Goodreads: Tiger’s Curse
Series: The Tiger Saga #1
Summary: After a two-week stint as a circus employee, eighteen-year-old Kelsey is whisked off to India by a mysterious older gentleman to help break the 300-year-old curse on Ren, a Indian prince turned tiger.
Review: Tiger’s Curse sets itself up with an interesting premise and setting, but the book fails to live up to its promise. From the start, the writing is noticeably bad. The dialogue sounds fake and any sort of “showing” is completely lacking; readers must rely solely on Kelsey’s statements about whether things are frightening, intriguing, attractive, etc. because the descriptions and pacing that would bring those senses to readers do not exist.
Because of the poor writing, and also poor characterization, it is clear early on that if the novel is to succeed, it must do so on the merits of its plot alone. Unfortunately, it does not. Kelsey and Ren go on some standard quests that they complete too easily and which are not particularly fascinating. I skimmed what were probably intended to be some of the most intense scenes of the book because there is no real urgency and the obstacles the two face are not particularly unique or well-described.
Kelsey, however, is the novel’s greatest problem. Although she is eighteen and preparing to enter her first year of college, she sounds absurdly unintelligent and immature. Furthermore, she is incredibly passive, and often sits around tanning or drinking lemonade while other people do the real work—making camp, solving the mysterious prophecy, etc. Basically, her presence is necessary for the tiger’s curse to be defeated, but she is otherwise of no real value. Frustratingly, the other characters, even those who are not the love interests, tend to praise Kelsey for her most annoying actions. She’ll make a particularly obvious observation, and someone will beamingly praise her for her unparalleled intelligence. The novel puts a lot of effort telling readers how clever and brave and heroic Kelsey is, but she always exhibits the exact opposite qualities.
The one place Tiger’s Curse shines is the romance—but only on Ren’s end. He is fairly swoon-worthy, a handsome cursed prince always interested in Kelsey’s comfort and safety. I could imagine some readers finding him “over-protective,” but I never did, perhaps because Kelsey’s foolishness merits people needing to constantly watch over her. He also has some beautifully romantic lines and scenes.
Kelsey, however, is another matter, as she immaturely decides Ren cannot possibly love plain little her and decides to push him away. Instead of perhaps discussing it with him or believing he has the intelligence necessary to make up his own mind about such things. Such forced “drama” is always annoying in books, as it is an obvious ploy to build false suspense by dragging the romance out over a series. This time, however, it really backfires because Ren’s romantic gestures are the only things I like, and apparently they will be missing from the second book. I won’t be reading it.
There are a lot of good ratings for this book, and it certainly has its share of fans. If you are looking for a bit of romance, you will find it here, and it’s pretty good. If you want anything else from the book, you’ll have a bit of trouble.
Published: January 2011
Series: Newsoul #1
Summary: In Range, there have been a million souls for 5000 years. When they die, they are reborn—until the year Ciana dies and never comes back. In her place, Ana, a newsoul, is born. Half of Range is unwilling to forgive her for it. Knowing she is blamed for Ciana’s disappearance, Ana travels to the city of Heart and the library to search for answers about her new existence. Yet someone there does not want her to find them.
Review: Meadows builds a compelling and imaginative world in Incarnate, bringing readers to a place where everyone lives multiple lives and everyone knows everyone else. Readers will be fascinated, pondering what it might be like to have infinite time to accomplish everything they have ever dreamed or how interesting it would be to meet the inventors of literally every great invention. Meadows also gives readers much to think about in their own mortality. Eighty years to her characters is a very short time; readers should learn to make the most of their own lives.
Ana, the protagonist, walks the line between souls and readers. As a newsoul, she has no idea whether she will be reincarnated like everyone else. As far she knows, she has one life to live the best she can—and as carefully as she can. She cannot risk the same heroics as the souls. It takes some time, however, before Ana comes to a point where she might consider heroics at all. For a large portion of the book, she is defensive and distrusting—understandable due to her abusive upbringing and the frequent hatred she encounters from people whom she has never even met. Some readers might find her early behavior unappealing, but it is in fact realistic considering her circumstances and may resonate with readers who have faced similar difficulties in their lives. Ana ultimately has a beautiful heart, which should endear her to a number of readers.
