Vampire Academy: A Review

Vampire Academy by Richelle MeadRose Hathaway and her best friend Lissa Dragomir have been on the run for two years. After so long away from St. Vladimir’s Academy, the girls thought they were finally free. They were wrong.

Dragged back the Academy, Lissa is once again drawn into plots and machinations as Moroi vampire princess. Rose’s return is less welcome and comes with several firm conditions including extra lessons from an equally attractive and infuriating instructor. Worse, no matter how much Rose uses her dhampir strength and her bond with Lissa, it might not be enough to keep the other girl safe.

With danger circling from every side, Rose and Lissa can only trust each other in Vampire Academy (2007) by Richelle Mead.

Vampire Academy is the first book in Mead’s Vampire Academy series.

Vampire Academy is a breath of fresh air in the world of paranormal (romance). Mead has created clever, capable heroines in both Rose and Lissa. The premise here is also interesting with different castes/types of vampires as well as loads of intrigue and action.

Although Mead throws lots of world-specific vocabulary at readers early on, the story moves as fast clip without falling into the usual paranormal fantasy tropes. The story here is interesting and will definitely have appeal for readers looking for a campy paranormal–romance or otherwise as this does include some romance elements in addition to other plots.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger,  Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

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Midwinterblood: A Review

“The sun does not go down.

“This is the first thing Eric Seven notices about Blessed Island. There will be many other strange things that he will notice, before the forgetting takes hold of him, but that will come later.”

Midwinterblood by Marcus SedgwickIn June 2073, Eric Seven arrives at Blessed Island chasing a story. It isn’t the first time his work as a journalist has brought him to the far reaches of society. Nor is it the first time he has encountered strange locals.

But as Eric investigates the strange island and a rare flower rumored to be found there, Eric also begins to feel a strange familiarity toward the island–especially toward a local woman named Merle.

As Eric and Merle come closer to the truth it becomes apparent that their journey, if it is a journey, is only just beginning. Or perhaps just nearing its conclusion in Midwinterblood (2011) by Marcus Sedgwick.

Midwinterblood was the winner of the Printz Award in 2014.

Midwinterblood presents seven intersecting stories of love, loss and rebirth in this deceptively slim volume. Although the stories vary in scope, all are grounded firmly in the landscape of Blessed Island where the more things change, the more some constants remain the same.

These stories span time and theme ranging from the unique problems faced by an archaeologist hoping to unearth a find to make a career to a story of two children in a viking colony plagued by an impossible monster. The loves presented here come in all forms with varying results for those involved.

Sedgwick presents a carefully plotted and delicate story over the course of this novel. It is very rare for a book to work as well when read forwards as it does read backwards, but Midwinterblood does just that. With plot points that transcend individual stories this is a rich, meditative story that begs to be read and read again.

Possible Pairings: The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Etiquette & Espionage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerFourteen-year-old Sophronia is used to her mother’s disapproval and punishments. Even the idle threats of being sent to live with vampires hold little sway when Sophronia is faced with a situation in which she can attempt something daring instead of being painfully, boringly proper.

What Sophronia could not have guessed is that Mumsy would take matters further by sending Sophronia to a finishing school. Nor could she have anticipated exactly what that will mean when the initial pronouncement is handed down.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is unlike any finishing school Sophronia could have fathomed. While she can’t be completely sure, Sophronia is fairly certain Mumsy didn’t have this kind of finishing in mind when she sent Sophronia away.

But then who is Sophronia to argue when there are friends to be made with fledgling evil geniuses, inventors with whom to collaborate and all manners of conspiracies to investigate. Manners and dress will certainly be in the curriculum. But so will diversion and deceit in Etiquette & Espionage (2013) by Gail Carriger.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series. It is set in the same world as her bestselling Parasol Protectorate series for adults.*

Carriger has already mastered the skills required to write a supernatural, steampunk, historical fantasy. Her alternate history with elements of steampunk and fantasy tropes blend together exceptionally well with the Austen-like tone of her narration.

The world is well-realized and fascinating although often under explained. It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems likely some shorthand was used in world building (or at least world explaining) since so much groundwork has been laid in the earlier Parasol Protectorate books.

With virtually zero romantic entanglements and numerous high-action sequences Etiquette & Espionage is ideal for readers of any age. The story handles several topics (race and class divisions, friendship, wealth and status) very well adding a nice dimension to the plot. At the same time, unfortunately, the pacing often feels off with an immense amount of  setup in the first half of the novel only to lead to a plot resolution that feels rushed in the final pages.

