Tag Archive | urban fantasy

Review : Trial by Fire

Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Pages : 357
Genre : YA, Urban Fantasy
Series : Raised by Wolves, Book 2
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Bryn is barely settling into her new role as pack alpha when an unexpected were visitor steps on her land, close to death. His arrival is a danger in itself : Bryn can’t claim someone else’s wolf, yet she feels the need to protect him. Before she can decide whether he should stay or go, Bryn has to discover the true meaning of his presence, and face some new characters with unexpected talents.

My Thoughts :

In my very humble opinion, Trial by Fire wasn’t as good as Raised by Wolves has been, but it was still a very solid second volume in the series. Unlike so many others, it didn’t feel like a filler between book one and book three, but offered instead an interesting progression in Bryn’s story.

Again, I did feel that the book had a slow start. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it feels as if the author had all the pieces for the first part of the puzzle, but wasn’t sure how to fit them together; so instead of taking the time to fit them properly, she took a stick of glue and just stuck them together. I hope this isn’t too harsh of a comparison, because the author did hook me from the start and I was immediately intrigued by the newcomer, Lucas. Still, some parts of the introduction flow nicely, but some parts are very choppy; it’s a fault I found in the first book that I noticed here again, although not as strongly. Once the story gets going though, the pace is smoother and much more enjoyable.

I like Bryn, I really do. As a new pack alpha, she had a lot of responsibilities and difficult decisions to take, a position I did not envy. But she was strong and knew when to ask for help – and how to do it when laws made it difficult for her to reach out. I have to say I was a lot more interested by this aspect of her life than in her romance with Chase. In some ways, Chase is so disconnected from the pack’s reality that I found it really hard to connect to him. Bryn feels like she knows him in a unique way, because they survived and fought the same things, but for me Chase is still a close book. I don’t get him, and I don’t see how I could.

I really appreciated that the author brought an unexpected cast of new characters to the story, that were not wolves. I won’t say much more about it, because I want to make this as spoiler free as possible, but it opened up a lot of possibilities for future story lines while explaining a lot more about Bryn’s adoptive mother.

Trial by Fire was an entertaining novel filled with action and twists. Barnes delivers not only unexpected visitors but also unexpected turns in a story that kept me guessing. I enjoy to have a paranormal YA series that is focused less on the romance, and I’m hoping Taken by Storm will be available soon!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Raised by Wolves
  2. Trial by Fire
  3. Taken by Storm (coming in 2012)
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Review : Raised by Wolves

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Pages : 418
Genre : YA, Urban Fantasy
Series : Raised by Wolves, Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Bryn has been raised by wolves – or more exactly, werewolves. Even though she has a special bond with her pack and their leader, she can’t help questioning her place as a simple human in this group. When she discovers a strange boy locked in her leader’s basement, Bryn’s life is forever changed, pushing her to confront both the people she trusts and memories of her terrifying past.

My Thoughts :

I’ve been a bit grumpy towards YA fiction in 2011; I kept reading it, but more often then not I felt the same story kept repeating itself with only small variations. Fortunately, sometimes come along books like Unearthly and Raised by Wolves to remember me that not all fiction is created equal and that there are, indeed, YA novels deserving of my love.

To be fair, Raised by Wolves wasn’t without faults (but what book is?). It was slightly less engaging than Unearthly, especially since it was so slow to get going. If I compare the two, it’s only because I read them one after the other; these two share a genre but they are, in fact, two very distinct stories.

One of Raised by Wolves surprising aspect for me was the almost lack of romance. It’s there, of course, somewhere between the lines; there are even strong hints, I think, of a possible triangle. The fact is, Bryn is so busy trying to figure out the mysteries of Chase (the boy locked in the basement) and her past, and dealing with the consequences of her actions, that she barely has time to give romance a thought.

And talking of consequences, my oh my! I was kind of surprise how brutal the pack was. Well, it’s nothing more than what you’d see in regular urban fantasy I believe, but most YA tends to soften it up a bit. I think in this case, the author did a great job of illustrating the animal aspect of a werewolves pack with balance, in a realistic manner that didn’t embellish it too much.

There’s a lot happening in this intriguing book but it’s really not full of action. It’s often slow-moving and I didn’t really like how the author chose to tell the story, in a very linear manner, often skipping big chunks of time. It made it difficult to connect with Bryn and getting really into the story, and I’ll admit that when I was finally able to get into it, it was actually the third time I was picking up the book.

The conclusion was strong, I felt, leaving a lot of place to a following book while concluding this chapter of Bryn’s story. I loved the characters surrounding her and I can’t wait to see what Trial by Fire will bring for them!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Raised by Wolves
  2. Trial by Fire
  3. Taken by Storm (coming in 2012)

Review : The Gathering

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong
Pages : 359
Genre : YA, Urban Fantasy
Series : Darkness Rising (Book 1)
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Maya grew up in Salmon Creek, a small Canadian town of less than 200 inhabitants, built by a top-secret medical research facility for its employees. Despite the rules and the size of her town, Maya never felt bored or out of place : she loves spending her days outside, in the forest, and helping her father take care of the animals they rescue.

