Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Review: Sweetly by Jackson PearceSweetly by Jackson Pearce
Series: Fairytale Retellings #2
Published by Hodder Children's Books, Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 310
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.

Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.

Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.

Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.

Thoughts: About a billion years ago (read: 2010), Jenny from Wondrous Reads told me I absolutely had to read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. “No way,” I cried. “Wolves suffer from enough stigma already – I’m not supporting an author that villainizes them, even if they are the fairy-tale versions.” I was about to start my Masters dissertation on the non-scientific, fallacious beliefs society has of wolves – and how that has translated into our fairy-tales. “Wolves as bad guys? That’s so 1812.”

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to understand how skeptical I was about starting Sweetly. As companion-novel-of-sorts to Sisters Red, I went into it with my finger already hovering over the eject button. One sign of iffy wolf-ness and I was off.

There was none… OK, yes, the word “wolf” was used in connection with a few unsavoury characters but it was just slang (albeit, slang I would rather done without). So, in spite of myself, I really, really enjoyed Sweetly. In fact, I thought it was rather brilliant.

Sweetly is a play on the Hansel & Gretel tale – while the inspiration is clear, the plot is not. While there is a lot of “action” in this novel, Sweetly really felt more like a mystery. Instead of there being a clear good-guy/bad-guy plot, most of Sweetly is spent uncovering precisely who knows what, who is guilty of what and wondering just how much Pearce would stick to the original tale. It kept me on tenterhooks, to be perfectly honest.

Along with the fabulous mystery-vibe was the lovely, brilliant, fantastic protagonist, Gretchen. (I quite liked her, in case you couldn’t tell.) Having lost her sister years ago under circumstances so unreal even she doesn’t believe them, Gretchen is an appropriately scarred individual. But while she is full of fear, she doesn’t let that stop her. I absolutely loved how as soon as she got the chance to find out the truth behind what happened to her sister (and other girls) she grabbed it head on. She didn’t shy away or give up, and that’s something I think every YA heroine should have.

Bottom line? This is an utterly unique novel that pulls no punches. It’s got mystery, betrayal, romance, candy and good ol’ fashion shoot outs. Read it!

Review: Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan

Review: Darkness Falls by Cate TiernanDarkness Falls by Cate Tiernan
Series: Immortal Beloved #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, Poppy
Pages: 392
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Immortal Beloved

Nastasya has lived for hundreds of years, but for some reason it never seems to get any easier. She's left behind her days of debauchery to find peace and forgiveness at River's Edge, a safe haven for wayward immortals. There she's uncovered her family's epic history, reclaimed her magickal powers, and met Reyn, whom she dubs "the Viking god. " Just as she settles into her new life, Nastasya learns that her old friends might be in town....

Reuniting with her gorgeous and dangerous ex-best-friend, Innocencio, Nas wonders if she'll ever be truly free of her dark legacy. Is Incy dangerous, power-hungry, and wicked? Or is he the only one who truly understands Nas's darkness? Either way, Nas is desperate to find out who she really is-even if the answer kills her.

Thoughts: I am really rather surprised by how much I enjoyed Darkness Falls. The first book in the series, Immortal Beloved, was… OK. The overarching plot of the book was a bit of a washout, but I remembered rather enjoying the main character, Nas, who was a tough cookie who had finally managed to check her damaged self into rehab. Her love interest Reyne, on the other hand, I would have paid good money to have killed.

Darkness Falls managed to keep the Nas I had enjoyed in the previous book, while also fixing the things I didn’t like! It was rather miraculous. Though I will never be swooning over Reyne, nor will I ever completely understand the draw between him and Nas, I did end this book with a much better understanding of his character. Considering the bounties I’d been putting on his head, that’s pretty amazing!

Tiernan added a lot of context to the background stories she introduced in Immortal Beloved and, to my surprise, they actually worked. Reyne was still the “Butcher of Winter” from the first book, but he was also the nice guy who helped out on the farm. Tiernan showed that the two identities could coexist, but cleverly she did it through another character (who I actually liked to start off with).

