Hemlock: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hemlock by Kathleen PeacockMackenzie’s life was turned upside down when her best friend, Amy, was murdered by a werewolf.

Since then, Mac isn’t sure what to think. Amy haunts her dreams. Her best friend, Kyle has been unaccountably distant. While Amy’s boyfriend, Jason, seems determined to crash and burn all on his own.

Worse, Trackers have come to town looking for the white werewolf that killed Amy last spring and might be back to continue its murder spree.

Desperate to protect Jason from himself, and ease her own nightmares and guilt, Mac decides to try and find the white werewolf herself. As Mac’s investigation brings her closer to the truth she also learns unsettling secrets about her friends and her town leaving Mac uncertain of who she can trust as she tries to find the white werewolf before it find her in Hemlock (2012) by Kathleen Peacock.

Hemlock is Peacocks first novel as well as the first book in her Hemlock trilogy.

Peacock creates an interesting world with characters who are well-rounded with both strengths and flaws aplenty. Separately, in fact, all of the characters are quite likable and entertaining. The problem comes when they begin to interact with each other.

Mac comes across as a strong heroine in the beginning of the story, but the more the story continues, the more irritating she becomes. Despite being necessarily self-sufficient Mac is embarrassingly clingy in her efforts to save Jason from himself. She is also painfully dense when it comes to Kyle. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, any declaration that a character is strong needs some kind of depth to back it up. Mac doesn’t deliver in the arena. Aside from making her a frustrating heroine, Mac’s irritating personality made the inevitable love triangle unconvincing.

There is always a push and pull with mysteries featuring teen protagonists. The book is about the teens, they obviously need to be at the center of the investigation and the action–that’s the whole point of the book. Unfortunately, Mac’s logic for pursuing the werewolf herself felt very contrived. I also was frustrated at her insistence on keeping her cousin in the dark later in the story. I get it, absent parental figures make stories easier. At the same time it just seemed heavy-handed and clumsy to push Mac’s cousin to the side like that.

Filled with suspense, Hemlock is part mystery, part fantasy, all action. Though there is gore and violence thanks to the vicious werewolf attacks in the story, it is kept in check making this a good choice for someone looking for a read similar to the Hunger Games books but with less violence and (slightly) fewer tears.

Possible Pairings: Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Clockwork Prince: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Only in London a short time, Tessa Gray’s world has already been turned upside by her brother’s betrayal and the discovery of her own strange ability. With the help of her unlikely Shadowhunter friends, Tessa has managed to make some order from the chaos of lies and mystery that surrounds her.

That order proves tenuous when rival Shadowhunters seek to displace Charlotte and her husband as heads of the London Institute. With Charlotte’s position in doubt, so too is Tessa’s place in the only home she has known since leaving New York City. If Charlotte can find the Magister, the villain cloaked in secrecy who wants to use Tessa’s powers in his mission to destroy all Shadowhunters, her position will be secured. But what if she can’t?

As Tessa helps in the search for the Magister, her future place in London is not the only dilemma presented to her. Why is Jessamine sneaking off so often? What madness leads Will to move so violently between passion and cruelty? Why does her heart still ache so much just to see him? And what of Jem, Tessa’s quiet, steadfast companion in all of this chaos?

With so many secrets, it is unclear which truths should be told and which should remain hidden in Clockwork Prince (2011) by Cassandra Clare.

Clockwork Prince is the second book in Clare’s Infernal Devices series, preceded by Clockwork Angel. This trilogy is a companion to Clare’s Mortal Instruments series which begins with City of Bones.

It’s hard to review books that are part of a series because, particularly in the case of this book, you cannot read just one book. Things are even more complicated when the series ties back to a completely different, longer, series.

That said, if the idea of a quasi-steampunk Victorian London where the descendants of angels fight monsters (even while befriending one of those “monsters” who happens to be a warlock) this is the series for you. But don’t start here. Go read Clockwork Angel first then come back to read this review.

Clockwork Prince is simultaneously compelling and painfully frustrating. Many questions from the first book (particularly about Will’s . . . affliction) are answered. Some of the answers are satisfying and add to the story. Some of them add to the general annoyance I had while reading the book.

Neither being or knowing the author, I’m not really qualified to say what each character would or would not do. BUT, for this one reader, it felt a lot like every single character walked through the book doing the wrong things. Worse, they seemed to be doing them for all the wrong reasons. Will all be resolved to my satisfaction in book three? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Finding the answer to that question (aside from my genuine fondness for these characters and this series) is enough to guarantee I will eagerly await the release of Clockwork Princess in 2013.

Clare’s writing remains top-notch here. While the larger plot does take a back seat to character development, Clockwork Prince sets readers up for what is sure to be a stunning conclusion to a clever trilogy.

