The Selection (The Selection #1)

The SelectionBy Kiera Cass

Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Source: Publisher

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself- and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Goodreads Summary

My review may be more spoilery than usual because I’m going to get a little ranty down below and some of what I’m upset about are general things that happen throughout the book. I’m not going to go into specifics unless you’re a good guesser, but be warned anyway.

When a Prince of Illea reaches a marriageable age, the cattle call goes out to the kingdom – if you’ve got a daughter of a certain age, ask her if she’d like to sign up to try to win his hand. Rich, poor – it doesn’t matter what social standing you have, they’re all eligible as long as they fill out the form and have their picture taken. Then the best 35 of the bunch are announced on television and sent to the palace to try to impress Maxon into proposing.

America and her family are artists – painters, singers, sculptors – and they’re poor. Being chosen to be part of the Selection would mean a huge check and likely a big boost in their family’s status. She doesn’t want to sign up though, because she has a secret. She’s in love with a boy who’s even poorer than they are, a match they’d never condone. But she gives in and is shocked to hear her name announced as one of the 35.

Now under a lot of circumstances, I could like a character like America. She’s feisty, loves her family and is intensely loyal to her boyfriend. But Cass took things way too far and made America an absolutely perfect caricature of a character – she’s beautiful and unique but doesn’t know it, kind to everyone, intelligent enough to offer economic advice to the Prince, sweetly humble, the Queen loves her despite having never met her, etc., etc. I’m sure if she wandered into the woods, butterflies would alight in her hair, birds on her finger and deer and rabbits would gather ‘round her skirts.

I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of The Bachelor, but my guess is Maxon is pretty close to those guys, just dressed up as a Prince with some palace sekrits he only shares with America. He’s not terribly deep, talking mostly about how much he hates not being taken seriously as a Prince by his dad one moment, complaining about how boring meetings are not long after that.

So the characters bothered me and oh, there are more issues coming. But even if I liked them, Cass’ writing style drove me crazy at times. If ever there was a perfect example of telling and not showing, this is it. Especially for the first quarter or so of the book, it was non-stop telling. The author also has a tendency to use the characters’ names over and over in close proximity – I guess she doesn’t like pronouns? In one paragraph, in the retelling of an incident between two characters, each character’s name was used twice, a pronoun once. In one paragraph.

I don’t rant, not really. And this is going to be pretty tame because it’s tempered by the fact that overall, the book wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read. But there were some things that just made me angry in ways that I can barely figure out how to fit them into the review in a coherent way. So I’m just going to throw them out there.

This was not a dystopian. Was the label slapped on there because the palace was attacked a few times by some literally unseen Northern or Southern troops? They either bombed from afar or invaded, and while everyone cowered in a secure room, they ransacked bedrooms and were driven off by the guards. Really? As far as the caste system, that hardly qualifies. So there are rich people who have money and there are varying social levels of other people who have less, down to people who have trouble finding work and education and occasionally steal to eat. And this is different from our current society how?

The depiction of the girls is so stereotypical, it’s offensive. Cold, rich, bitchy girl who wears too much makeup, clings to the guy and sabotages the other girls? Check. Little mousey girl who’s small, quiet, timid? Check – her name is even – wait for it – Tiny. There’s the smart geek who’s afraid to interact with anyone, the super-friendly middle class girl who befriends America because she recognizes a kindred super-friendly spirit. While not part of the Selection group, there are America’s three maids who of course include one girl who was traumatized and once America soothes her, she earns their eternal devotion. So we have America as just “one of the girls” with her maids.

Prince Maxon all but declares to America that she’s the one he plans on pursuing. If she wasn’t totally oblivious, she’d have seen it, but okay. So his first kiss is with her and it’s very sweet. And the next day? He’s kissing someone else? It seemed like there was some confusion about what qualities make an attractive hero or heroine. Maxon and America are both faithless and loose with their affections.

The ending was the most exasperating type of coy little teaser meant to keep a breathless romantic biting their nails until the next book. Look, I am a breathless romantic and under a lot of circumstances, I would be one of those people but I was so offended by the behavior of all of the parties involved, frankly they all deserved each other and I don’t care who “wins” who.

My Summary: So I didn’t love this, I think you can tell. Even if you take out the plot areas that made my blood boil, there were the storytelling problems and if you take out the style problems, you have the hair-burning issues, so I feel pretty secure with my opinion. It didn’t get an F because in spite of everything, I couldn’t help but keep reading, even though I hated myself and was cursing the entire time. I’d like to take the cover off and frame it so I have at least something pleasant to refer to when I think of this.

