Saturday, 18 January 2014

Downtime (update)

Sooz Book Reviews is on downtime

Back at the end of the month
when YA fiction reviews are to be continued

In the meantime, if you were lucky enough to get a Kindle (or other e-reading device) for Christmas, check out my A-Z Genres page
 for some e-book reading ideas.

I'm off to pastures warm and tropical.  Seeya! ;)

Friday, 10 January 2014

Fading Amber by Jaime Reed

Publication date:  24 December 2012
Published by:  K-Teen/Dafia
Genre: Fantasy (Young Adult)

**Caution: contains spoilers**  You might want to skip synopsis and go straight to review.

My Synopsis
Fading Amber is Book 3 of the Cambion Chronicles Trilogy.

In Book 2, Burning Emerald, Samara became a Cambion and Caleb was badly injured and hospitalised.  Samara's new supernatural status attracted an unsavory character, a demon named Tobias (her sentient Lilith's mate, returned to claim her).  Lilith was pleased that her mate returned for her and Samara had to fight to maintain control of her body so that Lilith would not take over her consciousness.  She began to experience black-outs that became more frequent and the novel ended on a cliffhanger.

Fading Amber begins with Samara back home in her room.  She is trapped, suspended from the ceiling by Lilith.  She is aware that she has had another black-out and does not know how she came to be there.  The last thing she remembers is leaving her school building.  Lilith eventually releases her from suspension and Samara tries to communicate with her for an explanation, but she refuses to respond.  Samara finds a note in her own handwriting urging her not to try to find out what happened, signed by Lilith.

Sam returns to normal life - school and her part-time job at Buncha Books.  Caleb is out of hospital and his brothers are still in town.  Tobias seems to have disappeared, as has Malik, the deceased teenage boy he took the form of. Tobias' body has been separated (and hidden) from his soul and he is trying to get it back.  He knows Caleb and his brothers are responsible and know where it is hidden and he sees Samara as his only chance to get it back.  Sam and Caleb, with the help of his brothers, try to stop Tobias' soul before it retrieves and unites with its body.

Caleb and his brothers are in trouble with the Santiago family (the Cambion leaders).  They are considered part-responsible for the damage caused by their corrupt father (which resulted in the death of innocent people and Sam's friend Nadine) and it would seem only a matter of time before they are held accountable and punished.  They are being watched by Ruiz to make sure they don't step out of line and, to some extent, are protected by Nadine's mother (a powerful Cambion of the Petrovsky family).

Caleb and Sam have a dilemma: whether or not to become bonded.  If they do, they will become united - mates for life - and there will be no going back if they do. Sam's "purity" is protection against the power of Cambions and demons, so sleeping with Caleb would leave her vulnerable.  However, if they bond, their unity would make them stronger and give them greater protection from the Santiago family.  It could nullify the threat to their safety (and that of Caleb's brothers).  Because of this, they are under some pressure to "mate" but they don't want to rush into it or do so for the wrong reasons.  Caleb and Sam have a difficult decision to make and the pressure to do so mounts....

My Review
I am a fan of this series and I am pleased to say that this final instalment exceeded my expectations.  It is a fun read.  The best thing about it for me is the humour - something I have not come across in many YA fantasy novels and something that is not easy to achieve.  I would say the thing that makes Jaime Reed stand out as a YA fiction author is her skill at weaving humour into a plot; I marvel at the way she effortlessly combines laugh-out-loud moments with tension, poignancy and even intimacy. 

Both Sam and Caleb are such likeable characters and they are great together.  Caleb does not behave like a fictional boyfriend but a real one (aside from the sentient inside him, naturally).  For example, Caleb is not a morning person and so he is not thrilled about having to get out of bed early to pick Sam up for school - of course he does it but he'd rather be in bed sleeping.  They don't do soppy or sentimental and yet they find ways to express their love for each other so romantically that it is hard to avoid that warm and fuzzy inside feeling when they do.  (I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true!)  Another great skill by this author.

I found myself drawing parallels with the Twilight series: Sam and Caleb's relationship is shrouded by a dilemma in the same way that Bella and Edward's was.  Caleb's absence for most of the second book, together with the interaction between Sam and Tobias reminded me of the plot of New Moon. In this final book the two of them face a threat from the Santiago family in the same way that Bella and Edward did from the Volturi in Breaking Dawn. However, I also believe The Cambion Chronicles is showing The Twilight Saga what NOT to do (i.e. it is absent of the irritating subtext [religious or otherwise] that angered so many readers).

As I mentioned in my review of Living Violet, I do get irritated by the amount of YA fantasy novels that make chastity a theme running through the plot.  I took issue with it in the first book and said I could not understand the significance.  Well, I understand now, since all is made clear in this final instalment.  I now believe this element of the plot is simply covering a topic that many teenagers experience - whether to have sex or not and all the pressures that go with having to make the decision, and it does so without judgement.

This is a fantastic trilogy (unlike the Twilight* saga I am not embarrassed to admit that I have read them)  and one of the best under this genre that I have read. It is not often I find a full set in a series that consistently satisfies my reading experience - and saves the best to last. 

