[The Dream Protocol: Descent] Adara Quick

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What would a world be like if dreams were controlled by the government and your place in life determined at age 15? What would a world be like if nightmares were weaponized and you could be punished for anything they determined were wrong? In The Dream Protocol, your life is lived in a grey world and your only escape is the dreams that you can afford. Then at age 35, you’re no longer wanted and you take your Descent. Deirdre is no longer content with living this way. As her mother’s Descent creeps steadily closer, she begins to rebel against the norm. When who she loves is threatened, she discovers that she will do anything to protect them–even if it means putting herself in danger.

So I will begin by saying that I’ve never had a novel length story published. But I have written and read a lot of stories, particularly young adult ones, in the last year and a half or so, so I know what I like to see in novels such as these. The Dream Protocol has everything that I like to see in a dystopian novel, but sadly, they all never go beyond the idea. I felt that this novel was built around the bare-bones of a plot, but was never fully fleshed out. As it’s the first novel in a series, perhaps this is explored in the next novels. However,  because it’s a first novel, the fact that it’s full of big ideas that aren’t fleshed out kind of damns it.

There are so many interesting things that are introduced in The Dream Protocol but never pan out into something more. There’s a prophecy, but we’re never shown how it’s connected to Deirdre and her family. We’re teased with hints of what the Dream Protocol truly is as we’re given accounts and reactions periodically throughout the novel, but this never expands into something more. One of my big disappointments was that I wish it had been described more. Instead, we’re given small details that don’t really flesh out the world. Everyone wore grey, the walls were grey, there was no sky…grey overwhelmingly describes the blandness of the book.

I also didn’t understand why the action was only in the last 25% of the book, especially when the bulk of the book didn’t do a good job at creating setting. It ended up making the book seem poorly plotted and unfinished, almost as if Quick only sent in half of her manuscript or someone made the decision to divide a longer manuscript into two in order to make a series. I would have been more interested in the book if the climax had happened in the middle and I then was able to see the consequences of that. The cliffhanger of the novel is roughly cut off in the middle and is really jarring.

Considering that the book is supposed to be about dreams I found it strangely lacking in details on them. A special dream is introduced in the text, but the elements of it are not further explored. They weren’t focused on them too much other than to show that dreams could easily be turned into nightmares for the dreaded ‘Mare weapon. I wanted to see more of people’s dependence on the dreams–after all, they can only dream what the government wants them to see and with a dependence on the government for dreams, they can easily control the populace. But it wasn’t explored. It was one of the loose threads that I was surprised about, considering the heavy focus on dreams in the summary.

Ultimately, this book gave me a really weird way to reflect on it. You know that feeling when you’re not really hungry, but you do the motions of eating because you rationally realize that you should eat, even if you don’t enjoy it at all and it’s purely for fuel, not pleasure? That’s exactly how I felt while reading this book. I read it just to read, just to pass a couple of hours to wile away the boring hours at my desk. There wasn’t really anything that got me really excited about it, which was a disappointment considering the idea behind the novel. I wanted to like it.

With the way the novel ends, it’s obvious that this is a projected series, although I’m unsure of the number of books planned. I did some research while writing this review, and while I’m given a short preview of The Dream Protocol: Selection at the end of my ebook, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of information online about this book (i.e., not on Amazon, goodreads, or other such sites), even though there’s a cover on Quick’s website and a “date” of projected publication set as Winter 2016 (according to my ARC). I was further confused when the news portion of her site said that a book three cover reveal will be coming soon (although this may be a typo, to be honest). I feel that there should be more information on the next book in the series, even just a basic page on them because when readers are interested in a series and there isn’t that information, they may turn away from your series out of frustration.

While The Dream Protocol: Descent was chock full of interesting ideas, the lack of expansion on them made me disappointed and affected my enjoyment of the novel. I will likely not continue the series because of that and the lack of information on the next novel. It makes me worried that I’ve invested time in a series that will not continue. Many others have enjoyed this book but it’s just not for me.

2 stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. The Dream Protocol: Descent was published on April 20th, 2016.

[The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle I] Maggie Stiefvater

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I really don’t know where to start with this one. The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (an author whose last name I’ll never be able to spell without referencing goodreads) is a book that is so lyrically beautiful that I had to stop reading it late at night because I wanted to enjoy the words instead of plowing through them.

