Hereafter, by Tara Hudson


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Author’s website
Publication Date – May 30, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Can there truly be love after death?

Drifting in the dark waters of a mysterious river, the only thing Amelia knows for sure is that she’s dead. With no recollection of her past life—or her actual death—she’s trapped alone in a nightmarish existence. All of this changes when she tries to rescue a boy, Joshua, from drowning in her river. As a ghost, she can do nothing but will him to live. Yet in an unforgettable moment of connection, she helps him survive.

Amelia and Joshua grow ever closer as they begin to uncover the strange circumstances of her death and the secrets of the dark river that held her captive for so long. But even while they struggle to keep their bond hidden from the living world, a frightening spirit named Eli is doing everything in his power to destroy their newfound happiness and drag Amelia back into the ghost world… forever.

Thoughts: The book opens with a hectic and choatic set of scenes involvingmvarious people drowning, which remarkably mirrors how I felt trying to get a foothold and figure out where I stood with regard to the characters, the setting, the book itself. And when I finally found that place, it was with a groan and a wince as the main character, a ghost who remembers little to nothing of her life, rescues a drowning boy and gets very possessive of him. Not in a creepy way, or at least not intentionally creepy. In a way that’s supposed to be passionate and romantic.

There are few things that turn me off a book more quickly than that. I held out hope that there might be a reason behind it, that perhaps Amelia had known Joshua while she was alive, but no, that card wasn’t even played. She just gets madly interested in him for no real reason.

I don’t think it would bother me quite so much if it hadn’t been so hypocritical in the context of this book. Eli has much the same feeling for Amelia, who reminds Eli of his dead-and-crossed-over lover. Eli goes so far as to have caused Amelia’s death to bring the two closer together, wanting her to want him and be with him always. But since Eli’s a deeply flawed personality, his love is creepy. The same kind of mindless unreasoning love is presented as perfectly fine, though, when it’s the protagonist and the object of their affections. I strongly dislike this kind of hypocrisy.

The book wasn’t entirely bad. There were a few unexpected twists, such as with Ruth. You expect the Seer grandmother to aid Amelia, but instead she clings to her negative prejudice even when Amelia asks for her help which created an interesting source of conflict, and a very realistic one. People don’t let go of their grudges easily. And the writing style, except for the chaotic beginning, was just fine. Fluid, good pacing. It didn’t stand out, either as anything good or bad.

This book would be fine, I think, for people who like generic YA paranormal romance who don’t mind obsessive love as a driving force behind the characters. Beyond that, though, I’m afraid I can’t really recommend this book.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull


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Author’s website
Publication date – March 15, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Jason Walker has often wished his life could be a bit less predictable–until a routine day at the zoo ends with Jason suddenly transporting from the hippo tank to a place unlike anything he’s ever seen. In the past, the people of Lyrian welcomed visitors from the Beyond, but attitudes have changed since the wizard emperor Maldor rose to power. The brave resistors who opposed the emperor have been bought off or broken, leaving a realm where fear and suspicion prevail.

In his search for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who was also mysteriously drawn to Lyrian from our world. With the help of a few scattered rebels, Jason and Rachel become entangled in a quest to piece together the word of power that can destroy the emperor, and learn that their best hope to find a way home will be to save this world without heroes.

Thoughts: Sometimes books live up to the hype surrounding them. Other times, I start to wonder how much I’d have to be paid to agree with the hype. A World Without Heroes was a real struggle for me to get through, and I wish I knew what everyone else is seeing in this book that I’m just missing.

While the writing style was okay, even nicely detailed in some places, I couldn’t help but think that the biggest flaw with it was the vocabulary. Given the reading level that I can assume the writing style was intended for, quite a few advanced words were thrown in rather willy-nilly, and not even in a way that would be good for vocabulary-building in youngsters. I’m talking about times where sentences would make no sense unless you already know the meaning of words that most adults don’t even frequently use. Either you’re a very smart kid reading this book, in which case the too-linear storyline will probably bore you, or else you’re sitting there with a dictionary beside you and checking it every few pages.

Or else the author, for all his acclaim, just can’t settle his style down.

Speaking of the plot, I’ve seen rulers that had more flexibility and that were less linear. Along the way, I likened this book to a video game that was one unending fetch-quest. Start at point A. Acquire item or information that tells you to go to point B. At point B, you do the thing you were told to do when you were at point A, acquire a new item or information, and move to point C. Rinse and repeat. The acquisition of the new item or information was often preceded by a puzzle of some kind. Sometimes opposition was met, but of course, the 12-13 year old heroes valiantly outsmart grown adults and save the day.

The bulk of the plot involved Jason, after being swallowed by a hippo and coming out in the fantasy world of Lyrian, trying to find the magical word that would defeat the evil emperor Maldor. An interesting concept, I’ll grant you, made more interesting by the difficulty of knowing the word in the first place: if you know it and say it aloud or write it down, you lose all knowedge of it. Thus the word was broken into syllables, clues to which are scattered all over.

