franny Billingsley to write. She has said she’s at work on more books set in the Chime universe. I will be pre-ordering them as soon as they are officially announced, even if I have to wait another decade. : )

Review: Sleight: Book One of the AVRA-K by Jennifer Sommersby

15 Apr

Sleight

“Her mom is dead.
Ghosts follow her around.
Her best friend is an elephant.
And she’s about to meet the biggest game changer of all: a boy. With a secret.

When circus-dwelling Gemma Flannery learns she will be attending public school for the first time in her seventeen years, little does she know that fitting in with her 12th-grade classmates will be the least of her concerns. A pro at hiding her knack for seeing the dead (“shades”), Gemma is grieving the recent suicide of her mentally ill mother, a process eased by the introduction of her first real love interest, the charming and painfully handsome Henry Dmitri, who is harboring his own collection of dangerous secrets. Together, they will be presented with a frightening challenge: to assume their roles as heirs to a 3000-year-old magical text, the AVRAKEDAVRA, a book the über-rich, sleight-of-being master Lucian Dmitri would do anything to get his hands on. As each terrifying layer in her new reality melts away, Gemma unearths truths that her quiet, nomadic life with the Cinzio Traveling Players is not at all what she’d always cherished. Gemma and Henry must rely on each other to stop Lucian’s diabolical plotting that will bring the world to its tired, scab-riddled knees, and are sent on the flight of their young lives, to save themselves, their families, and the world from the darkest kind of destruction.
Let the chase begin” –Via Amazon

Sleight is the first self-published book I’ve ever read. It would have completely escaped my attention, had I not seen two fellow book bloggers discussing it’s awesome-ness on Twitter late one night. After reading a few reviews on Goodreads, I immediately downloaded it from Amazon to see for myself.

The story itself is one of the more original plots of any YA novel I’ve read lately. Gemma is part of an extended circus family, but just happens to have a “crazy” mother, and the ability to see shades. She’s denied her ability her whole life, but finally starts to accept it once her already weird life gets even weirder after the circus camps out in a small Washington town. High school is twice as complicated as usual when Gemma has to deal with ghostly shades seeking her attention, on top of the normal drama of teen life.

Everything changes once Gemma meets Henri Dimitri, the son of Lucian, the man who has sponsored the circus. Their friendship develops naturally, before blossoming into something more. Henri at times seems like a total goody-two-shoes (his flaws appear late in the story), but their story is romantic, and—-my favorite kind of YA novel relationship—-realistic. Their interactions via email and chat conversations were adorable. Both characters blossom and come into their own as they learn more about each other, their past, their true identities, and their joint destinies.

I LOVED the circus setting of the story. I’ve always enjoyed the magical feeling of circuses and carnivals, and have a special place in my heart for stories set in such locations since I have family members who grew up working there.
Sleight features an incredibly strong sense of place, leaving you feeling like you are right there at the show with Gemma’s extended circus family.

Her circus family, and their entire cast of secondary characters were well-developed and entertaining. You truly feel for Gemma as she’s betrayed by those close to her, and faces losses she never imagined she’d be able to survive. She grows quite a bit as a character, from denying her “abilities” to fully embracing them, and accepting who she truly is.

What I didn’t like: The story, while amazingly high quality and well written, with a great plot, could use one last round with an editor. The beginning seemed to be full of over-long sentences with lots of run ons, that distracted me enough just to take me out of the story. That ended after a few chapters, but later scenes seemed to drag at times, as if they were allowed to continue just a bit too long. The climax of the story just *happens* making me wonder if the book should have ended one chapter earlier, or one chapter later.

I thought Lucian, while slightly scary, and very powerful in the Gemma and Henri’s immediate world, wasn’t “all powerful” enough to be the world-changing villain he was portrayed to be. He was an expert manipulator, murderer, and control freak, but I was confused as to why the consequences of his actions were supposed to have any impact on humanity as a whole. While surely dangerous, Lucian is no Lord Voldemort, or Hitler—-someone his “world philosophies” supposedly influenced (I promise that reference will make sense once you read the book).

The “magic” in the book wasn’t explained as well as I would have liked. I never really saw anyone do anything I’d actually consider that magical. Whether that be in the Harry Potter, or David Copperfield sense. “Weird” things just happened, paranormal activity (ghosts, mind reading, psychic ability) abounds and is portrayed as being almost commonplace amongst the cast of characters, but most of Lucian’s evil doing could be attributed to his massive wealth controlling people, and his murderous ways striking fear into their hearts.