Blue Sargent is the daughter of a psychic–in fact, most of her family have some sort of psychic ability, except Blue. She’s come to terms with that fact, just as she’s come to terms with the fact that there are some things she can’t escape: namely, that her kiss is going to kill her true love. Her mother foretold it, her aunts foretold it. Blue decided when she was much younger that she’d never kiss any boy. This year, staying away from boys proves to be difficult when she gets wrapped up in the quest of four of the Raven Boys, normally well-off students from the local private school. As Blue gets to know them, she realizes that each of the Raven Boys have something that they can’t get away from. And there’s the possibility that their quest may be more dangerous than the five of them expect.

The Raven Boys is a great start to a series. With a focus on how the paranormal relates to the real world, I was impressed with the balance that the author had created. It doesn’t focus to heavily on one over the other, which gave the plot realness even as it dealt with mystical elements. The mystery gradually builds as the story progresses, but I never found it boring or too fast paced. Things have their beginning in The Raven Boys, but they were not concluded. There’s going to be threads that run through the series which I found really nice. It makes me want to continue the series when not everything has been answered. However, enough has been answered in this first book that I feel satisfied at its conclusion.

I really liked all of the characters. Each of the Raven Boys–Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah–had unique personalities and drives. I also particularly liked that they also had something that they were ashamed of OR had something that they wanted to change about themselves. Desperately. That often meant they longed for things they didn’t have. Their jealousies made them so relatable that it truly felt like they were real people. And Blue. Such a wonderful protagonist. She had a unique way of looking at the world and she managed to balance her own wishes, the Raven Boys’, and her family’s. She’s quirky, but not annoyingly so. She’s not quirky just to be a different sort of young adult protagonist in a field that is heavily populated by similar protagonists.

First and foremost I felt that this was a book about friendships and familial relationships rather than the romances. There was a romance angle that I imagine will become more important in later books, but right now it’s only subtle. The romances are tentative and not pushed at the reader. It allowed all of the characters to breathe and to be. The friendship between the four boys was so lovely–full of love, trust, and familiarity that comes with being in close quarters with someone. They had their issues and had to work through them. I loved it. Blue fits easily in to this group and through their interactions with her we’re given more glimpses into who they are. As for Blue’s family, they’re great. I found it impossible not to draw parallels between Blue’s family and the Halliwell sisters from Charmed. They just care for each other so much but also know when to give each other space. I liked that they were present in the story and that they were concerned with what Blue was doing, but they were also willing to allow her to make her own mistakes and choices.  Stiefvater has a talent at building characters who are extremely realistic and who have their own good and bad traits. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran into them in Virginia. That’s how real they seemed.

The writing style was so lyrical and mysterious. It really helped build up the setting. It wasn’t overdone or drawn out; somehow it managed to maintain a realness even when the writing was a bit whimsical. I’ve talked a lot about balance in this review, and this is yet another thing that I found incredibly well-done and balanced. A lot of times when I enjoy a book, I stay up late to finish it. I found while reading this that I did have that sense, but I also forced myself to stop because I wanted to enjoy the prose. If I hurried through it, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to see how prettily it was written.

The only downside (but I don’t really have to worry too much since I’m late to the series!) is that The Raven Boys ends very much in the middle of the action. Of course, the main action of the novel is finished with the exception of the larger plot of the series. It’s almost like the series is a larger book broken up in four installments because of this. I would have been very annoyed if I’d read this book when it had first come out and I’d needed to wait for the next one. Luckily I can go on to the next one immediately, because I get the sense from the first book that I’ll burn through the entire series rather quickly.

I recommend this for young adult readers and for fans of young adult novels. I usually don’t particularly love paranormal novels–I tend to go for fantasy–but the wonderful prose, plot, and the very strong characters in this book won me over almost immediately.

5 stars.

[Dandelion on Fire: Greene Island Mystery I] Sherry Torgent

I recently became a reviewer for a small publishing company located in North Carolina called Blue Ink Press. Dandelion on Fire is the first novel I’ve received to review from them. Blue Ink Press was founded in 2015. Their aim is to represent and publish young adult authors, but they also represent local authors from their area. I’m very excited to work with them!

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Hardy only wants one thing: to make it through his senior year of high school unscathed so he can escape Greene Island for college on the mainland. Unfortunately for Hardy, things never go the way he plans. When a mistake lands him in community service with a strange new girl named Darcy, things begin to unravel. Darcy has a secret. And suddenly, that secret connects Hardy and Darcy in ways that begin to spiral out of control. Everyone says that Greene Island is cursed. Hardy is starting to believe it.

