Review: Hereafter by Tara Hudson

 

Title: Hereafter

Author: Tara Hudson

Publisher: HarperTeen

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

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.

Thrilling and evocative, with moments of pure pleasure, Hereafter is a sensation you won’t want to miss.

Review:

I did not find this ghost story very compelling.  Amelia is a ghost with no recollection of her past.  All she knows is that she met a watery end in a river.  After she saves Joshua from drowning, she is astonished to discover that he can see her and hear her.  Even more amazing – she can touch him.  Can a ghost discover love with a living, breathing guy?

I love the premise of Hereafter, because I am a sucker for love stories where the odds are so firmly stacked against the protagonists that it seems impossible for them to ever get together.  It doesn’t get much harder to find a happy  ever after than for a ghost to fall in love with a living person.  Unfortunately, the narrative style just did not click for me.  Amelia’s endless and overly verbose inner dialog did not engage me in the story.  Amelia’s lack of memories didn’t work either, and I found that being firmly anchored to the present, with no chance of reflection on past events or mistakes, a plot device that didn’t work for me.  She did constantly relive her death, but because she kept running away from the memories, she never stopped to think about why she materialized in the exact same place every single time she had the nightmares about her death.  If she had only looked around herself, she would have discovered many key answers to the questions that were burning in her mind.

Joshua’s relatives are Seers, and they have exorcised lingering spirits for generations.  When his grandmother sees Amelia, she immediately wants Joshua to get rid of her. Permanently.  This would have been a great conflict if it hadn’t been pushed to the background midway through the book.  I am sure that the Seers will play a larger role in Arise, but I would have liked to see them meddle more with the protagonists this volume.

Eli, the evil ghost, came off as a creepy stalker.  He was one-dimensional, and very boring.  I found his aggressive behavior toward Amelia disturbing and his comeuppance lacking.  After your character has been painted to be so evil, I think you need a really memorable end.  I don’t think Eli’s was harsh enough, given his cruelty to Amelia.

I was looking forward to enjoying Hereafter, but the book just didn’t work for me.  Many other reviewers did enjoy it, so it was disappointing that I did not.

Grade: D+

Available in Print and Digital For a limited time, the eBook is only .99 and includes bonus materials!

Review copy purchased from Amazon

 

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Cover shot! City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

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?

Here is the  cover for Miriam Forster’s City of a Thousand Dolls.   The book isn’t slated for release until 2013 (sad face).   I find this cover interesting, and the premise sounds promising, so I will be waiting impatiently for the release date next year.  What do you think about this one?  Check out Miriam’s blog to see her reaction to her cover.

 

 

The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.

 

In stores 2013

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Review: Arise by Tara Hudson


 

   Title: Arise

   Author: Tara Hudson

   Publisher: HarperTeen

   ISBN: 978-0062026798

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Amelia—still caught between life and death—must fight for every moment of her relationship with the human boy Joshua. They can hardly even kiss without Amelia accidentally dematerializing. Looking for answers, they go to visit some of Joshua’s Seer relatives in New Orleans. But even in a city so famously steeped in the supernatural, Amelia ends up with more questions than answers…and becomes increasingly convinced that she and Joshua can never have a future together.Wandering through the French Quarter, Amelia meets other in-between ghosts, and begins to seriously consider joining them. And then she meets Gabrielle. Somehow, against impossible odds, Gaby has found a way to live a sort of half-life…a half-life for which Amelia would pay any price. Torn between two worlds, Amelia must choose carefully, before the evil spirits of the netherworld choose for her.

Review:

Arise picks up where Hereafter left off, with Amelia still a ghost and a long term relationship with Joshua looking more and more unlikely.  Nobody can see her, after all, and he looks like a nut case walking through the school campus holding her hand or talking to her.  Worse, he is avoiding his friends and starting to lose his social standing at school so he can spend time with her.  This only makes Amelia feel guilty and stressed out.  She realizes that a relationship with her will make Joshua a social outcast and it’s tearing her up inside. 

I thought that the setting and story elements were stronger in Arise than Hereafter.  Joshua’s family heads to New Orleans to spend the Christmas holidays with family, and Amelia is immediately surrounded by a group of young Seers.  Instead of wanting to banish her forever, they seem to want to help her.  Can she trust them?  I was immediately skeptical of their motives.  Joshua’s sister, Jillian, had me the most suspicious.  After Amelia saved her from certain death and her Seer abilities were unlocked, Jillian did nothing but deny that she can see and hear Amelia.  I kept wondering why she trying to be deceptive.  Was it because she was in denial, or was there a more sinister motive behind it?

