Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Hollowland by Amanda Hocking

Hollowland (The Hollows, #1)
by Amanda Hocking 

Genre: Horror/Zombie Apocalypse
Reading Grade: New Adult
Publication Date: October 5, 2010
Source: Kindle store (freebie)
Age Rating: 17+

"This is the way the world ends - not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."

Nineteen-year-old Remy King is on a mission to get across the wasteland left of America, and nothing will stand in her way - not violent marauders, a spoiled rock star, or an army of flesh-eating zombies. 

My Review

  • Plot: Remy is evacuating a high school being used as a make-shift quarantine for uninfected humans when it gets attacked by an army of zombies. She discovers that her eight-year-old brother is getting transferred to a different quarantine in another state. Along the way, several characters see how strong a survivor she is and how capable she is of killing zombies, and she ends up dragging a few of them with her in tow across an apocalyptic desert wasteland on a mission to reunite with her little brother.
  • Characters: Remy is a pretty cool character who has learned before the story begins how to defend herself against the flesh-eating zombies. This makes her stand out because everybody else is scared and many get bitten and infected by the zombies. She even rescues a lioness which she names Ripley and forms a nice bond with her, albeit a bit unrealistic of one. Lazlo is the love interest and he's funny, but not much use in killing zombies, since he's quite weak in that area. I like Blue because he is stoic under all the high tension and even had been a medical student when the zombie virus broke out. The characters are very likable, although many of them do end up dying, but that's to be expected.
  • Story: This one surprised me because I didn't think I'd like it very much, but it ended up being quite an exciting journey through the Nevada and Idaho deserts. Sure, many things are improbable like walking out in the Nevada desert during late summer in the sun for several hours and not getting dehydrated or sunburned. Nobody would realistically survive without shade of some kind, which they did not have. A lioness would probably maul and kill someone in the traveling party, but she never acts like she would harm a soul. Still, I thought it was fun to read. It isn't all that gory, which is good because I would have dropped it otherwise. I'm not a zombie fiction reader, but I felt how hard it was to deal with a world in which, at any moment, the person you've been learning to trust and rely on could get attacked by a zombie and suddenly turn into one themselves.
  • Writing: The quality of the writing does leave much to be desired. As interesting as the story and characters are, the technical writing is sub par. There are several proof errors, as well. Still, I was able to overlook them and just enjoy the exciting pace of the story.
  • Overall Quality: Pretty decent, although poor writing brings it down a little, but it still ends up being an enjoyable read. This book gets classified as Young Adult fiction, but it technically is not. It's an adult novel with a nineteen-year-old protagonist and there is a sex scene with a little graphic description, although it's not as detailed as it could be. I'd say use caution and reserve this read for older teens at the youngest.
  • Favorite Scene/Moment: It's a bit spoilery, but I like the scene when Remy escapes from the cult leader, Korech (not very a very original name, I'm afraid) and how that whole thing goes down. A shotgun is involved and it's pretty intense. The guy doesn't end up being an important character, but Remy's time at his compound is odd and interesting.
  • My Score: 4/5 stars.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms, #1)
by Kristin Cashore 

Genre: Fantasy
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: October 1, 2008
Source: purchased paperback
Age Rating: 16+

In a world where people born with an extreme skill—called a Grace—are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graces with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone. 

