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*

Team Human: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees BrennanMel Duan is nothing if not a realist. She appreciates that vampires are a part of her town’s heritage. She understands that living with vampires nearby is a  fact of life in New Whitby. She even admits that some people do actually choose, for reasons beyond all comprehension, to willingly become vampires and give up everything (like chocolate!) for the tedium of, well, forever. When forced to, Mel can even grudgingly accept that her best friend Cathy is fascinated by vampires.

None of that means that Mel has to actually like vampires.

It certainly doesn’t mean she has to watch quietly when a vampire tromps into her school and catches Cathy’s attention. It most definitely does not mean that Mel is going to let her best friend date a vampire (named Francis of all things) when it could prove lethal on so many levels.

The only problem is Mel seems to be the only one solidly avoiding Team Vampire. Worse, Mel has a lot more to worry about than just keeping Cathy and Francis apart. Mel is used to having a lot on her plate as a high-achieving, athletic senior trying to figure out her life, but even she is going to have a hard time thwarting this romance, investigating a disappearance, working with a curt vampire cop, and trying to understand a most unusual boy in Team Human (2012) by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.

Team Human is the first book Larbalestier and Rees Brennan have co-written. It features one consistent narrative voice.

Given the title of the story, it’s no surprise that Mel is not a vampire fan. At. All. Mel is funny, and maybe a bit snarky, but as she expounds the many, many faults with vampires* she is often just mean–a hard quality to sell in any heroine but especially in a first-person narrator.

Mel’s personality flaws, such as they are, are only magnified by the structure of Team Human. The book follows a logical progression with action, banter, jokes, and of course vampires. At the same time, there is not a lot of plot. While Mel is often shocked during the story, readers will be harder to surprise with plot elements that are sometimes more transparent than mysterious.

But for most readers all of that will be irrelevant.

Team Human was written in secret by the authors after they began wondering what it would be like if their best friend was dating a vampire. Team Human was written as the antidote to every book where the heroine runs blindly into the arms of a bloodsucking fiend and not one friend stops her to ask if she has lost her mind. In other words Team Human was written for fun. To celebrate good friends. Though she might sometimes be misguided, Mel is always good to her friends–even when it might not seem that way to them (or her).

Team Human is very funny. Readers of Larbalestier or Rees Brennan’s solo books would expect nothing less. The story gracefully walks the fine line between gravity and levity with smoothly written jokes and touching moments.

While Mel’s view of vampires is narrow at the beginning of the story, her outlook expands along with the plot and the world of the book. Team Human is a fresh take on the old vampire conventions sure to appeal to anyone who prefers their vampires with a complement of sarcasm and comedy instead of bats and shadows. A must-read for anyone who is pro-vampire, Team Human will have just as much appeal to anyone who is anti-vampire.

*Such as being cold, not funny, unable to eat chocolate.

Possible Pairings: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (eds.)

Author Interview (#2): Sarah Beth Durst on Drink, Slay, Love

Sarah Beth Durst author photoBack in May, I was lucky enough to interview Sarah Beth Durst about her book Enchanted Ivy. At the end of that interview she mentioned that her next project involved a vampire who was stabbed by a unicorn. I was, of course, intrigued.

Now that Drink, Slay, Love is officially out in the world, Sarah is back to talk with me once again about her unique take on vampires (and unicorns!). If you want more preliminary information about Sarah and her writing, you can also check out our earlier interview.

Miss Print (MP): In a fun post on your blog you talk a bit about the inspiration for Drink, Slay, Love coming from your love of both unicorns and vampires. What drew you to those two creatures? What is the appeal, for you, of vampires and unicorns?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I think my love of unicorns can be traced to elementary school.  In my school, unicorns were considered the crowning jewel of any girl’s sticker collection.  As to vampires…  I blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was pretty much the best show on television ever.

MP: There is a long history of tales about vampires or unicorns. How did you decide what aspects of vampire or unicorn lore to keep and what to reimagine for your story?

SBD: I liked how opposite the vampire and the unicorn are.  One, a sexy and bloodthirsty creature of the night.  And the other… much more apt to eat marshmallows and poop rainbows.  So I wanted to strengthen that dichotomy by going with the darker, more evil and less brooding version of the vampire.  And for the unicorn, I decided that their fluffy and happy reputation is mere propaganda spread by the unicorns themselves to disguise their true purpose as vampire hunters.

MP: Drink, Slay, Love is one of the catchiest titles I’ve heard for a book this year. How did you come up with the title? Did you find this title before or after the novel was written?

SBD: Drink, Slay, Love had many, many, many titles.  All the credit for the final title goes to my husband, who thought of it in this epiphany-like moment where I expected a cartoon lightbulb to appear over his head.

MP: I really enjoyed that the heroine of Drink, Slay, Love is named Pearl because it seems like such an unlikely name for a vampire. How did you know Pearl was the right name for your vampire protagonist?

SBD: I knew Pearl’s name before I even knew her story.  It just felt so wrong that I knew it was right.  The name “Pearl” implies such innocence and purity, and my Pearl is… well, evil.

MP: Being a vampire and a natural predator, Pearl isn’t always the most sympathetic heroine. What was it like writing about a character who starts the book as kind of scary and not nice?

SBD: I loved writing Pearl!  Seriously, this was the best writing experience I’ve ever had.  It’s so freeing to write a character that doesn’t suffer any fools.  She’s fierce, fearless, and funny, and I loved hanging out with her.

MP: One of the really fun things about this book is that it has a lot of strong, memorable secondary characters. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to pick an example but I really enjoyed Bethany and Jocelyn (and Matt and Zeke’s banter). This isn’t a fair question for a writer, but did you have a favorite character in the story? Was one more fun to write about than the others?

SBD: I love them all, of course.  *blows air-kisses at characters*  But I have to admit to having a soft spot for Antoinette, Pearl’s vampire cousin who is utterly evil and loves Molly Ringwald 80s movies.

MP: Given the plot of Drink, Slay, Love I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask your opinion on the two great debates of our time: Vampires vs. Werewolves and Zombies vs. Unicorns. Any thoughts?

SBD: Werewolves.  Much more cuddly.

And unicorns.  Much less gooey.

MP: What can you tell us about your next book? Do you have any plans to revisit Pearl and Evan (and Bethany and Matt and Zeke) in a future project?

SBD: I don’t have any immediate plans for a sequel to DRINK, SLAY, LOVE, though I do miss Pearl and Evan, so who knows what the future may bring…  My next book is a standalone YA fantasy called VESSEL.  It’s coming out in fall 2012 from Simon & Schuster, and I’m really excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks again to Sarah for taking the time out of her schedule to answer all of my questions.

If you want to know more about Drink, Slay, Love be sure to check out my review.

Drink, Slay, Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth DurstPearl is like a lot of sixteen-year-old girls. She likes to steal cars and drive too fast with her handsome, dangerous boyfriend Jadrien. She wears a lot of black. She is extremely flammable in direct sunlight.

Okay. Maybe Pearl isn’t exactly an average teenaged girl. But she is an average vampire. Completely ordinary and almost completely evil; Pearl is the perfect predator at the top of the food chain in her Connecticut town. And she is fine with that.

With the vampire king of New England coming soon for the annual fealty ceremony that marks the start of a vampire’s adulthood, it’s a good time to be a young vampire. Since her Family has been given the honor of hosting the king’s feast things are especially good for Pearl.

At least until the unicorn comes along and stabs her in the heart with his stupid sparkly horn.

But instead of dying a quick death, Pearl survives the attack. Not just that, she can now withstand sunlight. No one in her Family believes her about the unicorn (they are mythical creatures after all–even vampires know that), but even they can’t ignore her new resistance to daylight.

Within the king’s feast looming and no volunteers in sight, Pearl’s Family decides to take advantage of her newfound ability by enrolling her in high school. Securing the king’s feast should be easy with an entire high school of students to choose from, right?

Wrong, as it turns out.

Blending in among the human students is harder for a vampire than Pearl expected. Some students, like Bethany seem overly eager to befriend her. Others want to prove their dominance (unlikely). Then there’s Evan. The deliciously cute boy who Pearl can’t decide if she wants to bite or . . . not.

Torn between what her Family needs and what she actually wants, Pearl finds that after the unicorn incident nothing is black and white anymore. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for things to change and maybe, just maybe, Pearl is the one to bring about those changes in Drink, Slay, Love (2011) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Filled with twists and turns, Drink, Slay, Love is fun new spin on vampires (and, of course, unicorns too). Durst stays true to traditional vampire mythology (Pearl does not sparkle) while also adding her own unique spin to these familiar mythical monsters.

Viewing high school through Pearl’s eyes brings a level of humor to the story as she evaluates teachers as potential threats and brings her predator mentality to cafeteria politics. (Think Katniss Everdeen walking the halls of Sweet Valley High.) What results, in addition to a satisfying urban fantasy, is a dryly fun commentary on the ins and outs of high school.

