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Monday, November 23, 2009

Half Blood by Liberty Stafford

Half Blood by Liberty Stafford
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, YA
Length: Full (187 pages)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Cholla

Ever felt like you don’t fit in? Try being only half human. Daniel Otovic is a loner. A misfit. Discovering his father is a vampire doesn’t increase his popularity at school. Dhampirs don’t fit in anywhere. His cousin, Niko, is a jock. Nobody realises he is a dhampir, too. Except Niko feeds on humans.

During detention, Daniels discovers the school talent show is imminent. Captivated by the enchanting singing of Katarina, he is persuaded to take part. His mind is not really on task. He has fallen in love and it’s not a good time, having just discovered his paranormal heritage. He has new skills. He can fly. He can run like the wind. He can shape shift. Premonitions haunt him. Most of them are about Katarina and she is in danger.

Growing up on the Bosnian border, Daniel could do nothing without Niko. In England, it is no different. Only Niko is hungry and Katarina seems like a tasty meal for him and his newly fashioned jock vampire friends.

Can Daniel handle being a dhampir when for years he considered himself a normal guy? He has to handle it. Katarina’s life depends upon it.

Isn’t being a teenager hard enough? School, parents, dating, homework… it’s all just too much. And then you discover the horrible, dark truth about yourself – and your cousin – that you’re not just two ordinary boys at all. That you never have been. You’re both dhampirs – half vampires – and one of you has gone to the wrong side.

Daniel Otovic has never felt like he belonged. No matter how hard he tried, he always was an outsider. And with the revelation that his mother had been once visited by a vampire, he now knew exactly why. He wasn’t human. After a bit of typical teenage rebellion following on the heels of the news that he was a dhampir, Daniel decides he can’t outpace his history – or his future – and settles in to learn more about who and what he is. He has a good heart and a strong will, determined to defeat the dark side of his nature by vowing to never taste human blood.

Niko, Daniel’s cousin, is the polar opposite of Daniel. Aggressive and power hungry, he is traveling a path he believes will bring him the ultimate power – at the risk of everyone else. Niko is the worst kind of teenager – angry, self-absorbed, and coddled by his mother – who had been visited by the same vampire as her sister all those nights ago. Niko has no qualms about using each and every power he possesses to influence and coerce his classmates and the people around him. He is the dark to Daniel’s light.

In addition to two very different cousins, Half Blood is populated with a handful of very fun and interesting characters. Katrina, the young girl both Daniel and Niko have set their eyes on has a lot of potential for the future as Daniel’s girl and sidekick. Helena, the resident witch, Mr. Underhill, teacher and dhampir expert, and his girlfriend, Adriana, round out the cast of the good guys.

With such a diverse set of characters, an English setting, and an often overlooked take on the vampire mythos, Ms. Stafford has created a world worth visiting and revisiting. Half Blood is an engrossing and intense story of two boys, cousins who discover they’re half brothers, who are very different while still being so very much the same. I highly recommend it to any lover of the paranormal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Krysta's Curse by Tara West

Krysta's Curse by Tara West
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: YA Paranormal
Length: Full (155 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Orange Blossom

Everything about Krysta Richards is wrong, from her short height to her unmanageable hair. Her ability to talk to spirits doesn’t help things, either. Her physical flaws don’t seem to matter to Bryon, her lab partner. Just as the chemistry between them is about to ignite, a homicide detective asks her to summon a murder victim, her drunk father suddenly takes an interest in her life and her dead friends enlist her in a crusade to save their decrepit cemetery. She dreams of gracing the cover of Cosmo, but if she can't get her life back to normal, she’ll be labeled the poster child for Weirdo.

I love YA fiction. Especially if it has great humor and tone. And that's exactly was you get in Krysta's Curse. I was familiar with Ms. West's work before beginning this book but this was the first I'd actually read any of her books. And I'm glad I did. It was enjoyable from beginning to end.

Krysta's Curse is that she can see the dead. She can talk to them and they can talk back. The dead have this uncanny ability to find her and sometimes they have requests. Things that they want her to do that she really doesn't want to do. Things that mess with her personal life. But really what choice does she have? I really loved the old ghostly couple Krysta does her best to help throughout the story. They definitely made me chuckle.

This is the 3rd book in Ms. West’s Whispers series. And though I hadn’t read the first two books in the series, I was able to enjoy and follow this book about Krysta without a problem. The author does mention events that had taken place previously in the other books to help fill in the gaps. You see, Krysta’s two close friends have supernatural powers too. To find out more about them, you have to read the two previous books.

The object of Krysta’s affection and her lab partner, Bryon Thomas, gets wrapped up in her crazy life as well. With things so screwed up, she doesn’t know if they’ll ever get together. Bryon is great though. He has his issues and he has his flaws too. And who isn’t attracted to a gorgeous guy with a drama-filled life?

