Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron

Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron is a YA anthology of some of the biggest names in fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal novels, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

The pointy hat, the cauldron, the black cat: all recognizable symbols of a witch.

We’ve read, seen, or heard about them since we were tiny tots – from Disney movies, to books, and beyond.

Here we get EIGHTEEN new, fresh short stories from various best-selling, acclaimed authors such as Garth Nix, Holly Black, Jim Butcher, Diana Peterfreund, Peter S. Beagle, Tim Pratt, Isobelle Carmody and others.

Sounded exciting to me!

Under My Hat starts off with Diana Peterfreund – who hasn’t written a thing I haven’t liked yet. Her story, Stray Magic, was sweet. I felt the direness of the situation, and it was well-written… but it felt too short. Which is why I really can’t give details of these stories – it’ll pretty much give it all away!

Essentially, I felt like it was the start to an interesting story – not a complete one. This theme was ongoing throughout the collection, in my opinion.

Many of the stories were thought-provoking, but occasionally flat. More than I’d like I felt like a certain oomph was missing. But this was not a consistent issue.

The Education of a Witch by Ellen Klages was creepy, The Carved Forest by Tim Pratt was spooky, and Burning Castles by M. Rickert was perplexing but powerful.

And there were a few that did feel truly satisfying as a short story. One was Payment Due by Frances Hardinge, a clever revenge tale. And the other was Jim Butcher’s highly entertaining, witty, supernatural story featuring his famous wizard Harry Dresden – B is for Bigfoot. That was fun!! In fact, I am determined to start reading Butcher’s Harry Dresden series NOW!

For some reason, the other stories didn’t grab my interest all that much. Yet, I had a feeling that Under My Hat would make an excellent novel to grab and just read a random story from when in a relaxed setting. I have a sense that these tales will come across stronger from a re-read.

I’ll admit that I have numerous stacks of books waiting to be read – and sometimes my impatience can get the best of me. That’s why I strongly suggest to check out Under My Hat – it had a lot of stories that are a blast, that are eerie, and sharp!

What’s better than a little bit of everything?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Darkbeast

Darkbeast is a middle grade fantasy novel by Morgan Keyes.

In Keara’s world, every child has a darkbeast that they take their faults, their misdeeds, and their dark emotions to. The darkbeast absorbs them, a constant companion to the child they are magically bound to.

Until their twelfth birthday when the child kills their darkbeast. It is not only tradition, but law.

Keara, however, is not like most children. Instead of feeling bitterness or irritancy with her darkbeast for being the reminder of her flaws and lack of freedom, Keara loves her darkbeast. He is a raven, named Caw. To her, he is a friend.

The thought of killing Caw is unthinkable, yet unavoidable, in Keara’s mind.

As the day draws near, Keara’s decision will cause ripple effects that will change her life and those around her…

Definitely don’t want to give too many details here. Darkbeast was too good!

Morgan Keyes has created a lovely, beautiful, unique fantasy that provides a sprawling view from small village life to the magnetism of a traveling theatre troupe that catches Keara’s fascination. There are stories within the story here, all of them well done and entrancing.

Darkbeast has a heroine that is relatable, likable, and brave. Her relationship with her darkbeast Caw has a familiar comfort to it, a pure love that causes her to consider a break in tradition. A break in law. Something that is so unimaginable that she would put herself at risk in many ways.

This novel is further proof that middle grade books can be thrilling, transfixing, captivating and poignant! I am SOOOOO glad that there is going to be a sequel!!! I was emotionally attached, on the edge of my seat, and turning pages like my life depended on it. Morgan Keyes made me care, made me worry.

The colors, the descriptions, the dialogue – everything felt genuine and vibrant. Darkbeast was quite an exquisite fantasy marvel that can be read by any age. This is why we should never disregard a “children’s” book.

Sometimes they are the best books!

Friday, February 22, 2013

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave is a middle grade/YA collection of short stories featuring the supernatural, ghostly, and occasionally humorous by Candace Fleming.

When Mike Kowalski is hurrying home, driving a bit faster than he should, he has good reason.

He really doesn’t want to be chewed out by his Mom – again.

But when a girl about his age suddenly appears in his headlights, Mike has to offer her a ride home. She’s wet and shivering – and seems confused. Or at least, she’s confusing him.