My Rating: D

Natural Evil (Elder Races #4.5)

Natural EvilBy Thea Harrison

Publisher: Samhain Publishing Ltd.
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Source: Purchased

Claudia Hunter is on a road trip through the Nevada desert when she sees the body of a dog on the side of the highway. Pulling over to investigate, she quickly determines that the enormous animal is clinging to life. While working to save him with the help of the local vet, Claudia realizes there’s something about the creature that seems more. Other. Wyr. Which makes this case of animal cruelty attempted murder.

Too injured to shape shift, Luis Alvaraz is reluctant to tell Claudia what he knows about his attack, afraid it will only make her a target. But the sheriff is corrupt, and his attackers know Luis is alive and vulnerable. To make matters worse, a sandstorm is sweeping into town, and if they’re going to survive the night, Luis will have to place all his trust in Claudia.

Warning: Take a gorgeous man temporarily stuck in the dog house, add a strong, take-no-prisoners woman, mix in encroaching enemies and a raging sandstorm and stir to combine. Enjoy with a freshly opened can of whoop-ass.

Goodreads Summary

I sincerely love Harrison’s Elder Races series even if I’m not always thrilled with some of the books, because I love the characters and settings and she usually creates such interesting conflicts. They’re like stale Peeps to me (since it’s that time of year), totally addicting even though sometimes they don’t make my stomach feel all that great. This is the second novella released, and like True Colors, it takes place outside of the general world of the main characters in the full length novels. While I liked most of the first novella, this story just didn’t work on any level for me unfortunately.

When retired Green Beret Claudia comes across what appears to be a severely injured dog by the side of the road, she feels compelled to help. Claudia is a bit telekinetic and telepathic, enough to tell her that this dog might be Other, a Wyr. With the help of a rather shady deputy sheriff, she gets the dog to a vet who confirms her suspicion. In a town of less than 2,000 people, there’s apparently a human vet who can sniff out a Wyr. Who knew?

Backtracking through some town gossip and going on some hunches about the cop who helped bring the Wyr in with her, Claudia figures out that the attack was related to some work on a local mine. I’m not entirely sure how, to be honest, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. There were large sections of the story that made no sense to me, which in a novella is a bad thing. As Claudia is off doing one thing, Luis (the dog, aka “Precious”) is being healed miraculously so he can become suitably, suddenly overprotective. He explains the mine thing to Claudia in detail but it still made no sense to me. I know how travel to the Other Land works from past books. This makes no sense.

I read a lot of novellas so I judge them a little differently maybe. I could have excused the nonsensical plot if I’d actually cared at all about Claudia and Luis but I got nothing at all from them. If this was a full length novel, I still don’t think I’d have gotten anything from them. Claudia was stone cold – she barely spoke, the reason having something to do with having spent time overseas in combat. Fine, she doesn’t say things out loud, but her thoughts were just as robotic and sterile. There wasn’t much to Luis at all. He was a dog then when he was changed to a man he was consumed with lust or generally out of the scenes in favor of the lifeless Claudia.

My Summary: These novellas aren’t part of the main series since the characters don’t seem like they’re going to ever appear in those books, so they’re not exactly critical to read to keep up with entire Elder Races world. I’ll still keep picking them up because I like Harrison’s writing and the entire Wyr universe and who knows when there’ll be a huge gem worth adding to my reread shelf. This wasn’t it. It didn’t even end in a place I felt really happy and satisfied with. I don’t like finishing books and feeling unsettled, but that’s probably the best word I can come up with to describe this experience.

My Rating: D

Forbidden Mind

Kimberly Kinrade

Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Publication Date: Mar 27, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Author

She reads minds.
He controls minds.
Together, they might get out alive.

Sam thinks she’s months away from freedom. After spending her life in a secret school, rented out to the rich and powerful as a paranormal spy, she is ready to head to college like any normal eighteen-year-old.

Only Sam isn’t normal. She reads minds. And just before her big going-away party, she links to the mind of a young man who changes everything.

Drake wasn’t raised as a ‘Rent-A-Kid.’ He was kidnapped and taken there by force. But his exceptional physical strength and powers of mind control make him very dangerous, especially to Sam.