Possible Pairings: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Sabriel by Garth Nix,  Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Trial by Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**This review (and the book itself) contains MAJOR spoilers for Raised by Wolves. You have been warned.**

Brynn thought spending the first fifteen years of her life living with the werewolves of the Stone River Pack was hard. Turns out being the alpha of her own pack is even harder.

Brynn is still human, she is still a teenager. But she is also the alpha of the Cedar Ridge pack meaning she is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of an entire pack of werewolves–living day to day with Were who could just as easily kill her as choose to let her lead them.

Worse, being alpha means dealing with the other packs and their–ruthless, older, male–alphas who would mostly want nothing more than to see Brynn dealt with and her pack absorbed into their own. Callum, her former mentor, might want something else but with a Were like Callum it’s impossible to know for sure.

When a battered teenage boy appears in the center of Cedar Ridge territory asking for protection things get even more complicated. Brynn can’t claim another alpha’s wolf without starting a war. She can’t send the boy away to let him die. Strange dreams of fire and other threats start appearing everywhere.

No one said being alpha would be easy. No one said how long Brynn would last as alpha either in Trial by Fire (2011) by Jennifer Lynne Barnes.

Trial by Fire is the sequel to Barnes’ powerhouse novel Raised by Wolves.

Trial by Fire is a great sequel. Barnes capitalizes on the unique world she created in Raised by Wolves while continuing to develop the world of the North American packs and some other supernatural beings to great effect.

All of the characters readers will want to see from the first book are here with further character development and expanded histories, particularly Lake and Devon. Chase, by comparison, still has a lot of question marks about his past and his general character but that is, at least, explained more in this installment.

It hardly seems possible but this book is even more exciting than the first. Brynn is facing challenges from all sides with very few options for help. With danger looming from all sides, Trial by Fire is a definite nail-biter that will draw readers in with action, adventure and even more twists than the first novel in the series. Not to mention a dynamite ending that will leave readers clamoring for a new installment about Brynn and the Cedar Ridge pack.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Divergent by Veronica Roth

**This book was acquired at BEA 2011

Exclusive Bonus Content: Egmont has some really awesome cover designs. I also like the progression between the two covers here. They just really work well together on every level.

Raised by Wolves: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn BarnesWhen Brynn was four-years-old her life changed forever when a rogue werewolf killed her parents. Rescued by the Stone River Pack and Marked by the pack’s alpha, Callum, Brynn’s safety is a matter of pack law.

The only problem is Brynn is human. Even as a member of the pack, living with a bunch of werewolves is dangerous. Weres can smell fear. They are faster. They are stronger. Most of them are older and more experienced. One lapse in control could leave a human very dead.

Even if that human is a fifteen-year-old girl named Brynn who knows almost everything worth knowing about dealing with (and defending herself against) Weres. Even with the danger, Brynn feels more at home in this world dictated by dominance struggles, territorial rights, and pack justice than the human world she left behind.

When a newly-turned were appears in Callum’s territory Brynn’s insular life within the pack is thrown into chaos. Brynn is inexplicably drawn to the new Were. Even though she has never seen Chase before, she recognizes something in him, she knows him.

As Brynn and Chase are drawn to each other she realizes everything she thought she knew about the pack, and about Callum, might be wrong. Everything Brynn thought she knew about her past, and her life in the pack, might be wrong in Raised by Wolves (2010) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Raised by Wolves is a completely original take on werewolf lore. Barnes has created a well-realized back story for Brynn and the North American packs. All of the weres and their wolf behaviors are fully realized and add a clever, primal, spin to werewolves with a strong focus on life within the pack and the animal nature of the Weres.

Brynn is a heroine readers will want to root for as well as an excellent guide through the dangerous but tantalizing world of Weres. Although Chase is not as fully realized compared to Brynn he is a good addition to the story, especially combined with the other characters (minor and not) who are quirky, funny and extremely well-developed.

Barnes expertly navigates the murky waters of pack life for Brynn and the grey areas of working towards a greater good in this story. She also packs in enough action, excitement and humor to make Raised By Wolves an edge-of-your-seat adventure that will leave readers guessing until the last page.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

City of Fallen Angels: A (Rapid Fire) Review

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (2011)

This book is the fourth in Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. The remaining books will be released alternating with Clare’s next two books for the Infernal Devices series. (She is writing them at the same time so the books end up referring to each other.)

When I first heard about Clare’s plans to extend the series I have to admit I was a bit worried. City of Glass tied everything up quite nicely and I was uncertain about continuing the story of those characters–what more was there to say?