You can see why I liken it to fetch-quests, huh? Jason going somewhere to find a syllable, then gets a clue as to where he might find the next clue, goes there, solved a puzzle, gets the syllable, and it begins again.

Mull’s writing also suffered by the fact that he frequently chose to tell and not show. I can’t tell you how many characters put on their Exposition Hats and told Jason or Rachel the story of their life, or a valuable piece of history. At one point, you’ve even got Jason reading from a book on Lyrian’s history. Sometimes, reading a book about someone reading a book works. This was not one of those times.

Admittedly, things did pick up somewhat after the first third of the book had passed, but in retrospect, I think that had more to do with the fact that I was getting more used to the style and story than because the story got more interesting.

I wanted to like this book. It had potential. Normally I’m all for a story about people from the modern world getting thrown into a fantasy adventure. But it just didn’t work. it had too many flaws for me to enjoy it, and even what was good was downplayed because it was only a small bright spot in the middle of so much dullness. I can’t recommend this one, no matter what the hype says.

(Book provided for review by Simon & Schuster)

Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow, by James Rollins


Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) When a mysterious envelope arrives for Jake Ransom, he and his older sister, Kady, are plunged into a gripping chain of events. An artifact found by their parents—on the expedition from which they never returned—leads Jake and Kady to a strange world inhabited by a peculiar mix of long-lost civilizations, a world that may hold the key to their parents’ disappearance.

But even as they enter the gate to this extraordinary place, savage grackyls soar across the sky, diving to attack. Jake’s new friends, the pretty Mayan girl Marika and the Roman Pindor, say the grackyls were created by an evil alchemist—the Skull King. And as Jake struggles to find a way home, it becomes obvious that what the Skull King wants most is Jake and Kady—dead or alive.

Thoughts: I was wary of this book right from the get-go. The prologue was a rather clunky attempt at action and suspense, which didn’t give me much hope for the rest of the book. Then I read further and found out that the main character was yet another one of those too-smart and too-misunderstood genius boys, the kind that can do no wrong without learning something profound from the experience, the kind disliked even by his teachers for his awesome intellect.

It’s painfully obvious that this book was not intended to be read females. The female characters exist as pretty shallow archetypes. The love interest (or “like” interest, as we are talking about pre-teen characters) is there to be pretty and admired and sometimes make a helpful comment or two. Jake’s sister Kady is a shallow and temperamental girl who has little on her mind but looking pretty and dating popular boys. Even if you invoke Suspension of Disbelief for the scene where Kady’s shown to have skills at fancy swordwork (because swordword is totally the same as her cheerleader baton routine), any potential coolness is drained away by the new few paragraphs showing that Kady’s somewhat proud of herself for starting new fashion trends amongst the Viking girls. Eventually, she teaches the proud warriors-in-training how to cheerlead.

No, I’m not joking. They learn to cheerlead, which provides enough distraction so that Jake can sneak away and go be the big hero and work on saving the day.

Like your books to have diverse and strong female characters? Then stay far far away from Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow.

I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps the author has a thing against women, or perhaps he naively thought that girls wouldn’t possibly be interested in adventure stories and so didn’t think there was any point in putting positive female characters in. Bach’uuk, the overlooked little Neanderthal slave boy whom nobody pays attention to, got more positive page time than any female other than Marika. Feel sorry for the little boy, but don’t give a toss about the girls, because they’re icky and pointless.

I feel compelled to say something positive about this book, however, and if it has any saving grace, it’s in the pacing. The writing flows smoothly, and it can pull readers along, making them want to see what happens next, what event is just around the next corner. Rollins also, admittedly, had a knack for addressing questions that I mentally formed as I was reading. Why was a t-rex chasing a Mayan girl and a Roman boy? Why are so many diverse cultures living in one tiny area without integrating and mixing their respective cultures despite many generations having passed? Why is everyone able to understand everyone else’s speech? Some authors may have just hand-waved these issues, thinking perhaps that the intended audience wouldn’t know enough to even realise the problems, but Rollins actually addressed the questions head-on. The explanations may have been too simplistic for real life, but for a kids’ book, they were sufficient.

I also keep trying to tell myself that the plot twists would have been sufficient for a kids’ book too, even though none of them particularly surprised me. Sometimes it felt like Rollins was trying to pull a J K Rowling with his plot, and not quite managing. The reveal of the bad guy here felt like the reveal of the bad guy in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bait-and-switch, connection to the underling, the minion’s pain… I swear I was waiting for the power of love to give Jake the power of a burning touch no evil can stand…

Ultimately, I’d recommend passing over this book. If you feel like borrowing it from a library some day, or reading it while it’s still free on HarperCollins, go ahead, but I wouldn’t recommend that anybody actually spend money on this thing.