When they meet, Sam is forced to face the truth of her situation, and to acknowledge that not all is as it seems in her picture-perfect world. For what awaits her on her eighteenth birthday isn’t a trip to college, but an unexpected nightmare from which she may not be able to escape.

To survive, they must work together.

But will their powers be enough to save them before it’s too late?

Goodreads Summary

When I first read the synopsis on this, I was intrigued. It sounded like a twist on the X-Men comics, but instead of the kids being superheroes, they’re hired out by the rich and famous to help them become more rich and famous. The kids have lived in this school since birth, and don’t know any differently than their life as a Rent-a-Kid. These special kids with powers are hired out as early as thirteen, and are told that if they keep quiet and do their job they can leave the school at eighteen, attend college and live a normal life. Sam is a few weeks from turning eighteen and has just returned home from her last job and is tying up loose ends before she leaves to start her new life. Sam is considered unique and powerful, since her ability is to read minds. Not only can she read what you’re thinking in the moemnt, she can seek out every thought you’ve ever had. Sam inexplicably becomes very sick a few days before her birthday, and has to spend some time in the infirmary. While there, she connects minds with Drake, a boy around her age that she’s never seen before and is being held against his will. Drake also has a mind ability, and his is even more dangerous in that he can force minds under his control.

Meeting Drake forces Sam to question the reality that she’s lived with her whole life. Did her parents willingly give her to the school to raise? What really happens when kids turn eighteen and leave the school? Sam is forced out of her bubble, and she and Drake soon learn why he’s been kidnapped and why they are thrown together.

Forbidden Mind is actually a novella, and I typically don’t like novellas. I’ve only read a handful that I’ve really liked, but for the most part they leave me feeling incomplete. I guess in this case it was a good thing it was a novella, because I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it was a full length book. I felt that the book only touched the surface of the story, and I really wanted the author to dig a little deeper on some of the plot points. I was really interested in the idea of the school and the kids being hired out for various jobs, and I think it would have been a really great book if the focus had been just on that. Or those ideas and Sam finding out that the school isn’t really what it seems. Instead we quickly jump from the school, to Sam meeting Drake and finding out that she’s been lied to all her life, and then to Sam and Drake being taken together. And then it just gets weird. Like Breaking Dawn-ish weird. The story was going okay up until it then, and the sole focus of the book was on this Strange Event. Everything went downhill from there. I’m not entirely sure why the author chose to take the story in this direction, but I wasn’t a fan.

I also struggled connecting to the characters. The story is told from Sam’s point of view, and I didn’t really like her. Well, I kind of did at the beginning of the book, but then she got hormonal and emotional and I ended up not liking her at all in the end. We don’t even “meet” Drake until the end, as most of their connection takes place in the conversations they have in their mind. The romance also didn’t make sense. It felt rushed and thrown together, and if the Strange Event hadn’t have happened, I’m not sure if they would have gotten together on a normal day. I could never manage to find a way to care about the characters and their fates. I didn’t feel any chemistry between them, or between me and them.

My Summary: Forbidden Mind wasn’t a success for me. The writing was choppy, and the jokes and banter that was supposed to be funny just fell flat. I didn’t like the characters, couldn’t bring myself to care about them and the idea that I was really interested in – the kids and school – was only touched on briefly. It was disappointing, to say the least.

My Rating: D

Tempest (Tempest #1)

By Julie Cross

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: January 17, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Publisher

The year is 2009. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, has a girlfriend… and he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

That is… until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t get back to the future.

Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.

But it’s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these “Enemies of Time” will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler. Recruit… or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far he’s willing to go to save Holly… and possibly the entire world.

Goodreads Summary

I knew this was going to be different for me when I picked it if for no other reason than I don’t normally read books written from the POV of male characters. I was really taken with the blurb though (and you know, the cover), loved the concept and even liked the idea that this would be a finite, three book series. I was really disappointed that the only thing that lived up to its promise was the concept – there were problems everywhere else.

College student Jackson is a jumper – purely by accident, he found he could go back a short distance in time for a little while then send himself back into his body in the current timeline as if almost no time had passed. The jumping experiments he’s been running with his best friend Adam draw attention from some ominous-looking men and his girlfriend Holly ends up shot – and Jackson instinctively jumps, ending up in 2007, farther back than he’s ever jumped before.

