The Holders by Julianna Scott
Series: The Holders #1
Published by Strange Chemistry
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from author
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17-year-old Becca has spent her whole life protecting her brother - from their father leaving and from the people who say the voices in his head are unnatural. When two strangers appear with apparent answers to Ryland's "problem" and details about a school in Ireland where Ryland will not only fit in, but prosper, Becca is up in arms. She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey and what they find at St. Brigid's is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together information about their family's heritage and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they've been waiting for. But they are all, especially Becca, in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.
Thoughts: I have some mixed feelings about The Holders. There were some things I really enjoyed, but there was a lot that made me feel… iffy.
Let’s start off with the good, though. The Holders has a Harry Potter-esque vibe to it that I could totally get behind. Talented, magical kids whisked off to the British Isles? Say no more. Perhaps that’s a wee bit too referential for some, but I didn’t mind. I also really liked the fact that the book centred around a brother-sister relationship (I’m a Supernatural fan – siblings give me feelings).
That said, The Holders felt very much like a debut novel: there was a lot of tell with absolutely no show. The book was a series of conversations and half of the drama came from people not having the right conversation at the right time. Um, hello? That’s not drama, that’s stupidity. And add to that, you’re expecting me to believe that this girl will hop on a plane to Ireland with her brother and then wait weeks upon weeks to get all the info needed to make her final decision? Hell, even Harry Potter made sure to get all the juicy details out of Hagrid before he hopped on the Hogwarts Express. And he was eleven.
It was all just a bit too easy; it was all just a bit too simple. Maybe this book would have been better in the hands of a 12/13-year-old… someone who hasn’t already read this particular story. Especially if that kid is a girl – because, despite the somewhat rocky beginning, Scott managed to take a rather icky, non-feminist Universe and spin it on its head. Without giving away any plot twists, I do have to give a shout-out to Scott for the old-fashion “girl power” she snuck into this book.
Bottom line? Not bad but not great – don’t go in expecting anything too original.
Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton
Goodreads / Librarything
Ari can’t help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is. Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it’s impossible to protect herself when she doesn’t know what she’s running from or why she is being pursued.
She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very…different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.
Ari won’t stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.
Thoughts: Everything about this book was rather great: the heroine (Ari) was believably tough; the love interest was mature and swoonable; the mythology was extremely well incorporated; and the setting, the weird-and-wonderful New 2, was everything I could want from a paranormal New Orleans. I liked that Ari actually had a believable reason for being so kick-ass (bail bonds woman!) and, despite spending the book on her own, actually had a good relationship with her parents… makes for a welcome change!
The reason I didn’t love this book was the length. It was too short, offering an agonising hint of a book I could have adored. Kelly Keaton didn’t give me enough time to properly connect with the characters or the verse. So, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I haven’t run out to get the sequel.
That said, this book did have one excellent quote that I have saved for posterity:
“I’m not some 300 year old pervert who kisses teenage girls, okay?”
Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
Goodreads / Librarything
Everywhere Silla Kennicott turns she sees blood. She can’t stop thinking about her parents alleged murder-suicide. She is consumed by a book filled with spells that arrives mysteriously in the mail. The spells share one common ingredient: blood, and Silla is more than willing to cast a few. What’s a little spilled blood if she can uncover the truth? And then there’s Nick–the new guy at school who makes her pulse race. He has a few secrets of his own and is all too familiar with the lure of blood magic. Drawn together by a combination of fate and chemistry, Silla and Nick must find out who else in their small Missouri town knows their secret and will do” anything” to take the book and magic from Silla.
Thoughts: Even though I was impressed by Gratton’s writing and uncensored approach to YA, Blood Magic did leave me with a rather bad taste in my mouth. Why? Well, there was a scene of rather horrible animal death that served absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Had this served some sort of narrative purpose, I might have been able to put the scene into context… but it didn’t. All it did was serve to make me loathe the main character.
But could I be convinced to read something else by Tessa Gratton? Perhaps. She is an excellent writer, and is rather good at writing horror-ific novels… a bit too good, if creating disturbing scenes that make me want to put the book down in disgust was what she was going for, I suppose.
The Replacement by Brenna Yovonoff
Goodreads / Librarything
Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.
Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.
Thoughts: This debut novel actually did have some promise to it. The world was fantastically scary; that wonderfully scary cover is actually relevant to the plot of this book. So, I guess if you’re looking for a good Halloween read, you should check this book out.
