Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson – 3 stars (out of 5)

Minutes Before Sunset (The Timely Death Trilogy, #1)

*I received a copy of this title from the author. It does not impact my review.*

Synopsis from Good Reads:

She was undoubtedly a shade, but I didn’t know her.

Eric Welborn isn’t completely human, but he isn’t the only shade in the small Midwest town of Hayworth. With one year left before his eighteenth birthday, Eric is destined to win a long-raging war for his kind. But then she happens. In the middle of the night, Eric meets a nameless shade, and she’s powerful—too powerful—and his beliefs are altered. The Dark has lied to him, and he’s determined to figure out exactly what lies were told, even if the secrets protect his survival.

He had gotten so close to me—and I couldn’t move—I couldn’t get away.

Jessica Taylor moves to Hayworth, and her only goal is to find more information on her deceased biological family. Her adoptive parents agree to help on one condition: perfect grades. And Jessica is distraught when she’s assigned as Eric’s class partner. He won’t help, let alone talk to her, but she’s determined to change him—even if it means revealing everything he’s strived to hide.

MY THOUGHTS – BEWARE OF SOME MINOR SPOILERS:

-I found the beginning of Minutes Before Sunset to be a little confusing. Shoman is a Shade – an important one that is destined to win a war for the Dark against their enemies, the Light.

“The Dark was a secret for a reason. We protected the humans from evil, because they weren’t capable of determining the evil for themselves.

The Light was evil, and it always had been. Forget archetypes. They’re completely wrong, and they always will be.”

I’m still not entirely sure what that means. We don’t see any interaction between the Dark and the humans, except when the Shades are in their human form, and even then they’re not going around playing superhero. So I’m taking it to mean that the Dark protect the humans from the evil Light by fulfilling the prophesy and defeating the Light in their war. I would’ve liked a little more information about the Light, about why they’re so evil, other than their greed for power. What exactly is going to happen to the human population if the Light wins?

-The story is told in 1st person POV between Eric (Shoman’s human name) and Jessica. As we all know, multiple 1st person is my favorite POV and I feel it’s done well here. There was never a time when I got confused about who’s “voice” we were reading and the shifts between POVs always seemed appropriate.

-I found both Eric and Jessica to be likable, though I think I liked them both better in their human form. I enjoyed their bantering and interactions in the human world more than I enjoyed Shoman and the Nameless Shade’s interactions in the woods. However once identities are discovered, I liked them together regardless of form.

-I liked Camille/Teresa, Eric’s guard, but I felt like she should’ve paid more attention to what he was doing. She came through when it counted, but for the most part she was a pretty horrible guard. I also liked their friend Pierce/Jonathon, but would’ve liked to have seen him a little more developed. I didn’t care for Jessica’s friends, Crystal and Robb. I always felt like there was more to them than what we saw and I didn’t trust them.

-I liked the use of the double lives – that everyone looks so different in their Shade or Light form than they do in their human form. It made me look more closely at everyone that Jessica meets. I look forward to finding out who Darthon, the Light descendent, is as a human.

-Overall, I enjoyed Minutes Before Sunset. It had a little bit of everything – mystery, fantasy, romance. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did it became a quick and fun read and I look forward to find out what happens next. I would recommend this book to those interested in YA Fantasy.

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Hush by Stacey R. Campbell – 3 stars (out of 5)

*I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.*

Hush - A Lakeview Novel (Book 1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

For small-town girl Blakely Henry, any hope of finding her biological parents died when she stopped believing in fairy tales and Disney princesses. That is, until she spots her boarding school’s new British exchange student, Max Ryder, staring at her. Why would a boy who looks like he stepped out of the pages of a magazine be looking at her? Because Max knows something Blakely doesn’t.

Following the tragic demise of one of Europe’s most beloved royal families, Max has stumbled upon information he thinks may lead to a lost royal heir, and now he is on a quest halfway around the world to see if he’s right.

Sworn to secrecy by his university professor and the headmaster of Lakeview Academy, Max is admitted into an exchange program with the sole purpose of finding out the truth. But will his personal feelings for Blakely get in the way?
When a stolen email surfaces, Blakely and her friends’ lives are threatened, and Max starts to question what he is really after.

From the exclusive rolling lawns of Canada’s most prestigious boarding school to the University of Saint Andrews’ hallowed grounds, Blakely’s quiet, unassuming life is turned upside down. Is she really who she thinks she is? Can she survive long enough to help Max unearth the truth?