What he doesn’t know yet is that she will lead him to a Chicago cemetery with only the young dead as its residents.

Tonight he will hear their stories – ranging from the turn of the century era to modern times.

Whether he likes it or not, he’ll probably be late for curfew…

This is a really amusing, sharp story assortment – a send up to classic horror stories. Initially it sounds pretty grim – a bunch of teenagers are dead? Fun, right? But actually – yes!

Some of the tales, such as Gina’s (1949 – 1964) is cautionary and tragic – a bit of a “the boy who cries wolf” edge involved. Others, such as David’s (1943 – 1958) has monster outlandishness to it that is awesomely bordering on kitschy. And then there’s the more creepy type of story, like Tracy (1959 – 1974) and Scott’s (1995 – 2012) that take on typically goose bump inducing premises of mysterious recluses and insane asylums.

Essentially there’s a little bit of everything here, and Candace Fleming lays out her inspirations in the last few pages, which is great. You get nine stories told inside of one overall story, and they are all pretty strong! Personally, I think it’s readable by either boys or girls and great for light horror/ghost story fans.

On the Day I Died
is gleefully morbid, spooky, witty, clever and entertaining. Each tale has its own distinctive time periods and characters to make for a fast, delightful read!

When the Heart Heals

When the Heart Heals is an inspirational historical fiction novel, the second in the Sisters at Heart series, by Ann Shorey.

Rosemary Saxon is still trying to get the people of Noble Springs to better accept the fact that she was a nurse during the Civil War. Traditional ideas give them an impression of an improper woman tending to indecent men – while others just think the thought of a woman being a nurse is ridiculous.

Yet Rosemary is a stubborn female, and she also needs to support herself since she is determined to stay independent and not move in with her brother and his wife Faith. A new, younger doctor named Elijah has come to Noble Springs and he allows her to take a position with him – though he’s hesitant.

In most ways she enjoys the employment, but every time she and Dr. Elijah Stewart converse it seems to be purely butting heads. Both are headstrong, opinionated, and have a tendency to say the wrong things.

When Rosemary begins to receive threats, will her obstinacy put her in danger?

When the Heart Heals features a loving, strong relationship between Rosemary and her dog. She is devoted to him, he’s loyal to her, and she would do anything to keep him safe. As an animal lover, I admired that about Rosemary.

Sadly, that was the only thing I really connected to in this novel.

Lately, I seem to be getting pickier and pickier with historical fiction/romance. There are a lot of readers of this genre that are going to ADORE When the Heart Heals – do NOT let me dissuade you from reading it for yourself.

It’s just that sometimes the plots just start to feel so similar… and unrealistic. Not all, mind you. Most recently The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow by Olivia Newport and All Things New from Lynn Austin are an example of how Christian historical fiction can be so much more. It’s a personal opinion thing, of course.

In When the Heart Heals, as unhappy as it makes me to say it – I didn’t care. On paper, that sounds cruel. These are kind, hardworking people falling in love and following dreams – but I never felt invested. The characters, perhaps, never felt real enough. It is a tough thing to pinpoint, except to say it didn’t work for me.

Certainly not a bad book, When the Heart Heals is good-natured but bland. And I really could not stand the ridiculous, irritating misunderstanding late in the story that just felt contrived and purposefully frustrating. For me, it wasn’t the good kind of frustrating – it was more of the are-you-serious? kind of exasperation.

Again – you like inspirational historical fiction/romance? Check out When the Heart Heals! It might be a perfect fit for you, and that’s wonderful!

As for me, it was not.

*Available February 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

*I received a copy of When the Heart Heals from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys is a YA paranormal novel, and the first in The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater.

I was impressed by the Shiver trilogy but absolutely dumbfounded by The Scorpio Races, so I had been shiverin’ me timbers for The Raven Boys.

And was NOT disappointed!!!

Blue Sargent has an eccentric family filled with psychic abilities. So far, she has manifested none – except that when she is near her family members, their abilities seem stronger or clearer.

That’s why every year Blue stands next to her mother on St. Mark’s Eve to write the names of the soon-to-be-dead that appear in an old churchyard. This year is different. Instead of her mom, Blue is standing next to her little known half-aunt.

And she actually sees one of the soon-to-be-dead. And he speaks to her.