Helping Ana overcome her distrust is the kind and talented Sam, who of course fills the role of love interest. (This much is obvious from the scene where they first meet.) The romance in Incarnate is beautiful and caring. Sam might have the same issue as Edward Cullen, in that he is much older than the girl he would like to woo, but Meadows actually makes it work. Sam explains exactly why he has fallen in love with Ana, and it rings true.
Incarnate has a quiet and creative beauty about it, drawing readers subtly into a whole new world. The first part of the book is exploration; the second part brings in more intense plot elements considering Ana’s existence and the nature of the religion in this world. Altogether, a fascinating book that could stand well enough on its own, but is preparing to lead into an even more ambitious sequel.
Published: January 31, 2012
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Summary: Lola Nolan is happy. She has a fun job at the local movie theatre, a hot rocker boyfriend, and a blooming talent for creating clothes (or, in her words, costumes). Her peace is shattered, however, when the Bells move back in next door. Lola would love to keep hating Cricket Bell for leaving her two years ago, but with his growth spurt, his sense of style, and his determination to charm her, she might find that difficult.
Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door is funny, creative, and inspiring. Lola, a colorful personality, narrates the events of her seventeenth year, when next-door cutie/jerk Cricket Bell moves back into the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he is not as big of a jerk as Lola remembers, and despite her older, rock star boyfriend, she begins to find herself interested.
Like Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door is the perfect blend of beautiful romance and tough life issues. Less than ideal parents loom large in both books. Here, Lola is raised by her uncle Nathan and his partner Andy because her mother cannot seem to stop drinking long enough to get her life back together. Her boyfriend, and her friend Etienne (guest starring along with Anna in a return from Anna and the French Kiss!), also have parental problems. Perkins addresses these issues delicately, suggesting that parents are only human, while refraining from writing unrealistic life changes for them. The message continues to be clear, however: you are not your parents, or your ancestors, and you have the freedom and power to build your own better life.
Lola, like Anna, also faces some tough relationship dilemmas. She must navigate the issues of dating a much-older boyfriend, balancing time and loyalty between boyfriend and friends, and having feelings for two guys at the same time. Again, liking two people is a gray area that Perkins addresses with skill and grace. Young readers—any readers—can benefit from Perkins’s explorations of what makes a healthy relationship. Here, the trust of one’s parents, the boy’s kindness to one’s friends and interest in one’s life, and the boy’s ability to inspire one to be the best version of oneself are all labeled important.
Lola and the Boy Next Door is incredibly cute and fun and has a lot of truth to share about life. Perkins once again combines daydream fantasy (the boy next door, who has a window facing yours so you can talk at night!) with reality to write a perfectly balanced story.
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Goodreads: Anna and the French Kiss
Series: Companion book to Lola and the Boy Next Door
Summary: Anna is irate that her father has sent her to boarding school in France for her senior year of high school. He is forcing her to leave behind prom, her best friend, and a potential boyfriend to live alone in a country where she does not speak the language. Things begin looking up when Anna befriends the cute and charismatic Etienne St. Clair. The only problem is: he already has a girlfriend.
Review: Anna and the French Kiss is a really fun and romantic read, combining all the right elements to build an atmosphere that will make readers swoon. It has a romantic setting (Paris), an attractive and caring love interest (Etienne), and a relateable narrator (Anna). It also takes place in a boarding school—where the characters have the freedom to build relationships that are closer than at a normal public high school.
Behind the romantic daydream setting, however, there is a strong story populated by realistic characters who learn real life lessons. Anna’s voice is a great combination of kindness, humor, and teen bitterness (created when she is sent away from home). She sounds alternately mature and young depending on her circumstances, as all teenagers do; Perkins nails the adolescent voice and experience of being caught between childhood and adulthood. Anna experiences real homesickness and awkwardness in a foreign country, and the book is as much about her personal growth into culture and confidence as it is about her budding romantic relationships. Beside her is a great cast of friends—artsy, athletic, funny, and angry in turn. Together they figure out that friendship might not be always easy, but that they can make it work.