My Thoughts:

-I think that my favorite thing about Hush is the story behind it. Campbell wrote it for her oldest daughter when she went to  boarding school. Blakely, the main character, is named after and loosely based on her. There will  be two more books in this series, each based on Campbell’s other daughters. How completely sweet is that?

-While this is a YA book and there is some more mature language and themes throughout the story, I felt like it was written for the very young end of the YA spectrum. The dialogue and some of the minor plot points seemed more adolescent than Young Adult and since I am well past Young Adult age, I found that I didn’t enjoy the book quite as much. However, I think a younger reader would probably enjoy it.

-The characters were mostly likable. I enjoyed the friendships between Blakely and her classmates, as well as her close relationship with her parents and sister. However, I found them a little un-relatable – they were all Beautiful and Popular and had no problems whatsoever. Blakely was also a little entitled, but I guess she can be since she is actually a Princess. Max was probably my favorite character, but he was a pretty stereotypical teen guy and I would’ve liked to have seem him fleshed out a little more.

-Overall, I found Hush to be a cute, enjoyable story. I would recommend it to the younger readers of YA fiction.

Runner by Patrick Lee – 4 stars (out of 5)

Runner

*I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review*

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Sam Dryden, retired special forces, lives a quiet life in a small town on the coast of Southern California. While out on a run in the middle of the night, a young girl runs into him on the seaside boardwalk. Barefoot and terrified, she’s running from a group of heavily armed men with one clear goal—to kill the fleeing child. After Dryden helps her evade her pursuers, he learns that the eleven year old, for as long as she can remember, has been kept in a secret prison by forces within the government. But she doesn’t know much beyond her own name, Rachel. She only remembers the past two months of her life—and that she has a skill that makes her very dangerous to these men and the hidden men in charge.

Dryden, who lost his wife and young daughter in an accident five years ago, agrees to help her try to unravel her own past and make sense of it, to protect her from the people who are moving heaven and earth to find them both. Although Dryden is only one man, he’s a man with the extraordinary skills and experience—as a Ranger, a Delta, and five years doing off-the-book black ops with an elite team. But, as he slowly begins to discover, the highly trained paramilitary forces on their heels is the only part of the danger they must face. Will Rachel’s own unremembered past be the most deadly of them all?

I really enjoyed this book. The pace is fast and there’s a lot of action. I don’t usually like a lot of action, but Lee really made it work in Runner. Too often I feel like the author details it to death, to the point where it’s almost impossible to follow what’s actually happening. Here it was detailed without going overboard and it was all plausible. I also felt the pace was pretty perfect. It wasn’t just Go, Go, Go, but more like Go, Go, Go, Pause, Go, Go, Go, Pause, etc. The story moved along quickly, with lots of action, but it took time with quieter moments where there was character development and plot reveals.

The main character, Sam Dryden, is very likable. He’s a smart, caring, stand-up guy that always does the right thing. His experience in Special Forces makes him uniquely qualified to help Rachel escape her attackers and try to figure out the secrets that live in her head. Rachel was an intriguing character with lots of sides to her. My only complaint with her is that she almost always seemed much older than her eleven years.  Martin Gaul, the man leading the hunt for Rachel and Dryden, is another  interesting character – mostly despicable, but still a little sympathetic.

There were a lot of twists and turns in this book, perhaps the most surprising to me was that there is a large sci-fi element to the story. It’s not a bad surprise, I just didn’t expect it. Despite that, the story still seemed realistic in all its other aspects and contained enough surprises to keep me guessing the whole way.

While most chapters focused on Dryden, Rachel, or Gaul, there were other chapters that focused on Gaul’s competitor, Hager, and those he was training. While those chapters were interesting and informative, they also contained perhaps the only thing I didn’t care for in the book – the slightly graphic use of sex as motivation. Maybe it’s just a guy thing, but I didn’t quite see the need and it made me a little uncomfortable. However, since there were only a few examples of that, it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the rest of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Runner. It was suspenseful, fast paced, and action packed, but also smart and sweet. This looks to be the first book in a series based on Sam Dryden and I look forward to the next. I would recommend Runner to those who enjoy mystery, suspense, action, and a little dose of sci-fi.

*Runner will be available on February 18, 2014*

Trust in Me by J. Lynn – A quick review

Trust in Me (Wait for You, #1.5)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

It’s Wait for You as you’ve never seen it. Trust in Me lets you in on Cam’s side of the #1 New York Times Bestselling story.

Cameron Hamilton is used to getting what he wants, especially when it comes to women. But when Avery Morgansten comes crashing into his life – literally – he finally meets the one person who can resist his soulful baby blues. But Cam’s not ready to give up. He can’t get the feisty and intriguing girl out of his head.

