Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Across the Great Barrier

Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic Book 2)
Patricia C Wrede
339 Pages

Eff is riding west, away from the safety of the frontier city she's always known.... 
Eff could be a powerful magician if she wanted to. Except she's not sure she wants that kind of responsibility. Everyone keeps waiting for her to do something amazing--or to fail in a spectacular way. Worse, her twin brother, Lan, a powerful double seventh son, is jealous of all the attention she's been getting.
Even as Eff protests that she's just an ordinary girl, she's asked to travel past the Barrier Spell with one of the new professors at her father's school. The land west of the Barrier is full of dangers, both magical and wild. Eff will need to use all her strength--magical and otherwise--to come safely back home.
-description taken from goodreads

This review contains no spoilers for this book or the first in the series.

There's an unfortunate trend in trilogies called "The Second Book Slump". Unlike the first installment where the world and characters are fun and new, the second book is often drier and just a stepping stone for the author to get to the finale. Although an experienced author, Wrede falls into this trap with her second in the Frontier Magic series.

For those who haven't read the first in the series (The Thirteenth Child), Patricia Wrede sets up a unique, alternate history of post civil war America where magic is taught in universities and western expansion means contending with dangers such as steam dragons. It's a fantastic world, but the novelty of it wears off  after one volume. In this one I wanted to learn more about Eff, the protagonist who, although possessing a great talent for magic, has had the stigma of being an unlucky thirteenth child following her all her life. Instead of this, I had to sit through about two hundred pages of Wrede listing off various magical plants and animals. There wasn't any real development at all, and all the main action was cornered off into the last quarter.

Although there were parts that should've been suspenseful, but because I had no reason to care about the characters I couldn't get invested in their problems. Reading this book was like drinking a flat soda; there was still some flavor, but all of the fun bubbles from earlier had fizzled out.

I will pick up the final installment, which comes out this August, eventually. I do believe in Wrede's skills as an author, and it's clear from the hints dropped throughout this volume that she's planning something big. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus Book 1)
Rick Riordan
Pages: 553

Jason has problems. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything- except that everything seems very wrong.

Piper has a secret. Her father, a famous actor, has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp-Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too- like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them- including Leo- is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?

~description taken from book jacket

I’m a long time fan of Rick Riordan. I started his Percy Jackson series when it was first released, as proven by my copy of The Lightning Thief which has the hideous first edition cover before the publishing company decided to redesign it. I’m happy to say that the first installment of The Heroes of Olympus is just as good as the Percy Jackson books, if not better.

Before I start, I should give a caveat to readers- it’s probably not a good idea to start this series unless you’ve read the Percy Jackson books first. A ton of names and plot points from the Percy Jackson series are mentioned in quick succession at the start of The Lost Hero. Even as someone’s who’s read them but hasn’t picked them up in a couple of years, it was confusing. It’s definitely still possible to thoroughly enjoy The Lost Hero without this background, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Lost Hero alternates between the three new characters Jason, Piper and Leo. Each one is given two chapters and then the point of view switches to the next in line. Riordan doesn’t deviate from this pattern, which causes some problems in the first half of the book. For example, events from Jason’s sections will be recapped in Piper’s. Then Piper’s experience will be told again in Leo’s chapters. For a large chunk of the book I felt like I was just rereading the same thing over and over again, and it could have been fixed with some editing. Considering this book is exceedingly lengthy these passages would not have been missed. However, Riordan picks up his stride later on and this problem dissolves by the second half.

One thing I love about Riordan’s books is that he fills them with memorable, quirky characters. Normally when I read books that rotate narrators I find that I attach to one more easily than the others and often want to skip to that character’s next chapter. In this case, I loved all of them. I’m especially happy that the author included a female narrator in a series marketed predominantly towards boys. Riordan has always creating strong, smart female characters in his books, but writing about one in the first person takes it one step further. I’m sure a lot of middle school girls will be happy to read the story from Piper’s own perspective rather than just experiencing her through a boy’s eyes.

The Lost Hero is a fantastic start into a new series, and I’ll be first in line when the sequel comes out in October!

4/5 Stars

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme held by Breaking the Spine.

This week I'm waiting for Lola and the Boy Next Door!

For budding costume designer Lola Nolan, the more outrageous, the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins move back into the house next door.

