Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky 3)
By: Veronica Rossi
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Rating: 4 stars
|Summary: The earth-shattering conclusion to Veronica Rossi’s “masterpiece” Under the Never Sky trilogy and sequel to the New York Times bestselling Through the Ever Night (Examiner.com).
Their love and their leadership have been tested. Now it’s time for Perry and Aria to unite the Dwellers and the Outsiders in one last desperate attempt to bring balance to their world.
The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe-haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do-and they are just as determined to stay together.
Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. And when Roar returns to camp, he is so furious with Perry that he won’t even look at him, and Perry begins to feel like they have already lost.
Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble a team to mount an impossible rescue mission-because Cinder isn’t just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival, he’s also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most.
In this final book in her stunning Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi raises the stakes to their absolute limit and brings her epic love story to an unforgettable close.
Review: SO many conclusions of trilogies have left me disappointed at the end, but worry not, this book wasn’t one of them. I will say I wasn’t crazy about all the drama in the beginning, and I was a bit disappointed about what happened with HIM at the end. But I’ll give it 4 stars.
The beginning kind of annoyed the hell out of me. I felt Roar’s pain – although I kind of wished he wasn’t such a jackass right from the start – but I understand there is just other way to portray that kind of grief. But I just dreaded what was to come because I just knew such raw emotion wasn’t going to lead to good things. However, I was so angry with Perry. I understand doing what you think is best for your people, but gah, at least behind closed doors, yell or hit something. I mean, we got to see from his point of view, and his character was just unnaturally calm. I just felt it was cowardly of him not to face Roar and Aria and everything else (of course, that’s the point of his character development, but that’s beside the point – it still frustrated me, LOL).
I would have easily given the majority of the book five stars. Was it totally mind-blowing? Probably not. But it was one hell of a third book. There was plenty of action. There was a lot of planning and plotting. There were scenes that you saw coming, and others that you did not. People left you guessing which side they were really on. And you kept wondering if something that happened REALLY happened or if it was a front, and it was going to turn around and blow you away. Really, the book wasn’t totally unpredictable, but the pace kept your interest, and really, it was the anticipation of what was going to happen next – that was what really sucked you in.
My biggest complaint was the end. No, it wasn’t one of those endings that left you totally pissed off at the book – ahem, Delirium – ahem, Hunger Games. Nope, I guess I was fine with the way it ended. It was just what happened with HIM. I didn’t feel that Rossi did much justice to it – everything that had led up to that point – it just felt kind of anticlimactic that you’re left wondering, “What? That’s it? But, but…” It was still good enough to where it didn’t totally ruin the book for me, but still.
Overall, this is probably one of the best conclusions that I have read in a while, especially since everything is a series now, and the authors (or publisher) drag the story out so long that you’re just ready for the series to end, and the last book is just a lame attempt to tie together lose ends. But this one was quite “earth-shattering” mostly because of Roar. Regardless of what you thought about annoying characters or why something was done, I don’t think this book is going to disappoint many.
Finding It (Losing It 3)
By: Cora Carmack
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Rating: 4 stars
|Summary: Most girls would kill to spend months traveling around Europe after college graduation with no responsibility, no parents, and no-limit credit cards. Kelsey Summers is no exception. She’s having the time of her life…or that’s what she keeps telling herself.
It’s a lonely business trying to find out who you are, especially when you’re afraid you won’t like what you discover. No amount of drinking or dancing can chase away Kelsey’s loneliness, but maybe Jackson Hunt can. After a few chance meetings, he convinces her to take a journey of adventure instead of alcohol. With each new city and experience, Kelsey’s mind becomes a little clearer and her heart a little less hers. Jackson helps her unravel her own dreams and desires. But the more she learns about herself, the more Kelsey realizes how little she knows about Jackson.
Review: I just have one very huge complaint. Why the hell would Jackson have a USMC tattoo if he was in the army? At first, I thought it was Kelsey’s ignorance, but Jackson actually said army on two different occasions.
Other than that, I would have to say this is my favorite book so far in this series. I liked the first book because of the great lines, and I liked the second one because of Cade, although I wasn’t a fan of Max. With this one, I just thought it was great overall.
