Monthly Archives: January 2012

Book Review: Hallowed

Hallowed
By Cynthia Hand
HarperTeen
Hardcover
Author’s Website
Hardcover | Kindle

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought.

Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

HOLLI’S REVIEW:

Cynthia Hand landed herself amongst some of my favorite Debut authors with 2011’s release of Unearthly. So needless to say, I didn’t have to be persuaded to show up at the store the day of Hallowed’s release. On a whole it was well worth the wait, though I will admit that there were a few things I had hoped to have figured out during the second installment. Alas, it will be another long year of eager anticipation!

Plot: 10

While struggling to overcome the humiliation of her failed assignment, Clara receives a new vision. One which only adds to the confusion of what exactly her purpose is supposed to be. As Clara tries to put together the pieces of an uncertain future, her life begins to spiral out of control.  Torn between her heart and her destiny, she learns that sometimes things aren’t always as they seem. As the story unfolds, and the vision is made clear, her previous worries seem to pale in comparison to what she must now face. Not only will she lose someone she desperately depends on, but her entire life story gets re-written. Suddenly the significance of who she is and the danger that comes along with it, changes everything.

Characters: 8

Let’s face it. Clara isn’t very good at interpreting her visions. She over analyses, and allows her heart to rule her choices. Ultimately, it ends up affecting more than just her purpose. But can you blame her? I know if I had a boyfriend as amazing as Tucker, I would have a difficult time not allowing my heart to get in the way too. I don’t agree with most of the choices she made, but come on, the girl was hit from all sides in this book! I don’t know how she functioned through a lot of what she had to process. I don’t think I could have been half as strong.  It was a very emotional ride.

Jeffery irritated me this go round. Many times I felt like whipping him up a Prozac smoothy. It wasn’t until late in the book that I understood his anger. I’m a bit fearful of his future. His “free will” was so easily persuaded, he has zero discernment, and with all that built up anger towards his sister… Well, let’s just say it’s not looking good.

Tucker or Christian… Christian or Tucker? I know I don’t have to tell you how difficult love triangles are… But this one is nuts! It’s not like one of the boys is total bad news, and the other a saint. Tucker and Christian are polar opposites of two kinds of awesomesauce.  – Insert pained expression here –

Tucker is as adorable as always. Being that I am southern girl, there is nothing more irresistible than a good ol’ fashioned Cowboy who knows how to treat his girl. Tucker is simply put, irresistible. There was only one small disappointment with Tuck in this book, and that was his awkwardness towards Clara during a life changing event. I can’t say much more without sharing spoilers.

Christian won me over.  He could always be counted on to be there.  He was Clara’s silent support, just an “eve” away. ;) I do admit that he has an unfair advantage with his ability to tap into her thoughts. If Tucker had the advantage of the connections Christian and Clara share, we wouldn’t even have a love triangle. Still, Christian is a doll in my book and I have to admit, as much as I adore Tucker, Christian has won my vote.

Finally, I have to mention Clara’s parents.  Her father makes his debut as one of the many twists in this book.  Not only is he every little girls dream of a father, but the love between him and her mother brings warm and fuzzies to a whole new level.  I just love them!

Setting: 10

What a beautiful place to create your literary world. The majestic mountain view, the Aspen Pines, the sky slopes, fishing, farms; you have a little bit of everything in Wyoming. Makes you ask yourself why anyone would want to live anywhere else? You get a perfect sense of peace in this setting and Cynthia describes it beautifully.

Pacing: 7

This is where I had issues. I had hoped to see more time devoted to figuring out Clara’s purpose.  At the end of the day, I just don’t felt like I got anywhere. Though a lot of unexpected events took place, I was still left feeling confused, thinking, where is this story taking me? We are no closer to finding out Clara’s purpose then we are to figuring out who she is going to end up with. On the upside, there were more twists, turns, and sweet spots in this story then a twisler stick wrapped up like a pretzel! Ultimately, it was those unexpected events that propelled me through the story. Knowing her true identity and the danger involved in who she really is, at least sets us up to finding the answers in the upcoming sequel.

