Review: Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins

 

Title: Spell Bound

Author: Rachel Hawkins

Publisher:  Disney Hyperion

Also available in digital:

Spell Bound (Digital)

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Hailed as “impossible to put down,” the Hex Hall series has both critics and teens cheering. With a winning combination of romance, action, magic and humor, this third volume will leave readers enchanted.
Just as Sophie Mercer has come to accept her extraordinary magical powers as a demon, the Prodigium Council strips them away. Now Sophie is defenseless, alone, and at the mercy of her sworn enemies—the Brannicks, a family of warrior women who hunt down the Prodigium.  Or at least that’s what Sophie thinks, until she makes a surprising discovery. The Brannicks know an epic war is coming, and they believe Sophie is the only one powerful enough to stop the world from ending. But without her magic, Sophie isn’t as confident.

Sophie’s bound for one hell of a ride—can she get her powers back before it’s too late?

Review:

I have been waiting with a great deal of anticipation for the final book in Rachel Hawkins’ Hex Hall series.  I found the first book rather predicable, but Demonglass kept me on the edge of my seat.  I hated the cliffhanger ending! How could you do that to me?  I was finally onboard with Sophie and her acidic personality, and then – WHAM!  We ran into a brick wall of “See you later!”  Ugh!

Anyway, a copy finally came in at the library, so I hustled over to pick it up.  On my lunch break.  Even though I couldn’t read it until after work.  I dove into the book as soon as I arrived home, and after that uncomfortable few moments of trying like heck to remember what happened in the previous book, and who all of the characters were, I was in!  There is such a loss of momentum when you have to wait for over a year to read the next book in a series, and most of the time, they don’t work as well for me.  When I am in the reading zone provided by a book, I am also in a particular frame of mind at that place in time.  Sometimes I don’t get it back.  Sometimes I no longer click with the protagonist.  Sometimes I discover, with dismay, that I don’t even like the protagonist anymore.  While she hasn’t changed in the year and a half since we last met, I have.  I am a different person, and there have been times when I have outgrown a series or cast of characters, and I am always bummed when that happens.

Don’t worry, though! That didn’t happen with Spell Bound.  While some of the plot points didn’t work for me, I still enjoyed Sophie’s occasionally grating personality.  Her coping mechanism is to get sarcastic, and I actually liked when she was blasting out snarky comments, or better yet, making unfiltered inner commentary about whatever person happened to be pissing her off.  I didn’t like the back and forth between Archer and her fiancée, Cal, but heck, I usually never like all of the romantic triangles cluttering up YA PNR these days.  It is the one trope that drives me batty, and the one that I find the least interesting.  The resolution to this one was a cop-out, with Sophie not making a decision so much as having it made for her.  I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so I’ll just say UGH!  Sophie gets off guilt free, and I didn’t like that.  I felt that it belittled her emotional conflict and her feelings for both guys was also trivialized. 

Moving on, I love the action in the these books.  Sophie has to always be on her toes, ready to fight for her life.  She also has to be ready to fight for the lives of her friends, and now, her family.  In this supernatural war, there are many casualties.  Sophie is under so much stress to ensure the safety of her loved ones that I’m surprised she didn’t lose all of her hair from the stress.  Worse yet, she didn’t have her powers, because they had been locked away by the villains at the end of the last book!  Her father’s powers had been completely and forcibly ripped from his body.  Sophie was running on empty, and ouch!  it wasn’t easy for her to escape from all of the danger she repeatedly found herself in.  That is one of her traits that I admire most about her character; Sophie has an innate ability to think well under pressure.  While she may lack the common sense to keep her out of danger in the first place, once she’s in it, she is able to stay relatively calm, examine the situation from every angle, and find a way to get her out of trouble without getting killed.  That she is ready to sacrifice her life when the stakes get so high that I would have crumbled into a ball of black despair, is another reason why I enjoyed Sophie, and these books, so much.

