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The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013
Minders
Michele Jaffe
Sekret
Lindsay Smith
All the Truth That's in Me
Julie Berry
Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
Grave Mercy
Robin LaFevers

A Breath of Frost: The Lovegrove Inheritance (Witching Season)

A Breath of Frost - Alyxandra Harvey Review to come.

Defy

Defy - Sara B. Larson This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

A lurching stomach. A neck that grows hot. Flushing cheeks. An aching skull. Trembling. For me, these are symptoms of a bad case of the flu. For Alexa, the supposedly brave, ruthless warrior in Defy, this is how she responds whenever a male looks at her. Which is often.

Alexa pretends to be a boy named Alex, the most skilled guard to Prince Damian. She hides her identity because in this kingdom, ruled by Damian’s father, women are only useful as “breeders.” The “breeding houses” were described in detail at the beginning of the book, and they are a horror. Little girls are imprisoned until they reach physical maturity, and then they are raped repeatedly until they become pregnant. Understandably, Alexa is not thrilled with this. But I think both she and the author have a limited memory, because these breeding houses are barely referenced after their introduction. It’s also never made clear how or why this society would tolerate (or even embrace) such a horror.

But let’s forget about the breeding houses, because Alexa has more important things on her mind. Namely, the love triangle, which is the entire purpose for this book’s existence. There’s arrogant, douchey Prince Damian on the one hand. (Of course, he’s not really an arrogant douche. He just pretended to be one for about 20 pages for reasons I still don’t understand.) And then there’s kind, gentle Rylan on the other. They both think she’s a boy, so WHY ARE THEY STARING AT HER LONGINGLY??? ARE THEY GAY??? Absolutely NOT. Of course, they are MUCH TOO HOT to be gay. They know she’s a girl, so it’s OK! Whew! Gay crisis averted. I have no idea why the gender-bending plot was a factor here. As the story goes on, it’s revealed that more people knew than didn’t that Alexa was a big ol’ fake. Maybe they were just being nice and decided to humor her by playing along. Was she ever really in danger? What was the point of all of this? And why, when these guys knew all along that Alexa is actually a girl, did they suddenly and simultaneously decide to start pawing at her?

Alexa, this tough, brave fighter, immediately turns into a simpering, whining, sobbing, tantrum-throwing mess. Who cares about breeding houses when she’s sleeping in a room between these two guys (don’t ask) while they fight over her? It’s not exaggerating much to say that Alexa’s blushing, flushing, aching, trembling, and crying take up nearly half of this book. With her boy craziness, I don’t know how she found the time to become the most skilled fighter in the kingdom.

Don’t expect to find any world-building here, and there’s only the barest hint of a plot featuring -SPOILER ALERT – the easiest overthrow of a king in the history of mankind.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Being Sloane Jacobs

Being Sloane Jacobs - Lauren Morrill This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

One of the most important aspects of a dual narrative novel should be creating and maintaining unique voices for the narrators. Being Sloane Jacobs failed by this count, and it made it even harder to enjoy this lightweight story. It may as well have been written as a parallel lives story since there is no discernible difference in the characters, and it was easy to forget that they were supposed to be two people.

I’ll recap the whole story in a few sentences. Two girls named Sloane Jacobs happen to cross paths. One is rich, one is poor, and neither is particularly happy with her life. They decide to switch identities, and they inexplicably pull it off for a time, until, of course, it all crashes down. They each embark upon an uninteresting romance which has a moment of turmoil (quickly resolved) when each guy learns of the deception. But in the end, everything works out perfectly, and all of the earlier woes are washed away.

The Parent Trap plot doesn’t work due to all of the implausibilities, and character development is barely touched upon – unless you count Poor Sloane’s anger issue which manifests itself in fist fights in the first few pages, but is barely addressed again. I would normally get irritated over a story like this, but it’s so bland and inoffensive that it’s hard to take it seriously.

No One Else Can Have You

No One Else Can Have You - Kathleen  Hale This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

When you’re a teenager, and your best (and only) friend is brutally murdered, it’s likely you might become a but unhinged. For Kippy, still grieving the loss of her mother, Ruth’s death hits her extra hard. Kippy’s father, Dom, a high school guidance counselor, was already overprotective, but now he worries about Kippy even more. No One Else Can Have You begins to show its flashes of black humor when Kippy is asked to give a eulogy at Ruth’s funeral. Ruth’s mother gives Kippy Ruth’s journal to assist with the eulogy. She also asks Kippy to go through the journal and censor the “sex parts,” so that Ruth’s family can read it when they’re ready. Kippy does find information on Ruth’s sexual exploits, but she is more surprised over the vicious things Ruth writes: about how pathetic, boring, and smothering Kippy is. Sheesh – if this is what Kippy’s best friend thinks, I’d hate to know how her enemies view her. Ruth is now stuck having to eulogize someone who seemed to hate her, or possibly barely tolerated her, at best.