Style: 10

Cynthia is every visual person’s dream for an author. She balances her writing well, and gives just the right amount of detail, suspense and humor to her stories. I had no issues connecting with the characters, experiencing every emotion they experienced, or to see everything that they saw. Cynthia’s writing style is beautiful, which is why she is among my favorite authors.

Regardless of my frustration with the pacing of Clara’s purpose, I highly recommend that you read this book. If you loved Unearthly, you will undoubtedly love, Hallowed.  I was so utterly wrapped up in the story that I simply could not find a place to lay it down.  Needless to say, I shed more than just a few tears.  What an emotional journey this was!  I will be among many who are eagerly awaiting book three!

Grade: 95

Top Ten Tuesday (2) – Books for Book Clubs

Top Ten Books I Think Would Make Great Book Club Picks

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we were asked to list books that we think would make for good discussion in a book club. These are my picks:

10. Left Neglected - By Lisa Genova – Sarah Nickerson, like any other working mom, is busy trying to have it all. One morning while racing to work and distracted by her cell phone, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In that blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled life come to a screeching halt. After a brain injury steals her awareness of everything on her left side, Sarah must retrain her mind to perceive the world as a whole. In so doing, she also learns how to pay attention to the people and parts of her life that matter most. While not a young adult read, this novel could still be a valuable read to anyone 13 and older. Much of the subject matter and themes would lend themselves to discussion, including what would you do if one half of your world just… disappeared? Also consider, Still Alice.

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - By Jonathan Safran Foer - Meet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist, correspondent with Stephen Hawking and Ringo Starr. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. One can discuss family legacy, loss, interpersonal relationships and fulfilling expectations with this novel. Or it’s a good novel to use to reflect back on 9/11. In my opinion, it is appropriate for teens and is a must read. Note: There are some (innocent and brief) sexual thoughts of a much-too-mature nine year old boy described in this novel. It is still appropriate for 13 and up.

8. Before I Fall - By Lauren Oliver - What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life? Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last. Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing. Discussion: What would you do if you only had one day to live?

7. Gone - By Michael Grant - In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE. Except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not one single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else… Discussion would be fairly similar to that of The Lord of the Flies. You could also discuss what kind of super powers you would want to have and if those powers would have the ability to corrupt you or those around you.

6. The Hunger Games - By Suzanne Collins - In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister Primrose, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love. This is the current “hot pick” out there. Who doesn’t want to discuss it among the teen crowd?

5. Cinder - By Marissa Meyer - Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . .  Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. I want to talk about this book, so why not in a book club? Topics such as  class lines and the rising fear that is driven by the media could be discussed.

4. Flowers for Algernon - By Daniel Keyes - With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie? An American classic that inspired the award-winning movie Charly. I would focus discussion among teens on the way our society reacts to those who are mentally challenged. The “going from the cave into the sun” analogy also comes to mind when reading this book.

3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - By Maya Angelou - Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age–and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned. Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a modern American classic that will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read. I read this book in school, and even into adulthood it has left an lasting impression on me. It opens itself up to all areas of discussion.

2. Ender’s Game - By Orson Scott Card - In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is. The king of dystopian novels, Ender’s Game allows for discussion on war, the manners in which young people interact with each other in close quarters and the similarities between the community in the book and our current society.

1. The Fault in Our Stars - By John Green - Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind. This title may only be appropriate for very deep discussion. Warning: tissues are definitely in order for this Book Club meeting. Read our review here.

Book Review: Life on the Edge

Life on the Edge
By Jennifer Comeaux
January 3, 2012
Astraea Press
Author’s Website
Paperback | Kindle

Life on the Edge is about a young, talented figure skater named Emily. Up until the beginning of the book Emily has been a solo artist but has recently been convinced to take on a partner. With a partner comes a new routine and with a new routine comes a new coach. Emily’s dream is for her and her partner to be the first American skating duet to win a gold medal in the Olympics. Through hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance Emily and her partner are well on their way to achieving that goal. However, there is one thing that is standing in their way – Emily’s heart. Emily’s and her partner’s new coach is Sergei, an attractive yet mysterious man from Russia. Formerly a world famous skater turned coach at a very young age. No matter how much they try to deny it, Sergei and Emily cannot deny their feelings for one another. A coach dating a student is highly frowned upon in the Federation. Will Sergei be suspended from coaching? Will Emily’s dream of going to the Olympics be ruined? Can Sergei and Emily bear to stay away from each other?