All in all, Hex Hall was a fun series, and now that they are all out, I recommend that you give them a try.  Each book was better than the last, and all of the characters, especially Sophie and Elodie, are likeable.

Grade:  B+

Review copy obtained from my local library 

Micro Review: Hearts of Fire by Kira Brady (Novella)

 

Title: Hearts of Fire

Author: Kira Brady

Publisher: Zebra

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In the prequel to a stunning new paranormal series, one woman’s desire for a forbidden man will spark a centuries-long supernatural conflict–and a love nothing can destroy.

She’s the heiress to Seattle’s most powerful shifter clan. Her destiny is as controlled and certain as moonrise. However, from the moment Alice Corbette encounters the man known as Brand, she will defy all constraint and break every rule to make this dragon-shifter hers. Brand is determined to repay the clan leader he owes his life to. But one taste of Alice’s exquisite spirit will make him question his loyalty–and plunge them both into the middle of a ruthless power play. Their only chance at freedom is a gamble that could risk the future of humans and shifters alike. . .

20,000 Words.

Review:

This teaser novella worked its magic to get me totally invested in the release of Hearts of Darkness, the kickoff to Kira Brady’s Deadglass series.  The world building is fascinating, and the chemistry between Alice and Brand zinged from the pages.  The ending was like hitting a brick wall, though, and left me more than a little frustrated, because I wanted more. NOW!

  The first novel hits stores in August, and it’s at the top of my wish list.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

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Cover Shot! Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

OMG I love this cover! Shades of Milk and Honey floated right under my radar because I find that cover drab and dull, but this cover is gorgeous!  So pretty!  Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal will be in stores 2013

The magical book that might result if Jane Austen’s Emma were set against the Luddite uprising in the Year Without a Summer

Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane and Vincent Ellsworth. In Without a Summer the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing—even the domestic sphere—is quite what it seems.

Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

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Interview with Laura Powell, Author of Burn Mark

Our special guest today is Laura Powell, the author of Burn Mark.  This new Bloomsbury release features one of my favorite romance tropes – forbidden love!  Let’s see what Laura has to say about her new book.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Laura Powell] I’m half-Welsh, half-American, and live in a London attic. I can read fortunes in tea leaves and Tarot cards, and like to bake cakes and binge-sleep in between books.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for Burn Mark?

[Laura Powell] It struck me that a witches’ coven is quite like the Mafia: they’re both secret criminal organizations, hunted by the law, a source of fear and loathing to many, but seen as quite cool and glamorous by some.

Since modern-day witches would make great gangsters, I thought there would need to be a specialist police force to protect people from black magic – the Inquisition. Once I’d got these two opposing forces, I decided that my heroine, Glory, should come from a famous crime coven, while my hero, Lucas, should belong to an equally famous family of inquisitors. When their worlds collide, sparks fly!

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Glory?

[Laura Powell] Stroppy, ambitious, brave

[Manga Maniac Café]  What are three things Lucas would never have in his pocket?

[Laura Powell] Any kind of discount voucher, a lock-picking set, lint

[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Laura Powell] The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. She’s probably my favourite contemporary novelist. Now that I’ve finished that, I’m on to her post-apocalyptic thriller, The Year of the Flood.

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can learn more about Laura by visiting her website.

Check out the trailer!

You can purchase Burn Mark from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below.

[PR] VIZ Media Debuts New Shojo Manga Series JIU JIU

{ED. Wolf shapeshifters? Count me in!}

PRESS RELEASEFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LEAP INTO THE FANTASY AND ROMANTIC INTRIGUE OF A TEENAGE GIRL’S DEEPENING BOND WITH TWO WOLF SHAPESHIFTERS, IN JIU JIU

High School Gets Complicated For A Girl From A Family of Demon Hunters In A New Shojo Series From VIZ Media

San Francisco, CA, June 19, 2012 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), the largest publisher, distributor and licensor of manga and anime in North America, unleashes the demon-hunting romantic fantasy of Touya Tobina’s shojo manga series, JIU JIU, on July 3rd. The new series will be published under the company’s Shojo Beat imprint, is rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens and will carry an MSRP of $9.99 U.S. / $12.99 CAN.