Then things start to happen : a journalist investigates Maya and her friends’ life. Cougars are being more present around her house. Bodies are found. And Maya is about to discover that she is far from knowing everything there is to know about her town, or herself.

My Thoughts :

I had way more fun reading this book than I normally would have, I think, because it doesn’t follow the typical formula I’ve seen around a lot in YA novels – a formula I tend to avoid more and more. When I turned the last page, I would easily had given it a 5 starts rating and pleaded for the next book. A few days later, my enthusiasm has cooled down a bit, and I am able to see The Gathering for what it is for me : a strong, entertaining YA novel that I would select as a favorite of mine in the urban fantasy genre.

Some of the things that I loved in this book, and that felt really different from the typical formula I was talking about :

  1. There is no love triangle. Or maybe there is. It’s not clear. Maya does fall in love (kinda) with Rafe, but her best friend is also a guy. It didn’t seem the author planned on making Maya and Daniel (her best friend) an item, but if it went there in the next novel, it would be believable. For now though, there’s only one guy in her heart, and believe me, that’s enough!
  2. Her parents are involved in her life. They are present in the book, they take care of her like parents should. And she still gets to live her own life and do her own things.
  3. It’s not love at first sight. It may be attraction at first sight between Rafe and Maya, but love takes a little more time.
  4. Maya doesn’t rely on others constantly. She takes action and she’s confident in her abilities. She’s also able to ask for help when she needs it, but I love that she wasn’t just an observer or a victim of the things happening around her.

It’s clear that I was immensely entertained by Armstrong’s story. Add all this to a terrific outdoors setting and I just loved this book! While reading it, all I wanted to do was to go out in the nature but, alas, all around me there’s only the city.

For me, all of these aspects made The Gathering one of the most realistic books despite its fantasy aspect. It’s also one of the best books of the genre I have read in 2011. Of course, if you love the romance with love at first sight and love triangles, you might find this book to be missing a little something. But if you want friendships and nature and adventure with a strong main character, this might be the book you are looking for.

Series Reading Order :

  1. The Gathering
  2. The Calling (coming 2012)
  3. The Rising (coming 2013)

The Darkness Rising series evolves in the same universe as the author’s previous series, The Darkest Powers. Though it is not required to have read this previous trilogy to enjoy or understand The Gathering, they are fun books I recommend if you appreciate Armstrong’s writing :

The Darkest Powers – Series Reading Order

  1. The Summoning
  2. The Awakening
  3. The Reckoning

Review : Personal Demons

Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers
Pages : 365
Genre : YA, Paranormal Romance
Series : Personal Demons, book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Frannie has been raised to be a good catholic girl, yet events of her past make her want not to believe in the existence of God.

When two new guys join her school, Frannie is surprised to have them immediately drawn to her – and to be drawn to them both, too. On one side there is sexy, dark, dangerous Luke; on the other, sexy, beautiful, charming Gabe.

And both have plans for her, plans that will force Frannie to face her path and question her beliefs once more.

My Thoughts :

Okay, so this book was clearly not for me. And I always feel bad giving a somewhat bad review when my disappointment so obviously comes from the fact that the book and I, we are clearly mismatched. I don’t think we could even be friends. Neighbors, maybe. Casual acquaintances. But nothing more.

I have no doubts there are plenty of readers out there who will love this book : it’s hot, sexy, steamy, with a lot of “ooohs” and “aaaahs”, and a love triangle that could rival the best out there. It’s romance in its hottest incarnation.

The plot, in itself, is interesting. Having Heaven and Hell battling for the soul of one girl, for a reason that is still unknown in the beginning, was an idea that had a lot of potential. I imagined an epic story between the forces of good and evil, with Frannie at its center, probably fighting for her own free will. I would have loved that.

But, because I am not a romance reader, this is basically what happened :

As I often mentioned in the past, I am not a romance reader. I love when romantic interactions are a part of the novel : romance, love, relationships, they are all part of life. But when the romance is at the core of the book, it doesn’t work for me. So even though I had a lot of fun at the start of the book, I was quickly annoyed by Frannie’s yo-yo dance between the two guys, and the obviously steamy scenes that followed.