But in terms of actual character development, The Replacement was a complete dud. Mackie was just one big disconnect: all tell, no show. I never got a fix on his character… probably because he didn’t seem to have one. And none of the other characters were any better. There’s usually at least one in every book that I want to see more of, but not in this one. Had the book ended with everyone dying, I would have been completely unperturbed.
Bottom line? Out of these authors, the only one whose work I am certainly going to read again is Kelly Keaton. I think that, perhaps, her adult work might be a bit more fleshed out. As for Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovonoff, I will only pick up their stuff again if I see super-stellar reviews from people I trust.
Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk
Series: Allie Beckstrom #2
Published by Ace/Roc, Berkley UK
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Magic to the Bone
Working as a Hound-tracing illegal spells back to their casters-has taken its toll on Allison Beckstrom. But even though magic has given her migraines and stolen her recent memory, Allie isn't about to quit. Then the police's magic enforcement division asks her to consult on a missing persons case. But what seems to be a straightforward job turns out to be anything but, as Allie finds herself drawn into the underworld of criminals, ghosts, and blood magic.
Thoughts: My memory of the first Allie Beckstorm novel is the following: Allie takes a lot of cabs, forgets things, and is in love with some guy who I wouldn’t know from Adam. The book left me with a shrug and a vague feeling of disappointment. It wasn’t bad – it was actually pretty well written – but it didn’t make me want to run out and get the sequel. So when I received the sequel for review, I waited until my memory of the first book was well-aged so that I could give the series a fresh start. Alas, Magic in the Blood was more of the same.
The Allie Beckstorm series seems to be rather episodic: there’s a crime, someone is called in, it must be sorted out. On top of that, there are a bunch of series arcs that play out: namely, Allie dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death, and her “boyfriend”‘s bizarre magical powers. You’d think that this developed backstory would give depth to the episodic story… but it just made it worse. Because it is hard to care about characters you find illogical, frustrating and underdeveloped.
My primary issues were with Allie’s inability to look after herself and her “boyfriend” Zayvion. Let’s start with Allie: the girl doesn’t have a car and lives in a city without decent public transport. So, she takes cabs. That would be fine if she were living in New York City where there is a cab on every corner, but she’s not. OK, so she can always call a cab, right? Wrong. Apparently cell phones break when she carries them due to… I dunno… magical interference or some such nonsense. Fine. (Except, no, really not fine – I’ve never seen such an obvious plot device in my life.) What all this boils down to is her taking cabs out to meet extremely dangerous people in isolated places without an escape route in place. Which just… NO! How on earth are we supposed to find this believable?
There are other examples I can give – namely, her insistance on using magic for mundane tasks even though she knows she’ll get a horrendous magical “hangover”. It defies logic and frustrates my belief in, well, humanity.
As for Zayvion… well, I’d say “the less time spent on him the better” but that seems to be the attitude the author has taken. It’s been two books and I feel like we know nothing about him. As such, it makes any emotional relationship between him and Allie implausible. Add to that the fact that the few things we did learn about him in the first book Allie has forgotten and suddenly we’re moving into the “that can’t possibly be real” arena.
Now, let me repeat: this series is not bad. Nor is it terribly written (although I did spot some grammatical errors and a few typos in the UK edition, and an overabundance of “Holy Shit”s). But it is episodic and stars characters I either actively dislike or find peskily illogical/stupid. Had the writing not been as solid as it was, this book would have gotten a much lower rating.
Bottom line? This is the NCIS of the Urban Fantasy world. Not bad, but not a series I’ll be continuing.
Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #5
Published by Ace/Roc, Gollancz
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Dead Until Dark
Sookie's got just a month, before the next full moon, to find out who wants her brother dead - and to stop the fiend! Sookie Stackhouse enjoys her life, mostly. She's a great cocktail waitress in a fun bar; she has a love life, albeit a bit complicated, and most people have come to terms with her telepathy. The problem is, Sookie wants a quiet life - but things just seem to happen to her and her friends. Now her brother Jason's eyes are starting to change: he's about to turn into a were-panther for the first time.
She can deal with that, but her normal sisterly concern turns to cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population. She afraid not just because Jason's at risk, but because his new were-brethren suspect Jason may be the shooter. Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who's behind the attacks - unless the killer decides to find her first.