Due to the subject matter and eerieness in certain scenes (as an adult I was even weirded out), I wouldn't necessarily suggest this book for young teens (or tweens) or for families who don't approve of paranormal reading material. Having said that, Krysta’s Curse was an enjoyable YA book. The writing was fun and quick paced, the characters drawn realistic just like the kids town the street. I especially enjoyed the interaction between the three girls as well as that of Krysta and her dad. I just hope we find out more about Krysta’s other parent in another book one day. Well worth the read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The House of Wacks by Denise Gwen

The House of Wacks by Denise Gwen
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Full (218 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Little did Jordan Meadows realize, when Dad insisted she get a job, it would turn out to be such an amazing summer! Who would have guessed that all her eyebrow, bikini, and leg waxes at Tranquility Spa would pay off as job experience? Working behind the scenes on the set of House of Wax IX: Return of the Revengenator, she becomes the go-to girl for paraffin wax. Then she meets Keith Charles, a band nerd from her high school. Between draping his freckled arms with wax and making sure he looks extra clotty, she’s stunned to find herself falling in love with someone outside her own clique. As filming and the summer draw to a close, she’s a changed girl, for sure. She's made friends with people she never would have associated with at North High School, but what about her friends, the awesome foursome? Should she break up with Keith, since he’s not a member of her exclusive, inner circle? Or is it time to branch out and make new friends?

"You, young lady, are getting a job."

These were not the words Jordan Meadows wanted to hear at the beginning of the summer holidays, but her father was adamant. The National Bank of Daddikins was closed. If Jordan wanted money to spend, she had to earn it.

Jordan doesn't realize this summer will push her onto the first step of the ladder to adulthood. A Hollywood film crew hits town and hires high school kids as extras and crew for the making of their B horror movie. To her delight Jordan is hired as part of the make-up crew. Her interest in the job makes her start to question her usual way of life. It also brings her into contact with two boys she wouldn't have condescended to speak to at school.

Most of the pupils at Jordan's school come from reasonably well off families. Keith, one of the theatre geeks from school, is working as an extra and Jordan becomes friendly with him and friendship builds into attraction for each other. The other boy is Ned, a loner who everyone at school makes fun of. By the end of the summer Jordan is forced to choose between her new friends and her closest friends girlfriends who now seem a little shallow. Her choice will affect her life in the new school year.

The House of Wacks is a very entertaining book. This is a story of a teenager on the brink of womanhood who is forced to realize money is not hers for the taking. She is brought face to face with people who have to work for a living and acquaintances from school who are less popular than the clique of four she belongs to. Jordan's first paycheck gives her an unexpected sense of achievement at having earned the money herself. Jordan begins to question herself and her outlook on life. Is she really as shallow as people think she is?

I loved the way the author showed us inside a modern teenage girl's thoughts. Jordan thinks of herself as a good person, and the reader is able to watch the doubts building inside. Inside she is as vulnerable as the next person. Jordan also learns the difference between loving, caring parents and those who try to buy their children's love.

The only thing I couldn't understand was the title of the book. Why The House of Wacks? The film at the center of the book takes place in a waxwork museum. I thought at first the "Wacks" referred to wacky people, but there didn't seem to be anybody who fitted this description. Some of the characters were spoilt, nerdy and geeky and others thought a lot of themselves but Wacky? No.

This aside, the book is a very enjoyable read. I think it would be enjoyed by young adults and adults as both would get a different type of pleasure from the story about teenage life and romance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Emmy's Song by Christy Trujillo

Emmy's Song by Christy Trujillo
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full (233 pages)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Asphodel

Life is good for eighteen-year-old Emellia Ortega! Not many teenagers can say that, but Emmy isn't your average teenager. On the fast track to making her dreams come true, she has her sights set on a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and nothing can stop her. Nothing, that is, except Cale Cruz.

With perfect pitch and unbelievable good looks, he quickly weaves his way into the hearts of everyone around him. Drawn to him with an intensity she cannot explain, Emmy soon finds out that Cale has a secret. He is Maldito, half-human, half-vampire and has returned to seek revenge on the vampires that slaughtered his family. Thrust deep into a world she never knew existed, Emmy will risk everything she has worked for to join Cale in his fight as tragedy slowly tears her perfect world apart.

When a link between their past is discovered, fate's perfect plan begins to spin a web around them stronger than anyone could have imagined. Together they tackle impossible situations, fight impossible battles, and embark on an impossible journey that will change both of their lives.

"Bienaventurados los malditos porque son los Ășnicos que pueden salvarnos." Blessed are the cursed for they are the only ones who can save us.

"Blessed are the cursed, for they are the only ones who can save us" is the quote that begins the Maldito series. This quote won't actually make much sense until much further into the story however, but I found it very intriguing, just as I found this book. This is a somewhat different take on the whole vampire craze effecting the literary world (young adult or otherwise), drawing inspiration from an old Spanish legend.

