Review: Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz

Apr
27
4 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 3 stars

Book: Spellcaster
Author: Cara Lynn Shultz
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: March 27, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: Spellbound #2

Summary from Goodreads: Finding your eternal soulmate – easy.

Stopping a true-love-hungry evil – not so much…

After breaking a centuries-old romantic curse, Emma Connor is (almost) glad to get back to normal problems. Although…it’s not easy dealing with the jealous cliques and gossip that rule her exclusive Upper East Side prep, even for a sixteen-year-old newbie witch. Having the most-wanted boy in school as her eternal soul mate sure helps ease the pain-especially since wealthy, rocker-hot Brendan Salinger is very good at staying irresistibly close….

But something dark and hungry is using Emma and Brendan’s deepest fears to reveal damaging secrets and destroy their trust in each other. And Emma’s crash course in über-spells may not be enough to keep them safe…or to stop an inhuman force bent on making their unsuspected power its own.

First impressions: I was really happy to get back into the lives of Emma and Brendan and Angelique. Starting this book felt like slipping under a favorite blanket – warm and comforting. I appreciated the quick recap that Shultz was able to work in so I remembered where everything left off last time, and it didn’t feel out of place or like an interruption of the narrative.

Lasting impressions: With a lightning-quick pace and lots of action, I tore through this one. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. A pure joy to read.

Conflicting impressions: There were two big things that kept me from loving this one as much as last year’s Spellbound. The first was the too-obvious villain, and the second was the narrative jump at the climax.

Overall impressions: Cara Lynn Shultz has a definite knack for engaging the reader. She doesn’t just make you want to read the book. She makes you want to devour it. The last few months have not been good reading months for me, and very few books made me excited to pick them up again – until this one. As soon as I started it, I settled easily into the story and the pages flew by.

Emma and Brendan are such a likable pair, it’s hard to not enjoy reading about their lives. Private school wealth with down-to-earth personalities, these two are further kept in check by Angelique’s snarky barbs and the good humor of bright and bubbly side characters. Everyone in this series feels like a real person, and someone I would want to spend time with.

The witchcraft gets an expanded role in this book, with Emma starting to explore her own powers with help from Angelique. She’s under attack again, and the suspense of this plot keeps things chugging along. Lots of obstacles and fights, as well as the usual teen angst about relationships and intimacy. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies – The Craft.

Perhaps because of this familiarity with that movie’s plot of witch-gets-power-and-turns-evil, I found the antagonist in this book very easy to spot. Since it takes Emma and crew a while to wise up to this, I got a bit impatient in the middle sections of the book. When it started to snowball toward the ultimate showdown at the climax, I was excited to see it all play out nevertheless.

But.

***POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD! (Highlight text to read)***

In a frustrating move, Shultz interrupts a pivotal decision-making moment for Emma during this climactic battle to transfer the narrative reins to Angelique. We wind up backtracking and following Angelique’s experience of the events, leading up to her reuniting with Emma after the battle. Only then do we find out what happened and what Emma decided – we get it told to us instead of experiencing it.

***END SPOILERS***

The narrative switch happens one other time at an earlier point in the novel, so it wasn’t completely out of left field, but the placement of this one really bothered me. If the story needed the benefit of multiple viewpoints, perhaps a move to a close 3rd person narrative would have been better. I felt like the voices between Emma and Angelique weren’t distinct enough, and would have enjoyed the story just as much if we’d been freed from Emma’s limited perspective. Since Shultz chose to stick with 1st person, however, I really wanted to see the ending play out in full. I felt cheated by the decision to take us out of Emma’s head at such a crucial point in her story.

If you liked Spellbound, this is a great follow-up story. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope this isn’t the last I see of Emma and Brendan.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Mar
02
5 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 2 stars, Contemporary

Book: Various Positions
Author: Martha Schabas
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release date: February 14, 2012
Source: ARC received from Debut Author Challenge ARC Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she’s dancing. When she is accepted into Canada’s preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it’s not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick’s future at the academy and Georgia’s ambitions as a ballerina.

First impressions: The prologue in this book is incredibly necessary. I know some people hate them, but here it is absolutely vital to our understanding of what is to come. This is not just a ballet book. This is going to get dark, and sexual. If anything about the prologue bothers you – STOP READING.

