Monday, May 21, 2012

Spell Bound

Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher: Hyperion
Released: March 13, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: Hex Hall
Source: Kindle
Challenge: Witchy Books, YA/MG Fantasy
Sophie's been through a lot. After she found out she was a demon, not just a regular witch, she spent some time getting to know her demon father, juggling Archer, her warlock boyfriend, who happens to be part of the Prodigium-hunting Eye, and her fiancee Cal, and finally ending up with her powers removed as everything seems to be going to hell. Spell Bound opens with Sophie waking up in a strange place after taking the Itineris hoping to find the Brannicks, another group whose mission it is to wipe out Prodigium. But more than ever in this book, Sophie learns that nothing is as it seems. And now that the Cassnoffs are putting their horrifying plan into motion, it's up to Sophie and her band to stop them. They'll go to hell and back - literally - to prevent them raising a demon-army to have all of Prodigium under their control.

First of all, I'll come right out and say - I love this book, and that makes it a total of three-for-three that I love in this series. This third book is darker in tone, and lots more pure evil goes on, but throughout it all, Sophie remains her usual snarky, sarcastic, funny self. I love how she pops out with the most inappropriate comments just when the tension gets so thick I can practically feel it pulsing off the page.

And for once, there was a love triangle I didn't find fault with at any time! It helped that Sophie is very clear on how she feels about each boy - she loves Archer, and she loves Cal - just not in the same way. The way it plays out, though, with a little supernatural twist, is really good, though it makes it hard for Cal a bit. Elodie has something to do with that - reaching back from the grave to continue causing trouble! Though to her credit, she does more good than harm in this book.

The thing that struck me most about the book is the description of Hex Hall when Sophie goes back. The sense of decay and neglect is so vivid, that I almost smelled the mold and mustiness of the decrepit buildings. And then, at the end, when it's restored, I felt like I was walking out of a dank, damp cave into sunlight. It's Rachel's way with words that does that, creating a scene that jumps off the pages like that.

And I have to say, I love the ending. I did wonder if Rachel would tie everything up neatly for Sophie and her clan. And I really like that that's not what happens. They get rid of the Casnoffs, but at a price, and that still doesn't take care of all their problems. But it's a genuinely satisfying ending, all the same.

Celebrity in Death

Author: J.D. Robb
Publisher: Putnam
Released: February 21, 2012
Genre: Futuristic Police Procedural/Romantic Suspense/Mystery
Series: In Death
Source: Library
Challenge: Mystery and Suspense
After Nadine Furst, top journalist, wrote a book about Lieutenant Eve Dallas's uncovering of the Icove's cloning ring, it - naturally - got picked up to be made into a vid. Now Eve has the eerie experience of walking onto a set spookily identical to her own office and the offices of the Icoves, with actors made up to look exactly like their real-life counterparts. She even goes to a dinner party with these look-alikes - and where Eve goes, murder follows. One of the actresses - a bitchy, selfish, and nasty actress - is found floating in the rooftop pool. No one liked her, but Eve has to go deeper than that and figure out who disliked her enough to kill her.

Throughout the entire opening of the book, for the first few chapters, I got the feeling that this book would be slightly different than the rest of the series. In Chapter 1, Eve catches a murder which is easily solved, totally unconnected to the vid production, one that doesn't even allow her to miss the dinner party because it closes so quickly. I had the feeling that murder was put there to get at least some murder early on in the book. Because as much as Eve hates dinner parties, she seems remarkably comfortable at this one. Which adds an interesting layer to the case, since she enjoyed the time spent with these people and then has to go digging for dirt on them all.

But the relaxed style of the opening lasts throughout the book. With the case, there's hardly any danger - though there is danger, it's a clean, "civilized" danger, no fist fights, no laser blasting - a weapon is never pulled. Eve herself comments, on the last pages, that "We closed two murders, one attempted...and nobody tried to punch me in the face, stab me, stun me, or blow me up. I think it's a record." Every In Death book is a mind game, while I read I'm desperately trying to figure out who it is (I never get it, by the way). But this one was more about social connections, requiring a different kind of mind-attention.