Etiquette & Espionage is a fine start to a series with a cast of characters that are appealing in every sense even if their world might take a bit too long to come fully into focus.

*Etiquette & Espionage functions as a standalone but readers of both series will likely recognize characters in common.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman,  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackWhen Tana wakes up after the Sundown Party it takes her a few moments to realize everything has gone horribly wrong.

Then she sees the blood.

Then she starts passing the dead bodies.

Then she hears the vampires waiting in the dark.

The only other survivors of the massacre are Tana’s ex-boyfriend–infected and on the verge of becoming a vampire himself–and a strange boy who seems to know much more than he says.

Possibly infected and with no other options, Tana starts heading to the Coldtown in Springfield. This walled city is supposed to keep the monsters from running loose in the rest of the world. It’s supposed to contain the vampires and leave them to rule a decadent city filled with fresh blood and ruin.

Entering Coldtown is a terrible risk. But it’s also the only option Tana can think of that might actually save all three of them. With time running out and no good choices, Tana will have to embrace the monsters in Coldtown if she wants to avoid becoming one in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) by Holly Black.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is an unflinching story of vampires and a meditation of what it really means to fear the monsters in the shadows–especially when you might become one of those same monsters.

A slow beginning (in the first hundred pages) is easily forgiven as the story gains momentum within the walls of Coldtown. Flashbacks and vignettes from other characters help to evoke a well-realized world for both the human and vampire characters. Epigraphs at the start of each chapter from famous writers’ musings on death add a suitably eerie tone to the book.

Tana is a pragmatic, sympathetic heroine who tries to make the right choices even when she is forced to admit that sometimes there are no good choices. Her progression throughout the story is completely logical and marks her as an appealing and utterly real character complete with flaws and poorly made plans.

Black’s vampires are a terrifying blend of charm and sharp teeth in a story that understands the unique blend of terror and fascination commonly associated with vampires (or any monsters really). This story is gory, violent, and sometimes even disgusting. Yet, like the vampires themselves, it is still so delightfully compelling.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Halloween Reads: Spooky Stories and Spine-Tingling Books

Happy Halloween!

I’ve written off October for most other reasons but I still stubbornly enjoy Halloween (even with it essentially being cancelled last year thanks to Hurricane Sandy). I will be handing out candy later tonight even though I won’t be dressing up or going to any parties. To keep in the spirit though I do have to spooky Halloween-appropriate reads to share with all of you, dear readers!

Companions of the Night coverFire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne JonesThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackOnce a Witch coverConjured by Sarah Beth DurstThe Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

  • Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde: The first vampire book I read and still arguably the best. Ethan is fascinating and repellant and Kerry is one of my favorite heroines.
  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: Honestly, you should read this retelling of Tam Lin any time of year, but with the spooky, atmospheric setting and Polly’s eerie double memories it’s a most excellent read for this time of year.
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: This books is icky and gory and creepy but it’s also romantic and hopeful. Leave it to Holly Black to make a book about monsters into something kind of beautiful.
  • Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: I talk about this book all the time too. But what’s Halloween without a story about a witch?
  • Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst: It was a touch call to put this one or Drink, Slay, Love on the list but with a heroine who knows nothing of her past and is being hunted by a serial killer, this one definitely is the scariest.
  • The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni: Verity Boone expects to find her father and her fiance when she returns to her birthplace. And she does find them. But she also finds two caged graves and a haunting secret.
  • Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff: A heat wave is on, a killer is on the loose, and only Hanna and the ghost of her best friend can stop the killer before it’s too late.
  • The Archived by Victoria Schwab: A library where the dead are stored like books? Enough said.
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: London. Ghosts. A Jack the Ripper copycat. And a girl who can see ghosts. The only problem? The ghosts can see her too.
  • The Diviners by Libba Bray: Evie is thrilled to be exiled to New York when her flapper antics go too far. But strange things are happening to city and Evie isn’t the only one heading East. Dark forces are coming too. Darker than anything Evie has ever seen before.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix: Sabriel is her father’s daughter, learning his work as Abhorsen using their bells to send the dead back where they belong. But when her father disappears Sabriel is left alone to face a monstrous creature and find out the truth about the old kingdom.

