Review: Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

Publisher: Pocket Books/MTV Books
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 245 (paperback)
Release Date: 17 March 2009
Source: Library.
Rating:4 out of 5 stars.

Blurb (from Goodreads.com)

HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO?

All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far…and almost doesn’t make it back.

John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won’t soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won’t be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge — and over….

Review (full review posted on Goodreads.com)

I can’t for the life of me come up with any good reason for why this book is 4 stars and not 5 stars. Normally five stars for me are rated for books that have a huge emotional impact or connection, or challenge me (or are just plain and simply awesome, or I read in my childhood and I’m totally nostalgic for). I didn’t really have an emotional connection but this book did have an emotional impact on me, because I cried in one particular part near the climax. Still, if you ask me what you could change about this book to make it 5 stars, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I really liked it, to me it just wasn’t amazing. However, I would recommend it to romance readers and people who love contemporary YA.

And I think it’s a really beautiful novel about two damaged people learning to love and overcome their fears. The romance developed nicely and despite Meg’s age (17) it was totally believable.

And I totally love Meg’s attitude. She’s not a bitch, just a rebel with no cause and no fear. John was a giant sweetheart and a total hottie (I don’t often find literary characters hot but Echols’ descriptions were really great, and I got sucked in to Meg’s head to see the attraction) but there was something about him that made me feel that he was a tiny bit manipulative. Maybe it was his protectiveness and his need to CONTROL ALL THE SITUATIONS but he seemed to manipulate Meg a bit, especially physically which is so NOT okay especially as he’s this huge cop and she’s this tiny teenager.

Well sure, the entire plot revolves around John’s decision to make Meg ride along with him. And I secretly have a thing for Gothic novels, which abhors the feminist side of me, because the I’d hate to be in the same position myself but there’s a reason Belle from Beauty and the Beast was my favourite Disney princess for many years. I like reading about strong girls trapped in an environment with an older dude who has a position of power over her. Don’t do that to me in real life, but I kind of like it in my entertainment. It’s my guilty pleasure. That’s why I liked The Castle of OtrantoNorthanger Abbey, and Jane Eyre.

Going Too Far isn’t a Gothic novel, but it does have the basics of one. Meg often wonders if she’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome because she’s being forced to spend time with Officer Hottie.

The novel was written okay. I had some issues with the text, mostly because I think they might have been speaking in slang sometimes and I’m not from America, and sometimes the dialogue was ambiguous and vague so it took me a few pages to realise what they were talking about. But I’m clever enough to work it out in the end, and maybe that’s what matters.

Pretty much the only problem I had with the book was at the end when Meg decided to dye her blue hair back to brunette. I understand why she did it – because the blue dye represented her fight with cancer, and accepting that it was over meant going back to a normal colour. But to me it looks like the shrew has been tamed – that the wild child has settled down. I know characters have to change over the course of novels but I would have liked it if she dyed it a colour that wasn’t her natural colour: blonde, or auburn, or even green. The dye represents a change in her attitude but the colour delivers the message to the reader.

If you like contemporary YA romances you’ll probably love this.

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Review: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

Publisher: Fiewel & Friends
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 387 (hardcover)
Release Date: January 3 2012
Source: Purchased.
Rating:4 out of 5 stars.

Blurb (from Amazon.co.uk)

A forbidden romance.

A deadly plague.

Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…

CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.

This is not the fairytale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.

Review (full review posted on Goodreads.com)

I was looking forward to reading this book, but it’s even better than the blurb makes it sound. It’s better than I expected it to be.

I don’t normally like retellings, because most of them aren’t very original. How can you be original, when you’re basically re-working someone else’s work and passing it off as your own? (*cough*fanfiction*cough*) (I don’t actually have a problem with fanfiction, only fanfiction that then gets published and tries to pass itself off as original fiction.)

But Cinder, to me, is highly original. It’s an interesting book. Half of it is predictable because it’s a re-worked Cinderella myth – so you know there’s going to be a handsome prince, an evil stepmother, and ball and a missing shoe. You know roughly how it’s going to go down. The Cinderella myth is so well recognised that we can put those elements to the back of our minds and start identifying elements that don’t belong. This is where the book becomes predictable: in the foreshadowing.