On the one hand Clare brings in several new characters into this story (she also expands the roles of some peripheral characters from the first cycle of Mortal Instruments books). On the other hand, the plot felt familiar in spite of a new villain and sinister happenings in New York City. Clary and Jace still can’t be together, Simon is still having trouble with the ladies, Isabelle is still inscrutable when it comes to her heart, Alec and Magnus are still having their own problems, and yes the Seelie Queen is still asking obnoxious questions and causing trouble.

These familiar threads combined with a large amount of summary in the beginning of the story made City of Fallen Angels drag in the beginning. Being a New York Times bestseller, I can see how Clare would want to make the series accessible to new readers or readers who finished the first cycle a while ago. On the other hand, this is the first book in the series and at times it felt like every key plot point from earlier books was rehashed here (and that’s a lot of old plot points). Possibly for this reason the story didn’t really feel like it picked up until page 200 or so (a little less than halfway into the story).

I enjoy Clare’s writing and love the world and characters she created in her first trilogy. This start to a second trilogy didn’t grab me the way those books did. It often felt more like a setup for a story to be found in books 5 and 6 rather than a story unto itself. That said, I remain a fan of Clare’s anxiously awaiting Clockwork Prince and, later, know I will pick up the next Mortal Instruments books when they are released.

Shiver: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Years ago, when Grace was attacked by wolves, Sam saved her. He has been a presence in Grace’s life ever since always lurking on the periphery each winter in Mercy Falls, watching her, protecting her.

Even though they have never spoken.

Sam has been watching Grace for years, waiting for her, making sure she was safe. Even when he couldn’t remember her name he knew she mattered. He knew he loved her even if it was impossible because of what he was.

No matter how Grace and Sam might feel about each other there is always one insurmountable truth separating them: Sam is a wolf.

A werewolf more specifically.

Every year when the temperature drops, Sam changes into a wolf–Grace’s wolf, the one always watching her from a safe distance–trapped in his changed form until spring when the temperatures rise and he can become Sam again.

That was Sam’s reality, his unavoidable truth, and the one thing Grace never really believed. At least, not until she met Sam, the real Sam.

Once Grace knows the truth, sees her wolf made human, losing him is unimaginable.

Being with Grace is all Sam has ever wanted; the one thing he always held onto as a wolf.

But the temperature is falling in Mercy Falls and with the looming threat of winter Grace and Sam are running out of time in Shiver (2009) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Shiver is superficially a paranormal/supernatural* romance with werewolves. But, really, it is so much more than that.

Poetic and urgent, Stiefvater’s writing is poised to exceed expectations and stay with readers. Told in chapters alternating between Grace and Sam’s voices the urgency of winter’s approach and the strength of our heroes’ love are both tangible. Grace and Sam are a charmingly authentic couple in a town filled with well-developed and unforgettable characters of both human and lupine persuasions.

Shiver is, really, just a beautiful book. The physical design from the cover (with art by Christopher Stengel) down to the text printed in blue ink is just as impressive as Stiefvater’s original take on werewolves in this complex, charming and extremely satisfying start to a what promises to be a stunning trilogy.

Grace and Sam’s story continues in Linger (which is printed in green ink).

Possible Pairings: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Sea Change by Aimee Friedman, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneggerº, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

*Are paranormal and supernatural different things in the publishing world? I don’t actually know if they have different definitions or not.

ºIt kills me a little bit to pair this book with Shiver because I truly think Shiver is so much better and does everything TTTW should have done, but in a more masterful way. BUT if you don’t have my issues with TTTW these books do have the same sense of urgency and tone of sweeping romance. Draw your own conclusions.

Liar: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Liar cover (revised version)I’m not even sure where to start this review there’s so much going on with this book. The plot in Justine Larbelestier’s Liar (2009) is so intricate and crazy awesome that the author has asked readers to please not post spoilers in their reviews (I wouldn’t know how to explain the spoilers even if I did want to post them). Aside from that, the book has gone through three different covers and created a bit of controversy on the way. It doesn’t relate to the story, but I think if you want to understand this book you really need to know about all the covers.

In Australia, Liar features a pretty straightforward and rather eerie cover with the title written in what, I think, is blood. In the United States, the advanced copies of the book were sent out with a cover featuring a white girl with long hair draped across her face so that only her eyes and nose are visible. Which is fine. The cover is pretty intense and kind of true to the story.

Liar cover (initial US version)Except it’s completely wrong as a representation of Micah, the main character in Liar. Micah is a black girl who wears her naturally nappy hair short and who could easily pass as a boy. Larbalestier has also said she imagined Micah looking like Alana Beard from the WNBA. The girl on the cover looks more like Maureen Johnson. And that’s sad because, as I will mention later, Micah is one hell of a strong character and she does not deserve to be “white-washed” on her cover (which on top of everything else also invalidates some of the fundamental truths Larbalestier intended to exist in the novel).