The romance, while certainly swoon-worthy, can also teach young readers how to build good relationships. Things are tough in Anna and the French Kiss. Etienne is not attractive because he has a girlfriend and is off-limits; he is just a guy who is handsome and good and kind and happens to be off-limits. All the characters do their best to respect that, but, as in real life, things get tricky when someone is still in a relationship but beginning to be interested in someone else. Important questions arise, such as When should you break up? And how much interest in another person counts as cheating? As teens—as humans—the characters struggle with these issues, but Perkins allows the characters to address them seriously and she herself treats them with thought and care.
Anna and the French Kiss is a delicious, yet thought-provoking read. It is the perfect combination of fantastical romantic situations (a boarding school in Paris!) and teenage reality. This is not a romance with issues tossed in to make it “serious.” It is a romance where issues occur naturally because the characters are human, but where the characters learn to deal with them as best they can and still find their happily-ever-after.
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Goodreads: Lips Touch: Three Times
Goodreads Summary: In Victorian times, goblin men had only to offer young girls sumptuous fruits to tempt them to sell their souls. But what does it take to tempt today’s savvy girls?
Review: “Goblin Fruit” is a beautifully written modern update of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” (1862). Taylor gracefully references the events of the original story while speculating what might happen to a girl tempted by goblins in today’s world. Fruit still plays a pivotal role, but temptation is a bit more subtle, and perhaps sublime, than showing a pineapple in someone’s face.
The result is a story that mixes interestingly magic and gritty reality. Kizzy finds her family a bit backwards, as they insist on doing things like killing their own chickens and adhering to the superstitions of the old country. Kizzy herself, then, has developed an attitude that is a bit rough around the edges, but whether readers find her likeable or not is irrelevant to the story being told. Focus is mean to stay on the writing and the plot.
Taylor builds up true suspense and then leaves readers with a delightfully ambiguous ending. The concluding illustration hints at what might have come to pass, but readers can suggest their own interpretations.
A hauntingly beautiful beginning to the collection.
Goodreads: The Treachery of Beautiful Things
Goodreads Summary: A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction
The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she’s lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice–and not just her own.
Review: The beginning of this story leaves a bit to be desired. My notes on it are basically scattered words to the effect of “weird,” “ridiculous names,” and “wow.” Essentially, I thought it was a little cheesy. And, really, the main character “shines with innocence?” That just made me laugh.
But I am glad I continued.
Quickly enough, I became truly captivated by the main characters. Jenny is obstinate, but it makes her endearing rather than annoying. She is absolutely determined to rescue her brother, and no man and no strange land is going to stand in her way. She’s brilliant. Jack is more complicated. Is he good? Is he bad? Does he truly care for Jenny or is he just playing for his own rewards? The constant questioning of his loyalty was really tugging at my heartstrings, and in fact was almost too stressful for something I was reading for fun, but it did keep me on the edge of my seat! This is a case where you will be pretty sure you know what is going on, but you will never want to bet on it. There is true suspense.
The world itself is also intriguing. It is (you guessed it!) both beautiful and treacherous. But, actually, it is. No need to worry that the title exaggerates! And although Long draws heavily on folklore, I found my very general knowledge of her sources was enough to give me grounding in the book. I have no idea if other YA books use these elements “better,” but they work here.
The plot, after the slightly silly beginning, is truly exciting. In addition to the ever-looming question of who is on whose side, there is simply a lot of action, a lot of running, and a lot of plotting. And it is worth noting that there is a climax truly deserving of the name. Yeah, things go down.
The ending is a little neat, but after the trauma of the preceding pages, I personally would not want it any other way. It makes me happy to think that things might finally fit together in Jenny’s life, my life, the world at large. Long brings an idealized fairytale ending to a fairytale that had previously been bleak. So, readers get the best of both worlds, and that is satisfying.