The original part of the book is in its protagonist, Cinder. She’s a cyborg, in case the cover and blurb didn’t clue you in. I have a not-so-secret confession: I FREAKING LOVE CYBORGS. I love the whole question of whether the transformation is voluntary or not and how one comes to terms with that. Cinder struggles with her identity all throughout the novel. She struggles with a past she doesn’t remember and a future she doesn’t want. I loved reading about her. Normally I don’t like books written in third person POV – I feel more intimate and involved in first person. And I admit, the point of view changes did at first make me suspicious. They are necessary, of course: it’s limited POV from Cinder, and when Cinder’s not there to make an observation we still need to know what’s going on. It’s well handled, and although at first I felt a bit jerked around, I soon adjusted and got on with enjoying the story.

Enjoying the story is really what it’s all about. Forget how predictable it is –it is really only predictable because of foreshadowing – and readers need foreshadowing so authors don’t just suddenly throw the big information out – and you’ll really enjoy how beautiful the prose, the characterisation, the worldbuilding and the originality is. Meyer is a master, and certainly more capable than her more famous name-sharer. She’s taken an age-old fairy story and really made it her own in stunning style.

Prince Kai makes it to my shelf of awesome YA male love interests. He’s so genuine and unassuming. He’s swoon-worthy and, despite being royalty, very realistic. I consider myself a republican, but I’d follow his monarchy any day… That’s not meant to sound as dirty as it does, I mean it quite literally.

The worldbuilding is one of a kind. I even asked a question about something that I should have waited and found out for myself, because it did get addressed. I really enjoyed finding out about this world, and how it came to be, and what the fuck the Lunars were.

My ONE teeny tiny problem with the book is something very small. I like to have emotional reactions to books. When a book makes me cry, you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be a 5 star ratings. I didn’t have the emotional reaction I should have had when something in particular happened to a particular character. I was saddened, yes, even though this was a character I didn’t particularly like. This is because I had grown attached to this character through Cinder. However, in places I laughed out loud, especially when Adri had her stepmother’s comeuppance at the ball.

Did I mention how much I loved Iko? She was surprisingly well-written for an android. I want one!

Back to Cinder! She’s awesome. Did I mention that? I mean… REALLY awesome. She’s totally one of the most capable and independent YA heroines I’ve ever read. She gives as good as she gets, and despite being the Cinderella character, doesn’t weakly let her stepmother walk all over her. Sure, there’s a relationship dynamic that you can’t ignore which often leads to Cinder being less well off, but that’s conflict, right? That’s part of the Cinderella myth. Poor, downtrodden, dressed-in-rags Cinderella goes to the ball and dances with the prince, much to the chagrin of the stepmother.

I am for sure looking forward to the next three books in this series. I want to see how masterfully Meyer handles the other three myths, and how they intertwine with Cinder’s story and the Lunar Chronicles.

Review: Draykon (Draykon #1) by Charlotte E English

Publisher: Charlotte E English
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Pages: 281 pages estimated (ebook)
Release Date: August 31 2011
Source: Purchased.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Blurb (from Amazon.co.uk)

When shy and retiring Llandry Sanfaer discovers a mesmerising new gemstone, she suddenly becomes the most famous jeweller across the Seven Realms. Demand for the coveted stone escalates fast; when people begin dying for it, Llandry finds that she herself has become a target.
Lady Evastany Glostrum has her life in pristine order. Prestigious, powerful and wealthy, she is on the verge of crowning her successes with the perfect marriage. But when her closest friend is murdered for the jewellery she wears, Eva is drawn into the mystery surrounding the curious “istore” gem.
The emergence of the stone is causing chaos across the Seven. Gates between the worlds are opening at will, pulling hordes of creatures through from the shadowy Lower Realm and the glittering Uppers. As Eva works to discover the culprit behind the spreading disorder, Llandry must learn the truth about her precious istore stone – before she herself becomes a victim.

Review (full review posted on Goodreads.com)

Charlotte has an obvious gift for beautiful prose and many a time I caught myself drooling over her wonderfully constructed sentences. Her word choices are elegant. She doesn’t just choose simple words to get the point across, either, but words that are musical and almost seem to jump off the page. Harmonious, that’s what it is. But I didn’t have to crack open my dictionary to discover the meaning of any of the words. It was just nice clean beautiful prose, and ten times better than a lot of legacy books out there. Both the voice and the style have been developed beautifully and executed better than I expected.

Her characterisations are very fine and three dimensional. Often I could feel Eva’s susceptibility to the cold and Llandry’s social anxiety, which were both large parts of the character identification. They even had different voices, which is rare to find in indie fiction. That’s why this book is a gem, people! I loved the way Eva dealt with people and could feel the pressure on her to succeed and be seen to be successful. And there are much worse things than being in Llandry’s head as she suffers and deals with her social anxiety.

