Review of The Eternal City by Paula Morris

TheEternalCityThe Eternal City
By: Paula Morris
Release Date: May 26th 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
Laura Martin is visiting Rome on a class trip, and she’s entranced by the majestic Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon. . . . Everything in this city seems magical.

That is, until the magic seems to turn very dark.

Suddenly, statues of Cupid and ancient works of art come to life before her eyes. Earthquakes rumble and a cloud of ash forms in the sky. A dark-eyed boy with wings on his heels appears and gives her a message. Laura soon realizes she is at the center of a brewing battle — a battle between the gods and goddesses, one that will shake modern-day Rome to its core.

Only she and her group of friends can truly unravel the mystery behind what is happening. As tensions mount and secret identities are revealed, Laura must rely on her own inner strength to face up to what may be a fight for her life.

My Thoughts:
This was the first book I’ve read from Paula Morris and so I really didn’t know what to expect. The writing was easy to read and I was excited by the idea of the setting being in Rome. Some part of me, based on a vague recollection of the summary, thought our main character, Lauren, would be traveling back in time. I only briefly read the summary before requesting this one and when it arrived I jumped in without refreshing my memory. I kept waiting for something to drag Lauren back through time but that didn’t occur. Instead, things happened in present day.

Though this book proved to be a fast read it wasn’t overly enjoyable mostly due to my disconnect to the characters. They each felt rather flat to me especially our lead, Lauren.  She never felt more than two dimensional. We read about her attachment and past with her grandfather but I never felt it. Sadly, I never felt any of the emotions she was described as feeling. There was a tiny bit of romance and even that felt meh to me.

The setting was beautifully described and it did seem easy to picture what was happening around Lauren and her friends. I really enjoyed the visuals of a modern day Rome being overrun with statues (did seem a little Jumanji esq.) As for the big mystery about why the mayhem is occurring it wasn’t overly difficult to figure out. Little tips led me easily to predict what was coming which did detract a tiny bit.

Final Thoughts:
Regardless of my disconnect to the characters and the predictability, Paula Morris’ writing was engaging and I had no problem finishing The Eternal City. It wasn’t a book I regretted reading and I felt that I did derive some enjoyment from the story, especially the setting.

Review of Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Fire & Flood (Fire & Flood, #1)Fire & Flood (Fire & Flood #1)
By: Victoria Scott
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: February 25th 2014

A copy was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This review might contain very slight spoilers because I express how I felt at various parts of the book (with no details other than things like ‘midway through the book’ etc). If you want to go into this book with a clean slate than read no further (but come back after you read the book and let me know what you thought of it)

 

My Rating:
star

Summary:
Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

The Story:
I have read The Collector by Scott and knew going in that Fire & Flood would be a completely different type of book, and it was. The pacing was fairly fast especially after the midway point. I felt that I had created expectations based on some comparisons I’d seen (Hunger Games in particular). Because of this I expected more blood, higher stakes, and a much more brutal race (especially with the epic name Brimstone Bleed). Because of this comparison (that for the life of me can’t think of where I’d even seen that) I thought this was a dystopian, but it was not. I’m not sure which genre it would belong too but Tella’s world seems very much like our own.

As Tella’s journey began it felt tame and I kept waiting for the stakes to be raised (what happens if you lose the race? Was there any hazards beyond nature?). I admit it was rather difficult for me to get invested in the story and Tella for the first third. I was terrified that I wouldn’t enjoy it because I had such high hopes and it wasn’t fitting the mold I had unintentionally created.

As I continued to read I began to find myself flipping pages faster and some of the twists that Scott pulled I didn’t see coming (one in particular had me put down the book open mouthed). The race started to earn it’s name and I was much happier with the second half. I was relieved that I started to worry for Tella and I wasn’t sure how Scott was going to wrap things up. Fair warning- this book only contains two of the four legs of the Brimstone Bleed. I felt that Scott wrapped up the story arc for this first book but left us with two more races to go.

The Characters:
One of the reasons I had trouble with Fire & Flood in the beginning was because Tella was very difficult for me to relate to. I felt that her narration was very juvenile and I couldn’t connect to her,  though I wanted to. As the story continues this began to change; I don’t know if her character had significant growth or that she grew on me but I became very invested in her and her story.

The side characters were well done and I felt that they enhanced the story because I could understand each of their plights. Well, all of the side characters save one. A specific character felt very one sided to me because I was never able to grasp the reasons behind his actions. This was doubly disappointing because he was intended to be a villain. I didn’t feel that any reason was given for his cruelty and I never had a clear read on his personality or motivations beyond his blanketed brutality. I like my ‘bad’ guys to walk the line of good and evil and have depth in their motivations.