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffThe Archived by Victoria SchwabThe Name of the Star by Maureen JohnsonThe Diviners coversabriel

The Clockwork Scarab: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen GleasonMina Holmes is used to working alone. It’s hard enough to get anyone to take her deductive abilities seriously as a young woman in London in 1889. It’s almost impossible to get anyone to appreciate them–even if she is the daughter of Mycroft Holmes and the niece of Sherlock Holmes.

Evaline Stoker, on the other hand, is a veritable social butterfly by comparison. Much to her own chagrin Evaline finds herself spending far too much time at social gatherings when she could be using her preternatural strength and speed for their intended purposes–killing vampires.

This unlikely pair is brought together one foggy night in London with a summons to the British Museum. Soon both young women are recruited into the service of the Princess of Wales for a mission of the utmost secrecy.

Young women of quality are dying in London and it’s up to Stoker and Holmes to figure out why.

But with obstacles at every turn and odious young men underestimating their skills, both young women will have to stay sharp to solve this supernatural mystery before it’s too late in The Clockwork Scarab (2013) by Colleen Gleason.

Gleason creates an intriguing alternate London where Sherlock Holmes is real and the Stoker family is the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. In this London electricity is illegal and steampunk elements abound in this steam-powered city.

These backdrop elements, combined with a mystery based in Egyptology (the scarab on the cover is not just for show) promise a most excellent mystery novel with just a few fantastical elements to taste.

Then a time traveler shows up.

Then not just one but both heroines find themselves in painfully contrived love triangles.

And then one of the biggest mysteries of the story isn’t resolved at the end of the book. (It is clearly going to be a thread that develops in later installments, but still.)

The Clockwork Scarab has so much potential that, unfortunately, is never realized as the plot becomes mired in these extraneous plot points and devices.

Mina and Evaline are interesting heroines (though far too quick to gush over handsome young men–because all of the men in this book are handsome) though their first person narrations often sound surprisingly similar.

Short on violence and high on action, this is an ideal choice for younger readers looking for excitement without the gore. It would also be a great stepping stone for readers who want to move onto something else besides the Theodosia books or the Kane Chronicles. That said, readers looking for a purer steampunk read (or a better plotted mystery) would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Black City: A Review

Black City by Elizabeth RichardsAlthough the war is over, things are far from peaceful in Black City. The city’s cinder block buildings still burn. Tensions are high between the Sentry rulers and the workboot commoners. The boundary wall still stands, separating the humans from the Legion ghetto where the Darklings live.

Ash Fisher is the only twin-blood Darkling left in Black City–a dubious honor when his survival hinges on blending in. Unfortunately blending in is hard when you’re a foot taller than everyone with the addition of fangs and the lack of a beating heart. Not to mention the necessity of dealing Haze to stay afloat.

Natalie Buchanan would much prefer to be in the metropolitan capital city of Centrum where she could forget about her father’s murder and the rest of her family’s troubles. Unfortunately her mother had other plans and now Natalie is struggling to fit into a city she isn’t even sure she likes.

When Ash and Natalie meet it’s intense dislike at first sight. But then why does Natalie keep thinking about Ash? And why does Ash feel so strange when Natalie is near him?

Black City is dangerous at the best of times. With rising political unrest and threats of arrest at every turn, things are only getting worse. There couldn’t be a worse time to take a stand, let alone fall in love in Black City (2012) by Elizabeth Richards.

Black City is Richards’ first novel as well as the first book in The Black City Chronicles.

Richards dives right into the action leaving little room for explanations or background information. The opening pages are somewhat confusing with a lot of new terms thrown around and many characters introduced. While some explanations are offered as the story progresses, the pacing of the story remains uneven. In an effort to build suspense, Richards plays some plot elements close to the vest. Unfortunately instead of raising curiosity most of these secrets only led to anti-climactic reveals or underwhelming or predictable elements.

Black City alternates between Ash and Natalie’s first person narrations. While the change in viewpoint is effective in terms of plot development, the two voices are impossible to distinguish save to for Ash’s use of swear words and Natalie’s sheltered view of Black City politics.

Black City itself was evocative enough to be a character in the story. It felt like a supernatural version of Gotham City come to life and was marvelously described. Sadly the characters populating it were not as compelling. Having noticed the similarities, it’s impossible to think of this book as anything but a mash-up of Twilight and The Hunger Games. That said, readers who are fans of both titles are sure to find Black City immensely entertaining.

Possible Pairings: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Legend by Marie Lu, Twiligth by Stephenie Meyer, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*