Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book review: Unleashed (Wolf Spring chronicles #1)

... because small towns always have secrets waiting to be discovered.

Unleashed by Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie (Doubleday)
It's been quite a while since I've read a YA book about werewolves, so I wasn't really sure what to expect when I received a copy of Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie's Unleashed.

The concept behind the novel is surely something we've all come across (in one form or another) before.  

And while this in itself is not an issue, it does make the book a bit of a hard sell, as the synopsis doesn't give away much and suggests that there's nothing out of the ordinary about it.

Still, I decided to give it a go and found that, while I did have some issues with the book, I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

When we first meet Katelyn McBride, we're introduced to a still grieving young girl, who, after losing her mother in an earthquake, is uprooted and sent to a small town in Arkansas, to live with her grandfather.

The village she's sent to is little more than a town that is completely off the radar, with many a hidden secret or two. As she slowly starts to adjust and make new friends (including drawing the attention of two irresistibly good-looking boys), Kat quickly comes to realise that life may not be so bad.

However, when strange things start happening, Katelyn can't help but feel that there's more to the remote little town than first impressions led her to believe. 

When she gets to know the Fenner family (including the irresistible and highly unavailable Justin), she discovers that the family is more than your average small town family.

Between learning more about them and the town's mysterious history, Katelyn will find herself immersed into a world of unsettling truths and terrifying secrets; secrets that will change her in ways that she'd never have imagined.

My thoughts:

Again, while there is nothing that I'd consider unique about Unleashed, the book is actually not a bad read.  In fact, this read kept me engaged enough that, at the end of the day, cliff hanger aside, I'd definitely give the second book in this series a chance.

One of the aspects I really loved about this novel, is Nancy & Debbie's writing.

I've never read a co-authored book before, and wasn't entirely sure whether the writing would work in terms of book flow.

When I started reading though, that fear was quickly put to rest as not only did the writing stream together seamlessly, but I could barely tell that it was written by two authors, instead of one.

The style and prose are effortlessly beautiful and have a way of engaging the reader for the most part.

There were times that I felt as if there was a lag that resulted in the novel lulling along at a slow pace, but I think that may have more to do with the fact that there were unnecessary plot hole fillers which detracted from the book, than with the actual writing.

As for the characters?

Kat is a likeable enough character. She really is.

One can't help but sympathise with her really. She's just lost her mom, and had to make a few sacrifices and be uprooted in order to move from a city she loves, to a small town that's barely on anyone's radar.

But, like the small town, she, for the most part, is not a very memorable character. In fact I suspect that the reason that I've been struggling with this review is because half of what I've read about her and what happens to her in the book, didn't stick with me for very long.

Still for the most part, I was championing for her and was glad to see her coming to accept living with her grandfather. 

Her relationship with her grandfather was portrayed in a very realistic manner, starting off with in a rather uneasy and strained fashion and steadily growing and settling into a more relaxed vibe between the two.

Of course, what interested me the most were her interactions with Trick, and the Fenner cousins, Cordelia and Justin.

At this point I can say that, with his easy charm and charismatic persona, Trick is definitely a person of interest to me. I get the feeling, that for all of his easy-going ways, there's something about him that makes me think that there's a lot more to him than meets the eye.

Cordelia and Justin Fenner, with their family history, prove to be equally interesting. Between Cordelia's confusing treatment of Katelyn (one moment she's all sweetness, and the next she behaves like a total stranger wary of trusting anyone) and bad boy Justin's undeniable interest in her, Katelyn's hands are more than a little full.
The politics of Cordelia's family was something that also added a certain amount of intrigue to the novel, and between rivalry for affections and resentment within the family, I'm sure we'll be reading more about them in book two.

The paranormal element of Unleashed and the history behind it do make for some intriguing reading, but I felt as if it wasn't covered enough to give the book the extra oomph it needed to make it completely gripping. The werewolf lore is nothing new to me and for me, there were far too few moments that featured any wolves.

Still, I suspect that considering this is the first book, we'll probably find out more about the wolves and their history in the next novel. The other thing that will ensure that you'll be interested in reading the next book is the cliff hanger with which it ends with.

While I admit to not being surprised by the events, the added mystery about just how different Katelyn really is, definitely intrigues me to the point that I want to find out just who and what was involved in what happened to her.