Oathbound, by Mercedes Lackey


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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Tarma witnessed her clan’s murder and, swearing vengeance, became a master warrior. Kethry fled her forced “marriage” and became an adept–pledging her power to the greatest good. When Kethry obtains a magical sword which draws her to others in need, the two vow to avenge the wrongs done to womanhood.

Thoughts: Though I have read almost all of the Velgarth books before, this was actually a new one for me, and I was eager to see what I’d make of it. I am sorry to say that I’m of mixed opinions.

One one hand, you can see that Lackey has advanced rather smoothly in her style in only the short time since publishing her first novel, and it was easier to fall into than, say, Arrows of the Queen.

This book also features Tarma, who is one of the very few human asexual characters I’ve found in fiction who are presented in a positive light. As a person who identifies as asexual myself, finding those rare few role-models is a treat, and this books deserves some praise on that alone. Think it’s hard finding gay or trans role-models in fiction? try looking for an ‘ace’ hero and suddenly finding a gay or trans hero seems like a walk in the park!

On the other hand, this book did suffer from some very noticeable flaws. This book, the first in the Vows and Honour series, takes place after the previous publication of a few short stories involving Tarma and Kethry, including the tale of their meeting and vow-sharing. As a result, you open this book and feel like you’ve come in during the middle of the tale, which doesn’t leave one with a very favourable impression.

The pacing suffered at times, too. This often felt like a collection of short stories that only halfway through turned into a cohesive novel. One quest presented devoted more pages to the character conversing in a common room than it did to one of the characters getting kidnapped by her twisted ex-husband, and the tension there was very difficult to feel. Some plot twists weren’t twisty in the slightest, and sadly, the meat of the story could be seen coming a mile away.

Also in the “it felt like a book of short stories” vein, there was a great deal of repetition. The reader is constantly reminded of the fact that Warrl’s shoulders came up to Tarma’s waist, that Need was a magical sword, and that Kathry had amber-coloured hair. Perfectly fine to remind someone of if they’re reading a collection of stories that were originally published far apart, but as for one book meant to tell a complete story, it got tedious.

Everything being taken into consideration, that isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this book. It definitely had its moments, even if it took a while to really get started. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to those who aren’t already fans of Lackey’s work, I’m still glad I took the time to read it, and nothing will change that.

Tempted, by PC and Kristin Cast


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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Zoey needs a break after some serious excitement. Sadly, the House of Night school for vampyres doesn’t feature breaks on its curriculum – even for a High Priestess in training and her gang. Plus juggling three guys is no stress reliever, especially when one is a sexy Warrior so into protecting Zoey that he’s sensing her emotions. Wider stresses lurk too, and the dark force in Tulsa’s tunnels is spreading. Could Stevie Rae be responsible for more than a group of misfit fledglings? And Aphrodite’s visions warn Zoey to stay away from the immortal Kalona and his dark allure – but they also show that only Zoey can stop him. She’s not exactly keen to meet up, but if Zoey doesn’t go to Kalona he’ll exact a fiery vengeance on those closest to her. She just has to find the courage to do what’s necessary, or everything that’s important to her will be destroyed.

Thoughts: My mid-book impressions of this book stayed pretty much accurate throughout the last half, too. Sometimes characters had great moments of sounding like their old and realistic selves, but other times they seemed to be just cardboard cutouts of themselves. Like they were actually reduced to stereotypes and stopped being actual characters at all. Aphrodite got much more shallow and vacuous overnight, Stevie Rae became more countrified, Erin and Shaunee became stereotyped teenage girls who giggle at silly things… All things they did before, yes, but now it seems that’s about all there is to them, and it was a big disappointment.

The changing point of view continued to be annoying, although it served a greater purpose later on than in the beginning. Most of the book still took place from Zoey’s perspective, still in the same first-person voice I got comfortably used to in the earlier books, but then chapters from Aphrodite’s, Rephaim’s, Stevie Rae’s, and even Heath’s perspectives, switched to third-person, would interrupt the flow. They would give important information and detail important events, but they still didn’t fit as well into the story.

It took me far longer to finish this book than I wanted it to, because I was so very bored through most of it. Maybe I’ve just been reading the others so much that I burned myself out of them, or maybe this one really was a deal-breaker, but either way, I’m going to have a nice long break from the series before I tackle the next book. I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one to anyone but die-hard fans of the series, and yes, I’m aware that saying that about the sixth book of a series is pretty pointless. If you made it this far, you may as well keep going.

But I can’t say you’ll enjoy it. Imporant things happens, but the majority of the book felt like filler, dull and unappetizing. The ending, I admit, is quite exciting and interesting, but when you have to go through an entire book to find about 10 pages of seriously heavy and intense action, the awesomeness of the ending is so heavily tempered with disappointment that even that doesn’t inspire me to pick up the next one in a hurry.

Definitely taking a break from the series.