Published: August 16, 2012
Goodreads: Lock and Key
Goodreads Summary: Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.
That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?
Review: This is the first book by Sarah Dessen I have read, and I was definitely expecting something a little lighter. Lock and Key is, by all means, a romance, but it is interesting that protagonist Ruby is not looking for a romance at all. In fact, she is in favor of eschewing all relationships—whether with friends, her family, or boys—because she is turning eighteen in a few months and fully expects to set out on her own, relying on only herself so she will never be disappointed by others.
However, Dessen does not fully explore all the implications of the troubled past she has created for Ruby. Ruby’s problems make the book a sort-of-deep romance, but definitely do not manage to make it a deep book. There are reflections on what the true definition of family is and on how to start accepting help from others, but the hand of the author is very evident in this. When Ruby’s teacher starts handing out words for which the students are to explore the meanings of for a class project, the readers just know Ruby will end up with “family.” So many of the circumstances that cause Ruby to reflect on her life seem forced.
And, at the end of everything, there simply is not a lot of closure. Of course it makes sense that Ruby might need more time to figure everything out and to completely come to terms with her new life, but the book feels incomplete, as if Dessen has only told us half the story. Kudos to Dessen for attempting to combine fluffy romance and tough issues, but the two do not mix here, and Lock and Key is just not satisfying as either type of read.
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Goodreads: Keeping the Castle
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Althea’s ancestor built his dream home, a castle, on the cliffs of Yorkshire. Weather and a poor foundation, however, have wreaked havoc upon the building and penniless Althea and her mother can do little to save it. Their one hope lies in Althea’s making a good marriage, but few suitable men live in the area—until the arrival of Lord Boring and his party. Althea accordingly sets her mind to win Lord Boring’s heart (and his wealth), but his friend Mr. Fredericks has an awful habit of ruining all her plans.
Review: Kindl’s parody of the Regency romance has appeal for those readers who enjoy Jane Austen but are not above having a laugh at some of the period conventions or the genre stock elements. The careful inclusion of just about every stereotyped character from the evil stepsisters to the infuriating love interest, as well as some overused plot devices, heightens the absurdity and ensures readers find themselves smiling from the first page. The humor is completed by the characters’ overly serious assessment of the situations in which they find themselves.
The protagonist Althea proves the key to maintaining the satiric tone of the novel. She comments on everything that happens and shows herself to be no Elizabeth Bennett. She not only knows she has to marry for money, but also goes about it with unexpected gusto. Her heart never troubles her as she sets her plots in motion, attempting to snare the man with the greatest income even as readers can discern she might be falling for another.
Althea’s complete obliviousness to her feelings—and to the feelings of those around her—however, threatens the credibility of the story and can leave readers feeling disengaged. She undergoes no transformation and ends the story as mercenary and apparently heartless as she began it. The flaunted contrivance of the story is the point, yes, and yet most readers probably had hope the romance would not be contrived, would be real. Instead, the ending proposal feels anticlimactic. Kindl gives no happily-ever-after, only another farce in a series of farces.
Keeping the Castle may while away an afternoon for a devoted Austenite in search of new material, but has not the substance to recommend it for rereading. Its premise suggests that it will speak to that part of the Austenite that delights in romance and right endings, but it refuses to break from parody long enough to do so. Expect a light, fluffy read, however, and you might still enjoy it.
Series: Austenland #1
Summary: After a dozen failed relationships, Jane Hayes has given up on men and accepted that none of them can live up to the expectations she has gained from watching Colin Firth play Mr. Darcy. She believes that a vacation at the exclusive, and somewhat mysterious, Austenland will be her one last fling with romance before she packs away all her dreams. There women can enter a world where they live like Jane Austen’s heroines, down to their Regency dresses and their flirtations with eligible young men. At first Jane has trouble entering the play; she is all too keenly aware of how awkward it is to have a fake romance with an actor. However, as time passes, she begins to wonder if some of the romance might be real.