Avery has secrets, secrets that keep her from admitting the feelings Cam knows she has for him. Will persistence (and some delicious homemade cookies) help him break down her barriers and gain her trust? Or will he be shut out of Avery’s life, losing his first real shot at the kind of love that lasts forever?

I think I may have actually liked Trust in Me better than Wait for You. I enjoyed the extra scenes of Cam with his family and friends a lot. However, I was disappointed in Cam’s POV from some of the scenes we already know from Wait for You. Most of them didn’t really add anything, other than Cam thinking Avery is awkward or beautiful. Or detailing his, ahem, anatomical reactions to her. I also was disappointed that not all of the scenes of Cam and Avery together were in this book. For example, the whole middle part of their trip to his house for Thanksgiving.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this book. It came out the same day as Allegiant and it took me 3 days to finish Allegiant because I kept getting distracted by this book. I think I would give this book 3 stars. I was going to give it 2 just because I don’t usually enjoy New Adult fiction and I gave Wait for You 2, but this was better than that and I enjoyed it way more than I did Allegiant. I would recommend this book to all those who read Wait for You.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth – 2 stars (out of 5)

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)

Read a synopsis here.

I was SO excited for this book. I had already decided that it would be wonderful. I wonder if I would’ve disliked it as much if I had lower expectations for it. Because I really didn’t like it. 2 stars is being generous, but since I loved the beginning of the series I just couldn’t bring myself to give it less.

Before I start with the spoilers – because I really can’t honestly discuss this book without spoilers – I want to comment on the writing style. As we all know by now, multiple 1st person POV is my favorite. Allegiant is told through alternating chapters from both Tris and Four’s 1st person POV. It did not work. The voices were not different at all. When they were in a group and not just in their own head, I had trouble remembering who’s POV it was. Even when they were just in their own heads, Four still sounds exactly like Tris.

While I liked having Four’s POV for the sake of getting more story, the multiple 1st person just didn’t do it justice. I also didn’t  like that it meant so much of the story was told from Tris and Four being away from each other. More on this to follow…

For those that don’t want to be spoiled, I will just say this. Allegiant starts out fast paced, but then slows down. If you’ve read the series so far, I would still recommend that you read it, but it’s one of the worst endings to a series I’ve ever read.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!

Back to the thought from above. Four (this book has me thinking of him as Tobias, but I liked Four from Divergent better, so I’m going to refer to him as such) and Tris had a lot of strife in Insurgent, but seemed to reconcile at the end. I was not looking for more strife between them in this book, but that’s what I got. Yes, they ultimately reconciled and that was good, but so much of this book was them spent away from each other or fighting when they were together. And it all seemed so pointless. They act like adults in every other area of their lives, but when it came to their relationship, they really are just teenagers.

I started to dislike Four a bit in this book. He stopped being the damaged but strong guy we all fell in love with and just focused on being damaged. So much of the time was him feeling sorry for himself. Yes his parents suck and obviously left him with scars, but he was such a great character because even though he still struggled, he was able to overcome it and became this really great, smart, thoughtful, strong guy. In Allegiant he just totally backslid for almost the whole book.

I felt like most of the time there was just too much going on. New characters. New government. Genetic Damage. Revolutions. Experiments. Serums. The Fringe. Lies, lies, and more lies. And none of it was really done that well, either.

I also thought Tris’ death was totally uncalled for. First off, I think it’s dumb to kill the main character in any series and that it was basically done for shock value. The whole second book was basically dedicated to Tris trying to sacrifice herself to make her parents proud and then realizing that was wrong. And then in this book she does just that. There was a lot of lead up to this, a lot of talk about sacrificing for the greater good and that it’s only worth doing if it’s in the name of love. So she takes Caleb’s place because she loves him even if she can’t forgive him for his earlier sins and that’s supposed to make us feel like her death is very meaningful. But it’s not. The whole memory serum plan and the need for a sacrifice just seemed so contrived. I really do not see the purpose of killing her off at all.

So overall, I was super disappointed with Allegiant. I felt like the biggest questions – about the Divergents and the Edith Prior video and their world in general – were answered almost right away and then a new, way less interesting plot took over. I didn’t think  it was possible for the end of a series to disappoint me more than Requiem (the Delirium series) did, but I think this book did it. So read this book if you’ve already invested in the series, and then go back and read Divergent and pretend Allegiant doesn’t exist. That’s what I plan on doing.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – 3 stars (out of 5)

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

So I’m not really sure how to review The Raven Boys. I really liked the characters, I just kinda wish they were in a different story.