And in Eve's private life, there is also a more muted tone throughout the book. This is acknowledged early on, as Eve and Roarke admit that after New York to Dallas, in which Eve went to Dallas and met her mother, the two of them are circling and "being careful" with each other. Eve suggests a fight to clear the air - I'm looking forward to it in the next book! But it was nice to have a book almost entirely free of Eve's nightmares, especially since the case doesn't have any echoes of her childhood. It almost feels like Eve might be getting closure on that part of her life. I wonder, but I don't think so. I think it will come back to her, she's just a bit numb after what she had to deal with, but it will come back.

If anything, the quiet calmness of the book points to a more chilling, more terrifying killer - I won't give it away, but it takes a scary kind of warped mind to do what the killer in this book does.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Breath of Eyre

Author: Eve Marie Mont
Publisher: Kensington Teen
Released: April 2012
Genre: YA (Fantasy)
Series: First of Emma's story (next books: A Touch of Scarlet,  A Phantom Enchantment)
Source: ARC from Publisher
Challenge: 2012 YA Debut, Speculative Romance, YA/MG Fantasy
I heard recently that there's been a study which found that the act of reading actually affects the brain in a way that makes the reader identify strongly with the character - in fact, in the brain, it's as if the reader has assumed the persona of the character while she's reading. Fascinating stuff. Who hasn't daydreamed about living the life of a captivating character they've read about? I certainly have. And Eve Marie Mont takes that fantasy and makes it real with A Breath of Eyre and with the rest of the series, where Emma, book lover extraordinaire, finds herself transported to the worlds of the characters she is reading about.

The book begins by introducing Emma as a girl who just doesn't fit in - not in her family, where her dad has become distant to her ever since her mom's death and her stepmother is just so different, not in her fancy prep school where she attends as a scholarship student and can't stand the snooty politics of the popular girls, and definitely not with Gray, the "family friend" for whom she's always harbored feelings and yet can't seem to have any relationship with beyond snide bantering. Emma is a truly likable character. There are pockets of darkness in her apparent from the opening scene of the book, when she escapes her own birthday party for a swim at a really bad time. That's the first of her harmful experiences - she lands in the hospital four times in the span of one year!

But it's her hospital visits that are the key to the book. Beginning with her first visit, after she's been struck by lightning, her times in a coma correspond to the times when she visits Thornfield and lives with Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, and Rochester, of course. The way Emma is introduced to this life is brilliant - though at first confused, she almost immediately begins acting the part of Jane, and she slowly loses memory of being Emma. I do like that this doesn't keep up throughout the book - it's effective in this instance by grounding her firmly enough in this world so that it's believable, but the process of her forgetting and remembering would have been tedious had it continued.

Emma, as Jane, forms a relationship with Rochester, closely mirroring the fantasized relationship she has with Mr. Gallagher, her English teacher. But through this relationship with Rochester, she learns about true love and forgiveness, and she makes choices in both worlds stemming from her new understanding. The thing is, the correlation between Emma's world and Jane's relies too heavily on this one connection, and I didn't find that it followed through for the rest of the details of the book. Yes, other characters from Emma's world appear in Jane's - Mrs. Fairfax is Madame Favier, her French teacher; Adele is Gray's little sister; Elise, the villain in Emma's world, is Blanche Ingram vying for Rochester's attention. But the why of these connections is missing. And then, the plot strains a bit in asking the reader to see Gray as Emma's Mr. Rochester, after she's become disgusted with Mr. Gallagher. First of all, how could there be two Rochesters? And besides, once Emma has decided she can't forgive Rochester the way Jane did, why is Gray - the good guy - connected to him?