His name is Gansey. He’s ridiculously wealthy and goes to Aglionby, a private, ritzy boy’s school that she avoids like the plague. Because of a prophecy Blue has lived with since she was little, she avoids boys in general. But especially the Raven boys, a.k.a. Aglionby boys.

Yet, the only reason she – with no powers – would see one of the soon-to-be-dead is if he were her true love… or if she killed him.

That is enough to haunt her dreams, but beyond that she is drawn to Gansey and his group of friends: combatable Ronan, quiet Noah, and scholarship student Adam. They’re on a quest to find ley lines, magic, and the unbelievable.

As she gets caught up in a chase that is undeniably entrancing, Blue is concerned that for the first time in her life that the prophecy that she’s lived with might be in danger of coming true…

This synopsis really doesn’t do The Raven Boys much justice – as it encompasses so much and this says so little. But if you’ve previously read Stiefvater’s novels, I’m sure you have an idea of how much she can pack into a story.

Blue and her family have an offbeat awesomeness, a togetherness that is distinctively nice to read. Blue has a down-to-earth personality, trying hard to be eccentric, and is easy to like.

Immediately The Raven Boys has a sense of foreboding, an eerie atmospheric tone, and a hook that grabs you and pulls you in. Adam, Ronan, Noah and Gansey are almost otherworldly – each one is either facing something dark and/or is a hypnotic enigma.

The Raven boys absorbed me. The lyrical, poetically paced prose was magnetic. At one point when I was reading The Raven Boys I was super tired, and wished that the plot was moving faster, but I regretted that moment of weakness of thought. Because the writing is one of the things I think is so special about Maggie Stiefvater, and as soon as I got some rest I knew I loved it.

This is an intimate, but determined, intrigue we’re presented with. The slow, measured build really started to pay off in the middle. The Raven Boys became truly incredible, uniquely magical, and spookily beautiful. There were shocks that stunned me, but also made so much sense in their revelation that I was gratified by them as well.

And the end… oh the end is not an end but a TEASE! I was left wanting so, so, so, SO much more! And the wonderful thing is – more is indeed coming.

We just have to wait.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kissing Shakespeare

Kissing Shakespeare is a YA time-travel contemporary romance novel by Pamela Mingle.

Miranda has lived her life in the shadow of two of the most sought-after Shakespearean actors in modern history – her parents. As an actress herself, Miranda finds herself struggling with her part in The Taming of the Shrew.

After a particularly bad performance, Miranda is approached by one of the more reclusive actors at her school – Stephen Langford, rather new to the drama department, and certainly an enigma.

He essentially tells her that for Shakespeare’s work to remain part of history she needs to travel back in time with him to meet Shakespeare and make sure he doesn’t make a different choice in life.

Of course Miranda thinks he’s crazy, but that doesn’t keep him from hauling her to Elizabethan times and trying his best to convince her to utilize what he thinks is her considerable acting talents to blend in to sixteenth-century England and charm the most famous bard of all time – when he’s still about the age she is.

Despite her misgivings, Miranda agrees – but does she have what it takes to seduce William Shakespeare… and make sure his work still makes its mark on his history?

Kissing Shakespeare gave me a lot of mixed reactions.

First off, I love the cover. It’s pretty, soft, and has a vulnerable sense that is lovely. But does it have bearing on the book itself? Not really. Her hair and clothing don’t reflect Elizabethan times - nor a real sense of Miranda’s character.

Initially, the plot of Kissing Shakespeare has a fun, interesting, sometimes kinda nonsensical plot. It combines historical details and the questionable early years of Shakespeare with romance and the humor of time travel. So, at times it was pretty cool.

Yet, I had a hard time with it also. Despite being able to make excuses for her, Miranda really was weepier than I like. Too many times she had tears in her eyes, was holding back tears, etc. I’d rather they focus on the hilarity of the time she is in, or the awe of being in the presence of a genius before his time. The story got sort of weakened by its lead, I think.

Stephen and Miranda’s scenes sizzled often, but the mission Miranda was on seemed weird and ridiculous. I never could understand why seducing Shakespeare was the only, or fastest, way of saving the day. Odd. And the conclusion got convoluted and ending up plodding to a lackluster end, for me.

There were some good, entertaining parts – especially earlier on – but overall I had hoped for more in Kissing Shakespeare.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Eternally Yours

Eternally Yours is the conclusion to the YA paranormal Immortal Beloved trilogy by Cate Tiernan.

