Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole sees things. Since before her parent's death, she has been seeing the phantoms of people from the past. All Emerson wants is for those phantoms to leave her alone so she can lead a normal life.

When Emerson's brother finds a representative from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, she's skeptical. But Michael believes everything she tells him and says he can help, in exchange for her assistance.

Emerson is immersed in a world full of things she doesn't understand. Why does a jolt of energy pass through her when she touches Michael? And why does Michael need her to help him undo a death that should have never occurred?

When I first heard about Hourglass I was skeptical. The premise intrigued me to no end, the cover was absolutely breathtaking, but there was so much hype around the book I didn't believe it could possibly be as good as everyone made it out to be. Boy, was I mistaken. Hourglass was every bit as awesome as the cover and synopsis elude to it being.

First, I loved the setting. Being from Mississippi, I read so many books that take place in northern areas, New York especially, and many times that leads to a lack of a connection for me. Tennessee is good and southern and wonderful! It's hard to explain, but the book feels more real.

Second, I loved the characters. Emerson is broken, but still strong. As a result of all that she's gone through, she doesn't care about things most of us care about at seventeen. She's got so much strength hidden inside of her that I doubt we've seen even the beginning of it. Michael is sensitive, yet hard. Like Emerson, he's gone through a lot to make him who he is and doesn't let others in without a struggle. There's one moment close to the end of the novel where I clutched my heart, literally, at him. That has actually never happened before. I loved Lily, and hope she has a larger part in the next book, especially given the introduction of her ability and yet nothing was done with it.

I also must give credit to Ms. McEntire for giving me a twist I didn't expect! I had absolutely no clue one twist was coming, and when it did it blew my mind, yet it made sense. Normally, I'm pretty good at predicting such things, but no dice this time.

I now cannot keep myself in my seat in anticipation for the next book. If you find me hopping around some random place one day, you'll know why.

Hourglass is a captivating and twisty debut that you don't want to miss for your life. Time travel even makes sense!

Risk a paper cut? Hourglass is at least worth your favorite pair of pants. It's more than worth a few thousand paper cuts.

To buy: Amazon
            Barnes & Noble

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz

Published by Harlequin Teen on June 28, 2011.

Spellbound follows Emma Connor, who was not cast an easy lot in life. First, her beloved twin brother dies in an accident, then not a year later her mother dies of cancer, leaving her with an abusive, drunk stepfather. When her stepfather almost kills her while driving drunk, her concerned aunt takes Emma out of New Jersey and brings her to New York, plunking her into one of the most prestigious high schools in the city. She hopes to just be invisible for her remaining couple of years there, but that becomes impossible when she's impossibly drawn to a handsome, aloof boy named Brendan. When strange things keep happening to her, she learns that her connection to Brendan is not all that it seems, and may very well cost her her life.

I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. I went into it thinking the concept sounded intriguing, but the synopsis didn't give a whole lot of details. Other people who had reviewed it seemed to have like it, so I gave it a whirl.

The beginning few chapters did not really impress me. It felt mundane, and nothing extraordinary happened. I kept reading because I liked Emma. She was a strong character who had gone through a lot of crap, but still held on. Once I got a bit into the book, it got better and better. The storyline picked up; I finally got what the conflict was going to be. Then we get Brendan, who's awesome.

Emma and Brendan's love at first sight works because there's a reason behind it. A supernatural reason, yes, but a very cool reason. I don't want to go too in depth because it ruins the slow unveiling that one gets while reading the book, just know it works. Once I understood what was going on, I was hooked to the core. Ms. Shultz's idea is a very, very, very good one.

I also liked that Emma and Brendan's relationship and love for one another really took the front seat, rather than the mystical bit of it all. Yes, the supernatural bit is what sets it all in motion, but it's not the why.

Spellbound is a very well-executed, timeless love story. It's predictable and formulaic at times, but those elements work in its favor. The light shower of magic that covers everything makes it a memorable book.

Risk a paper cut? Spellbound is definitely worth the small risk for just about anyone. It will leave you satisfied and happy. A perfect summer book.

To buy:  Amazon
             Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Published by Atria Books on April 26, 2011

I finished this book awhile ago, but I've been avoiding writing my review. The only reason I can think of is that I really don't want my first read glow to go away. You know that time after you read a really spectacular book when you're just sitting around, thinking about how wonderful it was and going over passages you loved? I think I've been doing that for two weeks now. Every time I think about Warm Bodies, I wonder at how good it was.

Warm Bodies follows R, a zombie unlike those we normally read about. R thinks, deeply, about things, speaks five syllables in a row, and has real dreams. He can't remember his life, but has a fascination with life; longing to know who he was and what he did. When R eats the brain of a teenage boy, he experiences flashbacks into the boy's life, mostly featuring his first love, Julie. R becomes enthralled with Julie and they begin a tenuous relationship unlike any in this barren world before. As Julie and R become closer, both experience impossible changes; changes that could possibly affect the entire world.