My Review

  • Plot: Katsa lives in the Middluns, a country surrounded by seven other kingdoms all ruled by not-so-friendly kings. She is the thumb-breaker for her own king, Randa, who also happens to be her uncle. She is a Graced person, someone to be feared in Middluns, and with her type of Grace, she can kill anyone who tries to do her harm, no matter how many come at her at once (Come at me, bro!). She meets the prince of the island kingdom Lienid named Po, and he seems to be Graced similarly to her, so they train together. Along with Po's advice, she decides to take a chance on rebelling against King Randa, resulting in some consequences that lead her on a completely different life-path than she had ever dreamed of before.
  • Characters: Katsa is a stoic and serious teenager, someone who had very few friends growing up. She literally had an older woman servant force herself on her just to help her through puberty. She's a major tomboy and has no interest in marriage or having children. Po starts out very light-hearted and funny and trains with Katsa because he's similarly Graced. This does lead to romance, but one that takes a lot of time to develop. I love that they spend so much time becoming friends, making a case for something more realistic and awesome. I think my favorite character was Katsa's (closet-gay) cousin, Prince Raffin, who is King Randa's son. He spends most of the time with blue hair because he's kind of a wacky scientist/alchemist/apothecary type of guy and has a chemical mishap with a headache remedy. I wish he'd been in it more. He was Katsa's best friend growing up and is nothing at all like his mafia boss-type father.
  • Story: I really liked this story! It's just good—I can't even figure out exactly why. The characters are great and the world building is well developed. There's plenty of room to flesh out the characters and give them moments with each other. They grow and learn new things along the way, and nobody is the same from beginning to end, except for Prince Raffin. He stays out of Katsa's experiences and the story enough to stay the same. But, it's comforting for Katsa, in the end, to see that her best friend is still her reliable best friend. So much changes in her life and, thankfully, she ends up better off for it. You just have to read the book to find out how it happens.
  • Writing: The writing is a bit odd, but still high quality. It's an unusual style of writing with the word choice, but it's not too confusing and you get used to it. For the most part, it's normal and sort of fits in with how the people talk in this fantasy world created by the author.
  • Overall Quality: Really high. This book was, I believe, only second in popularity to The Hunger Games the year it came out (2008), although a more distant second in the YA sci-fi/fantasy category. Just note that there are a couple of sex scenes which are quickly detailed, but not so explicit as to be sleazy. I recommend older teenage readers for this book.
  • Favorite Scene/Moment: I can't even narrow down one favorite scene because I have too many. Not to mention that I'd be writing spoilers if I did, but I'll vaguely mention that I loved the scene when Katsa confronted King Randa about not wanting to be his thug he sicks on his enemies anymore and how that went down. He's a very bad, but handsome dude and I kind of like that type of villain. But, I liked how Katsa handled herself in the situation because it showed some early character growth.
  • My Score: 4.5/5 stars. (A new favorite!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: Blood Past by Samantha Young

Blood Past (Warriors of Ankh, #2)
by Samantha Young 

Genre: Paranormal/Mythology
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: August 19, 2011
Source: Kindle store
Age Rating: 16+

All Eden wants is redemption... but the road to redemption is never an easy one.

Traveling to Scotland to find her mother’s bloodline, Eden is soon embroiled in the politics and training of the Scottish Warriors of Neith. It is a world where some stand with open arms ready to welcome her as family, while others keep a wary distance, conspiring against her. Through it all Eden learns of love, friendship, and what it means to be a warrior. Her future has promise... that is until a man she thought was forever gone from her life returns to threaten it all.

When the one person Eden loves above all else is endangered, she will have to make a choice. Him... or her?

Life is such a bitch...

... but so is Eden when you don’t play nice. 
My Review

  • Plot: This is Book 2 in the Warriors of Ankh series. Eden has been saved by the Ankh warriors after they massacred her soul eater family—all except her evil cousin, Teagan. They take her to Scotland where she becomes Ankh and trains as one, even hunting down soul eaters as she completely turns her back on her soul eater heritage. But, somebody won't let her forget who and what she used to be, and Teagan decides he's not done with her.
  • Characters: Eden really wasn't that likable of a character in Book 1, but after her change into an Ankh warrior, she really loses all that inner rage and bad attitude which made her kind of losery. I like her way better in this book. Noah is just the same old Noah, an okay guy and your typical overly good-looking dude who's way too into an average-looking chick, that being Eden. Teagan is the character that shines for me. I honestly only wanted to read this sequel because of him. And, he did not disappoint. So sassy and snarky and full of evil smirks. Oh, man! I love this guy even though he is about as sadistic as they come. But, I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love me some great villain characters, and Teagan is the one I've been searching for to add to my collection a while now.
  • Story: It starts off not all that exciting and even has quite a draggy middle, but gets much better during the climactic scene. Much of the first half is about Eden being mad at Noah for pretending to be her friend during his mission to “save” her in Book 1. They have relationship problems most of the book, but then end up together in the second half and it felt REALLY forced. I wasn't into that because I always assumed Eden was a plain-looking girl and he talks about her like she's a run-way model. I just don't get it. Is she so gorgeous? If she were meant to be, then why give the constant impression that she's so dreary and plain? If Noah is so ridiculously Greek god-like, then he'd not be into a plain 17-year-old girl. He's 80-years-old and she's his first real love. Really? (Edward Cullen, anyone?) I'm not buying it and they have zip in common, despite the prose mentioning that they do. Show me the evidence of that and I might believe it.
  • Writing: It's written just like Book 1, decently enough. A very quick read if you want a quicky.
  • Overall Quality: Good. I enjoyed this, mostly because of Teagan's antics and his plot-twisty ways. There are some colorful Scottish characters on the side that really stand out, like Tobe and Mhari. Really funny and cute.
  • Favorite Scene/Moment: Not really a scene, but I loved every instance in which Teagan would refer to Eden as “Paradise,” “babe,” and “my love,” using these pet names that irritated Eden to no end. That made me laugh so hard! Ah...that guy slays me (pun intended).
  • My Score: 4/5 stars.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: Girl Steals Guy by Kelly Green