There was a romance in Fire & Flood and I thought it was obvious exactly how it was going to play out but was still very well done and easy to get behind. I felt Tella and this character had good chemistry and banter, making their interactions entertaining and believable. I look forward to seeing more of the two of them.

To my surprise, I really enjoyed the animal companions, Pandoras. When I heard that the book included animals with special skills I feared they would be a tiny bit cheesy or too much like reading Pokémon. I was relieved and impressed with how well Scott was able to add them seamlessly into the storyline and I ended up getting rather attached to a few of them.

Final Thoughts:
Fire & Flood was a departure in style from the Dante Walker series but I believe her fans will enjoy this book as well. I had some trouble in figuring out how I wanted to rate this book.  I chose 3.5 because of the reasons listed above including the story’s villain feeling flat and my slow start in connecting with the main character, Tella. That being said, Victoria Scott was able to create a cast of characters different from the others I’ve read of hers, yet able to keep her style and witty dialog.

Review of Inhuman by Kat Falls

InhumanInhuman (Fetch #1)
By: Kat Falls
Release Date: September 24th 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
Purchase:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

An electronic copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:

star

Summary:
In a world ravaged by mutation, a teenage girl must travel into the forbidden Savage Zone to recover lost artifacts or her father’s life is forfeit.

America has been ravaged by a war that has left the eastern half of the country riddled with mutation. Many of the people there exhibit varying degrees of animal traits. Even the plantlife has gone feral.

Crossing from west to east is supposed to be forbidden, but sometimes it’s necessary. Some enter the Savage Zone to provide humanitarian relief. Sixteen-year-old Lane’s father goes there to retrieve lost artifacts—he is a Fetch. It’s a dangerous life, but rewarding—until he’s caught.

Desperate to save her father, Lane agrees to complete his latest job. That means leaving behind her life of comfort and risking life and limb—and her very DNA—in the Savage Zone. But she’s not alone. In order to complete her objective, Lane strikes a deal with handsome, roguish Rafe. In exchange for his help as a guide, Lane is supposed to sneak him back west. But though Rafe doesn’t exhibit any signs of “manimal” mutation, he’s hardly civilized . . . and he may not be trustworthy

My Thoughts:
When I requested Inhuman I was drawn to the dystopian nature of the summary and the world going feral. Inhuman provided both of these things though I wasn’t sold on the presentation. A virus has spread over society and the only way the people can save themselves is by migrating and constructing a huge wall to keep everything out of their sterile world. I really liked how Falls handled the idea of a virus overrunning our society and how we might try to survive contained.

After making it into the forbidden lands I began to worry about the direction the story was going. The animal-human mutations veered on silly at times with their dialog, descriptions and fact that they were referred to as manimals. I admit that the descriptions were fairly accurate to how I would expect a hybrid to appear, but for some reason it came off almost goofy. As I read, I imagined what would happen if this was turned into a movie and how horrible I’m sure they would look.

This book falls under many of the typical young adult dystopian tropes. You have a naïve yet loyal, strong willed girl thrown into a situation she couldn’t possibly have dreamed of. Of course, she encounters two men that are complete opposites though they attract her for those differences. One guy is tall handsome, put together, honorable and heroic. The other is rough around the edges, rude but mushy on the inside.

As you can see there is a touch of the dreaded love triangle but not too much focus was spent on this aspect and the main character seemed to realize she should be focusing on the task at hand rather than her next love interest.

The beginning showed potential and there was a section (roughly around 45%) where I was really enjoying where things were going and the dialog between characters. I started to have high hopes that though I felt the manimals were silly this book would turn out to be one I overall enjoyed. Sadly, soon after this point the story took a turn and it felt like the book had an identity crisis. I wished that I could have enjoyed more than the small portion of the story.

Final Thoughts:
I wish I could say I enjoyed this book more thoroughly. Inhuman felt very close to being good and I think with some reworking of the storyline it could have been much more successful. The author had some great dialog and her characters were very close to redeeming any problems with the story flow and issues of incongruent tone.

Review of The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream ThievesThe Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)
By: Maggie Stiefvater
Release Date: September 17th 2013
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

An electronic copy was given in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:
star

Summary (via Goodreads):
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

The Story:
The sequel The Dream Thieves takes all the rich and lavish world building of The Raven Boys and adds in some new surprises and additional characters. I actually think that this book is my favorite of Stiefvater’s so far.

