Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: ‘Graceling’ by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning fantasy Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.
(Amazon product description)

This might be the first time that I started writing my review before the book was even done.  (I listen to audio books, so I can type and listen at the same time.  Don’t worry, it’s only the epilogue.)  I am so in love with this book!  I read a lot of young adult literature, and to be honest, many of the heroines are starting to blend together.  Katsa is one who will stand out in my mind for a really long time.  She has been graced with a talent for killing--something that makes her the ideal assassin for her uncle the King.  But Katsa gets no joy from hurting others, and she views her powerful Grace as less of a gift and more of an albatross around her neck. 

The cool thing about Katsa is that she is a wonderful role model for teen girls.  Here is a character who refuses to be defined by the men in her life.  Her spirit is strong and determined; her mind is sharp; her heart is compassionate.  She’s not perfect.  She can be impulsive, aloof and a tad demanding on others who don’t have her stamina.  She also has trouble dealing with her Grace.  There is a scene early in the book where she strikes Po in anger, then immediately realizes her mistake.  It is a defining moment for her, one where she discovers the necessity of boundaries.  It felt a bit like that was the moment she stopped being a child and matured into an adult. 

Speaking of Po...

Po is a prince and a graceling in his own right.  His Grace is equally as powerful as Katsa’s, but he has been able to keep it a secret so as not to become exploited by others in the way Katsa is exploited by her uncle.  Katsa figures out Po’s secret and he makes the decision to confide in her.  The two become close friends, largely because they each understand what it’s like to be graced.  Po is more mature than Katsa, but it doesn’t take her long to catch up.  They have a beautiful relationship based on equality.  It might be one of my favorites in YA literature. 

The plot is fast-paced and filled with action.  The mystery starts with the kidnapping of Po’s grandfather and turns into a hunt for a graceling psychopath.  Lots of fun!

Overall, I give Graceling...

Plot - 5 bookmarks (my leading contender for favorite book of 2012)
Character development - 5 bookmarks
Love story - 5 bookmarks (While this is not a heavy romance, there is plenty here to get the heart racing.)
Fight scenes - 5 bookmarks
Dream cast (Otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Alexis Knapp (Katsa), Jake Able (Po), Mackenzie Foy (Bitterblue)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: ‘The Gathering’ by Kelley Armstrong

An ordinary town . . . full of deadly secrets

Strange things have been happening in sixteen-year-old Maya's small Vancouver Island community—from the mountain lions that have been constantly approaching her to her best friend's hidden talent for "feeling" out people and situations. There's also a sexy new bad boy who makes Maya feel . . . different. Combine that with a few unexplained deaths and a mystery involving Maya's biological parents and it's easy to suspect that this town might have more than its share of skeletons in its closet.
(Amazon product description)

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  I am not a big fan of shape shifters.  (I keep saying that, but look at all of the shape shifter books that I give good reviews to...)  I love the premise of this book.  We have a creepy small town in the middle of nowhere owned by a medical research corporation, a girl who has an abnormal talent with wild animals, a new guy in town with a secret past and a best friend who dies under mysterious circumstances.  This plot could go in a lot of different directions. 

I loved the main character, Maya.  She is smart and kind--a little judgmental, but she’s working on that--and her talent with animals has me insanely jealous. Maya has a great sense of humor and she has some really funny lines.  I love the way to teases her parents.

Maya: "Have you met the tattoo artist? Is he hot?"
Mom: "He's a she."
Maya: "Is she hot? Cause I'm still young, you know. My sexual identity isn't fully formed." (pg. 37)

The friendship between her and Daniel was really nice.  I loved how close they were in a platonic way.  Many male/female friendships in YA are fronts for one party crushing on the other, whether reciprocated or not.  Oh, this is only the first book in the series, so there is time for something to develop between them, but I really hope not.  I like them just as friends. 

Rafe was also an interesting character.  Okay, so it seems every YA novel has a mysterious new guy in school that happens to be totally hot and only has eyes for the main character.  While Rafe fits this stereotype to a T, I liked him.  I can’t help having a soft spot for the bad boys.  :) 

The paranormal elements of this story were really cool.  I’m happy to see the Native mythology used.  I also love felines of all kinds, so it’s refreshing to have a shifter story not focusing on werewolves. 

The book ends on a cliffhanger with a lot of unanswered questions.  I’ve come to expect that with the first book of a series, but some readers might find it annoying.  My advice is to have the second book of the series handy so you can keep going.

Overall, I give The Gathering...

Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks (I wanted more with the medical research facility.  Left with too many questions.)
Character development - 5 bookmarks
Mythology - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Q'orianka Kilcher (Maya), Zach Roerig (Daniel), Diego Boneta (Rafe)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: ‘Taking a Shot’ by Jaci Burton

The last thing Jenna Riley needs is more sports in her life. While her brothers are off being athletic superstars, she's stuck running the family's sports bar, whether she likes it or not. Then in walks pro hockey stud Tyler Anderson. As much as Jenna would like to go to the boards with him, she's vowed to never fall for a jock-even one as hot as Ty.