Also, as if by request, Darkness Falls featured a lot of Nas’ former-BFF Incy… who was just fabulous. He certainly lived up to be dark, unhinged party boy Tiernan had described. But like all her characters, he wasn’t completely past redemption. While I doubt we will see it in the final book, I really hope that Incy and Nas manage to reconnect at some point in the future. Sure, they were overly codependent for almost a century, but I don’t think they were altogether terrible for each other.

But I have to warn you, the book does begin with some of the terrible premises that were in Immortal Beloved. A couple of lines at the start turned my stomach, as Nas practically swooned “you murderer! I want you!”. But stick it out. It gets better and less rape-apologetic, I promise.

Bottom line? Darkness Falls has a tough heroine, a murderous villain, a brilliant betrayal, a bunch of unanswered questions… the works. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Review: If I Die by Rachel Vincent

Review: If I Die by Rachel VincentIf I Die by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #5
Published by MIRA
Pages: 342
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save, My Soul to Keep, My Soul to Steal, Before I Wake, With All My Soul

The entire school’s talking about the gorgeous new math teacher, Mr Beck. That is, everyone except Kaylee Cavanaugh. After all, Kaylee’s no ordinary high-school junior. She’s a banshee — she screams when someone dies.
But the next scream might be for Kaylee.

Yeah — it’s a shock to her, too. So to distract herself, Kaylee’s going to save every girl in school. Because that hot new teacher is really an incubus who feeds on the desire of unsuspecting students. The only girls immune to his lure are Kaylee and Sabine — her boyfriend’s needy ex-girlfriend. Now the unlikely allies have to get rid of Mr Beck…before he discovers they aren’t quite human, either.

But Kaylee’s borrowed lifeline is nearing its end. And those who care about her will do anything to save her life. Anything.

Thoughts: If I Die was my favourite Soul Screamers novel, hands down. Rachel Vincent resolved all my complaints, “beat my head against the wall” feelings, and shoot-Nash-in-the-face desires in one tidy little novel. How? Well, she gave Kaylee a gigantic wake-up call in the form of imminent death. *grins* Oh, the joy.

OK, I realise that makes me sound rather evil. But let me put it this way: when a character literally has no reason to hold herself back, she has the chance to let out her true self. And the “true” Kaylee? She’s rather brilliant. You see, finding out she is about to die frees Kaylee… it frees her from Nash, from her father, from her schoolmates, and – most importantly – from herself. So when I say “finding out she is about to die is the best thing that ever happened to Kaylee”, I really do mean it in the very best of ways.

Now, other than telling you that open-eyes!Kaylee is featured in If I Die, I can’t really say much more without spoiling the book for you. In short: the villain was horrifically genius, Tod was swoon-worthily brilliant, Nash was ludicrously screwed-up, Kaylee’s Dad was adorably protective, and Sabine was, well… Sabine. *sighs happily*

Bottom line? It is worth reading the first 4 books of the Soul Screamers series just to read If I Die. Seriously. Hell, just consider the first 4 books a very, very long prologue.

Finished the book already? Check out my interview with author Rachel Vincent for her thoughts on the series post-If I Die. She gave me some fantastic answers – read it if you are longing for something to tide you over until the next book!

Review: My Soul to Steal by Rachel Vincent

Review: My Soul to Steal by Rachel VincentMy Soul to Steal by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #4
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 368
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save, My Soul to Keep, If I Die, Before I Wake, With All My Soul

Trying to work things out with Nash—her maybe boyfriend—is hard enough for Kaylee Cavanaugh. She can't just pretend nothing happened. But "complicated" doesn't even begin to describe their relationship when his ex-girlfriend transfers to their school, determined to take Nash back.

See, Sabine isn't just an ordinary girl. She's a mara, the living personification of a nightmare. She can read people's fears—and craft them into nightmares while her victims sleep. Feeding from human fear is how she survives.

And Sabine isn't above scaring Kaylee and the entire school to death to get whatever—and whoever—she wants

Thoughts: My Soul to Steal made me want to punch things. Punch things repeatedly. And then it made me wish that Nash were real so that I might stab him in the eyes with a fork. These eyes would preferably be the automatically regrowing type so that I could continue the stabbing over and over and over and… yes. My Soul to Steal made me an angry, angry bunny. Angry on Kaylee’s behalf… hell, furious on her behalf.