Without giving too much of the plot away, I did like the voodoo aspects that were introduced to the storyline, but wish that that they were a little more believable.  Amelia’s new friend, Gabby, performs a voodoo ritual that drastically changes Amelia.  The ritual was supposedly learned by reading a spell in a voodoo priestess’ shop, and it just seemed wrong to me that Gabby could alter the dead just by reading a spell in a book.  Even though she was interested in voodoo and even though she was related to a voodoo practitioner, I would have expected that a spell that powerful would demand a lot more effort than waiting for the book to be left open on that particular page.  Maybe by virtue of the fact that they are in New Orleans, the very air that surrounded Gabby gave her the knowledge and the magical powers necessary to perform the spell. 

I felt that this book is guilty of telling, instead of showing, what is going on.  There were huge info dumps after Amelia meets the other Seers, as well as after she meets Gabby.  These scenes of long explanatory exchanges were boring to me, and made me question the believability of the facts being revealed.  It ruined the suspense for me, and bogged down the story.

This series isn’t really clicking for me, and I don’t think I will continue with it.  While the premise is awesome, the writing style doesn’t work for me.  All of those snapping and whipping heads, along with the twisted lips and snarling, growling, and hissing just sounds painful and overdone.  Nobody just says anything in Arise – they shriek, gasp, and choke constantly, which made me relieved that Amelia was already dead.  The constant recoiling, flopping, and clawing would probably have killed her if she wasn’t already a ghost.

If you enjoyed Hereafter, you will enjoy Arise.  If you are new to the series, I suggest sampling a few chapters before purchasing.

Grade: C-

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Review: Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala

 

Title: Don’t Breathe a Word

Author: Holly Cupala

Publisher: Harper Teen

ISBN: 978-0061766695

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Joy Delamere is suffocating.

From asthma, from her parents, and from her boyfriend, Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out. She can take his cruel words, his tender words . . . until the night they go too far.

To escape, Joy sacrifices her suburban life to find the one who offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. He introduces her to a world of fierce loyalty, to its rules of survival, and to love—a world she won’t easily let go.

Set against the backdrop of the streets of Seattle, Holly Cupala’s power­ful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the secrets we keep, and the ways to redemption. But above all, it is an unflinching story about the extraordinary lengths one girl will go to discover her own strength.

Review:

If I hadn’t received a review copy of Don’t Breathe a Word, it probably would have never even been a blip on my radar, and that would have been too bad, because it is a compellingly readable title.  I did have to engage a heavy suspension of disbelief during my time with Joy, because some of the plot elements did not work for me, and seemed highly unlikely. 

Joy has been suffering from debilitating asthma her entire life.  She has been in and out of the hospital after severe reactions and bouts with pneumonia.  Several times during her short life, she has been inches away from death.  Only the quick reactions of her caretakers and the emergency staff at the hospital have saved her life.  Fearful that any mold or dust might cause an immediate and unfortunate reaction, her mother keeps their house spotless.  Joy’s older brother is assigned to take care of her, to make sure that she is sheltered from an allergic reaction to anything.  Joy is smothered and unhappy, but her parents won’t take any chances with her health.

When she meets handsome, wealthy Asher, she thinks her life is going to change for the better.  Her parents approve of him, and soon, Asher is given the responsibility of caring for Joy. Of keeping her safe.  Only with Asher, Joy is imprisoned in a different kind of cage. Asher is possessive and has an explosive temper, and soon Joy is willing to do anything to keep him happy.  As her friendships slide and Asher becomes her world, Joy feels a different kind of fear.  When his abuse turns from verbal to physical, she is terrified.  Desperate, she fakes her kidnapping and heads to Seattle, to hide from Asher among the homeless population.

The premise is compelling and instantly had me hooked.  How would I survive if I was homeless?  I kept wondering if I would get along as well as Joy, as she meets danger at every turn.  She has to find food for herself, a safe haven to sleep, and clothes for the upcoming winter.  The trials she faces on the streets are perilous and frightening.  There are scary people willing to take advantage of her and worse, do her physical harm.  Her frail health is also a concern.  What happens when she runs out of her inhalers?  How will she survive a bout of sickness or a severe asthma attack on her own?

There were two elements of the story that didn’t work for me, the biggest being Joy’s precarious health.  She is forced to weather the harsh elements, and later,  hides out in a moldy, musty house.  I had a hard time buying into her ability to keep herself from tumbling into an abyss of illness.  She is forced to live with everything that pushes her lungs into an asthmatic attack, and yet she is spared from the severe allergic reactions that have shaped the life she was so desperate to escape from.  It was difficult for me to accept that her health was so poor, or that one of the homeless teens she met would be able to procure a supply of her medication.  Suffering from acute allergies myself, I know that this situation would have left me ill and in need of emergency medical care, so I found it jarring that Joy managed to keep her asthma, which is much, much worse than mine, under control, under such trying conditions.

The other sticky point for me were Joy’s sudden feelings for Creed.  As the narrative unfolded, Joy’s life on the streets became more about her desire to be with Creed, and less about her need to be safe from Asher’s abuse.   She is in extreme danger, from the elements, from poor hygiene, from criminals on the streets who would do her harm, be it rape her or kill her or both, and she is fascinated by a guy she has just met.  This plot point did not sit well with me.  This is the reason she ran away in the first place; to get away from her old boyfriend, who dictated every move she made.  Now that she has met Creed, she puts 100% of her trust in him, right away, without knowing if he is worthy of her trust.

These two plot points aside, Don’t Breathe a Word is an engaging read.  I could not put it down.  The first half of the story is tense and scary, as Joy tries to meld into the local homeless community.  The pacing for last half was a bit off, as Joy attempts to fit in with her new homeless “family.”  It is obvious that she doesn’t belong there, and that her circumstances are not as dire as those of her new friends.  It’s almost like she was on a very crappy vacation.  Her new friends, however,  have no home to go back to, and they are veterans of the streets.  With her background, she is only passing through, and everyone else knows this but Joy.  This little niggling fact made her journey not quite as dire, and destroyed some of the suspense as Joy attempts to learn the ropes in her new, albeit, temporary, world.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

 

 

Title: Under the Never Sky

Author: Veronica Rossi

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0062072030

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

In her enthralling debut, Veronica Rossi sends readers on an unforgettable adventure set in a world brimming with harshness and beauty.

Review:

I don’t give out many A grades, but Under the Never Sky earned a great big one!  Once I picked this book up, I could not put it back down, and I read it in two sittings.  While I was sick, no less, and when I didn’t even really feel like reading.  That’s how good this post-apocalyptic/ dystopian novel is, and I think that it is strong enough to appeal to both teen and adult readers.  Diving into the story is like jumping into quicksand; sorry, but you aren’t going to be able to crawl back out until after you read the very last page.

I don’t think I can adequately express how much I loved this book, or why I found it so compelling, especially without getting spoilery, so I’ll touch on the aspects that made the biggest impression on me.  About two chapters in, I was engaged in the story, but I was still able to be distracted by the little things in life – like hunger and the need to use the restroom.  That went away about 100 pages in.  I was not moving, not for anything other than the walls collapsing around me.  Even then, the first thing I would grab after Buu is the book.  That baby wasn’t going to leave my sight!

When I first started the book, I did not like Aria.  She has been privileged and pampered her whole life; she has never wanted for anything.  Inside the dome, she has everything she could ever want.  With the impressive technology available to her, she can travel to virtual realms that seem real in every way; touch, taste, smell – there’s an almost infinite amount of virtual reality worlds where she can visit with just a thought, sending a sliver of herself somewhere else whenever the mood strikes her.  Unlike Perry, her reluctant rescuer in the Death Shop, Aria has never suffered from a lack of food or water, and she has never been in mortal danger, conditions that Perry has to live with every day.

Their first encounter outside of the dome is not pleasant.  Aria is not pleasant.  Aria has a smug, elitist attitude that made me want to smack her.  Perry saves her life a number of times, but can Aria even utter the words “thank you” to him?  Nope, instead she berates him and calls him a savage.  Sigh.  I was worried that Aria would grate on my nerves all the way through the book.

Then something wonderful happened, and it’s something that doesn’t happen very often. Halfway through the book, when I thought back on how far Perry and Aria had traveled, on how far I had traveled with them, I realized something – she had changed, and now she seemed like a really good friend.  Almost a BFF kind of friend.  I liked her!  I liked her spunk and her drive and her stubbornness.  She accepted her faults, and she weighed her behavior and her attitude towards the Outside, and she found that Perry wasn’t such a savage after all.  She found that he was noble and brave and that his word meant everything to him.  And to her, because Perry pledged to help her find her missing mother in exchange for her Smarteye.  What a wonderful moment for Aria, and what a wonderful moment for me.  This is why I read in the first place – to get caught up in the trials and the challenges of characters who have somehow come to life for me.  To get sucked so far into a plot that it consumes my every waking thought, and keeps me mulling over the storyline long after I have finished it.