Really, the storyline wasn’t something that I hadn’t heard before. And the dialogue was good – with a nice mix of enticing allure, challenging arguments and witty banter, as well as emotionally intriguing – but I wouldn’t describe it as excellent.
BUT I love how the way the story was set up. I’ve never traveled to Europe before, and even though the book didn’t give me very much setting description as I would have liked, I was all for the adventurous feeling that came along with touring across the continent and visiting all of the cities and doing who knows what.
Also, I really liked Kelsey. She your typical rich girl whose parents cared more about image than the truth, so as a result, she’s puts on a smile while getting herself into who knows what kind of trouble. But her insecurity did not come across as bitchy, as so many do, and you just felt for her and wanted her to find the right path that would make everything right for her.
And Hunt? OMG, my love for Cade actually has a rival. He’s hot. He’s charming. He’s former military. And he’s got a great mix of troubled past yet honorable chivalry – yes his protectiveness can be a bit much, but who cares when it comes off as hot. Squeal!
I will say that when I finally do get to that “OMG” point in the book, I had seen that coming from miles away. But it didn’t make it less surprising or gut-wrenching or heartbreaking when I did get to it. Yep, I screamed “OMG.” And I did feel that the end was a bit rushed, but I can understand why Carmack didn’t want to drag it out. I just wish she had put a little more into it so I wouldn’t have felt that rush – maybe some insight on how she coped afterwards, rather than jumping into her well accomplished and so composed future.
Otherwise, I totally loved this book.
How To Love
By: Katie Cotugno
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Rating: 4 stars
|Summary: Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.
After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?
In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.
Review: Okay, so this wasn’t the light, cute, fun read I was looking for, but wow, this book was pretty good. What a great story that realistically portrays a situation that happens all-too-often in a way that captures your heart.
The reason I liked this story so much was because it wasn’t about a girl in a rough or trashy neighborhood that got pregnant by the typical bad boy. Serena and Sawyer are from devout Christian families, and they deal with issues that real teens deal with – whether it’s Serena’s studious attempt to graduate a year early so she can leave town or Sawyer finding escape through music and other substances. Maybe Allie’s and Leo’s situations were a bit too much, but I think they were both necessary, especially the latter, to kind of make the story work.
And I really connected with Serena in this book. Yeah, she was a bit stand-offish at the beginning, but if I were a private person who had a friend like Allie, I would probably be that way too. Don’t get me wrong, Serena did come across as a bitch for a good portion of this book. But at the same time, she really does go through a lot, and I can’t imagine having to deal with the situations that she’s had to face – with Sawyer, with the baby, with her family’s change, with moving on. And she made her fair share of stupid actions, but you can’t help who you fall in love with sometimes, and really, I can’t see it ending up any other way for her.
The romance itself was realistically good. Serena and Sawyer both had their great moments, making them wonderful companions. At the same time, they had their fair share of arguments – over stupid things, over ridiculous things, over legitimate things, real issues that couples deal with all the time.
I wish I got to know Lydia more and why she decide not to be there for Serena, and what Roger’s problem was with Sawyer. And Cade was there, but not. I really love Soledad and Shelby (although I did feel that fact about her at the end just came from nowhere), and it was heartwarming to see Serena patch things up with Leo. And Aaron – it breaks my heart.
Overall, it was refreshing to read something that happens enough but does not get enough attention – but in such a way where you can actually connect with the characters. Props to Cotugno on her debut.
Two Lies and a Spy
By: Kat Carlton
Release Date: September 2, 2013
|Summary: Kari plunges into the world of espionage on a mission to save her parents while trying to impress the guy she’s been in love with forever.
When sixteen-year-old Kari’s dad sends her an unexpected text, she and her brother immediately go into hiding. Because when your parents are superspies and your dad declares a Code Black, it can only mean something bad. Very bad.
Kari soon discovers that her parents have been disavowed and declared traitors, and she’s determined to clear their names. Breaking into the Agency seems like a reasonable plan, especially with the help of a team that includes her longtime crush, Luke, as well as her two best friends—an expert hacker with attitude and a master martial artist—and Luke’s popular, vindictive twin sister. Oh, and a new guy, who’s as cute as he is complicated…
Review: This ended up being a pretty great read. It was intriguing. It was thrilling. It was FUN! And, it surprised me in more ways than one and did not end up the way I thought it was going to.