From there, the story splits in a couple of directions and is one good example of what worked and what failed here. Jackson’s father looms over one half, either one of the good guys or the ultimate evil doer. There’s a nice smart story about the history of the jumpers, the factions and fanatics. Then the story just gets overloaded with junk – people I don’t care about who barely appear, information that serves no purpose, repetitive scenes that don’t forward the plot one inch and a barge full of red herrings.

When Jackson isn’t trying to figure out whether his father is trying to kill him or who the bad jumpers are, he’s trying to get a date with 2007 Holly by working as a janitor at the gym where she teaches. She’s still in high school, by the way. He also tracks down Adam and quickly convinces him that he’s Future Jackson and enlists his help. It’s all very easy, very unbelievable – the story seemed to produce a tiny little deus ex machina every few chapters.

I really hate having this opinion but I’ve sat on it for a day and a half and it’s not going away so I’m just going to toss it out there. Holly is very nice. But infuriatingly, she’s been written as a stereotypical clueless blonde. It doesn’t help that the story is told from Jackson’s POV since I’m pretty sure he’s always seen her as a dim booty call. Even when he has his little emotional epiphany, she’s grateful and weeps – backbone: find it.

Adam fares slightly better but I think it’s only because Jackson doesn’t need anything from him emotionally. He’s still a stereotype – science geek, obsessed with computers, taking notes and keeping journals, knows Latin and is an expert hacker at 17. Of course he has no life so he’s always available for Jackson.

Obviously, the one problem I kept coming back to with the story was that even though Jackson was interesting, I just didn’t like him. There was no depth to his character – it was all about the story and in it, he was a crappy and selfish boyfriend, friend and brother anyway. Being with him was dangerous enough, but other than being the rich friend who could pick up the tab more often, he gave nothing back.

The longer the intrigue behind Jackson’s dad, the Tempest project and the EOT went on, the more confusing it got but I still was interested enough to keep turning the pages to find out who were the bad guys and if karma would bite them in the butt before the book ended. Nearly all of my questions seemed to be answered – some characters that were murky remained that way – and the Tempest project/EOT plot ended on the cliffhanger I expected it to.

My Summary: Writing unfavorable reviews always makes me cranky and this one’s taken me almost five hours of dithering. I think some people might disagree with me about the character issues and just love this for the jumping plot anyway. If Jackson had been a better narrator and Holly and Adam less superficial, I could have overlooked a lot of the other plot issues. Not connecting with any of the characters is just the worst thing when I’m reading and it was compounded by the last few chapters which were ludicrous and the nails in the coffin that ensured I won’t be picking up the rest of the series. And now I’m going to go find a big pile of chocolate to make me feel better about writing this.

My Rating: D+

Barbara

As I Wake

As I WakeBy Elizabeth Scott

Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: September 15, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Dystopian
Source: Purchased

Ava is welcomed home from the hospital by a doting mother, lively friends, and a crush finally beginning to show interest. There’s only one problem: Ava can’t remember any of them – and can’t shake the eerie feeling that she’s not who they say she is.

Ava struggles to break through her amnesiac haze as she goes through the motions of high-school life, but the memories that surface take place in a very different world, where Ava and familiar-faced friends are under constant scrutiny and no one can be trusted. Ava doesn’t know what to make of these visions, or of the boy who is at the center of them all, until he reappears in her life and offers answers . . . but only in exchange for her trust.

Goodreads Summary

Ava awakens in a bed – at least she thinks it’s a bed – in a strange place she doesn’t remember. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is and it’s only as she starts to wander around, does she even remember the names of the things around her. There’s nothing medically wrong wither her according to the doctors who run a battery of tests, but she still doesn’t know the woman who says she’s her mother and this life that’s supposed to be hers feels wrong. She keeps having flashbacks to a very different place and sometimes when she looks at certain people, she sees them in layers, like there’s another person underneath who’s talking to her.

Those feelings of belonging someplace else increase as her flashbacks come faster and she’s reunited with several people that she thinks she’s known from someplace else. A boy keeps showing up both in the present and in the images that keep flowing in her head. The other place she keeps remembering is dark and oppressive and there’s something she knows she needs to remember that’s dangerous – if she was supposed to be somewhere else, someone had to betray her to send her where she is now.

I wanted to like this and I tried to like it over and over while I was reading it. This story just wouldn’t let me – it was confusing, unfocused and unfortunately it overwhelmed all of the characters.