I would have liked to know how Llandry developed from the fearless child into the anxious wreck she is as an adult, but Draykon has a sequel, Lokant, and I hope we’ll find out there.
Sigwide was so adorably cute. Charlotte clearly has a gift for writing non-anthropomorphised fantasy animals. I loved reading about him: his reactions all seemed very real and he was just so cute! Where can I get an orting?

The worldbuilding was rather lovely. I’m not sure I have a firm grasp on everything, because it’s unlike anything I’ve read before. A lot of the clearly non-human sentient people were called humans, even when they had wings, for example, so I’m still trying to come to terms with that. I don’t fully understand why there needed to be the land and Cloak divide between the Daylanders and the Darklanders but I imagine it came about as the people grew more aware that they could manipulate their own environment, much like the benefits of electricity for us real-world humans. After all, if you’re a nocturnal creature, what could be better than night all the time? And if you have sorcerers able to do that sort of thing, why not give yourself a natural advantage?

The only thing I will mention that was not perfect (besides the occasional typo – not more so than any legacy published novel, so it’s not an issue, and the ever so slight ‘who said that?’ moment when it came to dialogue) is the fight scenes. They seemed not as perfect as the rest of the prose. Polished, yes, and lovingly written, that much is obvious. It doesn’t in any way let the novel down, but after growing accustomed to Charlotte’s high standard prose, her descriptions which never became overwhelming and were just enough to build the world in my head, her wonderful characterisations and the very real relationships between the characters, the fight scenes by comparison (and remember, everything else was top-notch) seemed a little weak, a little off in pace. Almost like a tuba solo in the middle of a glorious symphony. Perhaps Charlotte is not comfortable writing violence, or not as practiced as her gorgeous political banter, high societal manners, and worldbuilding that I enjoyed reading about so much.

That being said, I need to reiterate that the fight scenes were still of a higher quality than I’ve read in legacy books. They just don’t seem to match the rest of the novel in its perfection.

As for the plot: well, she wasn’t kidding when she billed it as a fantasy mystery. After the appropriate amount of building questions, the revelations were revealed at just the right time. I thought the plot was going one way and it ended up going another way. I also have a suspicious mind so I kept expecting a certain character who shall not be named to be a betrayer, the sort of ‘Ha ha ha, I’ve been playing with you all along’ type thing, but that didn’t happen. The novel seems quite innocent in that regard. Almost everything was neatly wrapped up at the end, with just enough left unanswered to make a sequel appealing.

It’s not a YA book, but it’s a clean read and because of Llandry’s not-quite-grown-up attitude it could be marketed so. I believe a lot of young people would be able to relate to Llandry’s need for independence and her overbearing and overprotective parents wanting to keep her safe.

I’m really looking forward to Lokant, and the third book, Orlind, which was recently released.

Review: Fever (Chemical Gardens #2) by Lauren DeStefano

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Pages: 341 pages (hardcover)
Release Date: February 21 2012
Source: Purchased.
Rating:4 out of 5 stars.

Blurb (from Amazon.co.uk)

For 17-year-old Rhine Ellery, a daring escape from a suffocating polygamous marriage is only the beginning…

Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago – surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.

The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous – and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion…by any means necessary.

Review (full review posted on Goodreads.com)

Fever takes up where Wither left off, with the escape of Rhine and Gabriel from the opulent mansion where she was a Gothic-style prisoner and he was a servant.

And it never bloody slows down.

From the new capture of the couple to their daring escape, to their lonely trek to Manhatten and Rhine’s subsequent recapture, the book – despite about half of it being flashback, pondering, and the delirium of the ‘fever’ the book is named after – the story moves at a breakneck speed that left me breathless. After the first book, Wither, took place over nearly ten months, it was a shock to live so briefly in Rhine’s head again.

I’m pleased to announce I had another big emotional response as well. During the part early-ish on when Rhine, Gabriel, Lilac and Maddie are hiding in the long grass from Madame, and Rhine has a flashback to her Gathering, I swear I felt Rhine’s terror. I’ve never been so scared reading a book in all my life, except when I first read Black Beauty and was convinced the titular character was going to die several times. But hey, I was seven. Cut me some slack.

I loved the way this book developed. This is a sequel to rival its first book. Not exactly better – I still had an issue with the plot. This time it was because Rhine was oh-so-special because she ‘happened’ to look like Madame’s dead daughter, so she got preferential treatment and despite living with prostitutes, was not expected to service customers of her own. I mean, yeah sure, I get that Rhine has to have interesting stuff happen to her but I kept thinking, ‘Oh God, I hope the whole book isn’t about living with Madame, otherwise it’ll be just like the first book.’ Rhine’s special, again, because she looks like the deceased loved one of the most powerful person. Luckily, this didn’t last as long as I thought it would.