Lasting impressions: I considered not rating this book at all, because I had such ambivalent feelings about it. Parts of it were interesting in a Black Swan kind of way, but the story meandered without much purpose for large chunks of the book.

Conflicting impressions: What was Georgia’s goal? That’s a huge question to have dangling over the entire book. I never got an answer.

Overall impressions: I am a former ballerina. I love books and movies and TV shows about ballet. I was really excited to read this book, but I very quickly realized that it had nothing to do with ballet. The ballet school serves as a setting only, and as perhaps an extension of Georgia’s slightly obsessive-compulsive personality. She is a ballet dancer because she is, and that’s supposed to be good enough for us.

Once I got past that initial disappointment, I found the teaser from the prologue to be an interesting dangling carrot. We know sweet and innocent Georgia is going to meet someone at ballet school and seduce them. What I found strange by the end of the book, and I still can’t figure it out, is that the prologue scene never reappears in the book, nor does it fit with the actual sequence of events. Was it a dream? A fantasy? Did any of it really happen? I was looking for the payoff from the prologue, and wound up with a drastically different ending than I expected.

Georgia is only 14 years old, and I found her voice inconsistent. At times she felt much, much older and at other times she seemed naive and juvenile (as I would expect from a sheltered 14 year old). Her actions snowballed rather quickly, and over the course of only a few months she experiences a kind of sexual awakening that seemed suspiciously quick. Teenagers experience a whole host of emotions and thoughts about sex that are all over the map, but Georgia goes from zero to 60 and shows no signs of stopping. I’m not sure that’s going to resonate well with teen readers.

I didn’t find Georgia’s actions to be as disturbing as some other reviewers did, but the one aspect of the book that made me uncomfortable was that the reader had to essentially root for Georgia to act on her feelings for her teacher. To my mind, that’s the only goal Georgia was trying to achieve throughout the book, and it was weird to be dragged along on this escapade.

She expresses no thoughts on becoming a grand ballerina, doesn’t focus on the future in the slightest, and makes no effort to do anything besides passively fall in with a group of outgoing classmates and find time to be alone with her teacher. I desperately wanted Georgia to DO something or WANT something, but instead she simply reports on things as they happened. I didn’t understand how her family dynamic impacted the plot, and they gave us very little additional insight into her character.

At the end of the day, I must admit that I simply didn’t get the point of the book. It was an interesting, bizarre, dark little story that is recommended only for older readers.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Dec
31
2 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 2 stars, Fantasy

Book: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 28, 2012
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephewâ??s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

First impressions: The initial scenes in this book are dark, futuristic, and set up the conflict surrounding the world. Aria and some friends break into a compound in their city of Reverie, where everyone stays indoors for fear of disease and death in the atmosphere outside and communicates through SmartEye devices that allow virtual interaction in various imagined worlds. When the break-in goes horribly awry, Aria finds herself in danger and is saved by a tattooed tribal man from the outside real world, although this has even more profound consequences.

Lasting impressions: I think some more information on the rules of these worlds and societies would have made this reading experience more enjoyable. Though the mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements seemed interesting at first, by the end it all seemed like too many different ideas thrown into a giant mixing bowl, muddying the entire concept.

Conflicting impressions: If you’re going to have a book about two characters falling in love, it helps if they have chemistry. I did not connect at all with either Aria or Perry, so their love story became something of a snooze.

Overall impressions: I’m having the hardest time pinpointing what it is that didn’t work for me in this book. There were lots of individual elements that were interesting and exciting – the stormy Aether atmosphere, the Blood Lords and the tribal sensory enhancements, the Dwellers and their futuristic SmartEyes – but somehow when it all got put together it created a book that got bogged down by the weight of all of these Big Ideas.

Aria is a nice enough main character. She’s strong, gets by mostly without complaining, despite some pretty awful situations. Perry is more interesting in that he has this heightened sense of smell and is constantly at odds with his Blood Lord brother. He spends most of the book nobly trying to save his nephew, but treats Aria pretty brusquely. I knew at some point these characters were going to fall in love, because that’s the way things work in books, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they would want to be together. They didn’t seem to connect in any realistic way.

At the end there are some reveals that are a bit predictable, and set up some action for the future, but overall this book didn’t pack enough punch for me. I didn’t have enough information to fully invest in either the characters or the worlds they were fighting, so it ended up falling a bit flat.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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