If you like YA fantasy fiction with a dash of romance, this series is a must read that I am certain will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear.

31 January 2014
Update:  I believe the Cambion Chronicles has an endearing quality that will leave readers returning. I have just re-read the entire series and enjoyed the reading experience all over again.

*I get both why some people love it and others hate it.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler

Publication date: 31 December 2013
Published by: Simon Pulse

This novel is hot off the press having just been released and available in bookstores from this week.  I received an ARC for review (at my request) and I would like to thank the author and publisher for the opportunity.

My Synopsis
The story begins at the end with the protagonist, Emma, reflecting on the events that occurred at a party that ended with her friend, Siobhan, falling from the roof of a building.  Did she jump or was she pushed?  One thing is certain, Emma is convinced that she is responsible for killing her best friend.

Sixteen-year-old French Canadian born Emma has lived around different parts of the USA most of her life and has just moved to Los Angeles with her father, who received a job opportunity there.  Emma's mother died when she was young and she is an only child.  Her father is over-protective and has high expectations of her.  He wants her to do well academically and even more he wants to make sure she does not become a rebellious teenager that puts herself at risk of the dangers teenagers can be exposed to.  This seems to be a major concern of his and so his approach to parenting is strict and rigid. 

He enrolls her at an elite preparatory school where most of the pupils come from extremely wealthy backgrounds and most of whom are extremely mean.  The girls in particular seem to fit the typical rich-bitch profile, i.e., attractive, slim, self-absorbed and spoiled-rotten. They regard Emma as if she were something the cat dragged in and she would be a social outcast if not for Siobhan (also an outcast), who takes her under her wing.  The two of them become united in what becomes a 'them' and 'us' type of situation. Siobhan is a bit on the wild side and is determined to lead Emma astray.

Emma meets Dylan, a classmate who she is attracted to.  It appears as though he may be drawn to her too, as he takes the time to speak to her at every opportunity.  Dylan is a serial truant and Emma agrees to share her class notes with him.  As such they become acquaintances and Emma's affection for him increases.  For some reason, she is reluctant to tell Siobhan about her feelings for Dylan.

Siobhan's bad influence gets Emma in constant trouble with her dad and his reaction is to restrict her freedom more and more.  Emma is overly conscious of the pressure to live up to his expectations and not disappoint him, while Siobhan's influence causes her to behave in ways that are the complete opposite. She is caught in the middle of the two extremes and adopts a double persona: Emma the Good and Emma the Bad. 

Things start to unravel when Siobhan discovers that Emma  has a thing for Dylan.  It would seem she does not want to share her friend with anyone. She convinces Emma to make a series of pacts that include a rebellious 'to do' list, attendance at Afterparty at the end of the academic year and one last pact for a grand finale...

My Review.
If my synopsis makes this novel seem like a typical contemporary novel for teenagers I can assure you it is not.  There is a lot that I have left out but, suffice to say, this reads like a cross-over of genres into psychological thriller territory - a sort of YA Gone Girl.

The writing is smart and perceptive and I am sure there are many out there who will be able to relate to much of what occurs in this book, be they YAs with the experiences still current or adults looking back on past experiences.

Redisch Stampler does that thing I like; she does not over-explain things.  A lot is left unsaid and it is up to the reader to think about the text (and context) and fill in the blanks.  A simple example being the part about Emma taking notes in class for Dylan (clearly he did not need them).

The author also demonstrates in this novel the way individuals perceive themselves differently from the way others do.  Emma is convinced that she is bad (that her moral compass is warped), but as much as she tried to convince me of this, I have to disagree.  It seemed to me her behaviour was the result of (1) her father who (ironically is a psychiatrist) not dealing with his own 'issues' and projecting them on his daughter, and (2) reacting to her emotionally screwed-up friend, to whom she becomes  devoted.  That said, Emma is responsible for her bad choices and has to deal with the consequences of those choices. Speaking of which, I can guarantee that you will become annoyed and frustrated with the key characters as they are human and at times behave in ways that make you want to shout at them.  In most cases, however, their behaviour is completely understandable, if not justified. I say most cases because I did struggle to understand why a smart guy like Dylan allows himself to be manipulated not once but twice.

For reasons mentioned above, I believe this one will be like Marmite (readers will either love it or will take issue with it since, a lot of the time, characters are either being nasty or they are victims of nasty behaviour.)  It certainly does not portray the environment of the elite private school, or the rich people and their children who attend them, in a positive light.  It got me thinking about the disparity between wealth and happiness.

I found it to be a pager-turner of a novel and I stayed up until the early hours reading it (I simply could not put it down).

(As you probably deduced), I also found it thought-provoking.  I found myself drawing parallels with Catcher in the Rye and also Where'd You Go, Bernadette - both favourites of mine.  All of these novels examine the high end of social class and wealth in a similar way.  Also, they are all told from the point of view of teenagers but with writing sophisticated enough to target teenage and adult readers alike. 

Perhaps it is too early for me to call Afterparty one of my favourites for 2014, but if I am to read many more as good as this what an excellent year for reading it will be.