The only other issue I had is completely out of DeStefano’s hands. I don’t like how damn big my version of the book is. It’s hard to hold in one hand and read. I love the cover – except for those stupid circles again! It’s making the subtleties of the cover way too obvious, and it annoys me. Kudos to whoever read the book and said, ‘We need the following details,’ but really. I can figure out what the points of interest are just by looking and reading the book. Those circles are stupid and pointless if you’ve not read it, and redundant if you have.

I loved the development of Rhine and Gabriel’s relationship. They’re so realistic to me. They have issues and communication problems just like everyone else. They aren’t perfect: they’re simply two people, bound by a love they haven’t even voiced yet. And Rhine’s got goals beyond just being with Gabriel.

The development of the plot outside of Rhine and Gabriel’s journey was handled pretty subtly. Without spoiling, it’s all coming together for a huge climax in Book 3.

What else can I say about this? I love Lauren’s prose so much that I was swept into the narrative. She has a magical way with words. It’s her literary background, I believe. Everything about the technique is perfect.

I for one am terribly anticipating Book 3. Please, please don’t call it ‘Ever’.

Review: Wither (Chemical Gardens #1) by Lauren DeStefano

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Pages: 358 pages (hardcover)
Release Date: March 22nd 2011
Source: Via the author in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Blurb (from Amazon.co.uk)

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb – males only live to age twenty-five and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape – to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Review (full review posted on Goodreads.com)

Contrary to just about everyone else, I don’t like this cover.

I like the model and her hair and makeup and dress, and I like the set decoration. What I don’t like is those stupid big circles around Rhine’s ring and the bird in the cage. DeStefano started out as a literary writer, and the stupid circles linking Rhine’s marriage to the caged bird is way too obvious for the subtleties of literary novels. I hate those circles. They ruin a gorgeous cover.

Wither is a very atmospheric book, a stifling Gothic tale of a young beauty trapped in a big house with an older gentleman. What makes this different to other Gothic novels is that Rhine is in a polygamous marriage that is linked to slight dodgy worldbuilding in that all women die at age 20 and all men at age 25. So young girls are stolen off the streets and forced into marriages, prostitution, or shot. That part makes no sense to me and is why the book loses half a star. I don’t know DeStefano’s logic in this but surely girls would be a valuable commodity in this weird future, so why on earth would anyone shoot them for not being pretty enough? A breeder is a breeder, a womb is a womb. I can understand the girls being reduced to baby factories but I can’t quite wrap my head around them being disposable. After all, that’s the point of the polygamous marriage. Stick five women and one man together and tell them to breed and in a year you’ll end up with five babies. Stick one women and five men together and in one year you’ll only have one baby. So with the culture revolving around polygamous marriage – namely unwilling polygamous marriage – I just can’t quite understand why rejected girls would be shot.

Some people complain that having the United States as the only country left in the world and the polar ice caps melted as not working either, but I’m of the opinion that Rhine is an unreliable narrator. We as the audience can only know what Rhine knows, and if she’s been taught something – say, that the United States is the only country left in the world as the others have been destroyed by wars – then that’s what she’s going to tell us. Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. So I’m of the belief that Rhine’s wrong.

Apart from the weird worldbuilding, the actual story itself is breathtaking. Like I said, it’s an atmospheric Gothic polygamous marriage tale, and it’s very powerful. It actually caught me by surprise, especially something that happened to one of Rhine’s sister wives. I won’t spoil it, because I found it so emotional that even though I was annoyed that I had to go do normal stuff like eat and sleep and work which interrupted my precious reading time, I willingly put the book down and dissolved into noisy sobs in my partner’s arms. I just… I can’t even. I didn’t even like the character and here I found a huge emotional response.

That’s how I judge books. I judge them on how they make me feel. I feel that Wither was amazing, but the worldbuilding needs half a star knocked off. It made me cry. It make me laugh. I loved the pace and the plot and Rhine’s character. She has a very minor flaw that makes her speshul, but apart from that she’s a caring, manipulative, awesome heroine. She never gives up on what she wants, she never loses sight of it and she goes through a lot to reach her goal. She doesn’t need saving, she has goals that extend beyond becoming someone’s girlfriend. She’s realistic and probably one of my favourite heroines. I loved living in Rhine’s head while all those new relationships developed.

I was very pleased when I read the end and I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Fever.