Review: Out for Blood by Alyxandra Harvey

 

 

Title: Out for Blood

Author: Alyxandra Harvey

Publisher:  Walker Books

ISBN: 9780802721693

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Hunter Wild is the youngest in a long line of elite vampire hunters, a legacy that is both a blessing and a curse at the secret Helios-Ra Academy, where she excels at just about everything. Thanks to her friendship with Kieran Black, Hunter receives a special invitation to attend the coronation of Helena Drake, and for the first time, she sees the difference between vampires that must be hunted and vampires that can become friends—or even more. When students at the academy fall victim to a mysterious illness, Hunter suspects they are under attack from within. She will need someone she can trust to help her save the future of Helios-Ra . . . help that shockingly comes in the form of Quinn Drake, a drop-dead gorgeous vampire. Who said senior year would be easy?

Review:

I can’t help myself; I love The Drake Chronicles.  I love the action, I love the romance, I love the vampires.  Most of all I love the formula, which gives me a happily ever after – every time!  Sure, there are all kinds of trouble brewing for the Drakes, but by the end of each installment, I have closure!  The Drake of the hour kicks some ass, gets a little battered in the process, and falls in love.  What more could you ask for? 

The Drake of the hour in Out for Blood is Quinn, and goodness, he’s a hottie!  He’s my favorite of Solange’s brothers (I’m fickle, though, so that may change with the next book!), and he found the perfect match in Hunter Wild.  Just like her name, Hunter is one very intense young woman, who has been trained to kill vampires from the time she was a toddler.  Her grandfather is a legendary fighter in the Helios-Ra, and her parents were killed by vampires.  You know that a romance between Hunter and Quinn is not going to go smoothly, and it doesn’t.  It’s full of intrigue, danger, deadly saliva, and stakes!  Lots of stakes!  I love this series!

Is this a perfect book? Nope!  Did it keep my glued to my seat for a few hours, while I devoured the pages? You bet!  The non-stop action and snappy dialog ensured that I remained very engaged in the read.  If you haven’t read any of the previous Drake books, this is a good volume to join the fray.  If you have read the previous installments, you won’t be disappointed with this one.  This is my favorite installment so far, and I don’t see myself getting bored with the series anytime soon.   Alexandra Harvey is a guilty pleasure read for me, and I look forward to each of her new books.  Her books were a great find for me, and I have enjoyed every one so far.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Hush by Eishes Chayil

 

Title: Hush

Author: Eishes Chayil

Publisher:  Walker

ISBN: 9780802720887

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Inside the closed community of Borough Park, where most Chassidim live, the rules of life are very clear, determined by an ancient script written thousands of years before down to the last detail—and abuse has never been a part of it. But when thirteen-year-old Gittel learns of the abuse her best friend has suffered at the hands of her own family member, the adults in her community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. Forced to remain silent, Gittel begins to question everything she was raised to believe.

A richly detailed and nuanced book, one of both humor and depth, understanding and horror, this story explains a complex world that remains an echo of its past, and illuminates the conflict between yesterday’s traditions and today’s reality.

Hush was a difficult book for me to read, both because of the heavy subject matter and because of the setting.  Gittel lives in Borough Park, and she is part of a Chassidic group that has very strict rules of behavior for all of its members.  When Gittel’s friend Devory hangs herself, Gittel is left with a lifetime of guilt; could she have done anything to save her best friend from the abuse she was suffering at home?

Because Gittel’s culture is so alien to me, I found myself having to set Hush aside several times as I was reading it so I could really think about what was going on.  It was occasionally a struggle to muddle through all of the unfamiliar terms, but it looks like there will be a glossary in the finished release (I read an ARC).  I found myself putting the book down so I could Google some of the words and holidays mentioned in the book, and if I have any criticism of Hush, it is that I always felt like an outsider while I was reading it.  Like Devory, I was always at arm’s length from the events taking place in the story.

