Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth ScottHeartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 256
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Life. Death. And...Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can't tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn't have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

Thoughts: There aren’t many books I’d give the “For fans of The Fault in Our Stars” label to. Actually, before Heartbeat, there were exactly zero. But while reading this fantastically emotional book, I couldn’t help but remember my experience reading TFIOS. This isn’t a cancer book, but it is a book about love, loss and happiness… rather key themes of TFIOS, as well.

Heartbeat is one of those books that hits a little bit too close to home. A girl loses her mother but is forced to keep seeing her everyday. When she loses her mother, she loses the rest of her family too. And while that is all hideous, what’s worst is the shock of it all. Her life changes in less than a second. There was no time for goodbye, no time to prepare.

That she finds someone to love during this tragedy may seem unrealistic, but it is a bond forged with a shared understanding of loss. It felt real and it also felt healthy – so I wholeheartedly approved. Perhaps they weren’t a swoon-worthy couple, but hey. It’s hard to be charming when you are sobbing.

Speaking of which: add Heartbeat to the “Made Me Cry” pile. And, for the record, they weren’t tears of joy. Sometimes life really sucks for fictional characters, and us real-life characters are allowed to cry about it.

That said, I wasn’t quite as enchanted with Heartbeat as I was with Scott’s Stealing Heaven. While Scott is certainly an expert at packing a big punch into a little book, Heartbeat was just a tad too short for its content. At times, I felt like Scott was trying to jump to the next plot point without a proper emotional transition… it was a bit jarring at times, but didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Bottom line? Elizabeth Scott is a fantastic author and Heartbeat is another gem in her treasure-chest of novels.

Guest Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Guest Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterThe Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #2
Published by Scholastic on 2013-09-17
Pages: 448
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take? Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things. Ronan is one of the raven boys — a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface — changing everything in its wake.

“Boys like him didn’t die; the got bronzed and installed outside public libraries…His voice was full of the honey baked accent of old Virginia money.”

In full disclosure, one of the reasons I’ve latched on to this series is because I just moved to a quiet, unexplored corner of Virginia. This story, which is full of so much crumbling grandeur, sad wildness and…well and magic…it lends my loneliness a romantic edge.

This book brought an unforgotten nostalgia for my own childhood and the wishful half-belief in the sorcery of deep woods and hidden creeks, which transforms moss and vines into bowers, thorns and mud into dark fey, power lines and clear cuts into the ravages of orks or – far worse – the inevitable encroachment of men into the holy places of the world.

“…Blue thrilled again and again with the knowledge that magic was real, magic was real, magic was real.”

In a way, my memories are a compliment to Maggie’s lovely book. Within her words I rediscovered the enchantment, and she doesn’t patronize those experiences by turning them into figments of a character’s imagination.

Isn’t that the most irritating thing? When the desires of your heart are made flesh, and then you’re supposed to wake up, grow up or die  – and learn something from it.

The Dream Thieves, like The Raven Boys, has buckshot of loss spattered through it. In the morning light, she somehow makes me feel like the day is already done – simultaneously experiencing a moment and mourning its passing. And the Kavinsky/Ronan Janus-dynamic illuminated the delicacy of the balance between creation and destruction.

The characters are so vivid – from golden boy Gansey and our girl Blue to the interesting supporting characters like Calla and Mr. Grey.

 “In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest.  Their awfulness and strangeness. Her Raven Boys.”

Me too, Blue.

Except maybe Noah.  Poor fellow. But that there’s unworked land. I’d like to be given the chance to fall in love with Noah. Right now he seems kind of pathetic. Smelly. Dead.

I’ve enjoyed witnessing Maggie Steifvater develop as an author.  The Wolves of Mercy Falls series was good, but I never really understood the hype. In my opinion, The Scorpio Races was much more interesting, and the Raven Boys series is top notch — Definitely one to curl up alongside the other keepers in your mind.

I can’t wait to see which character we get into next.

 Kelly IzlarKelly is a science communicator and writer. She recently completed an internship with the US science communication team for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and is currently freelancing in rural western Virginia. Kelly likes swimming, hiking, eating good cheese and reading young adult fiction. Visit www.kellyaizlar.com/ or follow Kelly on twitter @KellyIzlar

 

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I tried Grammarly‘s check for plagiarism free of charge… because cool cats aren’t copy-cats.