With so many unanswered questions and hidden secrets, Unleashed, for the most part, makes for an intriguing read. It's certainly worth giving a try!  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Book review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
The doors of  Daughter of Smoke and Bone lead to an explosively imaginative and artistically crafted tale that deals in magic, wish mongers and an otherworld simply known as Elsewhere.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Hodder & Stoughton)
The moment I heard about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I just knew it would be something special.

In the months leading up to the book's release, there's been a massive amount of hype behind it.

Normally I go out of my way to ignore hyped-up books, but when I read the synopsis of the book, even I couldn't help but be swept up in the frenzy that this book has created. When I saw the various book trailers for the book, I fell even deeper in love.

And boy, does this book live up to the hype or what?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone has got to be one of the most beautifully written paranormal fantasy novels I've read in a long time. In fact, it's such an incredible read, that no amount of words I could conjure for this book review, will ever be able to describe just how incredible this book is.

Everything about this book drew me in.

The concept, the settings (oh, the settings are beyond magnificent), the characters and the romance.

It's a book that is truly and entirely in a league of its own and one that had me gushing in wonder at the sheer fantasticalness of it all.

Let me try to explain.

The first book in a trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone tells the story of 17-year old Karou, an art student who lives in Prague. 

Seemingly normal (apart from her bright blue hair, which grows from the root), most people don't realise that she lives her life with one foot in the human world, and another foot in a realm where monsters and mythical creatures (known as chimaera) reside.

It's in this world where she spends most of her time running errands for a mysterious creature, simply known as Brimstone. Between buying and collecting teeth from grave robbers and murderers to hunters and other unsavoury characters, Karou can't help but wonder just how she ended up in the Elsewhere world that she lives in.

Tormented by the knowledge that she has no real identity or past to speak of, Karou's search for answers lead her to a world where the seraph (the angels) and other chimaera-like creatures have been engaged in a bloody war for eons.

Along the way, she'll discover that love can develop across enemy lines, uncover the secret behind the wishbone that Brimstone refuses to allow her to touch, and learn that she may be more than just human.

I'm only going to say this once:

If you are only going to read one book this year, make sure that it's Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I envy many writers their talent, but there are few authors whose books I wish I had written myself.

This novel?

It falls in both categories.

I believe that the power and tremendous accomplishment of this book lies in the fact that Laini Taylor's writing is so beautiful, so vivid and so full of phantasmagorical imagery, that it could make any person whose feet are firmly grounded in reality, believe in the world of Elsewhere that she's created.

Her prose is incredibly sensual and very dreamlike, and the world she builds within the book, is nothing short of spellbinding.

Filled with plenty of mystery, dark magic and secrets, the settings jump seamlessly from country to country, and one realm to another - making you wish you could travel to every single place she describes.

Think in terms of dealing in wishes and of leaping through doors that take you anywhere you want to go, but which always lead back to one place.

Envision beautiful angels and gothic restaurants, while simultaneously trawling through the blanketed-with-snow streets of Prague.

Read all about art, grave robbers, and the colourful streets of Morocco (amongst other fantastical descriptions of other countries).

But mostly, think about the girl with bright blue hair and the boy with amber eyes; both who come from two opposing worlds, forbidden, but destined to love each other.

Karou, with her blue hair is an interesting character. She's incredibly self-sufficient, independent and streetwise.

 I love characters that are artistic, and Karou, with her flair for drawing the exotic and unusual, really had me rooting for her from the start.  The fact that everyone who knew a little about her past, refused to tell her, only made her more interesting of a mystery to me.

Things become really interesting when she has a run in with the Angel warrior, Akiva, whose intense amber eyes instantly intrigue her, even though every single one of her senses are on instant alert.

What follows is a slow-building and smouldering romance that may have its roots steeped in the past, and may lead to the unveiling of secrets that could lead to the beginning of something much bigger than Karou could have foreseen. 

Add dynamic and interesting characters (Karou's really one of a kind), blisteringly hot romance (Akiva the angel warrior is both fearsome and awesome, and his story is as interesting as Karous) and an intriguing plot line and you have one of the most absorbing and gorgeously written books ever.

I can't wait for Days of Blood and Starlight, the next book in the trilogy.

My final thoughts? Some books aren't just meant to be read. They're meant to be experienced.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one such book. Get yourself a copy now.