Durst aptly demonstrates her range as readers follow Pearl’s journey from scary vampire to something else entirely. There are, in fact, enough drastic changes throughout the course of the story that the opening for a sequel is very wide indeed. Drink, Slay, Love is a clever, entertaining book complete with a winning heroine readers will want to cheer for–albeit from a safe distance.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde

You can also read my exclusive interview with Sarah Beth Durst about Drink, Slay, Love starting October 27, 2011

**This book was acquired for review through the publisher/author

Demonglass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**This review (and the book itself) contains MAJOR spoilers for Hex Hall. You have been warned.**

Demonglass by Rachel HawkinsSophie Mercer’s first year at Hex Hall is almost over and in those months everything she thought she knew was turned upside down. Now Sophie knows the truth about herself (turns out she isn’t a dark witch but a demon), her crush (undercover agent of The Eye–a group determined to kill all Prodigium including witches, shifters, fairies, and definitely demons), and the dangerous nature of her powers (being a demon could lead to, well, killing people).

All of which just convinces Sophie that she needs to go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that can strip Sophie of her powers–if it doesn’t kill her.

Traveling to London with her estranged father (and head of the Council in charge of all things magic including the Removal) Sophie finally realizes knowing the truth doesn’t mean she knows everything. Turns out there’s a lot more to her family and her powers than she thought.

As if Sophie’s plate isn’t full enough she also discovers other demons in London, learns more about her crush (the one that might want to kill her), and discovers there might be more to Hex Hall’s stoic caretaker Cal than she gave him credit for. With or without the Removal Sophie’s summer is sure to be exciting (but hopefully not deadly) in Demonglass (2011) by Rachel Hawkins.

Demonglass is the sequel to Hawkin’s first novel Hex Hall.

If Hex Hall was a funny, exciting, fantasy with strong heroine then Demonglass is all of that but more.

Readers will find the same breezy narration and action-packed story along with the characters they loved from Sophie’s first adventure. At the same time Hawkins does a wonderful job expanding Sophie’s world and building on the events of the first book to create a new and original plot here. Sophie’s relationship with her father is also handled in a realistic way helping to make him a well-realized character who adds a lot to the story. Speaking of great characters, as a fan of Cal from the very beginning, I am also happy to report that he features more prominently in this installment to great effect.*

Sophie continues to be a great heroine with her sharp blend of sarcastic humor, bravery and a basic authenticity about her. Really, my only regret about this book is that it ends with the most epic cliffhanger I’ve seen since Catching Fire. Luckily the final installment in Sophie’s trilogy is slated for a 2012 release.

*Cal is now officially a part of the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

City of Fallen Angels: A (Rapid Fire) Review

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (2011)

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra ClareThis 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.

City of Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Glass by Cassandra ClareThe Mortal Cup and the Soul Sword are gone. Valentine has disappeared once again, taking his army of ravening demons with him. For now. The dust seems to have settled in New York City. But that doesn’t mean Clary’s life is back to normal. Not by a long shot.

Her mother is still hospitalized with a mysterious coma. She is still painfully in love with Jace. Who is still her brother–and determined to be only her brother. He is also determined to do everything in his power to keep Clary away from Idris’ City of Glass–the jewel of the Shadowhunter home country and the place where Clary might finally find the key to finally waking her mother.

But after coming so far and getting so close to saving her mother, Clary isn’t about to take no for an answer.

It turns out entering Idris illegally is going to be the least of Clary’s problems. Her best friend Simon, a vampire who can now withstand daylight, has been thrown in prison. Jace still refuses to help Clary save their mother while another mysterious Shadowhunter named Sebastian seems strangely eager to offer his assistance.

Meanwhile Valentine is still searching for the last Mortal Instrument–known to be somewhere in Idris. With a demon army at his fingertips, it’s only a matter of time before he finds it and declares war on all Shadowhunters.

The Shadowhunters are fierce warriors but few in number. Aligning themselves with their Downworlder enemies could turn the tide of war in their favor if both sides can see past age-old differences in time. No matter what happens next, one thing is clear: Everything is about to change in City of Glass (2009) by Cassandra Clare.

The stunning conclusion to Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy (a fourth book is due out in 2011 and a companion trilogy starts in 2010) is packed with the action readers will have come to expect from the series. Demons are fought, battles are waged, and everything question is finally answered.