Yes, this is a book you do not want to read if you haven’t read Immortal Beloved and Darkness Falls first. Same goes for this review! Please don’t spoil your enjoyment – instead read my reviews of the previous two books by clicking on their titles.

However, if you HAVE read Immortal Beloved and Darkness Falls – and really you should have, they’re outstanding! – then go ahead and read my review below!

450-year-old Nastasya Crowe has returned to River’s Edge after slipping back into her self-destructive ways for a little while. That was quickly remedied when everything went so wrong – and she was reminded why she was searching for help in the first place.

So she’s spent her time re-orienting to the farm life, washing dishes, and healing her broken soul – all the more necessary now that she knows more about her epic magickal family history and the dangers attached to that. She’s come to, *gulp*, care about the people at River’s Edge – and have intense feelings for Reyn, which she still has difficulty coming to grips with emotionally.

After hundreds of years of seeing people and pets die around her, having her heart stomped on by the very fact that she keeps on living with the pain, it’s hard for Nastasya to let herself care again. But she’s learned that not caring is no longer a life for her.

But just as Nasty is starting to change, it’s discovered that someone is killing immortals around the world. And River’s Edge is having odd, unsettling occurrences that lead them to believe that someone may be a traitor at River’s Edge – and they are all in serious danger…

Again, as I’ve said before with this trilogy, I strongly urge you tell those who don’t normally read YA to jump into this story. With characters that are hundreds of years old, even if they look like teenagers – they have adult feelings, thoughts, and plots. There’s such a universal sense of desperate redemption portrayed in Eternally Yours and the first two books, which really any reader that appreciates character development tinged with a supernatural twist should be picking these books up!

Eternally Yours is a invigorating, absorbing, mix of paranormal suspense and psychological depth. Just as with the two earlier books in the trilogy, this novel is extremely well done, presenting stellar personal growth in the characters and beautiful intricacies in their revealed pasts, motives, and reactions. I was continually astounded by the mature tone, and continued magnetic pull of the story.

Reyn and Nastaysa’s relationship is hot and heavy, but also introspective and hesitant. There’s a push and pull that works so well here, it’s plausible. Darkness and hope clash, making a beautiful, lyrical study of human nature from the perspective of immortals! What a thought!

Nasty is like an awesome friend that has screwed up a LOT and is terribly damaged, but who you know wants to change. You have faith in her, and her humor, pathos, and strong voice makes for a fantastic narrator and heroine!

Eternally Yours was an EXCEPTIONAL conclusion to a gratifyingly unique trilogy!! It was tender, heart-stopping, stunning, startling, and bounded to a surprising, suspenseful climax. Strongly, strongly recommended! More people need to know about the Immortal Beloved trilogy! Spread the word, won’t ya?

*I received a copy of Eternally Yours from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love and Other Perishable Items

Love and Other Perishable Items is a YA contemporary fiction novel by Australian author Laura Buzo.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day – and to celebrate I bring to you a story about first love. Not the mushy romance novel kind (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or the paranormal kind (not that there’s anything wrong with that either) but the regular, difficult, real-life kind.

It didn’t take long for Amelia to fall for Chris, her trainer at the supermarket in which she works. His easy way of talking, his friendliness, humor, and charisma has done her in.

This is a problem because Chris is twenty-one, a university student hungry to become an independent man. And Amelia? Fifteen.

Having always had a good head on her shoulders, Amelia knows it won’t go anywhere. Sure, it’s like a knife to the heart every time she sees him flirting with a girl his age – but she’ll take the moments of conversation, sharing opinions and personal moments with him at the checkout as they work.

But it’s those long conversations that buzz with wit and candor that start Amelia to wonder, eventually, if her crush really is one-sided… or if there is a chance that despite her age, Chris might like her back.

And even if he does… then what?

Love and Other Perishable Items is superb. I read the whole book in one sitting. I couldn’t stop. I was riveted, glued, and dumbfounded by the tender authenticity and genuineness.

From the get-go, Chris is immediately engaging, likable, fun, and cheery – the kind of guy you’d want to be around. He is able to talk – something that can be difficult to find in guys, and it’s one of the main reasons Amelia falls for him.