Not surprisingly, the eulogy was disastrous…and hilarious. This humor might not be for everyone, but I laughed at the image of Kippy with her “arms spread like some kind of preacher,” discussing the town motto and quoting the high school principal while the crowd stares at her in disbelief. Funerals kind of scare me because I have occasionally had this weird fear I might burst into completely unprovoked and totally inappropriate hysterical laughter in the middle of one, so I loved the awful awkwardness of this scene.

The cops in Kippy’s tiny town of Friendship, Wisconsin don’t normally have a lot to do, as we learn when she relays the story of how the entire squad showed up with the Jaws of Life to rescue her when she got her arm stuck in a tampon dispenser. (I’m going to note this moment, because I’m positive this is the first time I’ve ever written “tampon” in a review.) The cops, led by their bumbling idiot of a sheriff quickly arrest Ruth’s douchebag of a boyfriend, Colt, despite any real evidence. In another outlandish scene, the sheriff allows Colt’s many scorned exes to go to his jail cell to berate him. Because Colt is SO despicable, and because he’s identified as the suspect very early on, we, as well as Kippy, know he can’t possibly be guilty. But the cops refuse to investigate, and so Kippy, with Ruth’s journal to guide her, sets out to try to find the real killer.

Even with the awfulness of Ruth’s murder, the tone at the beginning of the story was lifted by this dark humor. But as it progresses, much of the humor is replaced by a sense of danger as Kippy wanders into one scary predicament after another. Her mental health becomes more precarious as it is increasingly difficult to tell if she is delusional or if she is truly getting closer to identifying Ruth’s killer. Her weird obsession with Diane Sawyer doesn’t help. The ending of the book plays out like a straight-up mystery, right up to the point of the unsurprising reveal. The identity of the killer almost seemed besides the point, as the real question is whether Kippy’s investigatory journey will be vindicated, or whether those who questioned her sanity will be proven right. I wish the humor had carried through to the ending, but with earlier lines like, “That’s so gay. Not like gay gay – I’m not a bigot or anything – I mean like retarded gay,” there was more than enough to tide me over.

Note: I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Troop

The Troop - Nick Cutter This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

3.5 stars

The Troop is not for the squeamish. In fact, much of it is downright disgusting. If you decide to read this book, prepare yourself for graphic, merciless descriptions of oozing sores, bloody wounds, and worms squirming into (and out of) a variety of orifices. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m recommending this book. I do have to mention upfront several instances of animal torture. It starts off somewhat mildly with the burning of ants, but it gets much, much worse as it moves on to a mouse, a turtle, a kitten, and a chimpanzee. The scenes are written quite gleefully, and in hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t skip over them. I had to keep reminding myself, “This is fiction,” but it was still awful to read.

In The Troop, a group of five Boy Scouts and their Scoutmaster set out for what should be an uneventful weekend of camping on a deserted island. It soon becomes very eventful when a skeletal, obviously sick man lands on the island. Tim, the Scoutmaster, is a doctor, but he has never seen an illness like the one with which this man is inflicted. His healing instincts take over, and he enlists the help of one of the boys to perform what he hopes is lifesaving surgery on the man. Unfortunately, Tim doesn’t take into account how contagious this mysterious disease may be, and it begins to spread among the members of the troop. We learn about the origin of the disease before the characters do, as occasional present-day interviews and news articles are sprinkled throughout the story.

The boys fit a little too easily into convenient cliches: the bully, the fat kid, the angry kid, the peacemaker, and the psychopath. Their interactions help to hammer these cliches home, and they’re marked by heavy doses of bullying and fighting. Still, we care about the ones we are “supposed” to care about, and we’re suitably horrified by the psychopath (who, incidentally, is responsible for some, but not all, of the animal torture.)

I continually thought of Stephen King as I read this story, and I wasn’t surprised to learn afterwards that the author is a big fan. Unlike with King’s books, however, I was never scared, but I was horrified, disgusted, repulsed, and that works just fine for me, too.

