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Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

This book first caught my attention in an online ad many months before it came out, though I can’t remember where. I’m the sort who finds cover art critical in influencing my fiction choices–which some may say is superficial, but I find that a good cover just sets the mood like candles might do for a romantic dinner–and this one had me hook, line and sinker.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

It’s lush, angsty, mysterious, dark and beautiful all at once. There was so little information available about the book (probably intentionally) that it only added to the mystique. I added it to my amazon wish list so I wouldn’t forget about it. It’s been at the top of my “books I will pay full price for” list ever since the release date, and last night I broke down and downloaded it to my Kindle Fire.

The $199 price tag of said device is the only thing that kept me from throwing the bloody book across the room when I finished it tonight.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer starts off flawlessly. The first chapter features Mara, her best friend and a not-so-best friend playing with a Ouija board. This is a flashback, so we already know that Mara killed (or believes she killed) these girls, so you won’t be surprised when the board spells it out for them. But WOW is it still creepy. (Go ahead, read the sample. I dare you. And then you’ll want to read this book, and boooy you might regret it. But the prologue was magic.)

After the accident (or was it??) that claims the lives of her friends, Mara and her family move to a new city, and she starts a new school and attempts to make new friends. Which is all well and good, but the story slowly becomes more and more confusing from here on out. I get that we’ve got an unreliable narrator here. The girl has serious blank spots in her memory and might just be delusional and/or psychotic. One minute we’re going along perfectly normal, and then she sees a dead girl’s face in the mirror, or imagines (or does she??) something happening, or the dogs are afraid of her, or her brother is conspiring with her to keep her mom from having her committed….

The flow just didn’t work for me. Even when Mara was telling us that she thinks she’s hallucinating or that she’s not, to theoretically give us some guideposts, I sometimes had trouble keeping up. It was more confusing than it needed to be to get the point across. The result was that I started skimming whole pages, trying to get to information that mattered.

Mara meets a guy, and he’s one of those slightly snotty, slacker-y rebel types who just happens to be gorgeous and have a really rich family. All of the popular girls hate her because the guy, Noah, likes her where he’s never truly liked any girl before her. Now, don’t get me wrong. I can dig this sort of hero, given the right novel. Archer in Hex Hall, for instance, was fabulous. I gave Noah a real fighting chance to win me over, and while I can’t say that I hated him (he was likeable enough, I suppose), he never really came to life. His relationship with Mara seems to happen because the plot mandates it will happen, not because of any real chemistry.

Some may lambast me for saying this, but…at least Bella and Edward had chemistry. *ducks*

Eventually, you learn that Noah has some secrets of his own, but I almost skimmed right past them, honestly. The revelation didn’t blow me away, and neither did the subsequent pages as he and Mara try to figure out what’s going on with her. Again, the flow was off. It felt disjointed, like each piece of the plot was a puzzle piece forced into place even though the shape wasn’t quite right.

I was still dying to finish the book, because I kept waiting and waiting for the big reveal. I was trying to put all of the important bits together into all of the possible solutions, to see if I could guess it before the book was over.

What I figured out was that very little of that “important” stuff actually mattered, because the story stopped before it actually managed to use any of it.

That’s right. It’s a cliffhanger.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that it’s the first in a series? Well, APPARENTLY SO DID THE AMAZON PAGE. Sneaky bastards. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but COME ON. I’m getting really sick of young adult novels that give us no (and I do mean NO) resolution. Up until now, I thought it was relegated to Meg Cabot novels (Airhead pissed me off, but Abandon nearly made me give up reading her, for real) and a few others that I managed to avoid thanks to kind amazon reviewers, but this one caught me off guard. It really looked liked a standalone sort of novel.

Le sigh.

So. Long story short. I’m pissed off that it was a cliffhanger, and without any of the resolution that made me stick through an oddly confusing narrative, I’m not sure why I bothered. I’m pretty sure I won’t bother with the sequel.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars (the half star for its potential and the cover art)


And the tally now is:

  1. The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey
  2. One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey
  3. Fortune’s Fool by Mercedes Lackey
  4. The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  5. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Review: Taken by the Prince by Christina Dodd

I decided that, in choosing where to start my romance novel quest, I wouldn’t look at existing reviews of the books. I didn’t want to go into something already dreading it, or with my expectations far higher than they should be for a non-romance reader. I used a highly sophisticated eeny-meeny-miney-mo method for choosing my book, and voila!

Can I just start by saying…o hai grown-up Ben Barnes lookalike! Who cares if the cover costuming looks rather modern when we’ve got him smoldering at us???

*clears throat* Aaaanyway.

I loved this book. Seriously.

As I believe I’ve already said, I’m a little afraid of historical novels in general. I’ve never been a fan of history, in school or otherwise, and so I guess I go into these books assuming that I can’t enjoy the story if I don’t already understand some element of its setting. The advantage, of course, is that I also don’t know if the author’s getting it wrong. I also imagine that it will be more difficult to become absorbed when I don’t know the world already. (Which is dumb, I know, as I read epic fantasy…but still.) I found out pretty quickly that my fears were unfounded–for this book, anyway.

The story starts in England, and we’re introduced to our Hero, Saber/Raul, who is the bastard son of nobleman (don’t ask me to give you the proper titles and levels and stuff…see above, re: history) and has come to England to take his proper place as the heir, since said nobleman has only daughters by his wife. We know immediately that the kid does NOT want to be there, but he’s forced (i.e. punished) into behaving somewhat. He believes that he’s the heir to a long-lost throne in the country from which he came (Moricadia), and he’ll just have to endure England until he can go home and conquer the evil rulers.

Fast forward a bit, and we get to see Raul grown up and then meet our Heroine, Victoria, who is a friend of one of Raul’s sisters. She’s feisty, and Raul is cocky, and they immediately clash…very politely, because that’s the way of things. The “problem” is that they are both sort of justified in their attitudes, so while they have conflict, it’s a very nice sort of conflict from the reader’s perspective. You wanna root for both of them.

Oh yeah, and there’s that super hot kiss at the Raul’s family’s ball. Very nice chemistry, and then BOOM.

All of that takes up the first 44 pages, and it’s really sort of the backstory. It’s good, entertaining backstory, but the real plot kicks off in chapter 7, which is 3 years later. Raul has returned to his home country and is working on reclaiming his throne, and Victoria is there as a governess because her charges’ father comes to Moricadia for work. Neither of them remembers that scorching kiss, naturally. No really, they DON’T. Really. Well, okay, maybe a little. But it wasn’t all that great. No, really. Can Victoria help it if coming to his country makes her think of him, or if she makes smart ass comments about him being some wannabe prince? It can’t be true. That would mean she’d kissed a prince. Not possible.

Except said smart ass comments are ill-placed, and Raul has to act quickly to make sure she doesn’t say the wrong thing to the wrong people…by kidnapping her, of course. When I read that bit on the back of the book, I figured that part of the story would be dumb, and I’d have to just accept it as a plot point and move on. But really, it made sense. Raul’s right-hand man is trying to convince him it’s the best plan, and I’m nodding along with him. “Yes, kidnap her! It’s the only way you can make sure your secret doesn’t get out!”

The story reads a lot like a fantasy novel. There’s no magic or odd creatures, but I was struck by how similar some of the bits of the story were. (Now I’m wondering if other historical novels might be like this, too.) There’s a good deal more sex here than in most of the fantasy epics I’ve read, but it’s not of the annoyingly descriptive sort. It’s spicy without having to name every. single. body. part. involved. The build-up to capital-L love is gradual and believable, and the climax (heh – no pun intended) and conclusion are exciting and satisfying. So much so that I don’t want to summarize here.

Everyone else has probably read this stuff already, but if you haven’t, DO IT. I really enjoyed it.

I’m adding Christina Dodd to my list of authors to read in the future, but for now it’s off to another random book. What will I choose next??