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: Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter

Review: Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally CarterOut of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #5
Published by Hyperion on 2012-03-13
Pages: 304
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Only the Good Spy Young, United We Spy

The fifth sassy installment in Ally Carter's best-selling spy-school series delivers the most nerve-wracking, high-stakes adventure yet! The last thing Cammie Morgan remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to protect her friends and family. But when Cammie wakes up in an alpine convent and discovers months have passed, her memory is a black hole. The only traces left of Cammie's summer vacation are the bruises on her body and dirt under her nails. All she wants is to go home. But even the Gallagher Academy now holds more questions than answers as Cammie and her friends face their most difficult challenge. With only their training and a few clues to guide them, the girls go in search of answers on the other side of the world. But the Circle is hot on their trail and will stop at nothing to prevent Cammie from remembering what she did last summer.

Thoughts: When I started the Gallagher Girl books, I was entertained but not exactly fulfilled. They felt like young, fun books that straddled the line between Middle Grade and Young Adult.

But as the characters have matured, so have the content and the writing. These have turned serious, meaty books that deal with a lot more than just teenage shenanigans. The change was gradual and it was only in Out of Sight, Out of Time that I really felt it come through. Needless to say, I am a big fan!

Out of Sight, Out of Time is by far my favourite in the series. The novel opens with an amnesiac Cammie being tended to by Austrian nuns – so right from the start I knew I was going to be in for a treat. You’d think the amnesia trope would be too cliché to handle, but instead it gave the book an overarching mystery that I really enjoyed. What happened to Cammie? How did she suddenly become a bad-ass warrior? What did Bex and Zach get up to while Cammie was away? ALL THE QUESTIONS.

Not only did Ally Carter deliver a fantastic mystery, she wrapped it up in a kick-ass ending. This book had me salivating for the next (I managed to delay the satisfaction of starting that one… by 2 whole days).

Bottom line? If you gave up on the Gallagher series during the first few books, please reconsider! They get plottier and more awesome as they go on.

Favourite Quote: 

Townsend made a note, and I remembered the immortal advice of Joe Solomon that, at its heart, being a spy is boring.

The older I got, the smarter my teachers became.

– Chapter 26

Review: Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter

Review: Only the Good Spy Young by Ally CarterOnly the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #4
Published by Hyperion on 2010
Pages: 273
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Out of Sight, Out of Time, United We Spy

When Cammie Morgan enrolled at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, she knew she was preparing for the dangerous life of a spy. She just didn't know that life would start during her junior year of high school. But that's exactly what happened when Cammie faced off against a mysterious organisation called the Circle of Cavan.

Now even Cammie 'the Chemeleon' can't hide. Danger has followed her to London where she discovers one of her most trusted allies has been labelled a double agent. The Gallagher Girls quickly realise that the Circle's agents are closer than they'd feared - maybe even within the Gallagher Academy's own walls. Cammie and her room mates must call upon old friends if they want to find the traitor at their beloved school before it's too late.

Thoughts: I’m surprised every time I pick up a Gallagher Girls book. It always starts off the same:

  • Page 2: My god these characters are juvenile.
  • Page 3: Honestly, how many excited can anyone possibly get about a teenaged boy?
  • Page 5: OK WOW. Everything just got real really fast – the world is a lie, and everyone is a liar – this is life/death here, people!

In other words, Ally Carter manages to make the Gallagher Girls real teenagers (worried about nails, and boys, and their homework) while still involving them in life-or-death scenarios. To make things even better, there is are about 10 underlying mysteries that have been woven through the series. With each book we get more revelations that often lead to more questions than answers. I’m reminded – bizarrely enough – of the Harry Potter books. Of how no one would answer Harry’s questions because of his age – but his age, determination and friends were what gave him the ability to succeed where grown-ups failed. Same goes for Cammie.

Only the Good Spy Young gave me so many answers I’m been waiting for! We find out more about Mr. Solomon (oh, Mr. Solomon), Blackthorne Institute and – shockingly enough – Zach (oh, Zach). Read it to find out, but I let me just say I loved it all. Each revelation made the books grittier and darker – always an improvement, in my mind!

But, most of all, I loved what Cammie did as she uncovered each new piece of information. She was smart and logical while still recognizing her emotions. She discussed it with her friends and didn’t just fall into a boy’s arms. YA heroines could learn a lot from Cammie – she was a Gallagher Girl through and through.