Note: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Most Dangerous Deception: Palace of Spies, Book One

Palace of Spies - Sarah Zettel The hot pink cover of Palace of Spies doesn’t really scream “18th century,” but underneath all that fuchsia is a fun tale of historical fiction. Peggy Fitzroy is an orphan in England, living under the guardianship of her wealthy uncle. While she has all the necessities provided for her, along with a close relationship with her cousin, Olivia, Peggy’s uncle makes it very clear that his support is solely a result of his sense of familial duty. To get Peggy out of his hair, he arranges a marriage that looks good on paper. But when this lovely suitor attempts to rape Peggy, she informs her uncle that there will be no marriage. Enraged, he takes advantage of this opportunity to toss her out on the street. A strange man with the fantastic name of Mr. Tinderflint comes to Peggy’s rescue. In return, he wants her help. She must pose as Francesca, a lady-in-waiting to Princess Caroline, to gather information on a possible plot to overthrow of King Geroge I. The real Francesca is dead, but no one at court knows this; it’s believed that she is merely ill.
This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

3.5 stars

So, pose as someone you’ve never met, risk being found out and executed, and attempt to spy while you’re at it. Sounds like an easy task, right? Even if Peggy looks identical to Francesca, how can she mimic her voice and mannerisms? How can she have conversations with people who knew the real Francesca? This is where reminding yourself that this is a work of fiction comes in handy. Before being sent to court, Peggy is given lessons on how to behave like an upper-class lady by Tinderflint and his associates. They also tell her what they know about Francesca and her relationships. But what they don’t tell her is their true motivations behind the scheme.

Zettel does well depicting life at court, with both the frivolities and potential danger it entails. Francesca’s friends and enemies are now Peggy’s friends and enemies, and she must navigate these relationships without blowing her cover. The story successfully builds the tension and intrigue, as neither we nor Peggy know exactly what to expect from the outcome of this scheme. There are some surprising revelations, setting the stage for the second book in the series. Peggy’s interactions with Princess Caroline were limited in this story, but that should change with the sequel. It will also be nice to (hopefully) see more of Peggy’s independence come through, when she’s better able steer her own story.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Enders

Enders - Lissa Price Review to come.

The Living

The Living - Matt de la Pena Review to come.

Unhinged: 2 (Splintered)

Unhinged - A.G. Howard This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

Alyssa is back home from Wonderland, enjoying a normal (or what passes for normal in Alyssa’s world) life in high school with Jeb by her side. This relative peace comes to a screeching halt when a wave of water summoned by Morpheus sweeps her back to Wonderland. Queen Red has seized parts of Wonderland, and Morpheus threatens to wreak havoc in the human world unless Alyssa agrees to help.

Oh, wait a minute…that was just a dream…perhaps. A very vivid dream. Actually, Alyssa nearly drowned in a storm drain, and she wakes up three days later in a hospital, uncertain of what is real. She soon learns that Morpheus has inhabited a human form, and he’s posing as a foreign exchange student at her school. This serves as the source of enormous frustration for Alyssa and fun for us, the readers. Morpheus is the master of gentle tormenting, and he doesn’t hold back in dishing it to out to Alyssa and Jeb. Even though I’m firmly Team Morpheus, I enjoyed Jeb a lot in Splintered. But he definitely suffers here in comparison to Morpheus, although Morpheus is so charismatic and intriguing, that would probably be the case for any guy. It’s starting to seem that the main thing Jeb has going for himself is his muscles, and I suspect (and hope) that Alyssa will sever this love triangle soon.

Splintered gave us an incredibly imaginative look into Wonderland, but in Unhinged, the action takes place in the mortal world. Thanks to Howard’s writing, it is no less exciting, and there is still danger (and a CLOWN) lurking around every corner. I also love that some very surprising secrets involving Alyssa’s parents were revealed. It’s interesting how these secrets compare and contrast with Alyssa’s life, and I get the sense that there is still so much more to uncover.

Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom

Unlikely Friendships : 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom - Jennifer S. Holland Is there anything cuter than unusual animal friendships? Nope. Didn't think so.