Review: Looking at Austenland, one cannot help but wonder why no one thought of this concept before Shannon Hale. It combines Austenmania—and the well-known obsession of women with Colin Firth—with a sympathetic protagonist whose despair at finding love mirrors that of countless readers. Jane Hayes thus serves as a sort of screen onto which women can project themselves and their fantasies. Through her, they live the life of a Jane Austen heroine. They find themselves clever, witty, pretty, and engaging—in short, desirable. They can associate with handsome men dressed in breeches and cravats and do nothing all day but read or paint. Jane is in some respects better than Elizabeth Bennet, however, because she allows women to bring the fantasy back into their own world—thus strengthening it. She is a single, career-minded girl living in NYC who ultimately proves that Mr. Darcys still exist. The only problem is that this ultimate message seems to contradict the theme of the story.
At the beginning of the book, Jane seems to admit that her longings for Mr. Darcy have ruined her real-life relationships. Readers find out later that most of her boyfriends actually deserved to go based on their own infantile/disrespectful/downright scandalous behavior. However, Jane’s thoughts suggest that she might not be happy even if she found a nice, upright man who respected her. Thanks to countless hours spent watching Colin Firth, she wants a man who wears top hats and says romantic things with a British accent. Readers simply cannot know that she would accept anything else. She, at least, seems to think she will not. Readers now have the dilemma of a chick lit announcing that reading too much chick lit (or watching too many chick flicks) can prove unhealthy.
Of course, readers know that the genre demands Jane will end up with a man. The question is not whether Jane will find love, but how Hale will make her do it in a way that defies the norms of chick lit and makes this one somehow superior to the rest. Hale does not pull it off. Jane falls in love exactly the way anyone would have predicted. She finds a nice Mr. Darcy-esque guy in the most improbable of places, they hit it off quickly, some obstacles occur, they end up happily together. But wasn’t the moral of the story that women should not expect Mr. Darcy’s to fall into their laps?
The book, of course, never implied that good men do not exist or that women will never find them. It did, however, suggest that women should not live in their daydreams. Yet the book is exactly the type of thing it condemned for leading women into these daydreams. It is perhaps even more successful than most due to the inspired combination of Austen with the modern-day world.
The story is fun, the characters are likeable, and the mystery of Austenland is intriguing. The book has wide appeal for those who like Austen, romance, or chick lit. However, the attempt to warn against chick lit strikes a jarring note throughout the book and ultimately just proves baffling.
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Goodreads: My Life Next Door
Goodreads Summary: A gorgeous debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another
“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”
The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?
A dreamy summer read, full of characters who stay with you long after the story is over.
Review: I read this on a recommendation, and although I do not claim to be a judge of romance books (having read relatively few), this is a really sweet romance. Jase and Samantha hit it off very quickly—once they actually introduce themselves after having lived next door to each other for years—but their relationship progresses very naturally afterwards. It is clear why the two are attracted to each other. Sam is wonderful immersing herself into the chaos that is Jase’s family, and Jase is an aspiring football star who likes to fix things and take care of animals—to do things that take time because he believes it makes them more worthwhile. In short, Jase is rather swoon-worthy without being the type of boyfriend that could not possibly exist.
I found the other plot, the accident to which the summary alludes, to be more problematic. It does put forth a lot of questions about loyalty to family, yourself, and your morals, but I am slightly uncomfortable with the resolution to all the problems. [Minor spoiler] Somehow, despite the efforts of several characters to do the right thing, I was left with the sense that the right thing did not quite happen.
Also, this accident results in some standard relationship drama between Sam and Jase that is resolved fairly easily. Often books go over the top, making couples absurdly angry about rather minor things just to add some “suspense,” but this is one instance where I think a little more anger would have justified.
My Life Next Door is essentially a light romantic read with a few tougher themes thrown in to make it more meaningful. Sam is trying to find herself during her teenage years, the Garretts face prejudice from those who look down on large families, and Sam’s friends are dealing with the pressure of drugs and applying to college. None of this overrides the fun, however. The book is generally sweet and uplifting, and these issues give it a little grounding.
Content Note: Sex, drugs, alcohol, swearing
Published: June 14, 2012