You won't regret it; I promise.

Note: An edited version of this review appears on the Women24 website.    

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book review: What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye
A young girl's journey to discovering that home is not just a place, but it's something that is carried with you wherever you go, no matter where you are.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (Razor Bill)
So let me start out by saying that I've tried reading a Sarah Dessen novel before.

However, I remember thinking at the time, that Under Lock and Key was just not my kind of book... even though I was only a few chapters in.

I then found myself putting the book down and decided that, at that point in time, it just wasn't meant to be read.

Some books are just not now kind of books, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I did find myself feeling rather disappointed with myself though.

You see, I've heard a lot of fantastic things about Sarah Dessen's books and having never read any of her novels, I really wanted to see what everyone else was raving about.

So I decided, if Under Lock and Key was a book that wasn't meant to be read at that particular moment, then maybe What Happened to Goodbye was.

And you know what?

It turns out that I was right (I love those kind of moments and feelings one has about a specific books, don't you?).

After a few chapters in, I fell in love with What Happened to Goodbye. You know why?

Because Sarah Dessen's writing is the kind of writing that invites you into an inner sanctuary; making you feel that same feeling of coming home from a long and arduous journey.

There's something so understated and welcoming about her writing, that it makes you feel like you're stepping into a familiar place; one that provides you with more than enough shelter after life has decided to rough you up just a little.

And that is, essentially what I've experienced while I was reading this book. And it's because of this that I know that I'll come back to her writing over and over again.

After the dreadful and highly publicised details of her mother's scandalous affair, 17-year old McLean Sweet opts to hit the road with her father; travelling with him from place to place, but never really settling down.

Constantly reinventing herself, she changes her identity wherever she goes, preferring to leave the girl she used to know behind and ready to pack up and leave at the next moment's notice.

Every place she's ever gone, she's always been a different person. From being Eliza, to Lizbet and Beth, each girl she plays is a far cry from everyone she's ever been.

So, when she and her father arrive at the next town where her dad is slated to turn a restaurant business around (just one of the reasons they travel so much), McLean, finds to her surprise, a place that feels like a new kind of home.

And all in an instant, she's McLean again. 

When she meets her next door neighbour Dave and makes friends who feel like they're the truest friends she's ever had, Mclean will have to decide whether or not she's finally done reinventing herself and whether or not, she may have found a place she could finally call home again.

What Happened to Goodbye is a book that really, really surprised me.

I went into this book, thinking it would be a light-hearted take on a girl who meets a boy who makes her feel like she can be herself again , and came out having read about all that and so much more.

Sarah Dessen has this wonderful way of drawing you into the lives of her characters in such a slow, measured and self-assured manner, that it's not even a question of if you'll love the characters, but a certainty.

In McLean, we've got a young girl who is incredibly self-sufficient and believes in only living in the moment.

With them travelling so much, and following the scandal of her mother's affair, she's highly protective towards her father and harbours a lot of angry, hurt and bitterly unresolved feelings towards her mother (who is happily married to the new man).

For all of this though, you can't help but instantly take a liking to her. In her, Sarah has created a girl with an incredibly real and relatable voice. Throughout the novel, I simply had to root for her.

I could understand her anger towards her mother and found myself sharing the same hurt and resentment towards her. I liked her for just being the character she was, even though at first, she tried to keep so many of the people in her life, at a distance.

Most of all, I felt for her because reinventing herself has always seemed to her, like the only way she could put everything behind her.

There's a poignancy to this novel that again, caught me off-guard. Because here's the thing. In getting to know Mclean, we also get to know her parents. Her father is an all-round great father, but it's her mother who we as readers get a real deep glimpse into.

Let me say this. Her mother, for the most part, is someone that we as readers, won't have a lot of sympathy for. She never explains the reasons for her affair, tries to force McLean to see her (through court threats) and doesn't understand why Mclean seems to be pushing her away.

Yet, when Mclean gets to a point where she finally acknowledges just how hard her parents' divorce have been on her, things take an interesting turn and we get to see, that perhaps her mother may not be all that bad after all.

And that's where the crux of this story lies. What happened to Goodbye is not just a story of romance, but it's about family, new beginnings and coming to terms with things in your past that you, or your family cannot change.

It's a novel about coming full circle and learning that home is not a place rooted in one place, but one wherever your heart is. And Mclean, will find that in Dave (the sweet genius next door), her new, zany friends and in her parents.

The romance in this novel definitely takes a bit of a backseat, but when it does happen, the moment is quite sweet, and for Mclean, like coming home. And normally, I'm not a fan of this slower-than-slow kind of romance, but it works perfectly in What Happened to Goodbye.

I'm so glad I read this book. I can't imagine why it took me this long to get around to reading a Sarah Dessen novel. I finally get what all the fuss is about.

Do yourselves a favour and read her. As the tagline in her book says: "Read her once and fall in love."

And that, dear readers, about sums it up.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
An irresistibly charming read that seeps into your skin and explores what happens when two people meet by chance.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (Headline)
I have a confession to make.

I sometimes choose books based on how beautiful, quirky or unique their titles are. 

Of course, my experiences based on doing this, has not always produced the kind of reading experience that I've wanted; but, I suppose that goes with the territory when one is given to bouts of spontaneity.

Having said that, when I first came across The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, the romantic within me practically squealed with glee. 

What lover of romance could pass up the opportunity to read a book that explores the age old question of whether or not it's possible to feel an instant connection and fall in love with someone within the space of 24 hours? 

It turns out, that I definitely lucked out in choosing a book based on its title this time around, because The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is an utter delight to read. What's more is that it's a book that is, surprisingly, more layered and complex than it suggests.

The story kicks off when we meet seventeen year-old Hadley Sullivan.

Not happy (resentful would be more accurate a description here) about having to fly to London to attend her father's wedding to a woman she's never met, but only chatted to via e-mail,  she quickly ends up being stuck at the airport when she misses her flight.

Stuck and feeling claustrophobic amongst the masses of people while waiting for the next available flight, she meets a boy named Oliver, who just so happens to be cute and British. Even better? He's on her new flight to London.

What follows is a 24-hour period in which dreams are shared, secrets spilled, intriguing conversations are held and the knowledge that just maybe a connection has been formed that will challenge everything that Hadley and Oliver have previously believed about love.

I think that the charm in this novel lies in the fact that the book doesn't rely on descriptions of instant attraction between the protagonists of the story.

Rather,  it's a subtle journey of two characters who simply meet by chance; each with their own hidden stories, heartbreaks and reasons for being on their way to a destination neither of them are quite looking forward to.

Hadley is an interesting and complex character.

When we first meet her, we're presented with a young girl who is filled with an incredible amount of anger towards her father.

Being forced to attend a wedding she has no desire to, Hadley struggles to reconcile with the idea that her father has fallen in love with someone from a different continent, while she and her mother are no longer part of what she's always thought of as the perfect family unit.

Her pain and bitterness are incredibly real and poignant. In fact, throughout most of the novel, I found myself just as angry with her father as she was.

From the descriptions of how she found out about her father's new relationship, to the point where she caved into being a bridesmaid to a woman she's only gotten to know via e-mail, her emotional state of being are portrayed in such a realistic manner, that you can't help but relate to her.

When Oliver comes into the picture, we immediately get the sense that there's a subtle change; a shifting of some sort, that's about to take place.

With his British accent, cute lankiness and dry wit, he quickly manages to get Hadley to lower her guard and to share her thoughts on life, love and everything in-between.

Their romance is not one that's based on heated glances, sexy innuendos or electrifying touches, but  rather, is more the slow, comfortable coming together of two people who feel as if they've known each other a lifetime.

It's a connection that grows into itself and one that is more of a glow than a blazing fire.  Now I'm normally not a fan of this kind of romance, but I think, given all the underlying issues that both Hadley and Oliver had to deal with, in this instance, it actually works very well.

I have to admit that I was wondering just how Jennifer Smith would manage to get the two together after each of them needed to go their separate ways, but surprisingly she managed to do so in a way that I didn't quite expect.

All in all, this book was a charmer of a read and one that managed to seep into my veins in a way that I didn't expect.

The highlight of this novel is how, through her own experiences with Oliver, she comes full circle into accepting her father's love for another woman.

The lessons she learns and her perception of love are challenged throughout the book and shows that love has the most unexpected way of creeping into your heart when you least expect it to. 

Do yourself a favour and pick it up. It's a very sweet read.