Abandon by Meg Cabot

Pierce knows what it’s like to die, because she’s done it before.

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can’t help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she’s never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.

But now she’s moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.

Only she can’t. Because even here, he finds her. That’s how desperately he wants her back. She knows he’s no guardian angel, and his dark world isn’t exactly heaven, yet she can’t stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

The myth of Persephone…darkly reimagined.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That’s kind of my general rule about the reviews I write here. I LOVE to nitpick (as you may have noticed), but in general I don’t bother to review books I flat-out don’t like. Why waste time and energy saying negative things? And yet, this book is an exception.

I didn’t like Abandon, but instead of forgetting about it like I do with most books that I don’t fancy, all the things that bothered me have just been circling around in my brain for DAYS! I need to get it off my chest. Also, it’s worth noting that I don’t have the same amount of guilt over giving a Meg Cabot book a negative review since she’s already such a well established (and wildly popular) author. I’ve actually read and enjoyed some of her other books, as I’ll explain later.

Ok.

The book starts off nearly two years after Pierce “dies”. At the age of fifteen she stumbled, hit her head and fell into the family pool. Fortunately it was winter, which means she kept cold enough to make a full recovery once revived. Now Pierce and her mom have moved to the small island of ——. Her mother hopes that this will be a fresh start and a way for Pierce to escape the trouble she had at her last school, but Pierce knows it wont be that easy.

See, Pierce didn’t just die. She woke up in the underworld. That’s where she met John. And since she’s come back to life  he’s been following her.

I like the premise, I really do. A modern take on this myth sounded really cool. But it just didn’t work for me. First of all, the pacing was really confusing. The book starts off with Pierce already living on the island, and then goes back and fills in all the blanks regarding her death, meeting John, and the mysterious trouble she got into at her old school. There is SO much flipping back and forth between timelines that I had trouble keeping up. I actually checked the front of the book a few times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the second book in the series by mistake. It was a very awkward storyline to follow.

Secondly, when you finally do find out what happened in the Underworld it’s a big letdown. Pierce spends a lot of time alluding to what happened there and how upset John is with her and how TERRIBLE it all was. And then you find out she spent all of thirty minutes in the Underworld before throwing hot tea in John’s face and escaping. OMG! NOT HOT TEA! Horrors.

Despite the fact that she barely knows this guy and he pretty much kidnapped her, Pierce finds that she can’t stop thinking about John. Surprise, surprise. She alternates between being terrified of him and what he can do (he has a habit of showing up when Pierce gets herself in trouble and laying the smack down on the people bothering her), and feeling as though she is the one who treated him badly by throwing that tea in his face.

Let’s talk about why all of this bothers me so much. Warning, there be spoilers ahead.

Since when is defending yourself when you’re alone with a guy and he’s making you feel uncomfortable something to feel badly about? Pierce spends a lot of time agonizing over John and being semi-attracted to him, but for most of  the book she’s also frightened of him.

Eventually she meets someone else who’s had a near death experience and can actually explain what happened to her and what John is. He also suggests that Pierce could be a little “sweeter” to him.

Really?

Let’s forget for a moment that Pierce has NO REASON WHATSOEVER to be sweet to this guy, and talk about John.

Pierce calls him a jerk at one point (not sweet), but I think she’s wrong. He’s not a jerk, he’s a robot. Seriously, I could not pick up any emotion from this character, even when it was clearly explained to me what he was feeling. I knew when he was angry, but only because he displayed it in a, “Hulk angry! Hulk Smash!” kind of way. He doesn’t listen to Pierce, he doesn’t care what she wants and he doesn’t even seem to understand when something upsets her. When he finally carries Pierce back to the Underworld (to keep her safe, of course), he barely seems to register that this is not something she’s pleased about. Instead he sits down and starts to read a book.

At this point I just shook my head.

After finishing this story, I thought back on some of Meg Cabot’s other books that I’d read. For instance, her Mediator series, which I read years ago and LOVED. It made me wonder if my tastes had just changed or Cabot’s style in this book was very different. I thought about this so much that I actually went and got one of the Mediator books out of the library, just to check. I’m halfway through, and I still really like it. It’s fluffy, but it’s also funny and I really like Susannah.

So, in conclusion: I did not like this book. It was not my cup of tea, as they say. But I do still enjoy Meg Cabot’s writing…. when she is not writing about these characters.

Abandon on Goodreads & Amazon

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Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

The Legend of Beka Cooper gives Tamora Pierce’s fans exactly what they want—a smart and savvy heroine making a name for herself on the mean streets of Tortall’s Lower City—while offering plenty of appeal for new readers as well.