Review: Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 400
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinarylife, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.

 

Thoughts: Neverwhere is one of those classic novels that everyone loves to love. It is heralded as a masterpiece in urban fantasy and… maybe it was when it was written. Neverwhere was published in 1996 which – while not exactly the stone age – was a primordial era for the UF genre. And unlike the early Anita Blake books – which have aged beautifully – Neverwhere doesn’t make the muster.

That’s not to say it isn’t a wonderful book. It is an homage to the city by someone who obviously loves it. It is a creative piece of work that – now that I think about it – made me feel like I was visiting the Night Vale version of ol’ Londontown. That said, there were two major issues I would be remiss not to point out.

The first: the characters. Despite the 300+ words of the novel, the characterizations were weak. Very, very weak. I had no sense for any of any of their motivations – not even those of our narrator and protagonist. Gaiman spent his words on the world building, and not on the characters. I honestly can’t believe this is by the same man that wrote The Doctor’s Wife… but I’m willing to forgive because on the whole it-was-pioneering-at-the-time thing.

My second issue was with the overwhelming familiarity of the plot: London is weirder than we’d suspected, male protagonist is thrown into aforementioned weird world, and male protagonist learns the ropes and falls in love with it. Dull. If you loved Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch or A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, you will probably adore Neverwhere. It is feels like the inspiration for both of those books and – as the original – is significantly better. But I just couldn’t learn to love it.

Bottom line? Neverwhere is well-written but lacked any and all emotional depth. That said, it is a classic urban fantasy novel. You may want to pick it up just on that.

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Series: The Fifth Wave #1
Published by Penguin Random House on 2013-05-07
Pages: 480
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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The Passage meets Ender's Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Thoughts: To hear some people put it, The 5th Wave should have been called the The 2nd Coming. The hype surrounding this novel was crazy. Absolutely crazy. So much so, that it was hard for me to separate the book from the hype even while I was reading the thing.

But now, having let it stew in my mind for a good long while, I can see why people were excited when it came out. It’s got the right mix of action, fantasy, dystopia and romance in it to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers. This is mostly down to the multiple narrators: we’ve got a mix of genders and ages (oh, and species) telling the story, and I can see how that makes the book more appealing to publishers and booksellers alike.

“Lovely, Kay. Nice insight into marketing. But was it a good read?,” you ask.

Not really.

Sorry people, but the truth is I had to force myself to finish The 5th Wave. While I could appreciate what Rick Yancey was shooting for, I found the jump between narrators extremely frustrating. Just as I was starting to become emotionally invested in a character, we would switch over to someone new. Then, by the time we’d get back to the original subject, I had lost the emotional tie I had previously had.

You  play two great symphonies at once, and they’ll just become noise. The 5th Wave was a very noisy book.

So despite the body-snatching aliens, the child soldiers, the Walking Dead style of survival, my main takeaway from The 5th Wave was a lesson in how not to structure a novel. Intellectually, I am interested in knowing how the series ends, but if everyone dies in the end, I wouldn’t really mind. Never a good sign.

Bottom line? The 5th Wave lacked any and all emotional pull, and I can’t say I’m rushing to recommend it. But if you adore multiple narrator books, perhaps you’ll love this book.  

Review: Gone by Lisa McMann

Review: Gone by Lisa McMannGone by Lisa McMann
Series: Dream Catcher #3
Published by Simon & Schuster on 2010-11-01
Pages: 240
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Wake, Fade

Things should be great for Janie - she has graduated from high school and is spending her summer with Cabel, the guy she's totally in love with. But deep down she's panicking about how she's going to survive her future when getting sucked into other people's dreams is really starting to take its toll. Things get even more complicated when she meets her father for the very first time -and he's in a coma. As Janie uncovers his secret past, she begins to realize that the choice she thought she had has more dire consequences than she ever imagined.