Before I start, I wouldn’t say the espionage plot was out of this world. Kari’s parents are missing; they’re declared traitors; she and her brother are on the run; and she and her friends try to clear her parents’ names. There are some spy stuff, as well as a few fight scenes. But it was written in a way that didn’t make you take it way too seriously to the point where you’re thinking, “C’mon on! This is BS!” It just sort of worked – really, really well.
The characters were really great. I really liked Kari. She was spunky, but not in an annoying way – a thin line many authors often cross. My admiration for her is most comparable to the way I feel about Katarina Bishop in Ally Carter’s Heist Society.
Charlie was amazing. Luke is adorable. And I LOVE Evan. Yeah, I can see how he would annoy the crap out of someone, but I could tell there was more to him, and his bickering with Kari kept me entertained. Rita and Kale were typical sidekicks. And even though Lacey was a bit over-the-top, I really liked her too because her ridiculousness made me chuckle.
I had expected to pick up a espionage story that would most likely try too hard to make the spy scenes thrilling and exciting (hey, you are writing for young adult after all). So I was prepared to nit-pick. BUT I was totally blown away by how much I enjoyed reading this. Carlton just had a way of making the book serious, yet light and fun at the same time, and it’s been a while that I can say that I just thoroughly enjoyed reading a book instead of grading its merits.
By: Kelly Fiore
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Rating: 4 stars
|Summary: If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.
With romance and intrigue as delectable as the winning recipes included in the story, this debut novel will be devoured by all.
Review: Don’t write this book off as just a cute, fun read. Well, it was, but it was surprisingly really good.
Now I will be the first to admit that I’m not much of a cook, but Fiore’s writing in her descriptions of the food and the emotions that consumed the chefs was so beautifully vivid that even I felt much appreciation for the dishes and the care that went into their preparation. And it has more of the “take the time to smell the roses” feel than the “omg why am I being bogged down with overwritten imagery.” Fiore is such a talented, talented writer.
As for the story itself, yeah you have your typical sheltered girl entering a ruthless competition with your mean girls and arrogant boys. The story was pretty entertaining, and I usually like a good dialogue where a boy and girl bicker back and forth, although I will say, there were times I felt the chip on both of their shoulders were too much and I really had enough and wish I could knock their heads together and yell, “why can’t you idiots just get it together.” The conspiracy felt a bit ridiculous, but I liked how Fiore put enough justification into it that I actually sympathize, which was her intent.
Predicable? Absolutely. But still entertaining, nonetheless.
And so, I shall end my review with my favorite line in the book…
“Oh lordy. [covers face] See, now – this is why some fathers don’t let their daughters out of the hoist till they’re twenty-one!”
I can just picture it on TV. How adorable!
A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Something Strange and Deadly #2)
By: Susan Dennard
Release Date: July 23, 2013
Rating: 4 stars
|Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.|
Something Strange and Deadly was one of those books that’s a lot of fun but also could’ve used a bit more depth. I mean, I like steampunk, I like zombies, why wouldn’t I like steampunk and zombies? – but at the same time, the plot was also extremely predictable and the same cheesy humor that made the story so engaging also made it hard to take seriously. Great in small doses, but why would I want to read the sequel? Well as it turns out, because A Darkness Strange and Lovely (great title by the way, and completely appropriate to boot) is a second book that grows and matures almost as much as its heroine, Eleanor Fitt, that’s why.