Words cannot explain how much I loved R and his voice. From the first page, I knew his narration was different. Because he can't speak but a word or two at a time, most of his narration comes straight from his thoughts. There are pages filled with R simply talking about what he does all day, and it's riveting stuff. My favorite descriptions come when he talks about groaning:
 "Focused thought is a rare occurrence here...Otherwise we'd just be standing around and groaning all day. We do a lot of standing around and groaning. Years pass this way."
 R is also genuine and eager. Perhaps this is because he's dead, and things can't really get much worse? Whatever reason, it makes him endearing and utterly likeable, despite being a zombie. It's hard to believe I would ever feel anything but disgust for a zombie, but it happened with this book.

I also liked Julie. A lot. She's a kick-butt kind of girl, the kind we don't get to read about much in books where the protagonist is male. The girl can take care of herself. She's also got a sense of humor, something that many authors would be tempted to eliminate when writing a serious zombie novel.

Can I also point out that I love that it's a standalone book? Don't get me wrong, I'm a major series lover. But I also love to see a book written towards young adults that isn't a series. I like the way it ended; it was open in a way the reader can interpret for themselves, but in a slightly leading way.

Isaac Marion is taking a different approach to the zombie novel, one that could have been disastrous. Warm Bodies is anything but. It is well-written, poignant, funny, and memorable. Easily my favorite read this year.

Risk a paper cut? ANY INJURY INFLICTED DURING THE READING OF THIS BOOK IS ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY WORTH IT. Do not let the idea of a book narrated by a zombie fool you; this book is excellent.

To buy:  Amazon
             Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fateful by Claudia Gray

First, this book is an ARC. It will be released on September 13, 2011. I had the privilege of reading it ahead of time.

Now, in all fairness, I probably would've given Fateful four stars were it not for the Titanic setting. I rank it right at four stars story-wise, but the Titanic makes it solidly five. I've been fascinated with the story of the Titanic since I first saw the movie, which was at least ten years ago. Though James Cameron's movie incited my love, I went further and read several books on the ship. Needless to say, anything involving the Titanic catches my eye, though not always my fancy.

Fateful follows ladies maid Tess Davies as she accompanies the Lisle family on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Tess has plans once she reaches America; she has saved money and will quit the Lisles' service to strike out on her own. When Tess meets Alec, a handsome first-class passenger with dark secrets and is inexplicably drawn to him she becomes entangled in a drama far beyond her imagining, involving secret societies, lost fortunes, werewolves, and true love. Not only does she face the peril presented by Alec's situation, but also the fate of the doomed ship.

I ridiculously enjoyed this book. I liked Tess as a protagonist. She was strong, but real in her strength. She had concrete reasons for why she did things, but was compelled most of the time by her love. I adored Alec. Read the book and you'll see why. I thought the characters were developed and had real intentions.

I also liked the way Ms. Gray gave many real officers and passengers cameos without making them characters, with the exception of Thomas Andrews. She mentions this in the author's note and I definitely agreed with her reasoning. With the concept of the story being so based in fantasy, the reality of the sinking and the death of those poor souls would not have been a comfortable juxtaposition for most, and definitely not me.

As for the story, I can't complain. I didn't find the plot too stuffed with extras, just enough to make every scene interesting. I will admit that this book had me crying, pretty badly actually. Partially, that was my fault. I made the mistake of listening to the score from Titanic while reading the scenes of the sinking through the end. I do believe I would've been crying no matter what, but the music made it worse. If you like to be emotionally drained after finishing a book, try this. I promise you'll be exhausted!

While the story has a closing that could stand alone, though I don't think it should, I would be among the first in line for a sequel, even though it obviously won't be set on the Titanic, and that alone testifies to how much I enjoyed the book.

Risk a paper cut? If you like paranormal romance or the Titanic, for sure. Otherwise, it's an entertaining read, but could ostracize people without those interests. (But, hey! If you're like me, and love BOTH paranormal romance and the Titanic, you'll be in hog heaven!!!)
Five out of five stars.

To buy:  Amazon
             Barnes & Noble

Finnkin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

"Sir Topher finally looked up. “Because any hope beyond that, my boy, would be too much. I feared we would drown in it.”
Then I choose to drown,” Finnikin said. “In hope. Rather than float into nothing."

Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Saving Francesca, but egad did Melina Marchetta BLOW MY MIND with Finnikin of the Rock!! I'm normally a bigger fan of fantasy than realistic books as it is, but even without my partiality towards fantasy, Finnikin of the Rock would still blow Saving Francesca out of the water. It had the same kind of vibe to me as The Inheritance Cycle or The Books of Pellinor, with the characters joining in an epic journey to save their country. I got that feeling where I want to be in the world, living their experiences that a really immersive fantasy gives me sometimes, which I LOVE. I have absolutely nothing to say but good things about this book.

