Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I wanted to love Sisters of Blood and Spirit, and honestly, there were parts I really did enjoy. The premise is great--twins, one born dead and the other who still sees, hears, and touches her sister. No one understands how Lark interacts with Wren when Wren is dead, but Lark just knows that her sister has always been a part of her life; indeed, Wren's her best friend (that no one else can see). Eventually it all gets to Lark and she decides she's going to join her sister in the Shadow Lands by committing suicide, but Wren won't allow it and sets up a rescue. It's at this point that the story actually gets going; considered a bit of a freak at school, Lark is surprised when a group of students approach her for help with a problem they've created because it's known that she sees ghosts.

So far, so good. The group has gotten the attention of a long dead ghost from an abandoned psych hospital and they need to get rid of it, pronto. Lark enlists Wren's help because, together, they are stronger and can find out more info. Lark lives with her grandmother who seems to be overly indulgent and kinda clueless at times, though she does support Lark and acknowledges Wren's presence. With all the endangered kids on board, the twins set to work to free them from the malevolent forces of the long dead.'s not bad, and the pages turn fairly quickly because the action is fast. I just didn't like Lark, even with her sad background and her mad ghost-busting skills. It's not her harsh language but her generally cutting attitude and her inability to be nice for any length of time that made me sort of want one of the bad guys to swallow her whole. Wren is more likable in demeanor but still a bit on the odd side. I could see their special relationship building into something really cool but my dislike of Lark sort of ruined it for me. Plus the idea that (possible've been warned so skip ahead now...) ...

...the impossibly hot guys still want to be with such a negative person just rang hollow for me and I didn't believe it. Sure, she might be pretty, but not on the inside. In addition, there were holes in the final "battle" and the resolution big enough to drive a stolen paddy wagon through. No one's gonna notice an open grave with an obviously burned set of remains inside? Uh uh. There also seems to be some confusion between what's a ghost and what's a zombie. Also--how is Wren still aging on the other side? Does everybody continue to age or is it only the Dead Born? So many questions.

So, how did I arrive at 3 stars? Well, it is a good story, and I really liked some of the characters, including Wren, Kevin, and Ben. There's potential for a sequel that I'd probably read because the action was good and I liked the relationship between Lark and Wren. There's a lot of gore but it fits the theme, and I like the whole paranormal aspect. Weighing those factors against what bugged me, I have to say I liked the book more than I disliked the stuff that bugged me. Definitely some problems, but it's still a fast, absorbing read.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tether picks up where Tandem left off--Sasha is back on Earth, having left Aurora and her love, Thomas, behind. She is trying to fit back in but it's almost hopeless--nothing is working out and her mind is preoccupied with what is going on on the other world. Brought to a man who knows something about both her deceased parents and alternate worlds through the clue of a folded paper, Sasha learns she can go back to Aurora, and she does. Once there, however, things become way more complicated; a third analog, Selene, has shown up, and she needs both Sasha and Julianna to accompany her back to her own universe in order to save it. The problem is, Julianna's disappeared again, and Thomas seems to be acting oddly at times, and everything seems to be much more dangerous than it was the last time Sasha was on Aurora. Making it all even more complicated is the "tether"--the invisible link between analogs that ties Sasha, Selene, and Julianna together, even allowing them to communicate through thought. Sasha is desperate to break the tether, but Selene needs it intact to save her world.

This second installment of the Many-Worlds series is another page-turner, with one event after another delaying finding Julianna and many heavy decisions being made. As a bridge novel, it held my interest well and moved the plot along, though I was a bit disappointed to see that we were in for another round of "Where's Waldo" with Julianna. Selene comes off stiff and wooden in contrast to the emotional Sasha, but that's likely done to show the difference in the two identical analogs. The developments are definitely way more complicated than they were in Tandem, and the risks are greater in lots of ways. Sasha is going to have make up her mind about a lot of things, and this novel sets everything up well for a big finish.

One minor issue I have is the continued use of "in Aurora". I know it's nit picky, but if it's an entire world, shouldn't it be "on Aurora" rather than in? Every time I read that phrase, I imagined the characters literally inside the planet. Maybe I've misinterpreted it, but it pulled me out of the story every single time. But beyond that very minor annoyance, I felt that the plot, if fairly predictable, was well-executed and kept me entertained throughout. I'm excited to see where we end up and can easily recommend this novel as a good middle installment in the series.


Excellent Debut YA

The night Laia's family is killed and her brother is taken by the government enforcers is one that plunges her into despair and makes her determined to rescue the one relative she has left. She approaches the Resistence, an underground organization that is working for the Scholars, the lowest strata in society, hoping to bring change. Laia, desperate to get her brother Darin out of prison, agrees to pose as a slave in order to spy on a fearsome woman called the Commandant, who rules the Blackcliff Academy with an iron fist and an unforgiving demeanor. Lana is supposed to find out what she can to report back to the Resistence, but she undergoes merciless torture at the Commandant's hands and realizes she's in way over her head, despite the concern of Resistence worker, Keenan. Meanwhile...

There's Elias, son of the Commandant and recent graduate of the program at the Blackcliff Academy. He's now a full-fledged Mask, a member of the enforcement group that is known to be ruthless killers. But Elias is different; he only wants to escape, and he's even made plans to do so, until he finds he's been chosen to compete in Trials to determine who will become the next Emperor. His fate seemingly out of his hands, Elias must make decisions that will hopefully lead him away from his life as a killer, but all of this serves to bring him in touch with the slave girl, Laia.

