DNF: Pure by Catherine Mesick

Pure by Catherine Mesick is a 2014 indie-published YA urban fantasy novel. It is Book 1 of the Pure Series by Catherine Mesick. I think I found it on BookBub and was drawn by the absolutely gorgeous cover art. Also, it was free, so that didn’t hurt! I found the opening chapters intriguing with the unique YA UF twist on Russian mythology, and I liked Katie in general as a character.

I want to start out by saying that I have tremendous respect for Mesick. Not just for finishing a series of this genre, but executing it all correctly as an indie author (no easy feat) and deciding to make the first book in her series free to initiate readers at no risk. I think that’s a brilliant strategy and I commend her for it. I also think we share the same hometown (or at least, home state) but that’s beside the point. I would love to meet her at a book conference someday and shake her hand. (Post-covid era, of course.)

I read 50% of Pure. It was an overall positive experience. I am setting it aside for the time being at the 50% mark. The writing is good and the story holds a lot of promise. My issue is mostly just pacing. This is something I struggle with personally when I get to the ‘muddy middle’ of lots of books, so it’s not necessarily a criticism of the author. That said, the author chose to answer some pressing questions prematurely (what is William, where his & Katie’s relationship is going, what is the monster, what/who is killing people in town and why) that I feel would’ve been better saved for much later in the book. I was reading to unravel these mysteries. Once all my questions were answered around midway through, I no longer felt incentivized to keep reading.

Lastly, I’m not sure if it’s a literary style or just an editing oversight, but the text contains an exorbitant amount of em-dashes that were distracting and should typically be used very sparingly.

All that aside, I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from downloading a free book, especially if they’re fans of this genre. I may decide someday to finish the book (or even the series) and go back and update this review. For now, however, I have other books on my TBR to move onto, including some library books I don’t want falling overdue. Thank you to the author for allowing us to sample her work!

Book Review: Obsidian (Lux: Book #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Title: Obsidian
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Series: Lux (Book 1)
Genre: Teen Paranormal Romance/Sci-Fi
Page Count: 400 pages
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: May 8, 2012

Publisher’s Summary: Starting over sucks. When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring…until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up. And then he opened his mouth. Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something…unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me. You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades. If I don’t kill him first, that is.

My Thoughts: I first heard about this book from a BookTuber (sorry, I forget which, I think her name was Emma?) who called it one of her “favorite trashy YA romance series.” I’d never seen or heard of it before, and alien romance was never necessarily my deal, but the BookTuber seemed to share my taste in other YA romances, so I ordered it in paperback along with the Syrena Legacy books. I instantly liked the narrator, Katy, who was a book blogger (yay!) and also, for some reason, a gardener? (Not sure if that has any purpose for the plot later in the series?) In very Twilight-y fashion, Katy is a high schooler who has just moved into a new town–this one’s in West Virginia–from sunny Florida. She makes fast friends with the girl next door, but the girl’s jerkwad twin brother hates Katy from the start for some inexplicable reason, and he never passes up the chance to let Katy know it.

Strange things start happening all around Katy. Next thing she knows, she’s embroiled in an all-out local alien war. Now, I was intrigued by the aliens’ powers and the worldbuilding in this one, but I don’t personally understand the whole ‘bully romance’ phenomenon. Enemies-to-lovers, on the other hand, I LOVE, so long as the character motivations are clear and the relationship eventually transforms into two people treating each other with loving kindness. But Daemon never stopped bullying Katy, and the only thing apparent between them was lust. It took until 3/4 of the book for me to finally warm up to him a little, once he helped rescue her from a potential date-rape situation. But I would’ve appreciated more opportunities to root with our hero.

The book is written in a super clever, snarky YA contemporary voice that is easy and enjoyable to read. It has just the right dose of sci-fi to be a genre PNR but doesn’t overwhelm you with science lingo or the physics (or astrophysics) of it all. As always with this genre, I tend to enjoy the side characters and their backstories, along with the world-building and scenery, more than the main couple. I recommend this book to fans of The Syrena Legacy, The Twilight Saga, and Guardian.

Book Review: Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl #1) by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl (Viking Press, 2001) by Eoin Colfer is the first in an eight-book children’s science fiction series. Born in Ireland, Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old boy genius. With the muscle of his manservant, a trained killer called Butler, young Artemis is the criminal mastermind behind innumerable schemes to regain the Fowl family fortune.

When Artemis embarks upon an elaborate scheme to take an elf captain hostage in exchange for a ransom of fairy gold, Fowl Manor is soon under siege by LEPrecon, the reconnaissance division of the “Lower Elements Police.” While the smugly brilliant Artemis is by far the most interesting and entertaining person in the book, the titular character definitely seems to take a backseat in the story and – in my opinion, unfortunately – the book focuses far more on Captain Holly Short, Commander Root, and the colorful, mythical cast of the LEPrecon unit than I would’ve preferred.

All the same, this was a fairly entertaining YA fantasy heist. There were some rather low-brow plot mechanisms that I didn’t think were altogether necessary; then again, I’m a 30-year-old woman, not the book’s intended audience of a 12-year-old boy. From a writing perspective, I was confused that the author wrote in omniscient voice; generally speaking, this practice is avoided. The narrative frequently head-hops between characters, often from sentence to sentence.

The bulk of my enjoyment of this novel stemmed mostly from the lively delivery and delightful array of accents performed by the audio book’s narrator, Nathaniel Parker. I’m looking forward to continuing listening to Mr. Parker’s performance of the series on audio.

Book Review: Haunting the Deep by Adriana Mather

‘Someone or multiple someones are intentionally rewriting history,’ Alice says. 
‘And keeping the Titanic stuck in time before its sinking,’ Susannah says.” – p. 249

Haunting the Deep (Knopf, 2017) is the sequel to How to Hang a Witch by #1 NYT bestselling YA author, Adriana Mather. In Mather’s second YA paranormal thriller, we pick up six months after the ending of How to Hang a Witch. It’s spring time, and Samantha Mather has been avoiding magic and the Descendants of the Salem witches, ever since they were all almost hanged to death.

…they’re descended from the accused Salem witches and I’m descended from the stodgy Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, who hanged them.” – p. 6

But the Descendants need Sam as part of their circle now, especially since Alice and Susannah have been receiving psychic warnings about something bad about to happen in Salem – again. This time, it accompanies Salem High’s upcoming Spring Fling dance, which is Titanic-themed. At the same time, and perhaps not coincidentally, Sam begins receiving mysterious packages by a long-dead relative who survived the sinking of the Titanic. When she touches the enchanted objects, she is transported to a strange alternate replica of the ship on the days before it sank, where the doomed passengers are all enjoying themselves, and Sam herself begins to forget who she really is.  Only when Alice points out that these enchantments not only endanger Sam but other people does Sam finally agree to join their circle and embrace her magical gifts to help save the day once more.

The best part about this book, in my opinion, is that we got way more of the teen witches: Alice, Mary, and Susannah. I felt they were a bit underutilized in the previous book, so I was delighted this book centered more on them and their coven sisterhood with Sam. We also finally get to meet Sam’s father, and Jaxon’s character takes a backseat to some strange magic while we have the return of the seventeenth-century spirit whom Sam’s in love with, Elijah. But the second-best part about the book are the enchanted objects and the creepy revisits to the Titanic, where Sam plays the role of an Edwardian young lady courting a young man. IMO, Mather should really try her hand at writing full historical fiction (with paranormal elements, of course), as the historical scenes were thoroughly engaging and – dare I say? – even better written than the contemporary ones.

I adore how Mather gave a voice to the immigrants and third-class passengers who didn’t survive the ship’s tragic fate. Also, I love the way she wrote their Irish accents; I could hear them so clearly in my head. The idea of putting on a dress and being transported into another iconic time and place is such a fascinating concept to me; I could read a whole series about that alone. Given everything I loved about it, there were a few things I would’ve wanted a deeper explanation for. Namely, it wasn’t entirely clear why the perpetrator (not spoiling who!) wanted Sam to stay on the Titanic with them. I get why they needed her to summon someone else (again, no spoilers), but why try to keep Sam there, deluded, on the ship forever too? That part didn’t seem to be explained. But maybe it was and I was just reading too fast because I was too excited to see what would happen next.

Above all, the world-building in this series so far has made me a fan. The many ways spells can work in this world, such as through potions, writing, ritual, or enchanted artifacts, keeps the stories creative and fresh. I really hope Adriana Mather is working on a third book in this series, as I can’t wait to see where she’ll transport us next. I’ll be the first in line to go with her!

Watch the awesome book trailer

Memorable Quotes

“‘…stop judging magic and get over yourself.‘” – Alice, p. 43

‘You’re not allowed to try to fix me. I’m not broken.’” – Sam, p. 234

I’m here worrying about having to go to the Titanic as a first-class passenger with tea and parasols; meanwhile, some of those passengers have probably been locked in steerage for the better part of a century.” – p. 242

DNF: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

*DNF at 40%

RoseBlood by A.G. Howard (Amulet Books, 2017) is a YA urban fantasy novel inspired by Gaston Lereux’s classic novel and the opera of the same name, The Phantom of the Opera.

I enjoyed the author’s debut, the Alice in Wonderland retelling entitled Splintered, even though at times the second through third acts became overwritten. I was drawn to the cover of this book, the name of a familiar author, and the premise. The opening six or so chapters did not disappoint. Rune is an American gypsy girl possessing both a blessing and a curse – she can sing beautiful operas, even ones she’s never heard before. But it’s only because she is mysteriously compelled to, like a reflex, and if she doesn’t, it’ll virtually explode out of her. Whenever she finally sings, it depletes her of all her energy, to the point of illness.

Rune’s father believed in her supernatural gift, and used to help cultivate it. But since he’s dead now, she’s left with her mother who rejects the supernatural and believes the best way to straighten her daughter out while feeding her need for music is to send her away to a French music school in Paris. But Rune is leery of the old boarding school, believing it to be haunted by the same phantom who inspired Gaston Lereux’s writing of The Phantom of the Opera.

The story started out very strong. The mystery of Rune’s past and her talent kept me turning the pages, and I really enjoyed all the YA-ish parts about the friends and enemies she was making at her new school. But it began to lose focus once chapters were being told from the new phantom’s POV. Because we learn early on who the phantom is and what his motives are, there is no longer any sense of suspense or fear on Rune’s behalf when she encounters him. The storytelling would’ve been improved if we were learning about him at the same time as Rune, through her eyes, and not given such an omniscient perspective to know the answers to the mystery while our heroine does not.

While the author’s writing skill is beautifully displayed throughout most of these pages, as the plot thickens, the narration becomes convoluted, the sentences themselves purple, overlong, tedious. The characters became too lost in their own inner-monologue and backstory that, by midway through, it was no longer clear what was going on. If I were the editor of this book, I’d have suggested using short action sentences and focusing only on what was happening at present. I kept pushing because I really wanted to believe in this story, but by 40%, I knew it was time to move on to the next titles on my reading list.

That said, this book will still appeal to a wide audience. YA urban fantasy readers who don’t mind a denser and more detailed read, and anyone particularly interested in all things Phantom of the Opera, may find it suited to them.

Book Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

As the market today is rather saturated in the genre, I am not generally a reader of modern fairy tale renditions. Yet, I was drawn to the cover of this urban teen fantasy, Splintered (2013) by A. G. Howard, a novel based on Alice in Wonderland. When I opened it up and began reading, I was hooked from the first sentence.

Alyssa Gardner is a smart and determined goth/glam skater girl who lives with her father in a small Texas town. Her mother, a direct descendant of Alice Liddell – the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – has been living in an insane asylum for the last eleven years. But she’s not really insane. At the coaxing of Alyssa’s childhood guide – a blue moth who can transform into a very sexy netherling – Alyssa and her longtime crush, Jeb, must journey down the rabbit hole into Wonderland to repair the messes Alice Liddell left behind… or so they think.

In Howard’s rendering, Wonderland is gothic and macabre, with some terrifying creatures and twisted magic. Lewis Carroll fans will appreciate the quotes and plot references from his famous “Jabberwocky” poem. Alyssa’s guide, the moth/netherling Morpheus, was by far the most complex, entertaining and intriguing character. He was irresistibly sexy and well-written, although his constantly shifting motivations and ambiguity felt inconsistent at times. As well, the plot became a bit convoluted in the second & third acts, and detailed action sequences with frequent game-changing revelations made it difficult for me to follow along after a while.

As for Howard’s prose itself: it’s addictive, skilled and uniquely creative. I  found myself rereading sentences just to marvel at the beauty of her descriptions and word choices. Her style is artistic – the reader can tell Howard has a keen eye for fashion and the visual arts. Her dialogue is also exceptional. Howard is a talented writer who’ll do well with her trilogy for  fans of teen urban fantasy and gothic fairy tale retellings.