I usually like to start by talking about how awesome the plot is because I’m the kind of guy who gets bored easily, especially if I feel like I haven’t gotten my fill of scenes of gentlemen getting their arms chomped on by zombies or ladies screaming in all directions while uselessly waving their parasols about in panic, but as I said in my review of the first book, my favorite part of this series actually isn’t the zombie on human violence, but the characters (or at least some of them). Eleanor’s a character who’s all about balance – in the first book, it was being a proper Victorian lady on one hand and finding excitement by doing her own thing against her mother’s wishes on the other, here, she’s balancing the corrupting influences of her family’s necromantic powers against the Spirit Hunter’s
reluctance downright hostility towards that kind of magic. I love how Susan Dennard has written a book where the right answers aren’t just shoved in my face, where everything isn’t black and white, but rather, asks questions like – is black magic inherently evil? – or is it the person using it that makes it evil? and then gave me answers that could go either way. And I also love how the events of the first book, which seemed so silly at the time, have transformed Eleanor’s character from a naive ingenue into a gritty, more serious survivor type here – one of my favorite lines in fact is Eleanor talking about how she used to think Clarence was just a narrow minded suitor and her brother just an innocent victim, back when she was naive and stupid and thought the world was a good place – I’ve always said despite Something Strange and Deadly‘s shallowness and high level of predictability, a lot of the book was also about exceeding expectations and breaking stereotypes, and it’s nice to see exactly that confirmation. Even the allure of necromancy breaks the mold; as the title says, darkness really is strange and lovely, and dangerous, and corrupting, and necessary, and misunderstood, and maybe in the right hands even a little bit good, and I just found all the different attitudes and nuances to what Eleanor must do and the difficult choices she has to make really well done.
The plot too I can say is a vast improvement from the first book. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had the identity of the necromancer all figured out well before the end of that book, but this time around my theory going into the second half actually turned out to be wrong. Dennard definitely does a better job than before throwing red herrings around, complicating the situation behind les morts – the Dead – in Paris. In fact, one of the better decisions she’s made is introducing new character Oliver, who on the surface appears harmless enough, but then she builds in all these clues pointing to him as the culprit, many of them in offhand remarks that I don’t think the other characters even caught on to. After how obvious everything was in the first book, I had to check myself several times, trying to decide if an obvious villain really was the villain or figuring out how to explain another clue pointing to Oliver, and, well, even if the end result isn’t exactly that hard to guess, I’m still glad Dennard managed to keep a few other things, like the motive behind the outbreak of undead, hidden up her sleeve until the last moment. Still, a few misdirects turned out to be great fake outs yet at the same time pretty unsatisfying hanging plot threads – the whole situation with Clarence for example – and I just kept getting the feeling this sequel seemed almost too short compared to the first book, with a few characters, Jie in particular, acting like Dennard ran out of ideas of things for them to do, so they ended up basically just showing up for old times sake and then being written out of the story. Other parts too, the entire situation in Paris in fact, could’ve been expanded on and just felt like it needed to be less rushed and used more development. Thankfully though, there are still plenty of zombie attacks along with other new supernatural threats, because I for one could always use more zombie on snooty French socialite violence, you know?
In fact, the only thing that really would’ve made this better would be if Daniel were eaten by a horde of the ravenous undead (yeah I really don’t like him). I’m not saying this to incite fangirl wrath, but as I said, I just don’t like things that are shoved in my face, and despite how I feel Dennard has done an awesome job making sure Eleanor falling for the allure of necromancy isn’t shoved in my face, well, she shoves Daniel in my face, and it’s annoying. Even worse, the love triangle with Clarence is still unresolved and until halfway through the story I could’ve sworn I’d be seeing a tetrahedron with Oliver too (thank goodness there aren’t more characters or it’d be some sort of weird multidimensional web thing). And to add insult to injury, even though the other major characters all have fairly defined roles – new guy Oliver as Eleanor’s connection to her dead brother while representing the dangers and unknowns of necromancy, and then Joseph being the safe mentor who just might possibly be holding her back with his caution and dislike of dark magic, with neither of them completely right or wrong and their whole situation as complicated as Eleanor’s conflict over her necromantic powers – then unfortunately there’s Daniel and he’s just no offense the useless love interest who’s only good for making Eleanor doubt herself, and I’m just the kind of guy who finds the designated love interest character a completely uninteresting, irksome cliche… and I just don’t like his character… and somebody needs to be zombie chow… and I should probably stop before this paragraph devolves into a full blown rant of all the gruesome ways Daniel could be offed for the benefit of the story… a little girl with blackened teeth and the fetid rank of decaying flesh gorging on his intestines as they spilled out from a massive gash on his stomach, chewing on them like sausage links… OK I’m stopping now, I promise.
Bottom line though, Something Strange and Deadly was superficial, silly fun that belies a lot of heart, A Darkness Strange and Lovely forgoes the lightness of the first book but is still quite enjoyable in its own way. Now if only the zombie horde had claimed one more victim before all’s good and done…
Spirit (Elemental #3)
By: Brigid Kemmerer
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
|Summary: With power comes enemies. Lots of them.
