Tuesday 27 May 2014

Review: Nantucket Blue

Title: Nantucket Blue (Nantucket #1)
Author: Leila Howland
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Released: 7th May 2013
Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Nantucket Blue has all the appearance of being a promising book, one in which exploration of relationships and identity is complemented by some summery overtones.  At the very least it looks as though it might work as a light summer read.  To find that it worked mostly as a source of irritation instead was not exactly welcome.  For any potential that was in here - and there certainly was some - it was eclipsed by too many other things that were going on.
The story centres around Cricket, who is looking forward to summer.  For once, things are going to be different.  Rather than stay at home babysitting she's going to be going to Nantucket, spending the holiday with her best friend, Jules, and Jules' family.  Inevitably, of course, things don't work out so happily: she's in Nantucket, but the family are suffering from a recent tragedy, leaving Cricket to support herself and pass the summer without doing any of the fun stuff she was supposed to be doing with Jules.
Almost immediately I could see that Cricket and I were not going to be friends.  For someone whose best friend has just suffered from a tremendous loss, she comes across as remarkably attention-seeking.  It was like she couldn't help herself.  There were a number of actions and decisions on her part that left me wishing I could reach into the book and shake her, forcing her to realise what she was doing, because I could see what was going to happen.  Sure enough, Jules pulls away from her increasingly more.  To be honest, though, for a lot of her behaviour there was no excuse.  Objectively I could sympathise - in reality I didn't - but Cricket was not the only one at fault for the way Jules treated her.  Her loss did not make up for that.  Really this was never meant to be a successful relationship.  The latter character was simply not nice, and Cricket astounded me with how whiny and selfish she could be.  There were moments when I had hope, when it seemed like there was some sort of improvement, both in character and writing, but always it deflated.  Everything became drama, and once again I resumed reading with rapidly devolving patience.
The drama was not constrained simply to this relationship.  It managed to float into the romance side of things and the family aspect.  Some of Cricket's behaviour involving boys was, again, simply not on.  Moreover, the love interest did not really arouse my interest very much.  He was sweet, certainly, but so what?  This sounds harsh, but there was nothing that made him special.  At least, not special in the sense that I could appreciate him in his role.  As for the circumstances surrounding this romantic intrigue, they were all very well, but it progressed predictably.  That just leaves the family angle.  This, I think, was where some of the real potential lay.  Cricket's family was neither happy nor united, and this part of the book gave rise to some interesting themes.  Had these been taken further, Cricket and her mother would have won some of my sympathy, her father I would be more kindly disposed towards and, I suspect, there would have been a nice amount of character growth on more than one account.  At one point Cricket and her mother especially genuinely seemed to be working towards some kind of strengthened relationship.  I felt true disappointment on seeing that things were left at such a flat level, either being added in for no seeming purpose or, possibly worse, gratuitous dramatic impact. 

In a word, this book made me tired.  There was a relatively decent basis here, but it all seemed to be weighed down by drama and sigh-inducing qualities.  Normally I would have gone on to the sequel, but I'm finding lately that I'm being more selective, identifying more than ever those that would just be best to let go of.  And in reading the synopsis for the second book, I don't think I could take any more.  So it is at this point that I'll say goodbye to the world of Nantucket Blue.

Monday 26 May 2014

Review: White Hot Kiss

Title: White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements #1)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Released: 25th February 2014
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm pretty sure that the initials JLA, together, and the person behind these initials, are synonymous with feels.  Because her writing just leaves me with all of them.  And yeah, maybe I knew this before, but I think it's worth saying again.  Gargoyles and demons - together - are like book dynamite.  Or triple chocolate cake.  And then JLA has her way with them and BAM.  You've got the bookish equivalent of some kind of cake that explodes in your mouth and is just the best thing ever (kind of like the sensation that Cam's cookies leave...).  Mind = blown.
Since the gargoyle-demon mix was what drew my attention in the first place, let's start with that.  The combination was as epic as promised.  I was especially curious about gargoyles - not that I don't love demons, because really.  Bad creatures who can also be good who are bad.  I get on exceptionally well with demons.  But this was the first time I'd entered a world with gargoyles and I was intrigued to see how they would be portrayed.  Their role as Wardens - hunters of demons and protectors of mankind - was one I could appreciate, objectively and conceptually speaking, and Armentrout did a very nice job with the world-building in this respect.  There is no such thing as standard mythology for her because clearly she knows how to give it her own, fresh twist.  Both sides share a complexity that goes beyond the standard good/evil preconceptions.  Even with the demons it seemed as though something had been added to it.  Learning about hell has never been so interesting.
Layla is our feisty half demon-half gargoyle heroine.  One of the consequences of this is having a kiss that takes souls.  This is a girl whose insecurities and strengths mesh together to form a thoroughly relatable character.  She's not afraid to take action and won't let anyone else get in the way of her doing something.  When she's on a mission, she'll see it through to its end.  At the same time, she struggles a lot.  Sure, she makes mistakes along the way, but I could always see where she was coming from.  I think what I most identified with was her struggle to accept and reconcile the two halves of her, to understand where it was exactly that she fitted in her world.  What pained me was seeing the interactions she had with certain members of her surrogate family of Wardens, the true level of pressure they placed on her whether they realised it or not, and the constant reminder that she was not one of them.  In the end, though, it only made her all the stronger when she went in the face of that by discovering the truth for and of herself, suffering a great deal more as a result, and finding some measure of happiness and belonging amongst all that.

It was at this point that the feels truly started to kick in.  By which I mean, Zayne and Roth enter the scene.  By which I mean, Roth does.  I admit, I liked Zayne.  A lot.  Possibly even loved him?  For all his flaws, he is a genuinely good guy, and I was glad to see at the end some recognition on his part that the world is not the black and white image that has been painted for him.  And certainly he was swoonworthy.  I could definitely see his appeal, both as a friend and something more, although again, I had concerns.  But then...Roth made his grand entrance and oh, dear god.  On all fronts I was made to feel for him.  Beyond the basic charm and mischief - which still should not be underestimated in his case - is a quiet pain that comes of being borne of hell and also of his own personal history.  And then, as if I wasn't already feeling enough, Armentrout writes in an astonishing ending that not only picks up the pace and leaves you wide-eyed, but also leaves you wondering how it is that authors can be so cruel (although thank goodness for the hope that follows after that).
Needless to say, I was left impressed with White Hot Kiss.  My experience with this author has been extremely limited in comparison to many, and even within that I've had my ups and downs.  But this was a world that very quickly had my attention, with characters I couldn't help but take notice of, distinctive whatever their character traits.  Wardens kept company with Alphas, demons with zombies, and I really must take a moment to acknowledge Bambi, the concept of which I loved and as a character - for she is a character in her own right - who strangely I also loved.  This was a treat to read - cake, anyone? - and one I shall certainly be coming back to.