Born into a family of “Hunters,” Takamichi’s destiny is to pursue and slay demons. When her twin brother is killed, she is saved from despair by a pair of Jiu Jiu – shape-shifting familiars – in the form of two wolf pups named Snow and Night. Now Takamichi is in high school and an active Hunter. Snow and Night can’t wait to attend school in their human form to "protect" her. But are they ready to go off leash…?

“JIU JIU is an intriguing new series that offers a strong combination of romantic drama, supernatural action, and humor centering on the deepening bonds between a girl and two wolf shapeshifters,” says Annette Roman, Editor. “Growing up in a family of demon hunters isn’t easy. Things become more complicated when the pair of cute wolf pups grow up into her bodyguards, learn to shift into (hot!) human form, and decide to follow their mistress to school. Don’t miss this new rhapsody of swords, fangs and romance from Shojo Beat this summer!”

Manga creator Touya Tobina is originally from Tokyo. In 2005, her series, Clean Freak Fully Equipped, won the Grand Prize in the 30th Hakusensha Athena Newcomers Awards. Her series Jiu Jiu originally debuted in Japan as a one-shot manga in the shojo magazine, Hana to Yume.

For more information on JIU JIU, or other shojo manga titles from VIZ Media, please visit ShojoBeat.com.

About VIZ Media, LLC

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, VIZ Media distributes, markets and licenses the best anime and manga titles direct from Japan.  Owned by three of Japan’s largest manga and animation companies, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions, Co., Ltd., VIZ Media has the most extensive library of anime and manga for English speaking audiences in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. With its popular monthly manga anthology SHONEN JUMP magazine and blockbuster properties like NARUTO, BLEACH and INUYASHA, VIZ Media offers cutting-edge action, romance and family friendly properties for anime, manga, science fiction and fantasy fans of all ages.  VIZ Media properties are available as graphic novels, DVDs, animated television series, feature films, downloadable and streaming video and a variety of consumer products.  Learn more about VIZ Media, anime and manga at www.VIZ.com.

Review by Elsa–The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

 

Title: The Son of Neptune

Author:  Rick Riordan

Publisher:  Disney Hyperion

ISBN: 978-1423140597

 

{ED. Here is another review written by my young friend, Elsa.  Good work, kiddo!}

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Percy is confused. When he awoke after his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain-fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight. Somehow Percy managed to make it to the camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he had to continually kill monsters that, annoyingly, would not stay dead. But the camp doesn’t ring any bells with him.
Hazel is supposed to be dead. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. When the Voice took over her mother and commanded Hazel to use her “gift” for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn’t say no. Now, because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk.
Frank is a klutz. His grandmother claims he is descended from ancient heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery—although not good enough to help the Fifth Cohort win at war games. His big and bulky physique makes him feel like a clumsy ox, especially in front of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely—enough, even, to share the secret he holds close to his heart.
Beginning at the “other” camp for half-bloods and extending as far north as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment in the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all of whom are destined to play a part in the most important quest of all: the Prophecy of Seven.

Review:

I wanted to read The Son of Neptune because I have read the Jackson Chronicles before. It was an exciting, action packed fiction book. The book taught you that the importance of believing in what you want, sticking by your friends’ side and standing your ground were key. When I read “The Lost Hero”, the book before the Son of Neptune, I knew that Rick Riordan was a great author and I would love all of his books. Also, like the Hunger Games, it has the power to make you realize what you want in life.

I liked Percy as the protagonist. He was definitely gutsier in this book than the rest. I can say that I liked everything and I didn’t hate anything. Rick Riordan is another author that I am officially obsessed with.  I had such a hard time putting his books down and stepping away from Percy.  Would he survive the pressure?  Would something worse happen to Frank and Hazel? I need to read the rest of Rick Riordan’s books!