Beka and her friends will face their greatest and most important challenge ever when the young heir to the kingdom vanishes. They will be sent out of Corus on a trail that appears and disappears, following a twisting road throughout Tortall. It will be her greatest Hunt—if she can survive the very powerful people who do not want her to succeed in her goal.

Having just recently finished Bloodhound, I was very eager to read Mastiff. I actually picked it up at the bookstore and read the first few pages before forcing myself to put it down since I already had it on order from the library.

When Mastiff starts off you’re immediately thrown into the happenings of Beka’s world. A few years have passed since the adventures of her last journal, and her fiance has just been killed. What few people know is that Beka had been planning on calling off the engagement and now all her thoughts of Holborn and her grief are twisted up with guilt. But soon enough she has a hunt to distract her, and it’s a chase like she’s never been on before.

Brought to the Summer Palace in secrecy, Beka and her partner Tunstall learn that four-year old Prince Gareth has been kidnapped by slavers. Not only is he the sole heir to the throne, his kidnappers have also cast a spell over him so that his parents will also suffer any harm that befalls him. It’s up to Beka and her scent hound Achoo to follow the Prince’s trail and find him before the enemies of the royal family take control of the realm. She’s joined by Tunstall, Lady Sabine and a Mage named Farmer.

Even though the stakes are much higher in this book, I found Bloodhound to be a more exciting read. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy this book! Totally did. The pacing here just felt a little slower, but this book had a lot to say. While slaves are mentioned in the first two books of the series, in this story they become the focus. And slavery is by no means light subject matter. Due to that, this is a much darker book with more death and cruelty.

With the events that take place in this story you can begin to see how Tortall in Alanna’s time came to be. While Lady Knight’s are still fairly common in Beka’s timeline, this book shows us a new set of characters who have very different ideas about the role of women, and those ideas do not include ladies wielding swords.

Beka was a thoroughly enjoyable character to read about. She’s strong without being unbelievable and has a lot of personality. I must say though, I had a hard time getting as attached to the other characters in this series (Pounce and Achoo being two large exceptions). I think this is because Beka spends so much time traveling around and meeting new people during the course of the books. Everyone is very well written, but events just don’t pack as much of a punch when they happen to someone who was only recently introduced. Of course, just as I was thinking this to myself something MAJOR happens with one of the characters we’ve actually gotten a chance to know. That’s why I like Tamora Pierce. She knows how to keep things interesting.

My one quibble was the romance. Not that I didn’t like it, just that it seemed awfully rushed towards the end. It had a great slow buildup and then BAM! Instalove. It wasn’t completely unbelievable given the circumstances, but it still didn’t sit quite right with me.

Conclusion: Not my favorite of Beka’s storyline, but still quite enjoyable.

Mastiff on Goodreads & Amazon

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Scarlet by A.G. Gaughen

Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

You want to know what comes to mind whenever I think of Robin Hood? Wishbone. Yes, when I picture the dashing outlaw of Sherwood I see a little Jack Russell Terrier. And you know what? It’s so much fun and that dog is so darn cute that it just might me my favorite adaptation of Hood’s tale. Unfortunately Scarlet was not. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t leave much of an impression either so I’ll keep things short.

Scarlet started out very promising. In this version of events the outlaws are a small group and Will Scarlet is a girl. The overall plot is very similar to the original (townsfolk being unfairly punished, evil sheriff, etc.), but the main focus is really Scarlet’s feelings towards Robin and John Little.

I liked Scarlet’s narration very much. She has a clear voice and a distinct way of speaking that made it easy to get to know her. She’s a rough and tumble thief who isn’t afraid of much and feels more at home in the trees than among the townsfolk she’s trying to help. Scarlet is a complicated person with secrets from her past and she likes to keep herself to herself. Despite all this she is drawn to Robin and can’t help but want to open up to him.

I guess the problem for me was that I just couldn’t understand why. I never really came around to liking this version of Robin very much. I wasn’t that crazy about John Little either, so when the book became more and more about Scarlet choosing between these two men I found myself loosing interest.

Conclusion? Interesting heroine but a lackluster love triangle.

Scarlet on Goodreads & Amazon

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In My Mailbox #5

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In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by The Story Siren.

Good haul this week! A few books I had on order from the library came in and when I went to pick them up I found a few more interesting reads sitting on the YA shelf. I think I got a great range of covers this week. A few of the ever popular “Girl Lounging in Fancy Dress”, a nice illustration, and a kick ass girl in armor… though the position of Beka’s head is a little awkward. I’ve got a lot of fun reading to look forward to this week!