As with The Raven Boys the pacing is slow yet still intoxicating and gripping. Stiefvater doesn’t rush her story buildup or character development but lets us immerse ourselves and become fully invested page by page. This book is rooted in a world so familiar to ours yet it wasn’t difficult to imagine and believe that the extraordinary things happening to and around our characters.  This magical atmosphere honestly created a dream feel to the book that I absolutely love.

The Characters:
Stiefvater gives us much deeper insight into each of her characters. I loved reading about Ronan’s past and seeing the world through his view point. It was heartbreaking to see the walls he’s built to shield himself and his emotions. I was always fond of his character but in The Dream Thieves I was able to visualize him so clearly and really get attached to him. This book felt like a devotion to him and the impact his dreams are having on his waking life.

Gansey is an easy favorite from the beginning of the series. We get to see him in his childhood home and interacting in the experiences he was raised in. It was enlightening to see him putting on the airs of high society. His relationship and understanding with Blue deepened and was so enjoyable (if not devastating) to read.

Blue continues to be outstanding and beautifully unique. The threat of her kiss being the demise of her true love wasn’t nearly as focused in this book but wasn’t forgotten either. I felt how tragic this was for her possibly even further in this book than the first.

I was impressed with how Stiefvater crafted the relationships of all the characters as a group, individually and with one another. I can’t think of another book where the character’s dialog and interactions felt so real. Each personality is completely unique and you truly feel that you know them after reading their stories.

Final Thoughts:
Overall Maggie Stiefvater is brilliant at creating characters that are well rounded and broken in the most beautiful way. Her stories are creative and her writing seamless. Though most of her books are slowly paced they are worth the buildup and continue to exceed my expectations.

Review of A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron

A Spark Unseen by Sharon CameronA Spark Unseen (The Dark Unwinding #2)
By: Sharon Cameron
Release Date: September 24th 2013
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pre-order:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon

A copy was provided by the publisher for being on the blog tour and in exchange for an honest review

Rating:
star

Please note: this is a sequel so there might be spoilers for book one, The Dark Unwinding. If you’ve not read the first book my review is here.

Summary (via Goodreads):
When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust–if anyone–to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

The Story:
A Spark Unseen picks up two years after The Dark Unwinding. Lane has been absent and Katharine is caring for Uncle Tully and the estate. Cameron continues in the same fashion as her prior novel: eloquent writing, well researched material and compelling subject matter.

As with The Dark Unwinding many plots surround gaining Uncle Tully’s intelligence and creative inventions all in the name of politics. Katharine is single minded in her protection of her Uncle and doing what is right by him. I loved the descriptions of Uncle Tully’s inventions and how they worked.

Cameron did an excellent job giving the reader insight into the politics of the time and day to day life of her characters. Her descriptions of the buildings and people helped to develop my overall impression of the time period and helped to immerse me into the story.  It was fascinating to read the author notes in the back of the book about what aspects were directly derived from history.

The Characters:
I felt that the story was incredibly strong in this book but I was a bit disappointed in the characters.  Everyone in The Dark Unwinding were so unique it was hard not to love each of them and be completely invested them. Since Katharine and Uncle Tully flee to France we don’t get to see these characters as much. One of my favorites and the love interest of Katharine, Lane, is largely absent from the novel. His interactions with Uncle Tully and Katharine were missed.

In the first book Uncle Tully was my favorite character because of his eccentric attitude and genius. Thankfully, he is wonderful in this book too though he only really participates from mid book on.

Katharine has grown even more than she did in The Dark Unwinding and she has blossomed into a wonderful care-taker for her uncle. Her deep affection is evident along with her patience and compassion. I enjoyed her interactions with the society in Paris and especially found her dialog with her aunt’s longtime friend entertaining.

With the location change there are many new characters introduced, all of which were interesting. As stated prior though, I never cared for them as much as the old cast of characters. Katharine is single minded in her mission and closed off to the people she interacts with. This was felt by me as I read and affected my connection to the secondary characters.

Final Thoughts:
Sharon Cameron has a beautiful writing style which is well researched, elegant and vivid in its descriptions. I fell in love with the characters in The Dark Unwinding and mourned their less frequent roles in this new novel though I enjoyed the story and Katharine’s growth and determination.

Extras:
Read my interview with Sharon Cameron
Read my review of The Dark Unwinding
Be sure to check out my stop tomorrow on the A Spark Unseen Blog Tour!
A Spark Unseen book trailer: