Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel HawkinsHex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Series: Hex Hall #1
Published by Disney Publishing on 2010-05-29
Pages: 336
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father„an elusive European warlock„only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

I expected a lot from Hex Hall. I thought it would be funny and smart and a warm, cosy, awesome read. So maybe my expectations were set a bit too high… because while I enjoyed it? I am not sure I’ll be running out to buy book 2.

Let’s start off with the good things: I LOVED the boarding school aspect. Call it a symptom of a Harry Potter generation, but there is nothing in the world I enjoy more than the teenagers-dealing-with-important-things-at-school!trope. Hex Hall had plenty of that and, I admit, that was a blast.

While I would have liked to have stayed in class, Hex Hall was far more focussed more on the extracurricular elements of the school. There was a pretty good mystery keeping the plot rolling (A murderer is loose! Is it my roommate? She does drink blood! Whatever shall we do?!). I found myself quite invested in protecting BFF!Vampire!Jenna. Her determination to stay as human as possible despite the horrible things that have happened to her… it was quite inspiring.

But where the book really let me down was in the romance department. We are introduced to standard bad-boy Archer early on, and while Sophie starts out hating him she gives up on that unfortunately quickly. Oh! And now that she has a crush? He’s taken. Of course he is.

I am sick to death of the “I love him but his girlfriend is a bitch!” set-up. It drives me up the wall. Either your One True Love is as perfect as you think, in which case there is probably something awesome about his girlfriend you don’t know about – or he really is the jerkface he plays and they deserve each other. I am NOT a fan of reading about girls hating each other over some guy. Not to mention the fact that Archer is so, so not worth an iota of swooning.

Bottom line? Hex Hall is a fun, quick read – but the love triangle thing really bothered me. I may pick up book 2 someday… maybe.

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. ArmentroutWhite Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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One kiss could be the last.

Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she's anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.

Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she's crushed on since forever.

Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she's not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn't an issue, considering Roth has no soul.

But when Layla discovers she's the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

Thoughts: Some books take you completely by surprise. Last year, that was These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. And the 2014 winner for the title seems to be the fantastic White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

First off, let me address the cover. More confident women than I could no doubt read this book on the tube, but I was glad to have it on my kindle. I know, I know. Society’s misogynistic view of the romance genre should not be indulged – trust me I’m not proud. That being said: this book’s genre isn’t quite reflected in its cover. It is much more a YA Urban Fantasy novel so… yeah. Can’t say the cover really fits it in this case.

Moving on.

White Hot Kiss is absolutely fantastic. It’s an action-packed, well-plotted novel that borders the Young Adult and Urban Fantasy genre. The main character, Layla, had that ideal mix of gumption and self-doubt that makes for the perfect teenage narrator. And as a half-demon, half-Guardian (an Angel-ish type species – just go with it), Layla is quite rightly conflicted. She has been raised in a household where she is actively hated because of her blood and her only wish in life is to fit in. It is ludicrously relatable. But she isn’t just her angst: she wants to be of use to the world and is tough enough to pull off the role as a urban fantasy narrator. Thing Rose from Vampire Academy, only with fewer mood swings.

Of course, like all good Urban Fantasy novels, along come a few big reveals. Parents come out of the woodwork! No one is who they seemed to be! Evil is the new awesome! “No really, I’m a Prince”! If you read the genre, many of these may seem overly familiar, but they are all well handled as to feel fresh. I’ve read about Armentrout’s skill as an author, but I needed to read it to believe it.

Armentrout also managed to handle the dreaded romantic triangle flawlessly. I had not been looking forward that aspect of the novel but it really, really worked. You’ve got two leading men who are spectacularly different and yet so very likable… you can see the cause of Layla’s conflict. I could go on and on about them both for quite a while, but I’d rather not show my “team” hand. Just trust me when I say it will be a tough choice!

Bottom line: White Hot Kiss is, in a way, a very familiar book for the Urban Fantasy genre. What sets it apart is the skill of the writing, the stellar pace and fantastic character development. Go forth and read, my people!

Review: Bite Club by Rachel Caine

Review: Bite Club by Rachel CaineBite Club by Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires #10
Published by Allison & Busby
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Glass Houses, The Dead Girls' Dance, Midnight Alley, Kiss of Death, Ghost Town

After discovering that vampires populate her town, college student Claire Danvers knows that the undead just want to live their lives. But someone else wants them to get ready to rumble.

There's a new extreme sport getting picked up on the Internet: bare—knuckle fights pitting captured vampires against each other—or humans. Tracking the remote signal leads Claire—accompanied by her friends and frenemies—to discover that what started as an online brawl will soon threaten everyone in Morganville...

Thoughts: Just a warning: this review is more of a rant than anything else.

My dislike of Shane/Claire has morphed into a burning hatred. He is turning her into a wimpy, cowing version of Bella Swan (sorry, Bella) – and it is so much worse because I KNOW Claire can stand up for herself. But when it comes to Shane, she is happy to roll over and let him call all the shots. In Bite Club, it went from bad to abuse.

While I understand that Shane was “damaged” during this book, I felt like a lot of his behavior was his “natural” behavior. It was like seeing Shane drunk: his inhibitions lowered and he turns violent. I am having the same Nash/Kaylee (Soul Screamers Series) problems with their relationship – but unlike that one, I know Shane/Claire one won’t end as happily for me. Loathe loathe loathe loathe.

In a way, it all comes down to Myrnin. I love is Claire and Myrnin’s mutual appreciation for each other’s intellect, and I think their partnership is fantastic. Midnight Alley remains my favourite book in the Morganville series almost entirely because it is a Myrnin/Claire book. That Claire has continued to work for him despite Shane acting like a nutcase is my only source of hope. Whenever Shane would start to rant about Claire working for Myrnin, I felt like I was witnessing a 1950s husband telling his wife to quit her job: it’s unfair, selfish and reflective of his own insecurities.

And I really don’t know where everything went wrong. I used to adore Shane and Claire together – he was protective, but not psychotic. I really thought I could “trust” Shane with Claire; that he would value her intellect and respect her choices. I am really starting to doubt that now.

So why am I still giving this book 3 stars? Well, unlike the last Morganville installment, this book certainly inspired emotion. That’s a step forward in the right direction… that they were negative emotions? Not so good.

Bottom line? Bite Club is a horrifically frustrating book. I keep reading on based on the strength of previous installments and in the (vain) hope of improvement.

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: 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.

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