Ten years before the action of the book, the kingdom of Lumatere suffered the five days of the unspeakable, when each member of their royal family was murdered or disappeared. An impostor king took hold of the throne and a curse went up over the whole kingdom, exiling many citizens and trapping the rest inside Lumatere. Now Finnikin of the Rock and his mentor Sir Topher are traveling, finding exiles from their homeland and doing their best to help them survive and find a new home. But one day they receive a messenger, telling them to go to a cloister of the goddess Lagrami, where they find a mute novice, Evanjalin, who insists she can lead them to their country's true king and back into their homeland.

The only possible negative thing I have to say about this book is that there is no more of it!! When it ended I just was salivating for the next one, Froi of the Exiles, but it doesn't come out till October 3rd!

One thing I especially loved about this book was the characters. Melina Marchetta really has a talent for writing solid, real characters. Finnikin is torn between wanting his beloved home back and his realistic side that firmly believes they can never go back. Evanjalin is strong-willed and firm, the perfect kind of person to lead thousands to take back their stolen country. I even grew to love Froi as we got to know him throughout. I certainly cannot wait for a book from his point of view!

"Be prepared for the worst, my love, for it lives next door to the best."

Risk a paper cut? YES. If I haven't convinced you how good this book is already, I don't know what else I could possibly do!

To buy:  Amazon
             Barnes & Noble

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Okay, so I now have a stack of four Melina Marchetta books loaned to me by a friend that I must read. :) Not so much a burden, but a lot from the same author. If I did these reviews another way I would scatter them out, but I review a book basically the day I finish it or the day after, so it's fresh in my mind but I've thought about it some. Anyways, on to the review...

Saving Francesca follows Francesca Spinelli during her 10th grade year of high school. For her entire life her mother has dictated all she does, but when her mom goes into a deep depression and can't even get out of bed Francesca doesn't know what to do with herself. She goes to a school that, up until that year, had been an all boy's school, her best friends go to another school and she's stuck with the rejects. At first Francesca flounders, unable to figure out what to do. But soon Francesca is able to make decisions for herself, and with this she gains real relationships with her friends, who hold her together at her lowest point.

So I'm, many times, not a big fan of modern-set books. I somehow prefer period books; I don't care which period, just not this one. BUT, I actually found Saving Francesca to be delightfully funny and a very good read. The modern setting did not distract me in the least. Rarely do I laugh out loud at a book, but several times I found myself doing so. While at times I found Francesca herself rather annoying, her friends were exactly the type of people I'd love to hang out with and I love how tight her family was.

Melina Marchetta's characters are ridiculously three dimensional.They have very distinct personalities and ways of speaking, never do you feel like what one character is saying could have been said by another character. Many times I come out of a book not remembering many character names, because they were just not very memorable. This is not the case. I can tell you the name, relationship, and personality of basically every character mentioned in the book. Making memorable and distinct characters is a talent many published and celebrated authors do not possess.

Risk a paper cut? Absolutely. No doubt about it.
Four out of five stars.

To buy:  Amazon
             Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

So I know this is another book by Alex Flinn. How can I help myself? I wanted fairy tales last week, so I got 'em! This book, like A Kiss in Time, was simply a light, fun read. I actually don't have much to say about it different from A Kiss in Time. Oh my...

Cloaked follows Johnny, an aspiring shoe designer, who works in his family's shoe repair business in the swankiest hotel in South Beach, Florida. Johnny's dad disappeared 10 years before and, while his mom never gives up hope that he'll come walking through the front door one day, they have a hard time making ends meet. Then one day a party girl princess comes to stay in the hotel and turns her attention to Johnny. She tells him that her brother has been turned into a frog and disappeared. At first Johnny thinks she's crazy, but with some convincing, and a promise of marriage and money, he decides to help her. Along with his best friend Meg, Johnny goes on an adventure he couldn't have dreamed of, encountering giants, witches, golden birds, and animals who used to be human.

I seriously love fairy tale re-tellings (if you can't tell, since I literally crave them at times), but Flinn incorporates details from so many different fairy tales that I was either vaguely familiar with or had never heard of that I got a bit confused at times. While I loved the scale of it, it was hard to follow and that sometimes detracted from the storyline. The setting changes so quickly and so often I couldn't keep track at times.

Despite my negativity, I loved Johnny as a character. The fact that he admits to himself he's only helping the princess because he needs the money is so real. Most people do the same, but act like they only help because it's what they want to do. He also is a bit of a blockhead at times, but aren't we all? He acts like a real person, which many books lack nowadays. Overall, I liked the book. It was definitely good for a light summer read, but don't go into it expected earth-shattering revelations.

Risk a paper cut? If you like fairy tale re-tellings, yes. Otherwise, find something else to read.
Three out of five stars.

To buy:  Amazon
             Barnes & Noble