Hope you like my reviews so far and try to catch the next one coming soon!!!!

~Elsa

 

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Review: Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler

 

Title: Princess of the Wild Swans

Author: Diane Zahler

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0062004925

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Princess Meriel’s brothers have been cursed. A terrible enchantment–cast by their conniving new stepmother–has transformed the handsome princes into swans. They now swim forlornly on a beautiful heart-shaped lake that lies just beyond the castle walls.

Meriel will do whatever it takes to rescue her beloved brothers. But she must act quickly. If Heart Lake freezes, her brothers will be forced to fly south or perish.

With help from her newfound friends Riona and Liam–a pretty half-witch and her clever brother–Meriel vows to finish a seemingly impossible task. If she completes it, her brothers may be saved.

But if she fails . . . all will be lost.

Review:

I read and enjoyed The Thirteenth Princess, so I was curious to see if I would like Princess of the Wild Swans as well.  The fairy tale that this book is based on has never been a favorite, and I wondered how I would feel about Diane Zahler’s reimagined version.  I liked it!  A lot!  The characters, once again, are what made the story, as well as the urgency of Meriel’s task.  If she doesn’t find a way to save her brothers soon, winter will set in and they will have to fly to a warmer climate.  Since it is autumn, that doesn’t leave her much time to come up with a solution!  To make matters worse, there isn’t anyone for her to confide in, because everyone seems to have succumbed to the evil Lady Orianna’s enchantments.

Diane Zahler’s princess protagonists make these stories for me.  They are kind and concerned, and though they might be slightly spoiled, when the chips are down and danger beckons, they will do anything to save the people they love.  Though she is frightened and confused, Meriel quickly finds the determination to save her brothers.  She knows that something terrible has happened to them – they all just disappeared, after all – and she is going to figure out where they all went.  With her father bewitched by her new, beautiful stepmother, she has no adult to turn to.  After chance encounter with Riona, her brother Cullan’s girlfriend, Meriel discovers some equally determined allies.  Both Riona and her brother, Liam, will do anything to help Meriel.  They know that the new queen is evil, and they fear what will happen to the kingdom if she triumphs in her evil deeds.

Just when Meriel is ready to give up, the townsfolk provide assistance to keep her moving doggedly forward.  Hers is a terrible task, one that she isn’t prepared to tackle, but with help from her friends and her subjects, she finds the resolution and the courage to get the job done.  Meriel matures and gains confidence in her ability to save her family, and as she discovers an impressive inner strength, she makes things happen.  She knows that if she fails, her brothers will remain swans forever, and that is all of the motivation she needs to find a way around every obstacle that springs up in her path.  Her brothers, and even her father, may have treated her like a helpless child, but Meriel will show them all that she is more than capable of taking care of herself, and them as well!  Even though each road block was more overwhelming than the last, and Meriel was overcome with self-doubt, she continued to do everything possible to save her brothers.

Diane Zahler’s writing is reminiscent of Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley, two of my favorite fantasy authors, so it’s no surprise that I am enjoying her books as well.  I just purchased A True Princess ($5.99 for my Kindle – WIN!).  She has, in fact, been moved to my auto-buy list.  I can hardly wait to see what other adventures she has in store for her very relatable and likeable characters.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by the author

 

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Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood


 

Title: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Publisher: G. P. Putnam

ISBN: 978-0399257452

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Blessed with a gift…cursed with a secret.

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship – or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood – not even from each other.