Mastiff By Tamora Pierce

Fever By Lauren DeStefano

Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Fox & Phoenix by Beth Bernobich

Abandon by Meg Cabot

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What I Was by Meg Rosoff

Toward the end of his life, H looks back on the relationship that has shaped and obsessed him for nearly a century. It began many years earlier at St. Oswald’s, a dismal boarding school on the coast of England, where the young H came face- to-face with an almost unbearably beautiful boy living by himself at the edge of the sea.

At first, the mysterious Finn appears to have no past his home is an ancient fisherman’s hut with a woodstove, a case of books, striped blankets, and a cat.

H insinuates his way into Finn’s life, stalking him with perfect patience until an unlikely friendship is kindled; a confused idyll of devotion and longing set against a background of blazing wood fires and fishing expeditions.

Their friendship deepens, offering H both the freedom and the human connection that has always eluded him. But in a world of conformity, can one eccentric idyll be allowed to survive?

This book was… really frustrating. I was totally expecting to like this book. I liked the jacket description and I loved How I Live Now when I read it a few years back. It was one of those books that really stopped me in my tracks and made me think. It was great writing, so I had high expectations for my second Meg Rosoff book. And it just didn’t live up to them.

What I Was is narrated by a nameless man, looking back and reflecting on a short period of time when he went to boarding school by the sea. While there he meets a boy named Finn who lives by himself in a cabin by the ocean and the two become friends… kinda. The lead up to the story suggests that the events that are about to take place are life changing for the narrator in some way.

There are a few things that really bothered me about this story, but I wouldn’t say that it’s badly written. It’s descriptive and does a good job setting a certain tone. I felt like I could hear the ocean and feel the sand and I could imagine just how Finn’s little cabin looked. But consistency and plot issues got to me. And I just could not like the main character.

At the beginning of the book we learn that H (his first initial, as we learn later on) was kicked out of two schools previous to coming to St. Oswald’s. He explains that this was not due to any deplorable behaviour, but simply because he was less than extraordinary. But just a few pages later he explains that getting expelled from his second school involved the help of “materials readily available from any school chemistry lab.” It’s little things like this that threw me off. Is it intentional? Is this such a personal narrative that the reflections are colored by the main characters opinions from when he was a teenager? It’s hard to tell.

Even more confusing are H’s feelings towards Finn. They meet early in the book and H immediately feels drawn to the other boy. Like really. In an “I constantly think of you and want to hang out with you all the time and I might be stalking you” kind of way. But after their first meeting H clarifies that he didn’t fantasize about him “in that way”. He just wants to BE Finn. Right.

I might believe that statement if their relationship was explained differently, but every thought and action on H’s part shouts “HOMOEROTIC TENSION!” He does want to be Finn because H Himself is awkward and ungainly and ordinary. But there is also attraction there, though it’s not necessarily mutual. H pretty much invades Finn’s life in an attempt to escape his bleak boarding school existence. Though he has an awareness of how desperate his actions are, that doesn’t stop him from looking down on a fellow student who seems to idolize him with the same dog-like devotion H shows Finn.

While H isn’t the most likable character I did find myself drawn into the story due to Finn. But that was completely ruined by the plot twist at the end of the book. I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that I didn’t see it coming until right before it happened. And I didn’t like it.

In How I Live Now Rosoff managed to throw a twist into the story that completely worked. It was unexpected but it brought the story to a whole new level and I loved it. Here it just felt like everything the book had been building up to was suddenly thrown aside. The little bit of investment I had in what happened to the characters instantly vanished. It didn’t help that the book ended shortly after the big revelation.

I’m not giving up on Rosoff. I still really like her writing style and I’ll probably check out her other books at some point, but this one just didn’t work for me.

What I Was on Goodreads & Amazon

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In My Mailbox #4

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In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by The Story Siren.

Two books this week, each with an interesting cover. Scarlet is so much nicer when seen in person! The cover details are great. My copy of Tigana is much different from the one pictured here, since my library only had an older edition.

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce

Beka Cooper, the heroine of Terrier, is no longer a Puppy.

She’s a Dog now—a full-fledged member of the Provost’s Guard, dedicated to keeping peace in Tortall. But there’s unrest throughout land. Counterfeit coins are turning up in shops all over the capital city of Corus, and the nation’s economy is on the brink of collapse.