Thoughts: Who else remembers how the blogosphere exploded in outrage when Gone came out back in 2010? For those of you who don’t. it was rather similar to the outrage we recently saw when Veronica Roth’s series ended (which I still haven’t read – I KNOW). A lot of people adored the series, and were rather outraged by the very existence of Gone.

Well, four years later, I finally understand.

It’s not that Gone is a bad book… it just isn’t a book. It had no over-arching plot, no murder mystery and, really, nothing changes at the end of it. It is just a really, really, really lengthy epilogue.

Let me give you a the Hunger Games example (spoilers of THG, obviously):

Let’s say Suzanne Collins skips her epilogue and writes a whole extra book instead. In it, Katniss and Peeta decide to have children. Katniss then thinks about her decision, decides to stick with it, and they have children. Voila. There you have it: the District 12 version of Lisa McMann’s Gone.

Fortunately, the book hasn’t put me off the whole series. Wake and Fade are still magical novels that I’d highly recommend but… you can skip Gone.

Bottom line? Gone isn’t the last in a trilogy. It’s the lengthy, frustrating epilogue of an extremely good duology. Skip it. No really, you aren’t missing a thing.

Review: Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Review: Hunting Ground by Patricia BriggsHunting Ground by Patricia Briggs
Series: Alpha & Omega #2
Published by Ace/Roc, Orbit
Pages: 286
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Cry Wolf

Anna Latham didn’t know how complicated life could be until she became a werewolf. And until she was mated to Charles Cornick, the son — and enforcer — of Bran, the leader of the North American werewolves, she didn’t know how dangerous it could be either...

Anna and Charles have just been enlisted to attend a summit to present Bran’s controversial proposition: that the wolves should finally reveal themselves to humans. But the most feared Alpha in Europe is dead set against the plan — and it seems like someone else might be too. When Anna is attacked by vampires using pack magic, the kind of power only werewolves should be able to draw on, Charles and Anna must combine their talents to hunt down whoever is behind it all — or risk losing everything...

Thoughts: How many ways can I say I love Patricia Briggs? No really, give me some suggestions, because I am running out of “I HEART BRIGGS” variations.

Once again, I adored another of Patricia Briggs’ novels. The Mercy Thompson world is such a glorious one, and this second Alpha & Omega book proves that the quality of her spin-off series wasn’t just a one off. Briggs has created something magical with the Alpha & Omega series.

On to the book itself: the first thing that struck me about Hunting Ground was its setting in the universe. It is set around book 3 or 4 of the Mercy Thompson series, and handles an issue mentioned in the Mercy books but not one I had considered requiring its own book. Of course, I was wrong! Because of Charles’ status in his father’s pack, this Alpha & Omega installment gave us a chance to see the wheeling and dealing behind the politics spotted in the Mercy books. I love a good bit of negotiating (especially when it includes bloodshed – see my review of Pride by Rachel Vincent for evidence to that effect).

Anna and Charles’ relationship development was as solid as ever. Considering how little they know each other AND how little we know them (this is only book 2, after all), it’s rather extraordinary how attached they are and how attached I am to them. Of course, this is because Patricia Briggs is excellent at writing real adult relationships, creating complex characters etc. etc. – you’ve heard the pro-Briggs spiel before.

But what truly surprised me about Hunting Ground was the quality of its background characters. Briggs had me in tears over a character I’d met only pages ago. This is horrid, of course, as all of her characters eventually end up going through hell! But still. Her beautiful, wonderful, horrible secondary characters were all deserving of their own spin-off.

Two minor “complaints” that were annoying but did not detract from the quality of the read. These could be considered somewhat spoilery, so tread with caution!:

  • The summary on the back of my edition had major spoilers for the novel. The death it describes takes place more than two-thirds the way through the book. I wrote a whole rant about it here: #PublisherFail Spoiler Summaries
  • I also worked out the identity of the villain rather early on. Since that NEVER happens to me, it must have been rather obvious to other people. That said, the aforementioned summary-from-hell did help rule out some suspects. So… it could have been that?

Bottom line? After reading Hunting Ground, I desperately want to read the next installments in the Mercy and Alpha & Omega series… but I am saving them for my next reading funk. Patricia Briggs can get me out of the most dreadful of reading slumps; she’s that good.

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