Gittel is ten when her best friend commits suicide.  Everyone in her community tries to hush up the tragic event and pretend that Devory never existed in the first place, or that she was so weird and flawed that the group was better off just forgetting her.  Gittel can’t forget her friend, though, and as she nears adulthood, she finds herself haunted by memories of the past.  Could Devory’s death have been prevented?  Why didn’t anyone listen to Devory when she was asking for help? More importantly, why is everyone hiding the truth now that she’s dead?

Gittel is an intriguing character.  She is trying to behave in the manner expected of her, but as she is tortured by memories of Devory, she finds herself starting to ask questions.  Why, why, why did Devory have to die?  Why, why, why will nobody talk about the circumstances leading up to her death?  As she keeps asking questions, Gittel faces the dismay of her family and friends.  They begin to think that she is broken, that something is seriously wrong with her.  Devory is the past, not the future.  Why can’t Gittel just put the unpleasantness behind her and concentrate on what’s in front of her?

Gittel is such a strong character, and I found myself sucked into her emotional turmoil.  It is impossible to look to the future when the darkness of the past won’t let you rest.  Devory haunts her dreams, demanding that she go against tradition so that what happened to Devory never happens again.  With everyone in her community denying the truth, Gittel finds the courage to make them face up to it.  It’s not Gittel who is broken, but the people around her, who are willing to sacrifice a little girl to keep the scandal from tainting them.

The other character who I admired was Gittel’s father.  He has a lot to lose if he helps his daughter uncover the truth.  He will lose his standing in the community, and that is something that his wife doesn’t want.  If he ignores Gittel, he is abandoning his daughter.  If he helps her, he is acknowledging that there is a problem in the community.  What a difficult decision for him to make, and he doesn’t come out on top regardless of his choice.  It is easy to see where Gittel gets both her strength of character and her determination.

While Hush isn’t always an easy read, it is fascinating one.  The beginning of the book is told through little slice of life experiences as Gittel and Devory maneuver through very different childhoods.  The second half of the book follows Gittel as she fights to put her nightmares to rest and make the community reexamine the tragedy that stole the life of one helpless girl from them.  From everyone.  Their failure to save Devory is a blemish for all of them and it’s something that can never happen again, and should never have happened in the first place.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by the publisher

Review: Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier

 

Title: Millie Waits for the Mail

Author: Alexander Steffensmeier

Publisher:  Walker Books

ISBN: 978-0802796622

 

May Contain Spoilers

When I requested the hold on this book, I had no idea what to expect.  I was really expecting a MG title, but Millie is a picture book.  That was ok, because the cover is adorable, and I don’t know if my brain could have handled another novel at the moment.  It’s been ages since I’ve read a picture book, so it was fun to put this book through its paces.

Millie is a cow. But before I lose you, she is not an ordinary milk cow.  Oh, no!  Far from it!  She has one all consuming desire, and that is to chase the mailman.  She ponders ways to terrorize this poor, harried civil servant, and just chasing him off of the farm isn’t good enough for her.  She has to find clever hiding spots so she can jump out and give him a cow-sized BOO!  Millie’s owner is lucky the mailman hasn’t filed a restraining against her cow!

The plot is very simple, as the humans in the story try to get Millie to stop her out of control behavior.  She gives the mailman nightmares, and her owner is  not amused by the condition of her mail.  The illustrations are priceless, especially the montage of Millie attempting to find new hiding places.  She is pretty devious for a cow!  The plot is very simple, but Alexander Steffensmeier’s  humorous paintings make this a delightful read, and the final conflict resolution is priceless. 

Grade: B+

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: Dear Hound by Jill Murphy

 

Title: Dear Hound

Author: Jill Murphy

Publisher: Walker & Company

ISBN: 9780802721907

Available in stores Sept 2010

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Alfie’s your average deer hound puppy—curious about the world around him, happy to chase the cat and laze around in his favorite beanbag bed, and very loyal to his boy, Charlie. So he’s extremely upset when Charlie goes away and leaves him with a sitter—upset enough that he escapes into the woods. With the help of some friendly foxes, Alfie learns to live in the wild, but he never stops thinking of Charlie and trying to find his way home. And Charlie, of course, never stops thinking of Alfie, either. Will these two be able to find each other before it’s too late? Featuring irresistible black-and-white line drawings on every spread, Dear Hound is both an accessible, heartwarming story and the perfect choice for readers graduating out of early chapter books.