The Dogs discover that the counterfeit money seems to originate in Port Caynn. So Beka heads upriver to investigate, traveling with her mentor, Goodwin; Achoo, a hound whose nose is as sharp as her claws; and the pigeon Slapper, who carries the voices of the dead.

In Port Caynn, Beka delves deep into the gambling world, where she meets a charming banking clerk named Dale Rowan. Beka thinks she may be falling for Rowan, but she won’t let anything—or anyone—jeopardize her mission. From the Silversmith’s Guild to the Provost’s House to the city sewers, it won’t be enough for Beka to be her usual Terrier self. She’ll have to learn from Achoo how to sniff out the criminals—to be a Bloodhound. . . .

Tamora Pierce was such a huge part of my pre-teen years that I don’t even know how to describe what her books meant to me. She was my Judy Blume… my guide into the realm of kick ass fantasy girls… my introduction to complex relationships… sigh. It’s been a while since I read any of those books, and I think a part of me was afraid to revisit this author for fear that she wouldn’t measure up to my memory. Instead I found myself pleasantly surprised. Rather than feeling let down, our years apart gave me a whole new appreciation of her style.

While I did read the first book in the Beka Cooper series, it was a looong time ago. There was quite a break between the first book and this one coming out, and by the time it did I just wasn’t paying attention anymore. I only vaguely remembered the details of Terrier. Fortunately this story stood very well on its own and a few things came back to me as I read.

Beka Cooper is done with her Puppy days and is now a real Dog, but a Dog without a partner. She’s already been through two and now her third has just asked to be reassigned. But Beka has other things to worry about. Fake coins are surfacing everywhere, she finds herself the handler of a young scent hound and the rising cost of food has everyone on edge. Soon she is sent to Port Caynn, where the fake money seems to be coming from. Being in a new town places Beka firmly outside her comfort zone, as does Dale Rowan, a charming gambler who is not entirely outside the realm of suspects.

I like Beka, and I like her style of telling a story. The book is set up as her journal. It’s a way for her to remember the days events and write good reports, but it reads more like regular first person narration than a diary. At first I found the amount of street slang that’s used very distracting, but I got used to it fairly quickly and barely noticed it by the end of the book. Calling women and men “mots” and “coves” still seems overly complicated to me, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.

What really struck me about this book was the world that’s created. There are many strong female characters in YA fantasy, but SO many of them have to be. Strength in the face of adversity makes for a great story, but ever now and then it’s nice to read about a girl who is strong just because girls CAN be strong even as they go about their daily life. Sure, there’s sexism in this world, but in general girls aren’t beaten down in the same way. Beka’s struggles aren’t based around fighting to prove her worth even though she’s a girl, they’re based around the fact that she has a rough job and she’s often put in dangerous situations.

The romantic relationships are also a breath of fresh air. When I read her earlier books I don’t think I realized that Pierce’s way of handling relationships and sex was not necessarily the norm in YA. In her books, romance goes something like this:

Girl meets boy. Girl likes boy. Girl makes informed decision about how she wants to proceed. Girl uses birth control.

Throughout multiple books, main characters with differing personalities and unique romantic entanglements these core elements stay pretty much the same. None of these simple, no-brainer steps detract from the giddy excitement of Beka falling for Dale. It’s sweet and well-written and complex, just like when you find yourself crushing on someone in real life. Love interests are a part of Beka’s life, but it doesn’t define who she is as a character. I like a good epic romance every now and then, but it’s also nice to read a book in which it’s not the sole focus. Most people don’t just have OMG ONE TRUE LOVE FOR EVER AND EVER! Some people do, I know that, but other people have various loves throughout their life. Sometimes you find the right person, and sometimes you find a person who is right for you at that moment in time. It doesn’t make the romance less meaningful, just temporary. Reading a book in which all those elements of human interaction are represented made me want to hug this book. And now that I’m thinking about it, I’m deeply appreciative for having these examples presented to me way back when I first read the Song of the Lioness quartet.

Beka manages to distinguish herself nicely from all the other heroines of Tortall. She’s tough and grumpy at times, and she doesn’t back down from a fight. She’s also extremely shy when thrown out of her comfort zone, something I can relate to. I loved the ragtag group of animals she surrounds herself with, especially her dog. Achoo was one of my favorite parts of this book! The two of them seem to be a perfect match, though having a scent hound does little to help keep Beka out of trouble.

The secondary characters were interesting, the plot moved along quickly, the fight scenes were cool. In case you couldn’t tell, I really liked it. And the upside of waiting all this time to read the second book is that the third one is already out!

Bloodhound on Goodreads & Amazon

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