Roomies

Roomies - Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

The summer before my freshman year in college, my roommate-to-be called me out of the blue. I was surprised by the call, and perhaps I wasn’t feeling particularly sociable, so I kept the conversation short and business-like, primarily discussing who was going to bring what. I didn’t give the conversation another thought, and we did not speak again until we met in our dorm room. We became friends quickly, and she eventually told me that that initial conversation had worried her. She’d called me hoping to chat and to get to know me, and she was concerned that I might be horribly dull and boring because of the direction I steered the conversation. Reading the opening of Roomies brought back those memories, because this is very similar to what happened to Elizabeth (EB) and Lauren, the two main characters and narrators. They live on opposite sides of the country, and they will soon be sharing a room together at a university in California, very close to Lauren’s home in San Francisco. The same sort of misunderstanding my roommate and I had occurs when EB’s initial friendly (and wordy) e-mail to Lauren receives a reply that is very short and focused mainly on which appliance each girl should bring. The girls get past that initial misunderstanding, and they continue to e-mail throughout the summer. Eventually, a real friendship forms, even before they actually have the chance to speak to each other.

But before that can happen, EB and Lauren fumble and stumble through a variety of miscommunications and false assumptions. Lauren lives in San Francisco, so she must be chic and liberal. She is involved with a guy named Keyon, which must mean he’s black. Does that mean that Lauren is black, too? Should it matter? As for EB, she lives near the beach in New Jersey, so that must be a sign of her family’s wealth. EB’s father is gay, which has always been a difficult for her to discuss, but surely this won’t be anything out of the norm to the (presumably) liberal, San Fracnisco-dwelling Lauren. Some of these misunderstandings are comical, some are uncomfortable, and some are moving, but we’ve all likely experienced something similar in our own lives.

As the end of summer nears, both girls find themselves facing some very difficult dilemmas. Despite their respective “real-life” relationships, they begin to turn to each other even more for support, still solely via e-mail. But an ugly confrontation occurs, and both Lauren and EB behave horribly. My main question up until this point was whether or not the book would end before they got a chance to meet in person, but now I began to wonder if they would end up being roommates at all.

The authors did a fantastic job of portraying the growing relationship between two strangers, and watching it develop (and then possibly fall apart) was every bit as moving and heart-breaking as many romances I’ve read. The ending could have taken a number of different paths, but the one we’re given was perfect.

Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Red Rising

Red Rising - Pierce Brown This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

Reading the reviews of Red Rising on Goodreads saddens me. They are glowing. Rapturous. Of course, I don’t always agree with the consensus, but I usually have some inkling as to why my experience with a book was different from the majority of readers. But in the case of Red Rising, I’m bewildered. What did all these reviewers see and feel that I didn’t?

On its surface, this should have been a 4 or 5 star book for me. It’s a dystopia with shades (many shades) of The Hunger Games. There is a lot of violence. There’s a world that’s revealed to be very different than how it was originally perceived. There are the poor, downtrodden lower-classes fighting for independence against the ruling class. These are some of the elements that usually make a book work for me.

Red Rising started off very promisingly. Darrow lives underground on Mars, working as a miner – a so-called Red. He’s married to the lovely Eo, and he’s fairly content with his lot in life. But Eo isn’t content. She pushes Darrow to understand that they are slaves to the ruling class, the Golds, and a simple act of rebellion leads to her execution. Darrow craves vengeance, and he agrees to undergo an extreme form of plastic surgery, which will transform him into the genetically superior physical appearance of a Gold. He will then attempt to infiltrate the Golds after gaining acceptance into their prestigious Academy.

So far, so good. The preceding events occur during the first 30% of the book. I expected the remainder of the story to consist of a spy drama, with Darrow struggling to maintain his cover as he seeks out Golds who may be sympathetic to his fight. I thought he’d learn the weaknesses of the Golds and how to exploit them during the coming rebellion. Instead, he was assimilated into their society immediately, and there was as very little mention or thought given to the events that led him there. This is when I had my first “Huh?” moment. So much time was spent on transforming Darrow’s body into the perfect Gold, so I assumed that the need for such fastidiousness indicated that there was great danger of being exposed. Nope. There was also much talk of the need to eliminate Darrow’s accent which would peg him as a Red. Darrow also had to erase certain words from his vocabulary and learn to use new ones. Now, this must be trickier than his appearance, because speech involves conscious and constant thought. But he accomplishes this instantaneously. I wondered why so much focus was placed on the various ways Darrow needs to disguise himself, only to have them barely factor into the story again.

At this point, my expectations went out the window, and I was curious to see which path the story will take. It turns out that Darrow takes the path to become a leader of his group at the Academy, tasked with eliminating (or possibly murdering) the competing students in a military-style competition. I’m still not sure how Darrow managed to be accepted as a leader among these bloodthirsty people. He didn’t seem particularly charismatic or more strategic than anyone else. But no matter, because Darrow has seemed to forgotten that he’s not REALLY a Gold, and I pretty much stopped caring when my hopes for an espionage element were dashed and we were left with endless, uninteresting discussions about slaves, discussions of strategic warfare, and the drawbacks of nepotism. These points were repeated over and over, and I checked out.