The beginning of the book was promising. I liked the small flashbacks, the little bits of scenes that started to tell the story of where Ava might have come from. It was beginning to make some sense, this alternate, militant world where there was an organized spy network. The longer the flashbacks got though, the less they made sense. The structure of this alternate world crumbled and I couldn’t picture it anymore because Scott didn’t give me anything to focus on. Each time she revisited this alternate place, something changed and she lost me again. The alternate Ava acted differently and it didn’t make sense for the place.

Present Ava was barely better. She seemed robotic, wandering from scene to scene just informing everyone that she couldn’t remember or letting people remind everyone else that she couldn’t remember anything. She didn’t participate in anything – scenes just passed by, information flowing through. There were only a couple of times when she showed emotion and they were both very dramatic scenes involving types of “deaths” or letting go. They were well-written scenes that grabbed me and even had me tearing up – but they didn’t fit anywhere with this character or even in this book. They told me the author has talent but not that this is the right story for them.

My Summary: This was an ambitious idea for a story that I think needed either a lot more room than it was given (269 pages) or some serious editing to make room for character development. The alternate place that Ava was from was too nebulous for me when it really could have been the powerhouse of the book, a sinister force hanging over the story. Ava herself was such a non-entity that this didn’t really feel like a story about her, just a telling about two places and the people who lived in them.

My Rating: D

Barbara

The Day Before

The Day BeforeBy Lisa Schroeder

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: June 28, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Romance
Source: Publisher

Amber’s life is spinning out of control. All she wants is to turn up the volume on her iPod until all of the demands of family and friends fade away. So she sneaks off to the beach to spend a day by herself.Then Amber meets Cade. Their attraction is instant, and Amber can tell he’s also looking for an escape. Together they decide to share a perfect day: no pasts, no fears, no regrets.

The more time that Amber spends with Cade, the more she’s drawn to him. And the more she’s troubled by his darkness. Because Cade’s not just living in the now—he’s living each moment like it’s his last.

Goodreads Summary

The day before her life will change forever, Amber decides to run away and spend the time alone, not thinking about anything more than the moment.  Not long after she arrives at the beach, she meets Cade, a boy who’s come there for the same reason – he has his own life-altering path to take the next day and he’d like to spend this day just pretending nothing else exists.  The two spend the entire day together at the beach, discovering how many things they have in common and as they gradually reveal their secrets to each other, falling in love.

I found myself really struggling to get through this despite its remarkably short length.  The entire book is written in free-form verse style, interspersed with short letters to and from Amber.  I was reading this on my Nook and with each double-spaced short line taking up an average of half of the screen – there were 320 total pages – I was able to read this in about an hour or so.  It may be physically easier to read in paperback form because you won’t be flipping pages so often, but that’s only one of the problems I had.

I don’t have anything against stories told in verse form.  I think when written well they can be emotionally stirring, evocative and memorable.  I give credit to the author for trying to tell her stories in such a unique way (her three earlier books, Far From YouChasing Brooklyn, and I Heart You, You Haunt Me are also told in verse) and there’s a dreamy disconnected feeling to this that seems to suit Amber’s mood.  That disconnect extends to the story though – the verse isn’t linear long enough to ever delve that deeply into anything.  Rather than feeling like a strong, brave way to tell the story, the use of verse felt more like a way to write the story without having to do the dirty work of going all the way to the bones of the characters.

At this point it’s probably a bit like piling on, but while I really was irritated with the style of writing and was thinking often that I’d wished the author would have taken some time and written this like a novel, I probably still wouldn’t have loved it although I’d have had less to gripe about.  Amber’s situation that she was running from was one of those “ripped from the headlines” type.  You’d think that would be enough for one story but Cade’s was one suitable for a made for television movie.  Toss in their insta-love, a romantic day at the beach, constant lyric and movie references and comparisons to their situations – are you imagining a soundtrack yet?  I love happily-ever-afters and romance but this was over the top even for me.  What teenage guy in 2011 knows about the scenes from a John Cusak movie from the 80’s that I’m pretty sure isn’t a cult classic?

My Summary: This book was fraught with problems for me from its style to the overabundance of drama in a relatively shallow story.  I kept seeing flashes of good things that made me wish for more – a lovely turn of phrase, a hint of a story twist – but then I’d turn the page and it would vanish.  At the end, this felt more like the outline of a script for an ABC Family movie of the week than a book.

My Rating: D+

Barbara