On her blog, which I have been crazily linking to throughout this post, Larbalestier has written a thorough and eloquent post about what happened to the American cover of Liar as well as the general difficulty in finding a book with a black face getting mainstream support from publishers. There is an often unchallenged belief, as Larbalestier mentions, that “black books Liar cover (Australian version)don’t sell” which resulted in the rather inaccurate cover of Liar. Since then, when the controversy peaked, a call for change was heard. And answered. Now Liar has a new cover that better captures Micah (exactly as I imagined her actually) which will be available on the hardcover edition in the USA.

And now you are ready to hear about the rest of the book.

One of the only true things Micah will tell you about herself is that she’s a liar. She has always been a liar. She comes from a long line of expert liars. But Micah doesn’t want to lie anymore. Especially not to you–the one person she hasn’t lied to. Yet.

Lies are easy. Micah is quickly learning that the truth is a harder thing to manage. When her secret boyfriend dies, Micah’s carefully crafted lies begin to peel away. One by one. Until all Micah is left with is the cold, hard truth. Or is she?

The author (and the back flap) describe Liar as a thriller. Strangely I never used the word to describe it myself, but now it seems so obvious. The story is rife with tension and Micah’s intricate narration add another level of suspense to the story.

Larbalestier’s writing is amazing. She (and Micah) had me convinced I was reading one kind of book right until they told me I was reading something else. Then the story changed on me again. At this point, I’m not really sure what I read. I think I know. But maybe I’m lying about that. All I know for sure is that Liar is an amazing ride that will leave you breathless.

(I can’t wait for this book to hit the shelves though because when it does I might start a book discussion group for it.)

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Everybody See the Ants by A. S. King, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Madapple by Christina Meldrum, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten

Books to read after (or instead of) Twilight

By now everyone at least knows of Stephenie Meyer’s novel Twilight whether they have read it or not. Even though the four book arc is called a saga, it does remain finite leaving fans with a dilemma after they have worked through all of the novels. Instead of harassing Meyer to finish Midnight Sun, here are some other titles that might be enjoyable for readers. (Similarly, if you heard about Twilight but couldn’t get through or didn’t like it, these books are similar but–in my humble opinion–often better.)

  • Companions of the Night (1995) by Vivian Vande Velde: Before Bella met Edward, Kerry drove to a laundromat in the middle of the night to retrieve her little brother’s stuffed bear. She found the bear, and a vampire. All the emotion and action of Bella’s story concentrated into a much shorter volume.
  • In the Forests of the Night (1999) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes: While most thirteen-year-olds were busy with school and being a young teenager, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes wrote a novel. Risika came to terms with her mother’s (and her own) vampire heritage long ago. Still, when an old nemesis resurfaces leaving roses in her Concord home, Risika knows that soon she will have to take action. Very similar to Anne Rice but for a younger set.
  • Demon in My View (2001) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes: Jessica is a high school student by day, writer of vampire novels by night. Jessica is content being the outsider at school and spending time with her own vampire creations until one of them shows up at her school. His unexpected appearance forces Jessica to question his intention, hew own inspirations, and indeed her own future in this blend of romance and suspense.
  • Peeps (2006) by Scott Westerfeld: Infected by a mysterious parasite, Cal found himself exhibiting some very vampire-like symptoms. Given the choice of hunter or hunted, Cal chose to hunt down others like him (specifically the ones he infected). Part vampire story, part medical thriller, all action–almost no romance or melodrama.
  • The Last Days (2007) by Scott Westerfeld: Pearl sees the sanitation crisis in the city. The increasing number of stray cats. The rats that are slowly taking over the subway system. And Brooklyn. Pearl’s friend, Minerva, has been acting pretty weird herself. Pearl decides the ideal way to help Minerva and cope herself is to start a band. Little does she know the band might also be the key to staving off a vampire apocalypse.
  • Fire and Hemlock (2002) by Diana Wynne Jones: No vampires here, but if you like supernatural romances this might be the ticket. Polly has two sets of memories. As she sorts through, trying to figure out which memories are real, Polly realizes she’s missed entire parts of her life–including Tom Lynn, who might be the most important thing Polly has ever forgotten–in this modern retelling of the popular Tam Lin tale.
  • Blood and Chocolate (1997) by Annette Curtis Klause: For the werewolf fans out there this tale chronicles a romance as rife with obstacles as anything Stephenie Meyer could muster. As Vivian, a werewolf, grows closer to her human classmate Aiden, she has to fight her base animal instincts leaving Vivian to wonder if she really can live inhabit both roles as human and werewolf.
  • Thirsty (1998 ) by M. T. Anderson: Chris already has a lot on his plate dealing with his family, friends, and negotiating high school. Just like your average teenage boy, mostly. Except Chris seems to be turning into a vampire and isn’t sure how, exactly, what to do about that.