Despite my misgivings about the book, the number of great reviews makes me think that most readers will enjoy it.

Note I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2) - Diana Peterfreund This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

I have not yet read For Darkness Shows the Stars, the first book in this series, but since Across a Star-Swept Sea was described as a companion novel rather than a sequel, I decided to dive in. Perhaps this resulted in some details that I didn’t fully appreciate, but I never felt lost. A big factor in this was that there was a great deal of repetition, particularly around the genetic engineering elements of the plot. Although I didn’t love this story, I still want to read the first book to see if and how it fleshes out more of the back-story of how this world came to be.

The author created a post-apocalyptic world that seemed more like a fantasy setting. After a series of wars destroyed most of the planet, only a small amount of habitable land exists. Two remaining countries are struggling to exist in peace as the “Regs” of society begin to rebel against the ruling aristocracy. Lady Persis Blake of Albion, in disguise as her Wild Poppy persona, is helping to stir up tensions as she conducts raids on Galatea to rescue the endangered aristocrats.

When Justen Helo, a medic from Galatea, arrives in Albion, Persis is not sure if he can be trusted. Justen claims to want to aid the aristocracy, but his involvement with the brain-damaging genetic engineering makes Persis question his true motives. Likewise, Persis’s motivations remain a mystery from Justen, as he has no idea that she is the Wild Poppy who has been raiding his country.

It’s a given that these two will get together, but the reasons for their attraction to each other is never made clear. Justen is enthralled by Persis’s…hair, and she is intrigued by his famous family name. For most of the book, that’s all we have to go on. They were likable as individuals (Justen, in particular), but a total dud as a couple. I was much more interested in the characters who made an appearance late in the story, as I knew that they had to be the main characters from For Darkness Shows the Stars. My interest perked up while they were on the scene, and I’m looking forward to seeing the details of what brought them to Albion.

These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars - Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

These Broken Stars is one of those books that seemingly every blogger I know has read and loved. This kind of praise sometimes makes me approach a book more critically. The story didn’t bring out a major flood of emotions in me as it seemed to do with a lot of other readers, but I still found it greatly enjoyable.

Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux are an unlikely pair to be stranded together on an uninhabited planet after their spacecraft falls out of the sky. Lilac’s the daughter of a man of great wealth and power. Tarver is one of the youngest Majors in the military, and while he is respected, his low-born status prevents him from mixing with the likes of Lilac. That’s fine by Tarver, because he has no patience for the shallowness and pettiness exhibited by Lilac and her friends.

But when the spacecraft is catastrophically damaged, Tarver and Lilac find themselves alone in an escape pod. Fifty thousand people were living onboard the Icarus, and it’s possible that everyone but Tarver and Lilac died. They crash land on a strange planet, and any reservations the two had about each other must be set aside as they attempt to find food, survive the cold, and search for other survivors. Tarver’s military training has provided him with survival skills, and he also makes it his duty to help keep Lilac alive. But Lilac, with her pampered life, might not be as helpless as she seems. She begins to hear voices and see visions, and while Tarver initially chalks it up to the stress of the situation, it soon becomes clear that there is something (or someone) behind the voices and visions. Are they human? Are they alien? Are they trying to help or hurt? When this part of the mystery was solved, it was so moving and heart-breaking, and not at all what I expected.

The relationship between Tarver and Lilac grows slowly, even though they experienced a little burst of mutual attraction aboard the Icarus. Tarver will eventually learn that Lilac wears her personality like a shield, and Lilac will learn that Tarver is much more than a robotic soldier.

Each chapter alternates with a scene depicting Tarver in the midst of a tense interrogation about the events that occurred on the planet. So, it’s no mystery that he will be rescued, but the tone of these scenes, along with the defensiveness exhibited by Tarver, makes it clear that something extraordinary happened.

Before I finished These Borken Stars, I learned that the next books in the series would be companion novels, rather than sequels. I’m glad I knew this before reaching the end, because it allowed me to more fully appreciate the beauty of Lilac’s and Tarver’s story.

S.

