Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review of Once We Were by Kat Zhang


Title: Once We Were (The Hybrid Chronicles #2)
Author: Kat Zhang
Review by: Sarah
Release Date: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 352

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Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.
Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.
Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

Wow! It's always a crazy feeling when the second book in a series is so much better than the first. Usually, for me, it tends to be the other way around. Second Book Syndrome is a killer. But when I finished What's Left of Me, I kind of figured I'd end up enjoying the sequel more so than I did the first. I just didn't expect it to be this substantial of a difference! 

Things that bothered me about What's Left of Me were quickly forgotten almost as soon as I started Once We Were. Little things about the world building that irked me were explained in this book in a way that was like, oh...well that makes so much more sense now...why couldn't that have been in the first one? When reading the first book, I found myself putting it down constantly. It seemed to drag on forever and I often felt like I was forcing myself to get through it. I read Once We Were entirely in one sitting, I literally think I only put it down once. The pacing was so much quicker, the plot more engaging, I just completely fell into the story in a way I hadn't been able to until close to the end of the first book. The intensity of the relationship between Addie and Eva really propels the story, and the development leap their characters take in this story is truly heart wrenching.I care about everything else because I care about both of them. But there were many characters I found infinitely interesting in this book, and some of the quotes were nothing short of stunning. I love a book with really quotable moments where you can just feel the impact of the words hitting you like a brick. 

As I said in my review for the first book, I also find it very refreshing that the romance is not the main focus of this story. There's definitely more of it in this book, but it's presented in such a way that just adds to what the characters are going through rather than taking away from it. With so many characters in such a complex situation, I feel like it'd be quite difficult to write the romance aspect of this novel. So hats off to the author for doing it so seamlessly. 

I'm very excited for the next book, now. Zhang has set up a complex, dynamic cast of characters and and smacked them all down at an incredibly precipitous point. I need to know what's going to happen to everyone and what's going to become of this strange and frightening world. 

4 coffee cups!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

ARC Review of The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes


Title: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Review by: Sarah
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 304
Format: E-ARC
Source: Netgalley

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Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want.  But, it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they've begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.   What Cassie doesn't realize is that there's more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms close. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive. 
Think The Mentalist meets Pretty Little Liars—Jennifer Lynn-Barnes’ The Naturals is a gripping psychological thriller with killer appeal, a to-die-for romance, and the bones of a gritty and compelling new series.

Another case of: Is this a series? The blurb on netgalley led me to believe so, but all I can say is, if it's a standalone, I will be angry for the rest of my life. 

 So let me quickly set the scene for you. Cassandra 'Cassie' Hobbes is a young girl living with the Italian side of her family as her father is in the Air Force, and her mother was murdered when she was young. Cassie feels odd and out of place in this family, as she looks so much like her red-headed mother, and finds it hard to truly connect to these people. (Side note: I loved Cassie's nonna, and if this does turn out to be a series I do hope there is more of her and the family. ) The other thing Cassie takes from her mother is her uncanny ability to read people and their behaviors and make scarily accurate assumptions about them from thus. Her mother was so good at this she made a living from it, posing as a psychic. And Cassie is so good at it the FBI tracks her down to be recruited into a secretive program for Naturals (aka kids with almost-inhuman abilities that would be of use to the FBI, be it profiling, lie-detecting, statistic memorization, etc.) So Cassie, hell-bent on finding her place in the world and ravenous for answers about her mother's unsolved murder, immediately hops on board. And after shakily getting her overprotective extended family to agree to this, Cassie sets off to start her new life as a Natural Profiler (as in, profiling serial killers) and aiding the FBI in solving cold cases. 

 Now, obviously, this is a book you have to really suspend your disbelief for. To enjoy it, I think you have to really put yourself in the mindset of 'this is a story'. Because a lot of what happens is unrealistic and plot-convenient. I see this being a love it or hate it type of book and whether you love it or hate it will most likely come down to if you are able to quickly latch onto the characters or not. At first, unfortunately, I was not. I found Cassie to be a likable enough heroine, but the character I assumed to be her love interest did nothing for me, and the slow burn of the beginning had me putting down the book often and forgetting about it. But being a big fan of JLB's writing, I thought, I've got at least stick it out to 100 pages. And I'm very glad that I did. 

 As soon as the other Naturals came into play, I was hooked. I adored their clashing personalities and the dynamic between all of them. I loved the fact that even though they're 'special kids' working for the FBI, they're all still very much teenagers and get up to very teeny hi-jinks. I would love to have some bits from the other Naturals POV, especially Lia (Natural lie-detector), who is an absolute enigma. Sloane (Natural with numbers and probabilities) was adorable. I have a soft spot for tropey 'computer-brain' type characters. And Michael (Natural emotion reader), though I didn't find him as swoon-worthy as Cassie seems to, is indeed a very interesting character.

 And then, of course...there's Dean. Dean Dean Dean.


 I feel like I don't want to say too much about Dean as it ruins the fun of readers getting to know him for themselves. So just know that he is *fangirl noise*. I can't believe I almost put down this book for good without meeting him. That would have been a travesty. 

 Another interesting thing I'd like to touch upon is the fact that every few chapters the reader is treated to The Killer's POV. Now, I've read a few serial killer-esque books in my day, and I've noticed that a lot of the time the writer seems to take The Killer's POV too over the top. Extremely dramatic ~serial killery~ prose that almost makes you laugh rather than cower. This book doesn't have that problem. JLB has perfectly captured the just-creepy-enough tone of The Killer to make their POV really, really uncomfortable to read. I salute her for that. 

 This book was something new and refreshing. And though it did come across as a bit cheesy and 'well what are the f#%&!*g chances' at some bits, the plot is still great. I tore through it in a matter of hours. And the characters are even better. I need more of these characters! Like, I NEED THEM. I feel like I'm going to die if I don't get more. I need more about Cassie's family, about her mother, about Michael and Sloane and Lia and DEAN. And their lives before the Natural program. I just need it. The world needs it. And you need to read this book so we can all cry together. That is all.

3 and a half coffee cups!