While readers might recognize some common fantasy themes, the story itself remains fresh–filled with twists that are both shocking and, unfortunately, sometimes heartbreaking. Clare’s writing is drum-tight throughout the story from the initial set-up to its satisfying conclusion.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, White Cat by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Inferno by Dante, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

City of Ashes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Ashes by Cassandra ClareWhat would you do if the worst person in the world was your parent? Valentine Morgenstern is bent on destroying the Clave–the Shadowhunter’s arm of the Law–and ridding the world of the demons that Shadowhunters are mandated to hunt and the Downworlders the Clave holds as uneasy allies. Valentine already has The Mortal Cup. Will stealing The Soul Sword bring Valentine closer to his goal? Sure, some innocent people might get in the way, but what’s a little collateral damage when you want to remake the world in your own vision?

Clary and Jace are not bad people. Yes, they might be in love. Even if they are sister and brother. But that doesn’t mean they’re destined to follow in their father’s footsteps, does it?

Clary wishes she could turn her back on the secret world of the Shadowhunters and return to a normal life with her best friend. But nothing is normal for Clary, not while her mother lies in the hospital in a coma.

Jace meanwhile tries to drown out his troubles by hunting and alienating the people he cares about. The only problem is, the alienation part isn’t that hard when no one he cares about seems to trust him anymore. Instead of seeing the Jace they knew, it seems like everyone sees Valentine’s son lying in wait to betray them.

Will Jace be able to prove he isn’t his father’s son? Will Clary’s mother wake up? And what about the Downworlder children being murdered throughout New York City? Find out in City of Ashes (2008) by Cassandra Clare.

City of Ashes picks up soon after the first book in The Mortal Instruments series (City of Bones). Clare goes over the key past events without excessive rehashing. It is likely that this book would even stand on its own although readers will miss out on a lot of the fun if they skip the first book.

This book offers more introspection for all of the characters. Clare shifts viewpoints between several principal characters offering a wider view of events and the world Clare has built. Readers also get a wider view of the characters themselves. Jace in particular is fleshed out a lot in this book.

Then, of course, there is the star-crossed romance aspect as Clary and Jace struggle to move past their impossible feelings for each other as they try to understand what it really means to just be brother and sister. It might seem like a strange situation to add to a story, but Clare handles it tastefully and well enough that it’s easy to bear with her for the length of the book (and the rest of the series) to see where things will lead.

City of Ashes is as action-packed as its predecessor but with more character and world development. Clare has created another gripping, enjoyable read sure to dazzle.

The Mortal Instruments saga continues in City of Glass.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, White Cat by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Inferno by Dante, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Hearts at Stake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra HarveyBeing a teenager is hard enough, but Solange Drake has a whole other set of problems. With her sixteenth birthday fast approaching, Solange and her family have way more on their mind than her Sweet Sixteen–like planning for her transformation into a vampire. All of the Drake sons survived the transformation in one piece, but being the first female-born vampire in 800 years (and the future vampire queen according to a mysterious prophecy) no one is really sure how Solange will fair. Of course, that might be irrelevant if the vampire hunting Helios-Ra or the followers of the current queen kill Solange for the bounty on her head first in Hearts at Stake (2009) by Alyxandra Harvey.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but just because a person likes Buffy it does not mean that she will like every snarky, girl power-esque vampire story that comes along. Such is the case with Hearts at Stake. Even before coming to that painful realization about myself, I knew I might be in for trouble with this book when I read that the author was sometimes belly dancer who owns a hawk. Say what you will, but I had a bad feeling.

There are two fundamental problems with the story. The first is that everything feels a bit contrived– even given the fact that it is part of a necessarily contrived genre what with vampires not existing. Solange is at the center of this huge prophecy, the figure who might end a massive civil war among the different vampire tribes, and she belongs to one of the oldest vampire families in the world. None of which is set up for the reader. Instead Solange tells readers as much in a passing paragraph or two which interrupts the story at hand and does little to explain any of these events.

The second problem is that Hearts at Stake seems to be a book at war with itself. The book’s narration is split between Solange and her human best friend Lucy. The story also eventually splits into a dual romance. This symmetry seems forced leading to a rather heavy-handed treatment in some of the romantic matters. The tone of the story is understandably erratic as a result. The story alternates in rapid succession between steamy kisses, deadly fights, and conversations filled with girl power bravado and snark.

Even though both girls were at pains to remind readers and other characters that they were strong and could take care of themselves, it felt unconvincing because there is a difference between saying you can take care of yourself and actually doing so. Hearts at Stake will appeal to many readers for a quick vampire romance fix, but readers looking for a book with more substance would do well to look elsewhere.