Ty, intrigued by the beautiful bar owner, becomes a regular. He senses that Jenna wants to do something more with her life. And as he gains her trust, the passion between them grows, as does Ty's insistence that Jenna should start living for herself. With his encouragement, Jenna starts to believe it, too...

But first, Jenna has to figure out what she wants, what she needs, who she loves, and if she has the passion and pride to take a shot at having it all-including Ty...
(Amazon product description)

I buy Jaci Burton’s books on the lickable covers alone.  It’s a bonus when her stories are good.  :) 

Taking a Shot is the third book in her Play-by-Play series, which revolves around the Riley family and their uber-jock family and friends. 

I totally related to Jenna in her desire to not date a jock.  I never was much of a sports fan (that has changed a bit with age), and it was one of my criteria when looking for potential boyfriends also.  And like her, I ended up breaking this rule when I found the Mr. Right.  However, I was disappointed in Jenna as a character.  I thought she would be this tough chick who could challenge Ty.  Instead, I found her to be a bit of a weenie.  These two sides of her character did not balance well.  She gets one small rejection in her youth and it completely holds her back from pursuing her dreams?  Oh, come on.  Maybe I’m callous because I’m a writer and we have to wade in rejection daily, but this did not seem like an adequate stumbling block for the character to have to overcome.  I know the author could have come up with something deeper and more troubling. 

I had the same issue with the character of Tyler, even though I did like him better.  We are led to think there is some sort of really deep issue in his family history, but it just turned out that his mother is slightly bitter over her divorce and his dad has a really bad sense of humor.  I mean who isn’t embarrassed by their parents a little?  Aside from the boring back story, Tyler was more likable. 

I found the plot entertaining enough, and the character chemistry was strong.  While I think this is the weakest book in the series so far, I still think Jaci Burton is a great writer.  I will definitely be first in line for the next book Playing to Win which comes out in September. 

Overall, I give Taking a Shot...

Plot - 3 1/2 bookmarks
Character development - 2 1/2 bookmarks
Love story - 4 bookmarks (The chemistry was good.)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Chris Hemsworth (Tyler),  Ashley Greene (Jenna)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: ‘Easy’ by Tammara Webber @TammaraWebber

When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she's single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, stalked by her ex's frat brother, and failing a class for the first time in her life.

Her econ professor gives her an email address for Landon, the class tutor, who shows her that she's still the same intelligent girl she's always been. As Jacqueline becomes interested in more from her tutor than a better grade, his teasing responses make the feeling seem mutual. There's just one problem--their only interactions are through email.

Meanwhile, a guy in her econ class proves his worth the first night she meets him. Nothing like her popular ex or her brainy tutor, Lucas sits on the back row, sketching in a notebook and staring at her. At a downtown club, he disappears after several dances that leave her on fire. When he asks if he can sketch her, alone in her room, she agrees--hoping for more.

Then Jacqueline discovers a withheld connection between her supportive tutor and her seductive classmate, her ex comes back into the picture, and her stalker escalates his attention by spreading rumors that they've hooked up. Suddenly appearances are everything, and knowing who to trust is anything but easy.


Seriously, this woman cannot write books fast enough for me.  I was so excited when I saw Tammara Webber had a new book out that I dropped the book I was in the middle of and read this one right away.  So glad I did!

Just as in her Between the Lines series, Webber’s ability to create chemistry between her characters is what makes Easy such a success.  I think a lot of young women can relate to Jacqueline and her decision to follow her high school boyfriend to college.  Many of us have based life decisions on our first love only to have something go wrong.  Fortunately for Jacqueline, she has a great friend in Erin, a protector in Lucas, a supportive tutor in Landon and an extremely understanding economics professor. 

Lucas is a very well-developed character.  Sexy bad-boy, hard worker, artistic, mysterious... LOVED HIM!  There is a lot more to him than he lets on, so that through the course of the novel his layers gradually fall away, leaving an incredible young man. 

One the other hand, there is Landon, Jacqueline’s economics tutor.  He’s intelligent, funny and kind.  I figured out the connection between him and Lucas pretty quickly, so thankfully, Webber didn’t let it go on too long before Jacqueline put two and two together.

Readers should be warned that this book is for mature young adults.  The characters are in college and behave accordingly.  The book opens with an attempted rape scene which is a bit frightening, but thankfully ends well.   

Lastly, I love what this book has to say about women finding their own strength.  Erin is a very strong female character, and she helps Jacqueline to gain power.  The book advocates women learning self-defense and standing up for each other, even when it’s not the popular thing to do.  Young women need to read this book.  Brava!

Overall, I give Easy...

Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character development - 5 bookmarks
Love story - 5 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Elizabeth Olson (Jacqueline), Diana Argon (Erin), Jake Abel (Kennedy), Kellan Lutz (Buck), Michael Travino (Lucas)