As I approached the end, I felt something else; sadness and regret.  Perry and Aria seemed like a part of me, and I wasn’t ready to let them go.  Their feelings for each other had me convinced that they were meant for each other, despite their great differences.  Perry would be difficult for any woman to live with, because he can actually smell emotions.  He can smell happiness and joy, as well as sorrow and hurt.  He can smell the untruths that hide behind words.  What would that be like?  What would it be like to actually be able to smell what the people around you are feeling, to taste their emotions and instantly know the truth of their actions?  For the magical duration of Under the Never Sky, I could actually do that.

I was lucky enough to read the book back in October, before all of the reviews started bombarding the internet.  I had no preconceived idea of what the book was even about.   All I knew was that it was a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel written by a debut author.  How wonderful it was for me to become acquainted with the characters and the setting with no expectations. I even kind of dared the book to entertain me.  It did.  In spades.  It also left me excited about reading again, in a way I haven’t felt in a long while.  Now the race is on!  What other gems will I discover as I search for the next almost flawless read?

Grade: A

Review copy provided by {Teen} Book Scene

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

 

Title: Rival

Author: Sara Bennett Wealer

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0061827624

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Brooke
I don’t like Kathryn Pease. I could pretend everything’s fine between us. I could be nice to her face, then trash her behind her back. But I think it’s better to be honest. I don’t like Kathryn, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Kathryn
I saw a commercial where singers used their voices to shatter glass, but the whole thing is pretty much a myth. The human voice isn’t that strong.

Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don’t shatter; I’m not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren’t on the outside.

Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends . . . until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had.

Review:

When Rival first came out, the book flew under my radar.  It wasn’t until reviews started popping up that I realized that it was another contemporary featuring music as a backdrop.  I loved Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, so I added Rival to my library hold list.  I wanted to revisit the competitive world where gifted musicians put their talent on the line.  This time their instruments were their voices, and the prize was a hefty check to help with college expenses.  For Brooke, the competition is about winning her dad’s attention, and expressing her love for music.  For Kathryn, it means giving her already cash strapped parents a hand with her tuition bills.

Like Virtuosity, the girls must battle with rival singers, and they must also battle with their own inner demons.  Kathryn yearns to be somebody, and when A-lister Brooke befriends her, everything changes for Kathryn.  Unfortunately, her sudden popularity goes right to her head, and Kathryn soon becomes somebody who is very hard to like.  She turns her back on her best friend, starts lying to her parents, and lets her grades plummet.

As Kathryn is drawn further into Brooke’s clique and starts hanging out with Brooke’s other friends, Brooke begins to wrestle with jealousy.  She liked Kathryn when it was just the two of them, talking about music, listening to operas, and going to performances at the local college.  Little by little, Brooke begins to change too.  She allows her envy to eat away at her, and soon, Kathryn and Brooke are mortal enemies, after their emotions flare out of control at a party.  Now Kathryn must deal with bullying as she becomes a social pariah, and Brooke is left with even more feelings of groundlessness.  Her friends don’t understand her, and she knows that they will never get how important music is to her. 

Told through alternating flashbacks to their junior year and their current, intense rivalry now that they are seniors, Sara Bennett Wealer weaves a gripping, compelling look at a friendship gone terribly wrong because of a misunderstanding and the inability of the protagonists, especially Brooke,  to express their feelings.  As Brooke becomes ever more dissatisfied with her friendships, she withdraws more into herself and refuses to confront her feelings.  There’s a lot of angst here – Brooke has so many issues she is trying to deal with, but she can’t open up and confide in anyone, not even Kathryn.  Everyone thinks that she’s one of the golden girls, but her popularity and her status as the Queen B don’t matter to Brooke.  She just wants to lose herself in her music, and she desperately wants to win her father’s approval. 

There were many times that I didn’t particularly like either character, but I did care about them.  They are both flawed, which made them both more relatable.   I kept hoping that they would get over themselves and see what they were throwing away because of their personal ambitions.  I became impatient with both of them, because neither of them seemed to be learning from their mistakes.  Kathryn grew especially trying as she morphed into someone totally opposite of who she had been before she started hanging out with Brooke’s social circle.

If you enjoy emotion-charged contemporaries, Rival is the book for you.  It builds up slowly to a gripping, unflinching look at two friends turned to enemies, exposing their faults and flaws layer by complex layer.  I could not put the book down as they grappled with their inner demons and their sudden and intense dislike for each other.  I bet you won’t be able to put it down either.

Grade: A-

Review borrowed from my local library