MY (SOMEWHAT SPOILERY) THOUGHTS

-The book is in told in 3rd person POV, traveling between Blue, the 16-year-old non-psychic in a house full of psychic women, Gansey, Adam (2 of the 4 Raven Boys), and Barrington Whelk, a former Raven Boy who is now a much poorer teacher. While I don’t mind 3rd person POV, there were times when I thought the multiple viewpoints were a little much and jumped around too often. I prefer 1st person from 1 or 2 narrators.

-Am I the only person who thought Adam was in love with Gansey after the first chapter with his POV? The way he described him, adored him, and also kind of resented him. But then the next chapter he’s crushing on Blue. So even though he turns out to be straight I still think he’s just a little in love with Gansey. And there’s a fine line between love and hate.

-I didn’t really like the description that was used in this book. It just struck me as odd. If I was a better reviewer I would list some examples, but the only one I have marked is, “The smile on Gansey’s face could have lit coal mines.” Which really isn’t that weird now that I look at it, but that’s kind of the general idea. Like too many similes and metaphors that weren’t really that clever.

-The synopsis of the book makes it sound like it’s focused much more on romance than it really is. I don’t mind that, actually. It’s a lot more about friendship than romance and the inevitable YA love triangle is just barely implied.

-In the beginning Noah says that he’s been dead for seven years. So it’s not entirely a surprise later on when it turns out he actually has been dead for seven years. But what I did think was a good twist was that Noah turned out to be the same person as Whelk’s old friend Czerney – Noah Czerney. This is the kind of twist and surprise that I like – something I didn’t see coming, but makes sense after I thought about it.

-What I really liked about this book were the characters. Blue is well-developed and I was very rarely, if ever, frustrated by her actions. I also enjoyed the crazy cast of characters that she lives with – her mother, Neeve, Calla, and Persephone in particular. I also thought the Raven boys were well-developed, particularly Gansey and Adam. Noah and Ronan kind of got the short of the stick in this book, but I still mostly enjoyed them. I always felt like Ronan’s actions could have been explored more, but I guess we’ll get that in the second book, which I’ve heard focuses mostly on him. I did really like Gansey and his big heart and his unintentional condescending ways. I liked Adam too, but as the story went on I liked him a little less. It seemed a little cliché to make the poor kid the most prideful and obsessed with money.

-My favorite parts of the book were when it focused on Blue and “her boys”. Their interactions and character developments as a group is what really made the book for me. The story – psychics, ley lines, finding Glendower – was just ok. But, I’m looking forward to see what happens to the characters in the future. What happened to Ronan’s father and why is Ronan the way he is? Does Blue’s first kiss really kill her true love? Is that true love Gansey? Will Adam stop being a douche about Gansey’s money?

Overall, I enjoyed The Raven Boys and look forward to the next installment in the series. I would recommend this book to fans of fantasy/paranormal.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 4 stars (out of 5)

The Fault in Our Stars

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

So every review I have ever read about this book is how it will make you bawl your eyes out. And I thought to myself, challenge accepted. I do not, as a general rule, cry at entertainment. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but it’s a very rare occurrence. Of the 122 books I have read so far this year, there has been exactly one that made me cry. A little. And then I read The Fault in Our Stars.

The tone is almost immediately set as irreverent and funny and I thought it would be easy to make it through this book if this is how it is written. And it retains that tone throughout the book, though it’s quieter in the last third or so of the story.

My biggest complaint is that the characters were all a bit pretentious. I’m not saying they haven’t earned the right to be (even as I write that, all I think is “Cancer Perk”), but it was a little over the top sometimes. Especially the author of their favorite book, who I understand is supposed to be insufferable, but was almost too insufferable to read at times. Even so, I loved both Hazel and Augustus. I liked how their relationship started out as friendship. I liked how sarcastic they were, but that they also had moments of intense seriousness. I also really liked their newly dumped and blinded friend, Isaac.

I don’t have personal experience with people who have cancer. My grandfather had cancer, but he was only in the hospital for a week before he passed and we didn’t even get a diagnosis until the night before he did. So I don’t know if this story is a realistic portrayal, but I feel like it could be. It seemed honest and relatable and real. And it was heartbreaking.

Overall, I really liked this book. Even though it made me ugly cry in the last few chapters.  The characters were likable (despite their bouts of pretentiousness) and the writing was superb. I would recommend this book to just about anyone. Just make sure to read it at home and not at work on your lunch break. People will worry.