Review:

When I signed up for this book tour, I wasn’t expecting to receive a review copy, so I was delighted when one appeared in my mailbox.  After reading the introductory letter written by Arianne Lewin,  Executive Editor at G P Putnam, I was even more excited to dive into the book.  I haven’t read many YA books set in the 1800s, let alone an alternate New England.  I love reimagined time periods, so Born Wicked had me intrigued.  I was a tiny bit skeptical that it would be worthy of all of the gushing praise, but once I started reading, I could not stop.  I was totally sucked into Cate’s world from the first page.  I immediately felt sympathy for her.  I immediately connected with her plight.  Here is a young woman, still grieving for her mother, who has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  No wonder she seems to be so joyless and stern at first.  She is scared to death that if her sisters’ secret is exposed, she will lose them, too.

Cate’s mother was a witch.  Cate and her two younger sisters are witches, as well.  In their New England of the 1890s, being a witch is a terrible crime.  The Brothers firmly keep control of the populace, swiftly doling out punishments when they discover behavior contrary to their stern teachings.  Suspected witches are imprisoned in a mental hospital or sentenced to hard labor on a ship, or worse; they simply disappear.  Women are second-class citizens in Cate’s society.  They must be ever vigilant against the evil influences of suspected witches, and upon their majority, they must declare their intention before God and the members of their church.  Girls only have two choices; to marry, or to join the Sisterhood.  If a girl doesn’t know which she prefers, the Brothers make the decision for her.  Ugh!

In this grim setting, Cate not only has to worry about her own future, she has her sisters to worry about.  Unlike Cate, they are chafing to use their magic, and they aren’t always discrete about it.  In a world where being a witch can prematurely and very unpleasantly end your life, Cate is stressed about about everything.  Not even her father knows their secret.  Cate was made to promise to keep their secret and to keep Tess and Maura safe at her mother’s death bed.  She takes her promise very, very seriously, because she understands the consequences of their discovery.  She has heard about the girls who have been disappearing, either sent to the insane asylum or simply vanishing without a trace.  She is terrified that they will be next.  In addition to this burden, she also has romantic entanglements to work out.  This is one love triangle that actually didn’t grate on my nerves, and I am so curious to see what happens with it in the next book.

I thought the stark, stifling world of this New England was fascinating.  The Brothers control just a sliver of this alternate North America – other stronger, more progressive countries control the rest.  The borders are kept firmly closed against outsiders.  Books and manuscripts are regularly banned and burned.  Not following the teachings of the Brothers gets you labeled a deviant, and puts you at the mercy of their cruel punishments.  Women are always treated more harshly than men, and even the simplest of infractions can lead to disaster.

I could not put this book down.  I thought about it when I was forced to do something else.  I counted the hours until I was free to pick it up again.  The characters charmed me, especially Cate and her sisters.  Their interactions were as complicated and compelling as their relationships.  The younger girls don’t understand Cate’s reluctance to use and learn about her magic.  They don’t understand her fury when they carelessly weave spells where others might see them.  While it is obvious to see how much they love each other, it is also painfully obvious to see how Cate’s rules are going to tear them apart.  Cate’s greatest nightmare is only an eye-blink away, but the tighter she tries to control Maura and Tess, the faster the time bomb starts ticking.  With three powerful witches in the same house, struggling to exert control over themselves, it was only a matter of time before something awful happened.  And happen it did, with exploding glass, splintering furniture, and an emotional chasm that will take more than a hug to mend. 

I found Born Wicked to be a unique read; I don’t think I have read anything else quite like it.  Jessica Spotswood took the usual paranormal tropes and twisted them up into something new and wonderfully compelling.  YA tropes that normally drive me nuts kept me firmly engaged in the story, wondering what would happen next.  The character development kept me enthralled, too.  While I would never call Cate a carefree kind of girl, she does begin to accept herself and to open up to others, which made her an even more sympathetic character for me.  When she kept herself isolated, she was taking the chicken exit; without putting herself out there, without accepting any emotional risk, she came across, at first, as a stunted, immature girl.  As she began to take emotional risks, she began to blossom into a believable, likeable young woman.

So, do I have any gripes about Born Wicked?  Yup, only one.  It’s part of a series, and it is going to be a long, long wait for Book 2!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by {teen} book scene

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