We follow the stories of both Elias and Laia in alternating chapters, both told in first person. Laia starts off as immature, driven only by her need not to lose her final family member. She's willing to do whatever it takes to rescue Darin, not having any clue what that might include. Over the course of the novel, it's almost possible to physically see Laia maturing and to feel her emotions widen as she faces betrayal, friendship, and determination; it's one of my favorite things about this novel. True growth is really rare in a protagonist, but Laia achieves it in spades, learning how to keep not only herself safe, but to have others' backs as well.

Elias, hated by his mother but the hope of his House, is obviously different than his peers at Blackcliff, most likely because he was not initially brought up by his mother. Elias dislikes killing and he hates all the games that must be played; basically he's very confused about his future and unsure of how he can change anything. Surrounded by a lot of evil, including two of the other Aspirants in the Trials to be Emperor, Elias has always turned to his best friend, Helene, the only female at the Academy. But now even that's in jeopardy, as he must examine his own feelings for this girl. Elias wants to keep everyone safe and wants his freedom in equal measures, and he's conflicted about it all.

I loved this book! I read it on the recommendation of a friend who said she couldn't put it down, and she was absolutely correct. I would become equally caught up in both stories, holding my breath for Laia when she faced the Commandant and my heart torn when Elias tried to decide what would be the best course. There's some magic involved, and a group of guiding "counselors" called Augurs who seem to be trying to guide the entire Emperor selection process. Mostly, however, there are real characters who react in unexpected ways and feel emotions that cut to the bone. Violent at times, this book is definitely riveting, and I'm eagerly awaiting the second installment because I HAVE to know what's going to happen next. A wonderful debut YA novel!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Coldest Girl in ColdTown opens with a murder--several of them, in fact. Tana awakens after a party to find everyone else dead of an obvious vampire attack. Why she was spared, she has no idea, but when she discovers her ex-boyfriend Aidan alive, but tied to a bed and infected by a vampire bite, and an actual vampire chained in the same room, she knows she has to help all of them escape. This leads to a road trip toward a ColdTown, areas set aside specifically for vampires and those who worship or want to become them. Gavriel, the vampire, is being sought because he's escaped his prison of torture; Aidan is turning into a vampire himself; Tana fears she's infected and must wait out the time in order to stay human. None of them truly knows what awaits them inside ColdTown, but all suspect it's not going to be pretty. That's an understatement.

Tana's not the most sympathetic character; she's abrupt and scarred, having lived through her mother's descent into vampirism at a young age. Still, she is willing to help Aidan and Gavriel, both of whom need her desperately. In fact, Tana has to fight her own attraction to Gavriel; he's a vampire, for heaven's sake, the thing she is most scared of and what has robbed her of so much in her life. Others she meets along the way run the gamut from helpful to devious to downright dangerous; some put her life in danger and some go beyond the bounds of friendship to help out a girl who has literally nothing left in the world she finds herself inside. Particularly endearing is Valentina, the sweet cashier who not only dresses Tana, but helps her discover what is going on in the huge mansion belonging to the vampire Lucien.

There's so much going on, it's easy to get lost in the action, from Tana and her terror at the thought of turning into a vampire, to her younger sister, Pearl, who loves watching the live feeds of what goes on inside ColdTown. Despite this, I found myself at times contemplating putting the book aside; I found some stretches long (like when the group arrives at ColdTown and takes what seems forever to actually get inside) but those episodes would be followed up by page-turning action that would keep me up past my bedtime. I admit I totally disliked both Midnight and Winter and could have lived without their storyline. I did, however, love the Gavriel/Lucien/Tana parts; the emotional (or unemotional) conflicts were both well written and unexpected. If the story had been pared back to Tana without throwing into too many extraneous characters, this novel would have been a definite five stars. Still, it was interesting and I will look for the sequel because I'm firmly on Tana's side in this bloody story.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Vanishing Girls

Nick and Dara have always been extremely close sisters. Born just eleven months apart, they've shared everything, including the pain of their parents' divorce. But during Nick's senior year, things change when Dara becomes involved with Nick's best friend, Parker. Suddenly Nick finds herself on the outside and she doesn't like what she sees. Dara's always been a loose cannon, and Nick's always had her back, but the relationship between Dara and Parker threatens them in ways Nick never thought possible. Things come to a head at a party, and Nick and Dara leave together. They never make it home, and Dara's physically and emotionally damaged in ways Nick cannot reach nor heal.

I love the way this novel unfolded, including the parallel story of the missing nine year old girl, Madeline. Told mostly from Nick's point of view, we feel her pain at the loss of her sister's love and friendship and her inability to fix their relationship. Meanwhile, Dara stays hidden, only sharing her viewpoint sporadically as she tries to cope with all the losses in her life. She blames Nick for her painful recovery and her breakup with Parker. It's a sad, twisted existence, and both girls suffer.

There's a lot of detail in this novel, and a lot of emotion packed into its pages. There's also a lot of drinking and references to drug use, but they play their own role in the story. My heart broke, and broke again, for Nick as she tries at first to avoid her sister and then to come to terms about the accident, and my heart broke for Dara, the wilder younger sister who lost so much. Events are revealed slowly, with Madeline's disappearance woven neatly throughout. I finished the book feeling as though I'd been pulled through a wringer emotionally, wanting to reread it again to see what all I'd missed along the way that would shed light on the relationship between the sisters.

Lauren Oliver has become a favorite author of mine, and with Vanishing Girls she has cemented her place on my Must Buy list. There's so much more to be said for and about this novel, but without being able to do so without giving spoilers, I will just say that you will be swept up into the lives of two damaged girls who need to find a way to make themselves whole again. Read it now. You won't regret it.