This is such a cute book!  It’s got one huge thing going for it, even before I picked it up – it’s about a dog, and I am a sucker for animal stories.  I love the cover, though after reading it, I understand why Alfie has such a nervous expression on his face.  I have to admit that there were times during his adventure that I was in an agony of anxiety.  Poor, poor dog!  Getting lost is not fun, and being clueless and unsure of how to survive is even worse!  Good thing Alfie ran into a pair of kind hearted foxes who were willing to go out their way to save his bacon.

Dear Hound is a charming read, and it is a book that also delights visually.  Jill Murphy has packed her story with illustrations that enhance the reading experience, skillfully working in tandem with the narrative to deliver a suspenseful and ultimately rewarding read.  Alfie’s journey to be reunited with his family comes to life from the first page, the art pulling the reader in, as the fast-paced adventure plays out for both Alfie and his boy, Charlie.  It’s a gripping, and at times, emotional, story, and it’s one that I enjoyed immensely.  I don’t read many books geared for readers this young, but I liked this one so much that I will be exploring more titles and authors in the coming weeks, via the library.  It’s also a title that will appeal equally to boys or girls, and I think it will hook even reluctant readers. 

Grade: A

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Blood Feud by Alyxandra Harvey

 

Title: The Drake Chronicles: Blood Feud

Author: Alyxandra Harvey

Publisher: Walker & Company

ISBN: 978-0802720962

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

It’s been centuries since Isabeau St. Croix barely survived the French Revolution. Now she’s made her way back to the living and she must face the ultimate test by confronting the evil British lord who left her for dead the day she turned into a vampire. That’s if she can control her affection for Logan Drake, a vampire whose bite is as sweet as the revenge she seeks.

The clans are gathering for Helena’s royal coronation as the next vampire queen, and new alliances are beginning to form now that the old rifts of Lady Natasha’s reign have started to heal. But with a new common enemy, Leander Montmarte—a vicious leader who hopes to force Solange to marry him and usurp the power of the throne for himself—the clans must stand together to preserve the peace he threatens to destroy.

This second adventure in the Drake Chronicles—told from both Logan’s and Isabeau’s perspectives—has all the same butt-kicking action, heart-pounding romances and snarky humor that readers loved in Hearts at Stake, as well as exciting new revelations about the vampire dynasties to keep readers coming back for more.

The second volume of The Drake Chronicles delivers the action and romance found in Hearts at Stake, and introduces a whole new cast of fun and engaging characters.  I still like the Drake boys the best, and wish that the story has centered more around them.  Instead, Logan goes off adventuring with Isabeau, the capable Hound who saved Solange in the first book.  

With Helena Drake preparing for her coronation, you’d think that the ripples in the vampire world would have calmed down a little.  Nope, that’s not how these guys roll.  Montmartre is plotting to snatch both the throne and Solange from the Drakes, so things are still rather out of sorts.  With assassination attempts, cursed dog paws, and potentially hazardous packages left on porches during the middle of the night, the Drakes don’t get a moments rest. 

Into this chaos walks Isabeau St. Croix, a capable emissary for the Hounds, who are seeking to better their relationship with the Drakes to fight a common enemy: the evil Montmartre.  Isabeau has another goal; she wants revenge against Montmartre’s top lieutenant, the Earl of Greyhaven.  He’s just as evil as his boss, and he’s the one who turned Isabeau.  After leaving her in a buried coffin for 200 years, she has a huge bone to pick with him.  The descriptions of her time trapped in the coffin actually had me suffering from claustrophobia and left me short of breath.  I am so, so happy that I wasn’t buried alive for 200 years! 