The tingly, nervous, excited, slightly obsessive feeling of a crush is evident and honest here. Any one of us who has felt it will recognize it easily. Laura Buzo writes extremely well – extremely.

Amelia is believable, feels like a legitimate fifteen-year-old with a brain. She’s not a bundle of gushy girl romantic fantasies, but can carry of intelligent exchanges, has views, and holds her own among the anguish of unrequited love.

Love and Other Perishable Items switches to Chris’ viewpoint occasionally, through his journal, and it is enlightening and cool. It’s a chance to see his darkness, the underground of his personality that is revealing, disheartening, but realistic. I loved that we got to see her perception of him, his personal hidden side, and then the two combined eventually as a whole human nature. Incredible.

This book isn’t sunshine and rainbows – it’s painful, heartbreaking and sad at times. It’s truly raw and presents unaffected, flawed people and the ache that is sometimes life. But – wow! I was stunned, as you can tell. There’s joy here too – and hope.

Love and Other Perishable Items is… special. I think you’ll think so, too.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Don't You Wish

Don’t You Wish is a YA contemporary novel with an alternate universe twist by Roxanne St. Claire.

Annie Nutter, unremarkable looking and one of the “invisibles” at school, has just finished another stellar day.

Yeah, not really.

Being made to feel humiliated on the school bus, followed by finding out her mom almost married a guy that’s now a billionaire before she settled on her dad isn’t the recipe for a fantastic evening.

But when Annie gets zapped by one of her dad’s wacky inventions, she wakes up in what she initially thinks must be a dream.

Her name is Ayla Monroe. She lives in a mansion, her family has loads of money, and when she looks in the mirror she looks like a WAY improved version of herself.

It doesn’t take long to realize, though, that this is no dream. She’s in an alternate universe where her mom did marry that billionaire – and she’s the queen bee of the school, girlfriend of one of the hottest guys she’s ever seen, and… her family is miserable.

Annie may be Ayla on the outside, but inside she is still the plain, unpopular girl from Pittsburgh. If she gets a chance to go home – does she want to take it?

One thing I really liked about Don’t You Wish is that it gives the reader a good chance to get to know Annie and her middle-class life before anything changes. Seeing her at Wal-Mart with her mom, glimpsing her messy home life and friendship was a great way to contrast what changes.

At first, I felt that her “dream” was a bit more cliché than I prefer – but with time I came to see more nuances to this alternate universe. Annie didn’t act in a cliché fashion to what was presented to her, which made Don’t You Wish more than a girlish fantasy.

I really soaked it up. The realizations, sensibilities and perceptiveness of the novel were increasingly mature, and sometimes painful. Plus, there’s great romance, heartache, and a true dilemma to whether or not she’d want to return home – or even if she can!

Don’t You Wish is a gobble-it-up kind of book! I cared about Annie, who is actually a strong, principled heroine. And, the end! Oh, the end gave me shivers of happiness!

This is a book that gives an excellent look at how choices morph you’re life and how regret is useless – it’s better to appreciate what you have!!! Fun read!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines is the first book in the YA sci-fi/dystopia Predator Cities quartet by Philip Reeve.

This is an older series that’s been re-released. As you know I’ve read the Fever Crumb series up to its personally rather disappointing third book Scrivener’s Moon – but what I’ve always heard the most about is this original set of books – and I’m finally reading them.

London is one of the greatest Traction Cities – it’s been hunting down and eating many smaller cities and towns for generations. But prey is starting to get slim. So, when London is chasing down a frightened small town, the Londoners are desperate to overpower it – because if it does not, London could be in danger of becoming a victim itself.

Successful and triumphant, London begins hacking it up – gathering what is useful, destroying what is not, and checking the survivors for entrance into London. Among the inhabitants is a terribly scarred girl named Hester Shaw. Tom Natsworthy, Apprentice Historian to the London Museum, witnesses her murderous attack on a fellow Londoner – and his life changes drastically.

Events fling him and Hester into the barren wasteland of the Out-Country, horrifying Tom and his lifelong mobile city life mind frame. Soon, though, Tom begins to learn unwelcome secrets about the world of hungry cities, ancient half-man/half-robot Stalkers that are seeking them and appalling plans that threaten their future…

I was instantly fascinated in the world Philip Reeve creates here. I see how the events of Fever Crumb could have led here – but it’s so far in the future and so much more than I could have imagined! It’s very cool.