Music plays an important role throughout the better part of the book. From the song that plays in Emmy's dreams, to the music she listens to, music a heavy component in her life. She wants to be a music therapist and is working hard for it. Obviously, as this is a book, you can't hear the music itself, but Trujillo chooses to highlight several songs that will be familiar to most and a few less well known songs. After the halfway point, music takes a backstage to the true drama, but for the first half we learn about Emmy's moods depending on what song is playing in the back of her brain.

Feisty, Emmy speaks her mind most of the time, accepting everyone and cheering people up just by being who she is. Some of this is explained later on, but I think it had a lot to do with her personality. She came off as being very sincere, even when wishing her best friend Sarah luck at scoring a date with Cale, the guy that Emmy has found herself reluctantly crushing on. She is jealous, which is natural, but mostly she wants her friend to be happy. As the novel progressed she became a little more uncertain of herself, but given the circumstances I understood that fine.
Cale is a very mysterious guy for the first half of the book. Always smiling, always watching Emmy, always seeming to be there, Emmy isn't sure if she's flattered, irritated or pissed off by the attention. We learn about his history in bits and pieces, from a variety of sources, and he definitely screams 'smooth customer'. Then something tragic happens and the world is turned upside down while he scrambles to figure things out. I liked him better after the tragedy honestly. He came off as being much more genuine and less cocksure of himself.

Chris was the most confusing part of the entire novel for me. Most of the time he acted like a jealous boyfriend, or disgruntled old man. He was hot and cold throughout the novel, changing emotions so quickly I often had to re-read things to make sure I didn't miss anything. And I'm still not certain he's on the level honestly.

The romance between Emmy and Cale began hot, simmered for a little while and then erupted full steam. There was reluctance on both their parts, for different reasons, but once they got over those hurdles they quickly made up for lost time. Too quickly in my opinion, as it felt like they were moving so fast and committed to things so rapidly that it was hard to take it seriously. Its not that I doubted they didn't feel so deeply, its more that the development seemed to be put on the backburner after the two admitted they couldn't stay away from each other. There was tension.

The story itself reads a little unevenly, some of the transitions being rough and some characters, Chris in particular, had a misleading characterization. How he regarded Cale by the end wasn't such a big surprise, everything in between however was tangled and muddled. The 'bad guys' were also kind of one-note and throw aways, without much fleshing out beyond the fact that Emmy is important to them.

Emmy's Song was an intriguing beginning to what the author says will be a trilogy. It answers most of the questions presented throughout, but opens the gates to more exploration later. It leaves me wanting to read the next book, which is of course always a good sign.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spinning the Baiji by Nancy A. Lindley-Gauthier

Spinning the Baiji by Nancy A. Lindley-Gauthier
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy
Length: Short (46 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Suns
Reviewed by Asphodel

Lin Li has no memory of a time before she loved SunLee. He is an old-fashioned sort of man, practicing tai chi and communing with the river creatures as in times of old. She knows he is promised to another, still, she secretly shares his dawns. She wishes to stop time and stay forever on the leaf-spattered trail where their lives entwine.

The day approaches when the mighty Yangtze River’s current will still, and the finest things in her life must end. Her love for SunLee, like the unimaginable beauty of the Yangtze lotus, will fall away to no more than myth. Sorrow brings her the last of the baiji. The magic of the white river dolphin offers her a lyrical world of love, but perhaps, not her one love.

For Lin, the trappings of a modern world stifle the yearning she feels for tradition and the old days she's only heard of in stories. Watching her neighbor SunLee practice the secret Tai- Chai Chuan moves of his family each morning, Lin begins to think that a kindred spirit is in him. The reality of the modern world encroaching upon the traditions and way of life the villagers have lived through for generations paints a gray future for her.

Spinning the Baiji is an odd combination of being deeply rooted in Chinese traditions, but also exploring how 'modern conveniences' have changed lives in the smaller villages away from the big cities. Lin's family expects great things of her, as her grandmother Golden Lotus says "Her gift of mathematical magic" will land her a good job in Wuhan. Away from the village and the slowly wilting beauty of generations past.

The writing style is lyrical, each scene flowing into the next as if its the very myth that several of the characters fear the Baiji will become. There's a vagueness to the characterizations and the situation as a whole, preferring to remain focused on Lin and SunLee, offering a name only to one other character. I was enchanted throughout the story, filled with a tense anticipation to find out where everything was going.

There were a couple of sour notes however. Lin's full name changes spellings at least twice in the story and the end is almost not an ending. Everything comes to a head and Lin is given a choice--tradition (and risk everything) or what her hearts tells her should be so (and risk a different sort of everything). How she chooses though, is not fully given. I can guess, given the last sentence, but there doesn't seem ample justification for the action. In fact the justification was pointing the other way the entire time, so I can't believe it almost.

Elegant in its descriptions of when the old ways and the new times clash, Spinning the Baiji delighted me with its Asian flair and a main character who lived to save the past, but found herself torn in modern times.