Bottom line? This series gets better and better with every book: darker, more complicated and utterly kick-ass. They are light reads but highly enjoyable.

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #1
Published by Penguin on 2012-12-31
Pages: 384
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Burns

When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate's guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta's magic circles.

The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate's guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she's way out of her league—but she wouldn't have it any other way…

Thoughts: People have been nagging me to read the Kate Daniels series for years. I distinctly remember a friend sneaking the first book into my basket at Forbidden Planet way back in 2010. “You love Patricia Briggs,” they said, “so you’ll love Ilona Andrews.” I am glad to say they were right! As Magic Bites was this month’s pick on the VF Goodreads group, I finally had a great excuse to start reading it. Now I am thrilled to have found a new series to love!

Let me start off with the “negative”: Magic Bites could be called stereotypical urban fantasy. It features a badass-yet-vulnerable!female heroine, a murder mystery and a whole lot of scary-hot!shapeshifters. If you aren’t a fan of those things – or if you are fed up with seeing them over and over in your books – you might be put off by Magic Bites. I for one don’t mind a stereotype if it is well executed – which is exactly what Magic Bites succeeds in.

On to the good: the world building in this verse is fantastic. Set in a world where technology no longer dominates and magic has resurfaced after a 4000 year break, the book merges familiar elements of our world with some old-fashioned elements. What if you could no longer rely on your car because “magic” kicks in at noon? Well, it makes sense to go out and get a steed. Rich men ride Mustangs, but not the type with an engine. I just… love that!

Magic Bites throws you straight into this universe with little explanation. This technique can sometimes backfire, but for me, it made uncovering the details and politics all the more exciting. To be honest, that was the most interesting part of the whole book, as the murder mystery was somewhat lackluster. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting, rather I was not yet invested in the characters enough to really care whether they succeeded.

But the great potential here for me to fall in love with the characters. Kate Daniels is snarky in that charming way – sending a saucer of milk instead of a cocktail to the local pack’s head were-lion. While Curran, the aforementioned cat, seems to have a lovely sense of humour underneath all his macho-alphaness. I can easily see how – with a bit more exposure – they could become favourites.

Bottom line? Magic Bites sets up a fantastically complex and original universe that I am eager to explore. While I don’t quite have that emotional pull towards the characters, I can see the potential and cannot wait to start the next book.

Review: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

Review: The Realm of Possibility by David LevithanThe Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
Published by Penguin Random House
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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One school. Twenty voices.

Endless possibilities.

There's the girl who is in love with Holden Caulfield. The boy who wants to be strong who falls for the girl who's convinced she needs to be weak. The girl who writes love songs for a girl she can't have. The two boys teetering on the brink of their first anniversary. And everyone in between.

As he did in the highly acclaimed Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan gives us a world of unforgettable voices that readers will want to visit again and again. It's the realm of possibility open to us all - where love, joy, and the stories we tell will linger.

Thoughts: One of the reasons I have many 3 and 4 star reviews on Dead Book Darling has nothing to do with all books being awesome. The opposite, in fact; about 40% of books I pick up I dislike intensely. Normally I don’t end up sticking around to see them end because I have better things to waste my time on.

Then a book like The Realm of Possibility comes along. A book that makes you want to pull out your hair and puck out your eyes in despair – but, hey, it’s short. You might as well finish the torture and then delete the memory from your brain.

In case I haven’t given the game away: I did not like this book.

David Levithan is trying too damn hard to be “one of the kids” while still preaching morality. Now, that would be fine if he could pull it off. His Boy Meets Boy does exactly the same thing, only the writing is good and the characters are well developed. The Realm of Possibility just isn’t well written.

The poetry is just… bad. The song “lyrics” are bad. The prose would have been… fine, if it hadn’t been for the obsession with formatting. All 800 of the characters might have been rather interesting, except they get about 3 pages a piece. It’s like Levithan followed an online how-to-write-in-verse and didn’t realise that his novel-writing skills would not translate. Give the man one of those gold stars saying “you tried, but please never try again”.

Just because you want to be progressive and write about LGBT characters does not automatically make your writing good. Just because you want to be inclusive and write about eating disorders does not make everything that comes out of pen gold. Nothing about this book felt genuine, While I applaud David Levithan for his good intentions, his execution just… sucked.

Bottom line? The Realm of Possibility has a vomit-inducing pretentiousness about it. Good intentions do not a good book make.

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