S. - Doug Dorst, J.J. Abrams This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

S. provided me with a reading experience unlike any other. As soon as I heard that J.J. Abrams was involved with a book, I knew I had to read it. The central concept of S. – two strangers get to know each other by exchanging their thoughts in the margins of a book – was conceived by Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. S. is more of a “package” than a book, and the package consists of a novel called Ship of Theseus by the (fake) author, V.M. Straka, the notes in the margins written by Jen and Eric, and more than 20 loose inserts (letters, postcards, photos, etc.) exchanged by Jen and Eric.

It was a lot to digest, and I initially began by trying to read the novel and all of Jen’s and Eric’s margin notes simultaneously. And there are a LOT of notes; they are on nearly every page. But it was too much for my brain to absorb. In some cases, Jen and Eric commented directly on the story as it was occurring on a particular page. In others, they were discussing their lives and making plans to meet. So, after about twenty pages, I decided to read Ship of Theseus while ignoring the notes. and when I was finished, I started back at the beginning and read all of the notes.

Ship of Theseus features a man known only as S. He has no memory of his past life, and as he attempts to uncover his identity, he ends up on a ship with some very sketchy sailors. As he travels, he pursues a woman he met in a bar at the opening of the story, and he hooks up with a group of people who are being hunted down by the agents of a sinister corporation. The story had some supernatural, ghostly feels, and while it was relatively enjoyable, it wasn’t the star of this “package” for me.

Instead, I was drawn in by the relationship between Jen and Eric. Ship of Theseus is purported to be written by an author named V.M. Straka, but there is controversy over his (or possibly her) real identity. Jen and Eric are both separately consumed with uncovering Straka’s identity, and their correspondence begins when Jen finds Eric’s notated copy of Ship of Theseus, and she writes comments in the book in reply to him. They leave the book in a location for the other to discover, and they continue their correspondence for a time without ever meeting. While they initially focus on the story itself and Straka, the tone of their notes gradually becomes more flirtatious, and Jen pushes for an in-person meeting. Eric is reluctant, and I kept thinking, “Come on, you crazy kids! You’re PERFECT for each other!”

Adding another layer of complexity is the fact that the notes are not in chronological order. We are able to follow the timing based on the color of ink used by Jen and Eric to write, so if you pick up on that early on, it’s not overly confusing. This technique made the notes more fun to read, because we are privy to the direction of Jen’s and Eric’s relationship even before they are. If you don’t get into the relationship between Jen and Eric, it’s likely that this will feel like a tedious read. But if you do, I think you’ll enjoy following the progression of the relationship.

If S. sounds like your type of story, I’d also recommend Night Film by Marisha Pessl, which featured a similar theme of people trying to uncover the identity of a mysterious director.

The Fiery Heart: A Bloodlines Novel

The Fiery Heart - Richelle Mead This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

This is the first time I’ve said this about a Richelle Mead book (excluding Gameboard of the Gods), but where was the action??? Where was the excitement??? Maybe this was something I’ve been able to overlook in her earlier works because I was enjoying them so much, but there was SO much recapping of earlier events and extensive, repetitive explanations of lore. I do think authors should cater somewhat to a reader who picks up a series mid-stream, but there needs to be a balance so that the rest of us aren’t yawning and flipping through the pages looking for something new. And really, out of all the readers who are going to pick up a copy of The Fiery Heart, what percentage of them have never read the Bloodlines series before? Or Vampire Academy, for that matter? I would have to imagine it’s less than 10%, and it feels like this book was written for that small minority.

I would be willing to overlook all of the rehashing if something, ANYTHING exciting happened. But it wasn’t until the last 100 pages that there was some action, and even that was a dull, tepid affair. Up until this point, the drama revolved around relationships:

Sydney and Adrian: Will they have sex, or won’t they? Will Adrian get back into heavy drinking? Will Sydney browbeat him if he does?
Sydney and Zoe: Will Sydney be able to keep her relationship with Adrian a secret? Will Zoe learn how to crack a smile?
Sydney’s parents: Will they get divorced? Seriously??? Who cares??? The status of their marriage was a major focus, and it felt so out of place. The time spent harping over this couple could have been better spent on something, ANYTHING else.
The story ends on a cliffhanger with Sydney in danger, but in keeping with the rest of The Fiery Heart, there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it. The danger seems like it will be easily averted, and it does not seem serious enough to cause me to worry about Sydney’s safety. It also does nothing to build anticipation for the next book.

I’m going to view The Fiery Heart as a minor misstep for Mead, and I expect her to be back in fighting form (and to get Sydney back in fighting form) for the next book.