Quickly I felt a connection to Tom, and it didn’t take long to feel the same about guarded Hester. They’re both strong, admirable characters to follow in such a hostile landscape.

Mortal Engines is action packed and full of questions and intrigue from the beginning! There’s surprising twists within the first thirty pages, let alone the rest of the book!

Between the two main characters there is a bond and compassion that grows subtly – as well as background, secondary characters that came to be courageous, sympathetic, and root-worthy also. I cared about these people, their relationships, and the terrible situations they’re facing.

Mortal Engines was truly scary and suspenseful – its end was very, very sad yet also encouraging and hopeful. That’s the mark of something special, I think. I’ll definitely be reading the next book!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

3 Below

3 Below is the second book in the middle grade whimsical series Floors by Patrick Carmen.

Series are always best read in order, so if you haven’t read Floors yet you can check my review here, or go read it!!! If you already have, take a look at my thoughts on 3 Below:

Now that Leo is the owner of the madcap Whippet Hotel he feels an even stronger urge to uncover all its secrets and protect its strange wonder.

So when Merghanzer D. Whippet confides in Leo that the hotel is extremely behind on its taxes, Leo and his new brother Remi know they must save it by following Merghanzer’s nonsensical – but exciting! – instructions.

With their parents conveniently given a surprise honeymoon courtesy of Mr. Whippet, Leo and Remi find themselves exploring whole new floors and aspects of the Whippet Hotel!

That’s all I’m going to say as a synopsis of 3 Below, because the best thing about this book is going along for the ride!

After the rather dark, lyrical The Blood Keeper, I was definitely ready for something lighthearted – and hooray! This was perfect!! Returning to this wacky, eccentric, always adventurous hotel was cheerful, lively fun!!!

Here we get quirky entertainment with a classic-feeling mission in saving the hotel, a comically horrible villain, an enigmatic, childish, extraordinary genius, and a duo of boys to figure it all out and save the day.

3 Below is cute, funny, wild, fast-paced, and unpredictable and creates a clear picture in the imagination!

Reading this book was a blast – it’s full of miniscule robots, abnormally tiny things, abnormally giant things, mad scientists, greedy conspiracies, and more! Age really isn’t an issue here, if you want to sit back and just enjoy a crazy, amusing story – 3 Below will be excellent!

I look forward to more Floors novels in the future!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Blood Keeper

The Blood Keeper is a YA paranormal by Tessa Gratton.

This is a companion to Blood Magic, which I adored as you can read in my review here. However, it’s heavily stand-alone, so I only recommend reading Blood Magic first for your maximum enjoyment – but this review won’t give away any spoilers of it.

On a secluded Kansas farm, Mab Prowd practices blood magic – and it’s as normal as daylight to her. Her interest is regular school subjects like math and history is slim to none, she’d rather be experimenting with what she can do with her significant abilities.

Will was just trying to overcome a nightmare by facing it right on at the lake, with his two dogs by his side, when he met her. Mab, having awoken a terrifying mud man, accidentally lost her hold on him and the thing collided right into Will.

It’s a lot to digest – the magic, the belief in it – but Will suddenly finds that his strained home life, athletics, and friends don’t reverberate with the same wild energy of that one meeting with Mab. The two begin to meet, to grow closer.

But the magic she awakened contained a long dormant curse – something that is working on Will from that first moment. It could destroy everything they care about if they don’t recognize it… and stop it.

The beginning was a mix of creepy, bloody (surprise, surprise, right?), and confusing. Yet immediately there was that pull, a mystery to the puzzle – you wonder what the heck is going on while you’re also thinking how the writing is darkly mesmerizing. I was almost involuntarily intrigued!

However, it was a bit slow. Every once in a while we get snatches of Evie’s story, an earlier blood magic practitioner with connections to the present plot, and I was sometimes more drawn to her than Will and Mab, who were good characters but not as magnetic as Blood Magic’s Nick and Silla, in my opinion.

The Blood Keeper did become increasingly spooky, though, with more and more atmospheric eeriness and worrisome traits becoming stronger in Will – that was nerve-wracking. It’s a strange and different story. The vibe crackles with energy, but I was just never as glued, as wowed and hypnotized as I was with Blood Magic.