If I think of my personal rating of the book, it would probably be lower; but I had to recognize, the book also had some strong points, hence the “in-the-middle” rating :

  • The premise is interesting and keeps developing through the story, sometimes in predictable ways, sometimes in surprising ways.
  • The author’s writing is engaging and quickly pulls you in.
  • There are a lot of fun scenes, especially in the first half before the real drama begins, that gave me a smile and a giggle.
  • The author did a great use of the mythological aspects of the religion, sticking to its core while adapting it for her story in an original way. Not all books are successful in this aspect (yes, I’m looking at you The Goddess Test) but Personal Demons is a success on that front.
So while I managed to finish this one, I have no idea whether I’ll read book 2 or not. It’s really not at the top of my list. But if you love paranormal romances, hot mysterious guys with a dark side, twists on angels and demons and sexy steamy scenes, you’ll probably find Personal Demons to be a great fit for you 🙂

Series Reading Order :

  1. Personal Demons
  2. Original Sin (coming July 5th 2011)

Review : Die for Me

Die for Me by Amy Plum
Pages : 352
Genre : YA, Paranormal, Zombies (kinda)
Series : Revenants, Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

After their parents die unexpectedly in an accident, Kate and her sister move to Paris to live with their grandparents. All Kate wants is to take some alone time to live her grief and get to a better place, mainly by walking the streets of Paris and reading in cafés.

Then Kate meets Vincent and everything changes. Vincent is beautiful and charming, but he also is a mystery. When strange things begin happening, Kate confronts Vincent and she has to make a choice : stay safe, or take a chance with him.

My Thoughts :

Die for Me surprised me pleasantly. From the synopsis it sounds like pretty much any other paranormal romance currently on the YA market. And in part, it is : there’s a paranormal creature, love at almost first sight, a mystery. But somehow, Amy Plus took the formula and made it a fresh, surprising story.

I have to say, setting the story in beautiful Paris doesn’t hurt; while the author doesn’t drown the reader in details, she gives you just enough to imagine the streets and the buildings, creating a perfect escape through the pages. Also, I loved that she didn’t go for the classic, cliché, touristy French references, but instead described the city more from the point of view of someone living there. It made sense with the story, and was different on that aspect from most books.

I really enjoyed how close Kate was with her sister. They fought like sisters but confided in each other like best friends.They were there for each other when it mattered, too. Their grandparents were lovely, maybe not as present as I would have imagined them to be, but still not totally absent either. It made sense though that they would trust Kate, as she is more of the quiet, lonely kind who prefers to spend her days reading in cafés than party all night in clubs.

On the paranormal side, I loved the idea of “revenants”. They’re kind of a mix between zombie (back from the dead), vampire (coma-like sleep and other things), and guardian angel. The battle between “good and evil” was interesting, and though it wasn’t as nuanced as I would have hoped, it created an interesting setting for the characters. Apart from Kate, her sister and Vincent, there’s a whole group of revenants with distinct personalities and stories. I would have loved to learn more about some of them, but I’m sure the author kept some in store for the next books, which is just perfect!

I think the only thing taking away from my enjoyment a little, was the romance itself. Except from Vincent’s gorgeousness, it was difficult to see what Kate liked so much about him. Their chemistry wasn’t that obvious to me. Plus, Kate-in-love felt a lot more ordinary to me than regular Kate. I’m hoping that, without necessarily setting the romance aside, Kate will have more chances to develop her own individual story in the coming books.

In the end, I do believe that fans of YA paranormal romance will enjoy this one; with its French setting and original creature, Die for Me is great entertainment that I read almost in one setting (I blame the cat for picking that day to escape through the back door!)

Reading Order :

  1. Die for Me
  2. Until I Die (coming 2012)

Review : Once a Witch

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Pages : 308
Genre : YA, Fantasy
Series : Witch, Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

For many years, Tasmin has been the black sheep of the family : despite an important prophecy announcing her as the most Talented witch of her generation, her powers never manifested. When a handsome yet mysterious stranger gives Tasmin a special mission, her life takes an expected turn as she discovers the hidden truths behind her family and the prophecy.

I’ve always had a special fondness for witches (maybe because there’s been one or ten people I would gladly have changed into frogs!), so I was naturally drawn to Once a Witch. A light fantasy read with an interesting premise, the book started out good but never really lived up to my expectations.

The setting, though nothing new, is interesting. I like the idea of everyone born with a different talent, which sounds close to reality (don’t we all have different things we’re great at?) Tasmin was engaging enough, as was her whole family.

The problem, for me, was more in the plot and its predictability. I guessed most of what would happen very early in the book, and kept waiting for the moment I would be proven wrong. Sadly, except a few “twists” I couldn’t have guessed, there were very little surprises. This could have been saved by a few humorous scenes, or a charming romance, but everything felt a bit bland.

It wasn’t bad : I finished it and would read the sequel, but it was all a bit forgettable. Once a Witch is a nice read, but I would have a hard time to pinpoint something that makes it “special”, distinct from the other books of the genre. Still, if you enjoy an easy, not too over-the-top fantasy set in our world, you might want to give this one a try.

Series Reading Order :

  1. Once a Witch
  2. Always a Witch (Coming August 2011)