JEN’S REVIEW

I discovered this book through Goodreads and took a shot in the dark with purchasing it. I didn’t know what to expect. I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

Plot: 10

Although the concept of “forbidden love” is not uncommon, Comeaux’s interpretation is very unique. There are very few ice skating novels, and to have the forbidden relationship be between Emily and her coach was a real treat. Initially, I thought it would occur between Emily and her skating partner. The book is very emotional. The story is not just about this forbidden relationship. It’s about two people striving for greatness and the journey they embark upon to get there. This is something everyone can relate to. When Emily and Chris (her partner) set foot on the ice you feel their emotions with them. You’re nervous with them when they begin their routine. You cry with them when they fail and you smile with them when they succeed.

Characters: 10

The characters are very lovable and easy to relate to. I love Emily’s passion for skating and her love for Sergei. I consider myself an individual of many passions, but I’m not passionate enough about anything to strive for something like the Olympics. Emily’s character made me realize how much I wish I was. Emily is a very caring, sensitive person who has an enormous capacity to love life, skating, and the people around her. Sergei on the other hand is very mysterious. It was a lot of fun diving into the world of this Russian skater. The question of why he gave up his title as a world famous figure skater to coach in a small town in the U.S. is heavily weighed on your mind through most of the book. Sergei is also a very honorable, respectful, and loving man. He cares for Emily very much but he’s not about to jeopardize her career or his job to satisfy is selfishness of being with her. At first, Emily and Sergei try very hard to ignore their feelings for one another. But of course that can only last for so long.

Setting: 10

Although the setting of the story was simple, it was surprisingly fascinating. Life on the Edge is a contemporary romance. Therefore, it doesn’t take place in some enchanted castle or haunted forest. Majority of the story takes place at an apartment, a home or an ice skating rink. As previously stated, although the setting is simple, it is exciting because of what takes place in these various locations. For example, the reader experiences adrenaline, excitement, and nervousness while Emily and Chris are sitting in the hallway waiting for their turn to perform on the ice. The reader experiences butterflies and giggles while Emily and Sergei are on their dinner date. There are very few authors who can generate as much emotion from their readers as Comeaux has with this book.

Pacing: 8

The pacing of the book was executed very well, with the exception of the beginning. The beginning felt very rushed. So rushed in fact, that I was skeptical as to whether I was going to enjoy the book at all. I understand the author’s need to get along with the story because there were so many important things to get to. However, I felt I was missing out on one of the most important parts – the moment when Emily and Sergei’s relationship shifted from coach/student to something more. At the beginning, Sergei and Emily begin to spend a lot of time together as friends outside of the rink but every moment together was sped through so fast. I was having a difficult time feeling the connection between Sergei and Emily because their moments together were so brief. Thankfully, Comeaux redeemed herself ten-fold as the story continued. The fast pace of the book didn’t last long and it soon slowed down to a pace that was enjoyable. More importantly, believable. The tension that builds between the two love birds makes you want to crack. The moment they have their first kiss you want to scream, “Hallelujah!”

Style: 10

The writing of this book is very smooth and easy to follow. There are many elements, twists, turns and dramatic situations in this book that keep you awake reading all night long. One of the things I loved most about this book was Comeaux’s ability to keep me on my toes. Emily and Sergei go through so much to be together. There are many hurdles they must face and each one is unalike the other. Even though it was sad to see them struggling it was amazing to also see them grow stronger together. Comeaux does a fantastic job of letting experience and the events that take place tell the story. The author doesn’t treat her readers like kindergarten kids spells everything out. Give us some credit will ya? We do have the capability of figuring things out on our own.

This being her first novel, Comeaux has done a fabulous job. To the point where all I want to do is quit my job, pick up skating and date a ridiculously attractive Russian coach. I look forward to more of her books in the future.

Enjoy! And happy reading.

Grade: 98