By midway through the book, Emma has begun to have a serious relationship with Gray. Gray seems wonderful - with dark secrets of his own, that's true, but the perfect boyfriend, sweet and considerate and darkly handsome. The relationship between Emma and Gray develops slowly, realistically considering their pasts, shared and separate. But there are some inconsistencies leading to a rather tidy finish. Emma turns away from Gray when at one point he says that he needs her because she makes him better. Emma doesn't want to be needed, she wants to be loved. But then, after she and Gray haven't spoken for some time and Emma is miserable about it, someone says to her, "He doesn't need cooling down, child. He needs you," and that prompts Emma to go back to him. The reasoning there is off - that's the reason she ditched him in the first place!

Then there's the ending. The last chapter begins with a paragraph set off by a line break from the rest of the chapter, in which Emma says there are things she'll never understand, including how it actually happened that she was living in Jane's world. From the excerpt in the back of the book from A Touch of Scarlet, I assume that this will be more fully explored there, but it left me unsatisfied for now, especially in regard to Emma's mother. Her "dreams" of Thornfield show her things about her mother, and I expected that to be explained, especially since the copy of Jane Eyre that Emma reads was once her mother's. But if she is connected somehow to Jane, why does she continue to go into other characters' stories?

That is actually something I'd like to find out, so I do plan on reading the following books in the sequence. And I have to say, as I was reading the book, up until the last twenty pages or so, I was thinking what a great book this is. I was too disappointed by the way things turn out, though, to give this a positive review. It felt like the concept started off strong and then petered out, and that ruined the whole book for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sisterhood Everlasting

Author: Ann Brashares
Author's Website: 
Publisher: Random House
Released: June 14, 2011
Genre: Contemporary/Women's Fiction
Source: Library
Series: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Challenge: None

Ten years after they've lost the pants that kept them together when they spent summers apart in high school, the girls of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants have traveled far and wide across America, and Tibby's even gone to Australia! But this time, being apart has put a strain on their relationship and they're hardly in contact with each other at all. The girls all feel something missing in their lives, and they are certain that if only the Sisterhood were whole again, everything would be perfect again. So when Tibby unexpectedly sends Bridget, Carmen, and Lena tickets to Greece, all three are delighted and highly anticipating reuniting the sisters. Nothing could have prepared them for what actually happens in Greece, but as each girl struggles with it, they confront their demons and learn what it means to love the way they used to.
First of all, though this is a continuation of the YA series The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, this book is decidedly not YA. It's dark and twisty and deals with concepts that place it firmly in the adult sphere.

That said. This book pulled me in, sucked me under like a whirlpool. The sadness of each girl is so palpable, the enormity of what they have to deal with so real. For most of the book, not much is happening, but the alternating streams of consciousness as each girl tries to go on after the devastating events are somehow so powerful, so raw and emotional. It's a mark of pure genius when a book manages to get the reader involved so quickly, even when the characters are not especially likable. Of course, that's balanced by the fact that we've been caring about these characters for four books now, so when they show their not-too-appealing sides, we care enough to stick around and hope that they'll figure it all out.

Still, I think this book works really well as a stand-alone if someone hasn't read all four books before. References to previous events are minimal, and the characters are so changed by this point - ten years will do that! - so even we old, broken-in readers have to adjust how we approach each girl.

The plot revolves around the emotions of each girl, and that works really well. Really, every part of this book works amazingly well. Each event is wrapped up in how each girl responds to it, and since the emotion is what this book is all about, that makes a lot of sense. Though the plot begins to develop more once the story gets going, and big events do happen, the point all along is internal conflict and resolution. Yes, Lena deals with Kostos again, but really what she's dealing with is her own fears and misgivings, her own inability to trust herself. And that's how it is for all the girls. Whatever they do is important only because it affects their own inner journey.

And I love books that manage to capture that inner journey so well - especially from multiple viewpoints. This is not a feel-good novel, but it gives hope for a beautiful, cohesive world.