Don’t get me wrong – The Blood Keeper was haunting and lovely, and really quite impressive. It just wasn’t as flat-out AMAZING as Blood Magic to me. Maybe you’ll disagree.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched is the third book in Meg Cabot’s adult contemporary rom-com trilogy Queen of Babble.

Yes, these books may have been published years ago – but if you, like me, are late to the game and have not yet read them, don’t read this review! It’ll unescapably contain spoilers from the first two books – and ruin all the fun!

Instead, check out my reviews of Queen of Babble and Queen of Babble in the Big City.

But if you kept up with the series and are either up to the final book or have already read it and simply curious what I thought, read on!!

Lizzie Nichols finds herself in another conundrum. Leaving Luke, moving into a place of her own, and obtaining the job of her dreams (or close enough for now) was invigorating.

But now Luke showed up, got on one knee and asked her to marry him.

This being the focal point of the breakup, Lizzie accepts and slides that sparkling ring on her finger.

Only problem? Her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, whom Lizzie just recently shared a night of surprisingly enjoyable flirting and kissing, is asleep in her bed upstairs. Fully clothed, thank God!

Lizzie assures herself that Luke is the love of her life, and her interesting night with Chaz is to be forgotten and never brought up again – oh, what would Shari think!

As time goes on though, Lizzie struggles with thoughts of her upcoming nuptials – something she never imagined happening, as she is a bit of a wedding fanatic – and Chaz continues to make it clear he does not support her union with Luke.

Confusion wrenches at Lizzie as she tries to figure out what to do, since none of the options seem easy…

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched was a great end to a delectable trilogy. It was hilarious, outrageous, and irresistibly romantic!

Lizzie as our main character with very little ability to keep her mouth shut is infectious – her shambles of a love life is entertaining to follow. Plus, the moments of hardship – the real life kind – bring a bit more maturity to an otherwise cotton candy type of story.

Queen of Babble as a series might not be my favorite from Meg Cabot, but it still has that milkshake goodness – sweet, rich, and crave-worthy – but sometimes too much. Lizzie ran through a lot of guys in a three book series, and sometimes she did get infuriating and the plot occasionally felt like it jumped around a bit – but I truly did love the turns it took that were unpredictable from reading book one. That was cool!

I’m glad I read them. I’m glad I own them. They’re just not the “must read” Meg Cabot novels, in my opinion.

Starflower

Starflower is the fourth novel in the fairy-tale series Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

Lady Gleamdren – the sister of the queen of Faerie – has been kidnapped by a cursed dragon-witch.

The beginning of an epic quest? Of course!

Eanrin, the Bard of his land, is determined to rescue his lady fair – and make sure he beats his rival at it!

What he really didn’t need to happen was to run across an insignificant mortal girl and her problems, but when he finds her trapped in an enchanted sleep he just can’t leave her behind in the perilous Wood Between unguarded.

After getting her awakened, Eanrin finds himself entangled in helping her and striving to rescue Lady Gleamdren all at the same time. A true mess.

Everything happens for a reason, however. And the girl, whose name is Starflower, may have a mysterious link to the dragon-witch…

I’ve been previously very impressed by Stengl’s Heartless and Veiled Rose. I’m working on getting Moonblood. Starflower may be my favorite yet!

First of all, this series is referred often as a Christian allegory – but though it is happily appropriate for all ages, it is approachable to all readers. Not one to be so great on picking up allegory, I only see the references occasionally. Don’t let that scare you away! I love that it’s written with Christian audiences in mind, but if you’re not normally a reader of Christian fiction – Starflower is truly a tale of its own.

Starflower has poetic, magical, fairy-tale writing that whisks me away. It’s fantastic read-out-loud prose with flawed characters and an epic fantasy plot that is complicated enough to be unpredictable!

Here we’ve got gorgeous imagery, refreshing cleverness, hypnotic mystery, and a quest for the ages! The characterizations are excellent, ranging from humorous to heartbreaking to frightening. Starflower is fascinating with an honestly enchanting plot full of twists and turns, moments of light and dark, and always, always heart.

You might be able to tell I loved it. I felt it was stunning and incredibly well done in a sea of so-so new fairy-tales. If your heart yearns for yarns of a fantasy land that is refreshing, moving, and engrossing – grab up Starflower!!!

*I received a copy of Starflower from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.