Hunter Garrity just wants to be left alone. He’s learned the hard way that his unusual abilities come at a price. And he can’t seem to afford any allies.
He’s up to his neck in hostiles. His grandfather, spoiling for a fight. The Merrick brothers, who think he ratted them out. Calla, the scheming psycho who wants to use him as bait.
Then there’s Kate Sullivan, the new girl at school. She’s not hostile. She’s bold. Funny. Hot. But she’s got an agenda, too.
With supposedly secret powers rippling to the surface everywhere around him, Hunter knows something ugly is about to go down. But finding out what means he’ll have to find someone he can trust…
Brigid Kemmerer may very well be my favorite female young adult author writing about guys. That’s hard even for me to wrap my head around, given only a year ago Storm was one of my first reviews, and I think I gave it a tepid endorsement tantamount to saying, well at least this isn’t Twilight. Spark though really was a game changer, showing how much Kemmerer found her footing by establishing this series around an alternating cast of relatable male characters (and knowing me, that’s a huge deal), and I’m glad to see Spirit is just Kemmerer continuing to successfully do what she does best.
I have seen a few complaints that, plot wise at least, Spark was too similar to Storm. I’ll get into that some more in a bit and add in my thoughts about Spirit, but personally it’s never bothered me that the Elemental series really doesn’t have the strongest of plots – it’s all about the characters. Spark succeeded because Kemmerer took the focus off the female lead (Layne) and tapped into the anger and frustration behind Gabriel’s character, so even though I’m the farthest thing from any of the Merricks, way too easygoing and laid back (would be cool to see a character like that though hehe), Kemmerer managed something very few authors, male or female, has actually accomplished – get Gabriel’s emotions to actually come off the page and connect with me.
So now we have Spirit and Hunter, who’s no Gabriel, and you know what? She’s done it again! I don’t know if it’s a challenge switching to a different character, one who isn’t nearly as impulsive, one who has different problems and issues of his own, more of a silent and bear it kind of guy if you will, but I think Kemmerer has done a really good job creating a different character who, in his own way, is just as equally capable of showing that mix of frustration and weariness that makes Gabriel so relatable. Another part of it too is the source of Hunter’s frustration, his parent’s relationship over his dead father’s job as a guide – the stuff with Hunter’s mother was just very well done and added a huge chunk to Hunter’s character. Getting Gabriel right could’ve been a one off thing, but to do it again with a totally different character? That takes talent.
Now, as for the complaints about the plot, I really can’t help there. Spirit follows the same basic formula as Spark and Storm with a girl of course, this time Kate Sullivan, being in pretty much the same situation as Becca and Layne before her. Like with Hunter, I have to give Kemmerer props for making Kate as different a character from Becca and Layne as Hunter is from Chris and Gabriel; I’m mean, she’s really feisty and no nonsense and I sure hope all the girls I know don’t learn how to use car keys like she does, but even though she has an agenda, so to speak, unlike Becca and Layne, the plot, or basically the lack of one, means a lot of the book goes through same motions between Hunter and Kate as with Gabriel and Layne or Chris and Becca. There are a couple of villains, Calla returns with more of the same harebrained scheme to bring death on all the elementals and a new Guide tries to kill them all, but the general plot does remind me of a rehash of what happened in Storm with Becca’s father, except with one very surprising, very gutsy twist.
That said, as I’ve made pretty clear, I’m not in this for the plot. I think Kemmerer’s got a good thing going just doing character based books, so although I would appreciate, I don’t know, something happening, more of a overall story arc, whatever, it’s not a deal breaker for me. I happen to really like Kemmerer just focusing on one character, fully fleshing him out over the course of the book, adding events, details, back story, a female foil, the whole works in a sort of get to know him deal, and tossing in some neat connections with the characters of the previous books, you know, the bread and butter of a character based book. This time, it’s sort of big brother deal between Hunter and Michael, and although I didn’t buy Michael’s explanation for why all the Merricks ended up in a hotel – that was way too convenient, it’s still great to see another sequel where the characters actually interact with each other like people.
Would I be surprised if the next book had more of a plot than these last three? Absolutely. But would I read it even if it didn’t? Absolutely.