Logan and Isabeau have to team up to protect their families and friends from traitors both within their ranks and out, and boy, do they make a great couple.  The story is told through varying points of view, and even through flashbacks to Isabeau’s childhood in both France during the Revolution, and in England.  I enjoyed the glimpses into her past and felt that they really helped to round out her character and give her more depth.  She has already survived so much misfortune and heartache, and now she’s caught up in a vampire war!  She is a strong and bold character, and she makes a perfect match for Logan.

Like in the previous installment, there is plenty of action to keep the pages turning.  Logan and Isabeau find themselves in one tight spot after another, and only their deepening feelings and growing trust in each other keep them from getting staked through the heart.  I liked how their relationship changed over the course of the book, and how they supported and gave strength to each other.

Blood Feud is a lively summer read, and it’s the perfect book to read while lounging in the sun like a lizard.  The next installment of The Drake Chronicles is slated for January 2011 – I wonder which dashing Drake brother will get the lead the next time out?

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu YA Fiction Novel Review


Title: Dirty Little Secrets

Author: C. J. Omololu

Publisher: Walker

ISBN: 9780802786609

Another winner from the 2010 debut authors!  I am so impressed with the books I have read so far that now I am freaking out because there is no way I can read them all.  I will give it my best shot, though, and try to work my way through as many as I can.

From the back of the book:

Everyone has a secret. But Lucy’s is bigger and dirtier than most. It’s one she’s been hiding for years—that her mom’s out-of-control hoarding has turned their lives into a world of garbage and shame. She’s managed to keep her home life hidden from her best friend and her crush, knowing they’d be disgusted by the truth. So, when her mom dies suddenly in their home, Lucy hesitates to call 911 because revealing their way of life would make her future unbearable—and she begins her two-day plan to set her life right.

With details that are as fascinating as they are disturbing, C. J. Omololu weaves an hour-by-hour account of Lucy’s desperate attempt at normalcy. Her fear and isolation are palpable as readers are pulled down a path from which there is no return, and the impact of hoarding on one teen’s life will have readers completely hooked.

Wow, this book was intense!  Lucy is so afraid that her secret will become front page news in the local paper that she does some really awful things.  Her mom is lying dead in the hallway, but Lucy doesn’t reach for her cell phone.  Oh, no, instead, she races out to purchase trash bags and starts trying to clean up the mess that is the family home.  Lucy has lived with piles and piles of garbage her entire life, and it is something that embarrasses and humiliates her.  She can never have friends over, she never dared to move or throw any of the trash out where it belongs because her mom would go ballistic, and now that it looks like the overwhelming piles of junk has contributed to her mother’s tragic demise, she can’t even feel sad about it.  Instead, she is more concerned about making sure the neighbors never find out about the mess she has been forced to wallow in for all of these years.

The book takes place over the course of a little over a day, and my goodness, is it an emotion packed 24 hours.  The pacing rides a razor’s edge, as Lucy attempts to justify to herself her own actions.  The book works because she is such a sympathetic character.  All she wants is a normal life, in surroundings where she doesn’t have to worry about being buried under mounds of garbage.  The relationship with her mother is strained at best, and when we first meet Lucy, she is just counting down the days until she graduates from school and can be free of her mother and her hoarding.  The strain of having to deal with her mother’s mental illness has taken its toll on her, and Lucy can’t even find it within herself to grieve.  Instead, she has a compulsive urge to save herself and to save her mother’s reputation from gossip.

When I first heard about this book, I wasn’t the least bit interested in reading it.  I didn’t think I could ever understand how the protagonist could just leave her mother dead in the hallway while she tries to clean up the reeking mess surrounding her.  After reading a few reviews, I changed my mind and decided to give it a go.  I could not put this book down, and Lucy will stick with me for a long, long time.  Her motivations make sense within the context of the story, and I even felt sorry for her as she tries to dig herself out of the nightmare that her life has become. 

Dirty Little Secrets is a unique, engrossing story.  Lucy’s fear of being labeled a freak has kept her isolated for her entire life, and when the chance comes along to be "normal," she jumps up and grabs at it with both hands.  Lonely and with no one to confide in, her desperation will leave you haunted.
 
Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher