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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

Starting the New Year Off Right

I officially started 2012 with a laid back evening of Game of Thrones with a friend of mine, and my husband half-watching from his computer in the background. We managed to watch all 10 episodes in a row, without breaking for sleep, finishing sometime around 4:30 am. Good stuff. I want to read the books now, BUT.

I’m notoriously bad about starting series and never finishing them.

It’s not that I dislike series–on the contrary, I love the idea of getting to live in a cherished world for book after book–but I tend to need a palette cleanser after a couple of books of the same genre. Either that, or life gets in the way of my reading habit, and by the time I come back, I’m in the mood for something completely different. Case in point, my romance novel quest. (I’ll get back to it eventually, but for now I’m on a different reading train.)

Combine this with the fact that I have a terrible memory for stories. It’s a bit of a blessing, because it means I can re-read favorites almost as if they’re brand new, but when it comes to finishing series, it’s a curse. I can read book 1 and book 2, but by the time I get around to book 3, I’ve completely forgotten what happened. I start over. Repeat this ad nauseum, and I’m doomed to never finish series.

And the Song of Fire and Ice series has some hefty tomes. I’ll be saving those for my retirement days, I fear.

So instead, I spent half of New Year’s Day (well, after I’d gotten some sleep) trying to pick out something else to read. After much debating–as choosing a book to read is SERIOUS BUSINESS–I settled on:

The Fairy Godmother

The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

Which is–you guessed it–the first book in a series. *facepalm*

On the bright side, they are not nearly the 800-pagers that Game of Thrones is, so I blew through the first three before the long weekend was over. I finished the 4th today by using the Kindle read aloud feature (I am soooo in love with it) at work. There are two more left, and I’m debating whether I should power my way through them this weekend or take a break. I really want to take a break, because #4 was not nearly as good as #1, and also because it’s just time for a break. Buuuut…there is a part of me that wants to read them just to actually finish what’s available for the series. Other than Harry Potter, it might be one of the few times that’s happened.

It did get me thinking about the New Year and reading in general, though, and I think I’d like to keep track of the books I read. I used to do that, many years ago, and it’s interesting to go back and look at what I read. Most of the time I’ve completely forgotten. (See above, re: terrible memory.) Here’s the official start of it. Let’s see how far 2012 can take me!

  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

Damn You, Father Time

I have far too many things demanding my time. Which is to say, no time to read this past week, and that made me a little cranky. It’s always a matter of choices, but sometimes it is the way it is. Let me break it down.

Mandatory overtime at work. Journey concert. Working on my novel and a short story. Bi-weekly Pathfinder game. Add in a little sleep, and that pretty much takes up all the time.

The work and the sleep are unfortunate necessities. The concert and the gaming were fun, but pre-planned, so there was no rearranging¬† them in favor of reading. And the writing is sort of both–fun, because I love it, and necessary, because one of these days it’ll replace the day job. One quest temporarily overshadowing another, I suppose.

BUT. I need to pick a new book to read for the coming days. I can’t decide if I want to make it a romance, or read something else before I pick up another one. I have just shy of 100 books on my amazon wishlist, and that doesn’t count the hundreds I’ve already got on my physical shelves that I haven’t read. Here are the ones I’ve picked for the top of my TBR list (which is constantly shifting), broken down by genre:

Young Adult – Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

  • Intriguing concept and good reviews. I don’t own this yet, but that’s why I love ebooks. Instant gratification!

Fantasy – The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish

  • My eyes were drawn to this series because of the gorgeous cover art. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a straight up epic fantasy…plus, book 1 is free, which makes it very tempting!

Romance – Just Desserts by Barbara Bretton

  • One of my random Goodwill picks. I decided I want to read a contemporary before I jump back into historical land, even though I liked the last one.

Non-Fiction – Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown by Ryan Buell and Stefan Petrucha

  • I’ve watched every bit of this show (on Netflix), and while I don’t love it, I do enjoy it. I’m curious to read a bit deeper into things.

Short Stories – Once Upon a Beanstalk by Kate Ellison

  • Fairy tale characters, a 99 cent price tag, and a sample that drew me right in. Looks very fun, and some short stories might be good for working into my busy schedule.

Hmm, so what’ll it be? I’ll think on it while I finish my chores.

Tonight, there will be reading!

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??

Goodwill Book Cache

Since I’m on a quest to read a bunch of different romance novels of all sorts, I decided I needed a more cost-effective way of building my library than spending $7.99+ for the kindle versions of titles I might not even enjoy. I’m all for ebooks, and 90% of the stuff I read these days is in an electronic format, but I haven’t won the lottery yet. And since it’s not Saturday at 6 am, I can’t venture to neighborhood yard sales (though HEY, that’s an idea!). Thus:

Goodwill.

I have to say, I was disappointed in their pricing. $1.99 per book for a crappy selection? Dayum. And, naturally, it was orange tag day, and practically none of the books I wanted had orange tags. Still, it comes in at about half the price of my local used bookstore, it was more convenient (because it’s actually still open when I get off work), and I’m not terribly picky at this point. Only two lousy shelves worth, but I can make do. For now.

I picked authors I’ve heard of, and I tried to get a spread of subjects and time periods. I attempted to silence all of my fears about cowboys and the Scottish Highlands and rakish princes. They didn’t have any sheik books, which is something of a relief. I’m not sure how I’m going to get through one of those. (But I will, dammit! I mean, what if I like it???) I even let myself get one paranormal suspense, because I’ve yet to read the author, and I figure I’m more likely to enjoy that one. It’ll be my reward if I suffer through something I hate.

Man, I sound pessimistic about this, don’t I? I’m really not. I’m really excited to dive into a new set of fictional worlds and see what I think of them.

How do you think I did?

Goodwill Books

A Noble, Romantic Quest

And what is this quest, you ask? Well, I was an English major, and I’ve read plenty of stories detailing quests. Among my favorites were those of Arthurian knights looking for the Holy Grail, or Psyche trying to get back to her Cupid. Alas, this quest is not so classic, nor is it that kind of romantic, though I consider it rather noble in its own way.

I want to find truly awesome romance novels.

Now, a little background: I am not a romance reader. While I’ll admit to rolling my eyes at some passages I’ve seen or been shown, I’m not intrinsically opposed to them. I think that, like all books, there are good ones and bad ones. I gravitate toward urban fantasy, young adult, and suspense novels, because I enjoy the subject matter they tend to explore–worlds unlike our own where myth and magic come alive, finding yourself before your life has already been decided, escaping from danger and ridding the world of truly evil people…there are just so many possibilities!

I also enjoy a healthy dose of romance in just about all things fiction, whether that be books or movies or TV. So why do I eat up movies like When Harry Met Sally and While You Were Sleeping, root for Buffy and Angel to hook up (again), wonder why Wyatt Cain didn’t just kiss D.G. already, and yet when I go for a novel, it’s never based on the romance alone? What is it about the romance-centric story that puts me off?

Well, I don’t think it actually does.

I’ve read a few romance novels (see below), and I’m almost always pleasantly surprised–when said books make it onto my TBR list based on recommendations, anyway. So really, maybe the problem is that I just don’t know how to pick ’em. I see pretty covers, and I assume they’ll equate to a book I’ll like. Unfortunately, that method doesn’t seem as useful as it is when I read fantasy novels. There are some downright gorgeous historical romance covers, but they’re often the ones that sound the least appealing when I read the cover copy.

So. In short, I’m going to collect recommendations, search for them if I have to, and I’m going to read a ton of romance novels and find my Holy Grail. I’m not going to limit the sub-genre of romance, because I’m not widely-read enough to know for sure what I do and do not like. I have my suspicions, but who knows? Something awesome just might surprise me. (And I LOVE being smacked upside the head with a book I don’t expect to like, but end up loving.) My only limitations are this: no inspirational (i.e. religious) romance,¬† no YA (I read plenty of that already), no “classics” (I’m already a big Pride & Prejudice fan), and no erotica. I’ll read any time period, normal or paranormal, small town or foreign country. Any length, series or not, cheesy or not. I’ll try any trope at least once, any author at least once. I plan to track and review them here, for my amusement and, hopefully, yours.

What I have read:

  • Silver Lining by Maggie Osbourne
  • Pandora’s Daughter by Iris Johansen
  • Dying to Please by Linda Howard
  • River’s End by Nora Roberts
  • Everyday, Average Jones by Suzanne Brockmann

Um, yeah. These are honestly the only ones I can remember. If there were others, they didn’t make much of an impression. Though, to be fair, I have a terrible memory for books.

Any suggestions, oh great interwebs? Give me the best of the best!