When the family returns and Cricket—a gifted inventor and engineer—steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

~description taken from goodreads

I finally got around to reading Anna and the French Kiss a week ago and I'm already craving more! NEED IT NOW. RAWR.

Review: Clarity

Kim Harrington
Pages: 242

When you can see things others can't, where do you look for the truth?

This paranormal murder mystery will have teens reading on the edge of their seats.

Clarity "Clare" Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It's a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare's ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case--but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare's brother--who has supernatural gifts of his own--becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

~description taken from goodreads

Normally I don't pick up mysteries, so Clarity was a bit of a whim. Overall it makes for a nice afternoon read- perfect to bring to the beach or, for those wary of the ozone layers, to cozy up with on a comfy armchair.

Clarity is short and sweet, a trait that's refreshing in the sea of increasingly lengthy YA installments. Harrington dives right into the story and keeps the pace running quickly. We're told upfront that Clare and her family all have paranormal abilities that they use to attract business from tourists, but they make Clare an outcast at school. However, Clare is soon recruited by her town's new detective to help figure out the culprit behind a recent murder. Along the way Clare has -cross that- GETS to deal with two romantic interests, the detective's son and her ex boyfriend.

Since I'm not a big mystery person I was surprised at how easily I figured out the ending of this book. For something advertised as a 'whodunnit' I expected a larger twist. However, Clarity has enough going for it that this doesn't really matter. Kim Harrington writes immediately likable characters. It's easy to fall into Clare's story and empathize with her. This goes as well for all the secondary characters. I found myself loving Clare's eccentric mother and wished there had been more scenes with her. The only problem is the two boys in the story are both so well developed that I don't know which one I'm rooting for!

I'm not sure what genre I'd peg Clarity down as. It's advertised as a paranormal mystery, but it seems more of a romance than anything else. This isn't a problem per se, but it's deceptive in the marketing. It means a lot of people might come into Clarity expecting one thing, and then getting another and being disappointed (which would explain some of the negative reviews on goodreads). It's a shame, because Clarity is a really fun book. I know I'll be looking out for the sequel when it comes around!

3.5 Stars

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review: Sing Me to Sleep

Sing Me to Sleep
Angela Morrison
Pages: 320


Beth has always been “The Beast”—that's what everyone at school calls her because of her awkward height, facial scars, and thick glasses. Beth's only friend is geeky, golden-haired Scott. That is, until she's selected to be her choir's soprano soloist, and receives the makeover that will change her life forever.


When Beth's choir travels to Switzerland, she meets Derek: pale, brooding, totally dreamy. Derek's untethered passion—for music, and for Beth—leaves her breathless. Because in Derek's eyes? She's not The Beast, she's The Beauty.


When Beth comes home, Scott, her best friend in the world, makes a confession that leaves her completely torn. Should she stand by sweet, steady Scott or follow the dangerous, intense new feelings she has for Derek?


The closer Beth gets to Derek, the further away he seems. Then Beth discovers that Derek's been hiding a dark secret from her …one that could shatter everything.

I just couldn't finish it. Even though Beth spent pages and pages complaining about girls becoming pretty too easily in movies, her 'transformation' was pretty dull. A new haircut, lasik and getting rid of acne scars are not major procedures nowadays. The fact that Beth went from 'scaring small children' to 'supermodel gorgeous' without any major plastic surgery was unbelievable to the point of outright stupidity. I mean, the classmates that used to taunt her didn't recognize her without her thick glasses? I just can't suspend my disbelief that far.

Gaping plot holes aside, I found Beth entirely unbearable as a narrator. She spends all of her time lamenting over her looks, which might be why she's doesn't notice all the boys who take an interest in her. I'm sick of authors who think it's charming for a protagonist not to recognize obvious flirtation. It just makes the narrator seem all the more stupid and drags the book on for an extra hundred pages.

I didn't get far enough to get into the real romantic turmoil of the story, but I'm going to presume that if I'm not interested in either of the suitors after 200 pages of a 320 page book, I'm not going to be.

All this said, Sing Me to Sleep is not the worst I've ever read. I can see where some might find appeal, especially if they don't share my pet peeves. However, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone and won't be reading anything else by this author.

The one star rating is automatic for every book I can't bring myself to finish but read more than half of.