Girl Steals Guy (Borrowing Abby Grace, #2) 
by Kelly Green 

Genre: Paranormal/Fantasy (Novella)
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: October 21, 2011
Source: Amazon Kindle store
Age Rating: 14+

Dropped into the life of a gorgeous senior with a heartbroken best friend, Abby Grace must navigate high school keg parties, football games and power couples as she discovers that love and revenge are sometimes the same thing. 

My Review

  • Plot: This story is another adventure for Shadow Abby Grace to tackle as she finds another borrower, Michelle, a beautiful teen girl with a best friend brokenhearted over her boyfriend who suddenly dumped her for a more attractive girl. It's up to Abby, who is starting to remember a little of who she really is, or was, to set things straight and reunite the two lovers.
  • Characters: Abby gets a hint at what she's supposed to do from Will, her helper guy, and it's to reunite the two lovers. This means something along the lines of getting Michelle's best friend, Heather and her ex-boyfriend, Sam, back together again. I think in so little space, the new characters for this episode can't be judged properly. But, seeing more of Abby and Will does reveal more character development for them. They even seem to be liking each other, despite the fact that Abby always pretends to be someone else, and has to pretend to like someone else. It would seem confusing, but it doesn't come off that way.
  • Writing: The writing is better in this episode compared to the first one, The Shadow. It seemed more efficient and descriptive, especially of Abby Grace herself, the real Abby Grace whose face can be seen only by herself whenever she looks into a mirror.
  • Story: I like the story pretty well because, like the first installment, it is a mystery that Abby needed to solve in a short period of time, and it took on a lot of unexpected twists and turns. With this one, I was always guessing the outcome along the way, but it turned out not quite like how I figured would. It's pretty fun reading.
  • Overall Quality: Good quality—I liked it, although not as much as the first novella. People who love mysteries and Nancy Drew-like stories would really like this contemporary series.
  • Favorite Scene/Moment: The scene where Abby(Michelle) chatted with Sam, the best friend's ex-boyfriend, and ate pizza with him on the beach. He had come to her rescue when her own boyfriend had stranded her there because she wouldn't put-out. I like that Sam turned out to be a dear old friend of Michelle's that she hadn't talked to in years because Michelle had changed during her relationship with her awful boyfriend.
  • My Score: 3.5/5 stars.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wings of Arian Blog Tour: Author Interview with Devri Walls

Hey, everybody! Today is my stop on the Wings of Arian Book Tour (see list of tour stops) with YA fantasy author, Devri Walls. She's promoting her new book, the first in a series, entitled Wings of Arian. Read my recent review of the book here, and check out Ashley @ The Bookish Brunette's blog for giveaways of 2 $100 Amazon Gift Certificates!

Read on for the interview I conducted with Devri about publishing her first novel and her own advice about how to deal with self-esteem issues...

Me: Welcome to the blog, Devri. Tell us a little bit about your book. 

Devri: Wings of Arian is the type of book that I would love to read. It is full of action, adventure and lots of magic! Oh, and romance, did I mention romance? Wings is about a young girl who has never experienced evil. Can any of us actually imagine that? Never being lied to. Never worrying about locking your door. Never questioning another’s motives. It is so foreign to our own society. Kiora is not only exposed to evil as it returns to her village, but thrown in to face it. This was a fascinating idea to me. Not only living in a world free of evil, but how painful it would it be to see evil and experience it all at once. The shock would be tremendous. And then because I am a fantasy girl all the way, I had to create Kiora’s world within that premise. Dragons and Shapeshifters and Magic! And lets not forget the ability to create my own rules. And I did. Threads and bubbles…fun! 