I was never a big Nash fan, nor was I ever a big Nash/Kaylee fan. But this book just… gah. It really made me wish Nash dead. That said, I do think Nash is not inherently evil, he’s just madly screwed up. Rachel Vincent is an absolute genius in the sense that, yes, her characters are 100% realistic. She deals with the aftermath of drug abuse and betrayal in a heart-breakingly realistic way… but that realism? It leads to my aforementioned desire to kill her characters.

But even while I am busy plotting ways to dispose of the fictional bodies, I understand her characters. The new girl, Sabine, for example… let’s just say she’s pretty damn horrid to Kaylee. And yet, I really do get her – she’s completely open about her actions, be they good or terribly bad. Hell, half-way through this book I would have been happy if Kaylee had decided to switch sexual orientations and run off with her. And if I was choosing the main antagonist over the boyfriend? That really gives you an idea how much said boyfriend was wrong for Kaylee.

Moving away from all the interpersonal DR-A-MA, My Soul to Steal was a riot and a half. Vincent does plotty-but-serial extremely well, and this installment was just another demonstration of her ever-improving style. Had the book been more focussed on the plotty goodness, and not on all the Kaylee/Nash/Sabine business, I would be giving it 4 stars without a doubt.

Bottom line? Rachel Vincent writes the most extraordinary characters – some of them you’ll love, some you’ll want to kill, and others you’ll want to have committed. It’s great, but oh-so frustrating.

Review: My Soul to Keep by Rachel Vincent

Review: My Soul to Keep by Rachel VincentMy Soul to Keep by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #3
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 378
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save, My Soul to Steal, If I Die, Before I Wake, With All My Soul

Kaylee has one addiction: her very hot, very popular boyfriend, Nash. A banshee like Kaylee, Nash understands her like no one else. Nothing can come between them. Until something does. Demon's breath.

No, not the toothpaste-challenged kind. The Netherworld kind. The kind that really can kill you. Somehow, the super-addictive substance has made its way to the human world. But how? Kaylee and Nash have to cut off the source and protect their friends—one of whom is already hooked. And when the epidemic hits too close to home, Kaylee will have to risk everything to save those she loves.

Thoughts: In my review of My Soul to Save, I said that the Soul Screamers series was becoming rather episodic… well, this book makes me want to retract that statement. While the novel begins like a simple “new adventure” for Kaylee, events quickly take an extremely personal turn. Instead of fighting for the lives of strangers, Kaylee is fighting for those closest to her. This change gave the series a bit more gravitas and made this book my favourite in the series so far.

There is a big twist that takes place in the middle of the book – and unfortunately I found out about it before I read the book. To those of you who have no idea what I am talking about… stay that way until you read the book! Even though I was still somewhat shocked by the big revelation, I think it would have hit a lot harder if I hadn’t known about it.

Big twist, you ask? Well, let’s just say it is a complete game changer and I love game changers. While I don’t like it when authors randomly kill off characters just for the sake of it, I do love it when they introduce something small that escalates naturally into a whole new disaster. And that? That’s what Rachel Vincent did in My Soul to Keep. It was masterfully done and gave me a whole new respect for this series. While, sure, it’s terrible – the twist completely revitalises the verse.

Now, I can’t end this review without talking about some of the characters. I am having trouble understanding Kaylee. She spends most of the book hiding rather important problems from her father and uncle… which considering how dedicated she is to protecting people seems completely illogical. Surely consulting with people with decades of experience would be a good idea? But no. I think part of that might be Vincent’s desire to keep parents out of the adventure, but it felt rather forced.

And then there is Nash. Eh. I’ve never been a Nash fan, mostly because we have never gotten to know him. He’s always kept Kaylee at arms-length, while she has always been completely honest with him. My Soul to Keep made me even less of a Nash fan, and now I just want Kaylee to keep away from him. Far far away. I am Team Anyone-but-Nash! This book made me just… gah! Nash is going to have to sit down for a real soul-baring conversation with Kaylee before I let him anywhere near that girl!

Bottom line? My Soul to Keep lifts the Soul Screamers series from “good but not fantastic” to “this is something to write home about”.

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