Book Review: “Becoming Alpha” by Aileen Erin

October 21, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy | By

Becoming Alpha (Alpha Girl, #1)Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book really have mixed feelings about. On the positive side, the plot is reasonably interesting and the characters are nicely distinct from each other. There are a few characters that are a bit too one-dimensional – such as the requisite spoiled rich girl at the boarding school – but the primary characters have more to do mention to them and are well enough written that I actually care about what happens to them.

On the downside, a fair amount of the plot in the book is fueled by one of my absolute least favorite tropes: people not talking to each other and thus misunderstanding what’s happening. When the book starts, we meet Tessa, the girl who gets visions when she touches people or objects. We eventually learn that she is half bruja – a Mexican witch – who, it is strongly hinted, is supposed to take over her family’s coven soon. Her parents, however, have not told her this and while she knows that others and her family supposedly have similar gifts, she doesn’t believe that brujas are anything more then people essentially play-acting at spirituality. Similarly, when her father takes a job at a special boarding school for werewolves, all she is told is to stay out of the woods after dark, avoid the wolves in the area, and stay away from all of the students at her father’s school. Nobody explains to her why. Of course, she meet one of the boys from the school and he ends up biting her lip as they are kissing. This leads to several scenes of various people freaking out, without explaining to her why. She becomes quite ill and has to be hospitalized – and it’s only after she has spent a fevered week there that she can’t remember that anyone tells her that werewolves are real and she is now one of them.

The same problem plagues the romance. She and the boy who bit her are very clearly meant for each other, but both of them seem to have an inability to talk to the other and instead will overhear snippets of conversation or see part of a situation (such as one of them hugging somebody else) and storm off before finding out what was actually happening. This results in one refusing to speak to the other while the other is trying to explain what the deal was, with the inevitable reconciliation to follow – lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s a good thing that the characters are as interesting as they are, and the world is as well drawn as it is. Aside from the main romance, the relationships are reasonably well done, and Tessa’s burgeoning friendship with her suitemate Meredith is fun and very reminiscent of campus life.

As for the rest the story, aside from the drama that is created by not talking to each other, it’s interesting enough that I’m going to keep reading the series and see what happens. Hopefully, as the relationships mature, they will develop better communication skills!

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Book Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” by Maggie Stirfvater

October 16, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Well! That was an interesting ride! Following what I had found to be a rather confusing second episode, this third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” series really picked the story back and kept it moving through the entire book. We got to see lot more interaction between the main characters, and each of them went through some significant personal trials and challenges that cause some profound changes in our main characters.

One of the most interesting things about the book is that the characters spend a great deal of time moving between reality and the unreality of Cabeswater and the ley line, so the book kept me somewhat off-balance as I was reading it – but in a good way.

Something I hadn’t picked up on initially with the first two volumes in the series is that each volume is covering a season. The first takes place during the spring, the second in the summer, this one in the fall and presumably the next one will be at winter.

As in the previous books, on the last page we get a wicked, wicked twist that is making me dread how long the time will be until the fourth book is released, because I very much want to find out what happens with this new situation.

A few oddities in the book, one of the characters – Colin Greenmantle – starts off seemingly quite menacing and yet ends up the story in a way that struck me as completely out-of-character for the way he was described in the previous book and the way he’s initially portrayed in this one, and while he certainly sustains a few jolts, none of it seems strong enough to warrant the change in his personality. I think he’s probably the weakest character in the series thus far, though his wife. I found his wife, Hyper, more interesting even though she plays a much less significant role in this book. I also noticed that the author seems to like to comment on people’s teeth often enough that it actually became something of a distraction, though not enough to damage enjoyment of the book in any way. It’s just odd.

Overall, I found to be a much stronger story then “The Dream Thieves” but not quite as strong as “The Raven Boys.” I am very much looking forward to the fourth chapter as it will be quite interesting to see where these characters and up and how they have been changed from the beginning of the series by the time all is said and done.

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Book Review: “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

October 5, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good, but flawed follow-up to the excellent “The Raven Boys.”

I have absolutely loved the first book in the series “The Raven Boys, so this one had quite a bit to live up to. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite make it. The story is still quite good and held my interest well, and there’s a lot of interesting character development along the way, but there were just a number of things about the book that felt off or out of place, and the author used one technique heavily throughout the book that I’ve always found to be rather annoying.

I think the biggest problem I had overall was that the entire subject this book – the ability to remove things from dreams and bring them into reality – is only connected to the previous book by the very last line of that book, where Ronan reveals that he brought his pet raven out of a dream. This pushes the search for Glendower – the major plot line for the entire series and the motivation for our main characters to have gotten together in the first place – into the background, and a very little progress on that plot is made during this book. Perhaps in the next book a connection between the dream ability and the search for Glendower will be brought into the same circle, but for right now it feels like we just sort of jumped off the track of the original story into a whole new story for reasons that aren’t at all clear.

Also, much of the activity in this book keeps the four Raven boys doing things separately, and features a number of fights between them, which destabilizes the core relationship from the first book – and because the boys are all doing things separately, Blue doesn’t get invited along as much, so her presence is missing from large swaths of the story.

As for the technique that I found annoying, often times when a writer doesn’t want to reveal the identity of a character, they will be introduced and given a kind of “placeholder” name – which is generally based on something descriptive – until the point in the story where revealing their identity will have the greatest impact. I’ve never cared for it much because too often the reveal is letdown and does not carry the dramatic impact that it seems the author intends.

There are two main causes for that kind of a letdown. The first is because the character is described in enough ways through his actions or tidbits about himself that he drops as he speaking to various characters throughout the book that guessing his identity fairly easy. The second comes about because when the character’s identity is finally revealed, he turns out to be someone we’ve never heard of before nor is he connected to any of our characters in any significant way. In both cases, it ends up making the whole subterfuge of hiding his name feel pointless.

On the plus side – and there certainly is one – we do get a considerable amount of good background information on our main characters, and we get to know Persephone, Calla, and Maura much better. There’s a lot of good, tense drama – and, even though the story feels a bit out of place coming out of the first book, it’s an interesting and fun to read story. I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to continue with the series, and am hoping that maybe that next book will help connect some of what happened in the first book to what happened in this one more closely.

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