Me: What has driven you to become an author? Did anything in your past specifically lead you down this path? 

Devri: Weeeeelll…. Funny story. Being an author was never on my radar to be honest. I went to school for Theater and Vocal performance. I loved performing. I loved becoming other people. But I got married, had children, and as of right now, do not have time for theater. I was devastated when I realized I would have to pick and I knew I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my family to follow my dream. I literally fell into writing. It finally gave me a release- an outlet, for all that creative energy that had been bottled up inside me! My background in theater has offered a skill set that really helps my writing. Not only in the dialogue, but also writing the movement of the characters. I keep getting the same comment, that they can SEE so clearly what is going on as they read Wings of Arian. That is a huge compliment for me because I can see it as I write it. As if they are moving across a stage in my head. I am thrilled I was able to get it down on paper so that they can dance across others stages as well. 

Me: What has inspired your writing over the years? Do you feel any of those things have helped you become the author you are today? 

Devri: Everything has inspired my writing. I know it sounds simplified, but its true. My reading has both inspired me and taught me how to write better. My life experiences have shaped me as a person and therefore my writing. My performing background has taught me to be aware of people’s expressions and movements which translates into my writing. I am a very empathetic person, to a fault really, but it has made me so aware of others that it makes it easier for me to get into all my characters heads. 

Me: Congratulations on publishing Wings of Arian! What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in order to accomplish this goal? 

Devri: Balancing. I am a terrible balancer. I am an all or nothing kind of person. That does not work when you are trying to write and be a mom, and work, and teach voice lessons. Oh, and be a sane wife. So that is something I am still struggling with. It is so easy for me to lose myself in writing, I have to remember to come up for air and not forget my family. I also had to overcome fear. Big time. I had to drop the mindset of what if I fail? I hate to fail, HATE TO FAIL. But I had to push through that fear and put myself out there and allow it to be. I still freak out once in a while. But if I don’t do anything for fear of failure, I have failed already. 

Me: The issue of self-esteem is brought up in Wings of Arian: “What if I am not good enough?” What does this statement mean to you, personally? What does it mean to Kiora, your main character? 

Devri: Self Esteem is a huge soapbox for me. If I could travel around speaking about it, I would. It is something I have struggled with in the past and still have my days. If you want a little more detailed version of that you can check out my blog post for an anti bullying campaign that ran a few months ago. But even beyond that, we live in a society where we look up to the famous and rich, and yet tell ourselves and each other that they are some super human breed that we will never be. Somehow, we have made it not ok for us to be special, or brilliant, or talented. 

      "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
      We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
     There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
     We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
- Marianne Williamson

Can someone else be successful? Sure. But when we ask, can I? The thought of it; oh, no-I could never! And I have learned that line of thinking is wrong! I wish everyone could learn it. There is so much we could do if we all put ourselves out there a little more. Is it scary? Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes!! I totally get looks from people that know me when I tell them I wrote a book that translates into, “Yea, suuuure you did.” It’s annoying. But it doesn’t matter. I am taking a leap and dang it, I am good enough! ( I may or may not shout that at myself when I finish crying to my husband wondering, what in the world was I thinking trying to do this.) Leap guys, just leap!! 

For Kiora she has to realize this same concept. She is a no one. She is a little different. And now she has to tap into a power she didn’t know she had to save the land she grew up in. The pressure to be great is terrifying and she finds herself questioning everything. But if she can’t figure out how to let herself be what she truly is, everything will be lost. Kiora’s journey is very indicative of our own. I wonder how many things, and great destinies, were lost because they were too scared to be who they truly were.

Me: Thanks so much for the inspiring interview, Devri!

About the Author

Devri Walls lives in Kuna, Idaho with her husband and two kids. She has worked as a music teacher and currently, a preschool teacher. She majored in theater and her love of a story still drives her today. Thankfully, she has finally found an outlet for all the voices in her head. Her first novel, Wings of Arian, is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, on her blog; and Goodreads.
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