Thoughts: I am an ex-True Blood fan. While I am grateful for the series as it got me to pick up the Sookie Stackhouse series, I don’t watch it any more. It is brash and crass and just a bit too crazy – qualities that are fantastic in the short term, but painful after 4 long years.
But the Sookie books are nothing like True Blood – a fact that always comes to me as a shocking realisation whenever I pick up a new Sookie book. Dead as a Doornail is just like its predecessors: sweet, comforting and very Southern. If these books were food, they’d be a series of Red Velvet cupcakes… providing serious southern comfort while looking like blood.
Yup. Sookie Stackhouse novels = literary equivalent of Red Velvet.
So, of course, Dead as a Doornail was a pleasure to read. I curled up with it and was happy reading about both Sookie’s car troubles and her weird paranormal problems. It was a sweet, escapist read – and I will certainly be reading more books in the series. But did it keep me on my toes? Nope. Did it have me dying to read the next page? Nope. Did I feel any of the emotional ups-and-downs of reading a good book? Not once.
Why is that? Well, Dead as a Doornail is a bog-standard mystery with vampires and werewolves thrown in. Problem was that this particular mystery had no bite to it. By the time of the big reveal, my sole reaction was “huh”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Alongside the mystery was Sookie’s ludicrous love life. She has FIVE men chasing after her in Dead as a Doornail – three of whom she kisses in this short book. Oh, and as if those five weren’t enough, Love Interest #6 makes his debut at the end of the novel. Seriously? I mean, if I were taking these books seriously (thank God I’m not) I would be quite pissed off by this flip-flopping.
Bottom line? This is an enjoyable series, but Dead as a Doornail is far from brilliant. If you don’t take the plot too seriously, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Siren by Tricia Rayburn
Series: Siren #1
Published by Faber and Faber on February 1st 2011
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Sands is afraid of everything—the dark, heights, the ocean—but her fearless older sister, Justine, has always been there to coach her through every challenge. That is, until Justine goes cliff-diving one night near the family’s vacation house in Maine, and her lifeless body washes up on shore the next day.
Though her parents hope that they’ll be able to find closure back in Boston, Vanessa can’t help feeling that her sister’s death wasn’t an accident. After discovering that Justine was keeping a lot of secrets, Vanessa returns to Winter Harbor, hoping that Justine’s boyfriend might know more. But Caleb has been missing since Justine’s death.
Soon, it’s not just Vanessa who’s afraid. All of Winter Harbor is abuzz with anxiety when another body washes ashore, and panic sets in when the small town becomes host to a string of fatal, water-related accidents in which all the victims are found, horrifically, grinning from ear to ear.
Vanessa turns to Caleb’s brother, Simon, for help, and begins to find herself drawn to him. As the pair try to understand the sudden rash of creepy drownings, Vanessa uncovers a secret that threatens her new romance—and will change her life forever.
Thoughts: Siren is exactly what I expected: no more, no less. It is a YA novel with a paranormal heroine, a protective love-interest, inexplicably evil villains, a toothache-sweet best friend, and a bitchy-but-beautiful teenage competitor. I’d compare it to The Body Finder… except I actually liked Siren!
Siren had quite a few unexpected twists in it. For starters, we actually get to meet Vanessa’s sister before she dies and see what happens in the immediate aftermath of her death. It made the loss all the more real, so it is actually believable when Vanessa goes to her vacation home looking for answers into her sister’s death. Her relationship with Simon Carmichel was also extremely unusual for a YA book. There is none of the pining and hand-holding – they gradually grow to like each other, but the death of her sister and the disappearance of Simon’s brother are the priority.
But my real problem? The writing. Not necessarily the words on the page, but the words that weren’t on the page. Siren was just extremely confusing. The simple things – like who is driving the car, or what the weather is like – could not be followed. All of the sudden a character would be throwing a cup of coffee that had never been mentioned, besides a short line written paragraphs before vaguely that mentioned a convenience table.
And while we’re at it, character relationships and their individual motivations were just… unintelligible. I felt like Tricia had a plot in mind, complete with 3D characters, she just couldn’t get it onto paper! Although her one-dimensional, evil-for-the-sake-of-it villains? Yeah, I don’t think Tricia had any motivation in mind for them.
Bottom line? Siren is enjoyable but flawed. Pick it up if you’re looking for something a bit different in your paranormal YA, but don’t go out of your way to get a copy.