I’m hoping in the next book, thankfully out this fall, more of Lucian’s history and importance will be explained. I’d like more background on the AVRA-K book and how exactly it works as well. The story also ends abruptly after an extended chase, so I’m anxious to see what happens next. Overall, I feel like Sleight is a book I loved, but not enough to see through its (few) imperfections. The series has a LOT of potential, so I’d still recommend it for a very unique reading experience, enchanting world building, and interesting characters.

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Sleight is available now, on Amazon for $2.99.

Review: Die For Me by Amy Plum

21 Mar

Die For Me: New US Cover

In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity.

When Kate Mercier’s parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life–and memories–behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate’s guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he’s a revenant–an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again. –Via Amazon

Die for Me is what I like to call a smart girl’s paranormal love story. I’ve been fan-girling over this book since I first heard another author mention it on twitter last Fall. It was one of my 11 Must Reads for 2011. I am so so glad I finally got to read it, and that it has totally lived up to the hype!

Die For Me begins with Kate, who has just lost her parents in a terrible car accident, moving to Paris to live with her Grandparents. Kate is nearly drowning in her grief, and finding it hard to live a normal life again. Her older sister Georgia busies herself with parties and dancing to take her mind off of her parents’ death. But Kate hides indoors, behind the covers of her favorite books.

The real story begins when Kate finally decides to live again, and get out of her house. Time spent outside of the city helps bring Kate back to life, and inspires her to set out and explore Paris. After a near death experience, she meets Vincent, a mysterious Frenchman she has seen around her neighborhood, at a local cafe. What she doesn’t know, is that he’s been watching her. And that Vincent is not exactly human.

If you’ve read the book’s summary, you know that Vincent is a Revenant, a sort of French zombie. Luckily for us readers, that doesn’t involve him doing unromantic things like eating brains, or killing people. There is so much more to this story.

I’m not going to spoil what exactly Vincent is, or what his purpose is. But I will tell you a bit more about his relationship with Kate. Naturally, as she gets to know him, she senses something is a bit “off” about Vincent. She is drawn to the aura of danger that seems to surround him, but is smart enough to realize that might not be 100% wise.

Their relationship develops slowly and organically. Kate and Vincent start as friends, before blossoming into something more. I found that to be very refreshing. As the plot moves along, Kate and Vincent’s love is challenged in more ways than one.

Kate is well aware that life with Vincent will never be normal, and struggles with the impact his close ties with death and dying have on her emotional state. She also realizes that some of his behavior, like mild stalking, is abnormal. Luckily that stalking verges more towards being cute and inquisitive (please, we’ve all spied on hot boys or girls, whether it’s around town, or on Facebook), than creepy or abusive.

Miraculously, Kate actually has a mind of her own, and questions the people around her. She never sits back and lets things just happen to her. Once she breaks out of her depression, she actually lives her life.

Things I loved:

* A very well thought out, original mythology.

* Kate is a strong female main character. She stands up for herself, and refuses to take no for an answer.

* A good, logical, and totally un-creepy explanation for why an “old dead dude” would want to date a teenager.

*Jules, and Vincent’s entire paranormal “family”.

* Parts of the story were slow, but not bad slow. More like good, lingering slow… like the three hour French dinners described in the book. Sometimes everything being in your face gets old!

* The story made me want to run off to Paris asap. Amy (who lives in France) captures a sense of place incredibly well. You can tell she has actually been to, and loves Paris.

*Vincent: He’s a hot guy, with flaws. And he’s not afraid to admit them, or let Kate take the lead.

The only thing I didn’t like:

The average reader wouldn’t even notice, but since I read deleted scenes first, I thought the beginning chapter or two seemed a bit rushed. I’d HIGHLY recommend checking out the extras page on Amy’s site, and reading the deleted prologue, and the clip from Vincent’s point of view. I thought both added a lot to the story, helping to explain both Kate’s grief, and Vincent’s attraction to Kate quite a bit. (Note: both features can be read before or after Die For Me. If you’ve read the summary, they won’t spoil you.)

Die For Me is an intricately written, engrossing, and haunting story that transports you right into the center or Paris as if you were there. I think due to its deeper underlying themes (death, depression, loneliness), it will be taken more seriously than a lot of teen paranormal novels out in the world. And Amy’s Revenants are by far the coolest monster/paranormal creature I’ve encountered in years.

This novel offers a realistic look at depression after a tragedy like losing both of your parents. As well as featuring the most swoon-worthy, yet slightly “weird” romantic relationship I’ve read about in a long time. I am, of course, eagerly awaiting book two. I shall be adding Die For Me to my (very small) “to re-read pile”, something now that I’m a busy blogger, I rarely do.

4/5 STARS!

Learn more about Amy and the Revenants at her web site.

Die for Me is the first book in the Revenants trilogy, and will be released May 10th by Harper Teen.
E-galley provided for Review via Harper Teen and Net Galley.