The plot of Dandelion on Fire was steady throughout the novel. Unfortunately, steady doesn’t always make for quick reading. I felt very relaxed while reading this, even during the moments that were meant to be fast-paced and nerve wracking. There was a calmness to the writing style. The plot did pick up toward the end of the novel, but because of the earlier meandering of the plot, it didn’t feel very balanced. All of the action was clustered at the end. As a result, I ended up being a little surprised at the conclusion because it seemed so sudden. I expected more pages.  The action at the end made me excited about what Sherry Torgent was doing with the story. It was just unfortunate that it hadn’t been included earlier.

Dandelion on Fire is a mystery with slow pacing. There weren’t enough moments where Hardy and Darcy discovered something that gave answers toward the larger mystery; instead, I felt that it focused on the mundane moments of Hardy’s day-to-day life too much. Something exciting would happen, and I would think “this is it, this is when we find out– –” but then it would seem to backtrack. Hardy would be concerned about a senior picnic instead of being worried about the murder that had taken place on the island. The book also  has a supernatural element to it. For some reason, the Curse of Viola has given certain individuals powers. Throughout the novel, these supernatural things are mentioned, but never really focused on. I hope that a more solid explanation is given to us in the next novel.  Like much of the action, the supernatural points of the novel were clustered at the end. Because of that, the ending seemed abrupt. There’s no return journey to “normality” with a greater understanding of what has happened to Hardy.  There were a lot of questions, both about the supernatural and the mystery, but few seemed to be answered. It’s a good start to a series because we’re not given the complete answers in this first book. It pushes readers to check out the next book in the series.

The book focuses on Hardy and Darcy, with a few side characters that come in and out of the action. It’s a novel about them as much as it’s a mystery. Hardy was a straightforward, very simplistic character. He longed for a return to normality and often had to be dragged about by Darcy. Gradually this began to change, but as a result of his initial actions I felt that he was kind of boring. He didn’t want to take charge of his protagonist status. Contrasting him we have Darcy, who was far more interesting and engaging. It’s really too bad that she wasn’t the one telling the story. Darcy has a bit of a mystery surrounding her, and we weren’t given any answers about her. Not really. I hope that the next novel goes into more detail about her. She went headfirst into possibly dangerous situations because she was curious; that curiosity drove much of the story and plot for me. I liked how the friendship between Hardy and Darcy progressed. At first, the difference in their ages bothers Hardy. I remember feeling that way as a senior in high school when looking at the new faces of the freshmen. But then Hardy, like everyone at some point after they’ve graduated from high school, realizes that the age doesn’t matter. As soon as he decides that, their friendship really bloomed as they became more engaged with the mystery around them.

It may not have been as fast-paced as I would have liked, but I have to admire what Sherry Torgent did with Dandelion on Fire. Namely, the fact that it’s clean. Granted, that’s not something I’m overly concerned about because I tend to read a variety of young adult novels of varying content. It was interesting to read a novel that didn’t have sex as an underlying tension. Dandelion on Fire reminded me of a wholesome family movie: good for everyone. While it may not be something that older readers will scramble to read, I do think that it will be really good for the younger side of young adult readers. It’s interesting, has a mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, and ends in a way that is hopeful and moderately well-rounded (to the extent that you could maybe read it as a stand-alone novel). It’s possible that the mystery started in Dandelion on Fire is not quite concluded and will continue in the second book, but it’s also possible that an entirely new mystery will start.

3 stars.

I’d like to thank the publisher again for providing me with a copy of Dandelion on Fire in exchange for an honest review. Dandelion on Fire was first released on January 31st, 2015. A sequel, The Curse of Viola, was published March 13th, 2016.

[Haven: War of Princes 1] A.R. Ivanovich

 

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Katelyn Kestrel has always had a knack for finding missing things. All she needs to do is think about what she wants to find, and her gut tells her where to go.When she decides that she wants to check out the forbidden outside world, it’s not difficult to find. A quick look and then she’ll return to the idyllic Haven with a tale of a secret adventure. Unfortunately, Katelyn quickly finds out that there was a reason that access out of Haven was blocked hundreds of years ago. Suddenly thrust into a violent world with warring princes, people with abilities, and the frightening possibility that she’ll never be able to return to Haven, Katelyn has to figure out a way to escape without bringing this violence down on the  home she left behind.

Haven was a quick read with likable enough characters.  But, as a whole, I feel that the story could have used a little more character building because I felt that a lot of their actions were sudden and not thoroughly explained. There wasn’t really any buildup to events; they just occurred in a fly by the seat of your pants way. Which made it very easy to flip through chapters, but not very easy to connect to characters. I understood why they were in danger, but I didn’t feel the danger. Katelyn was a typical teenager who–surprise!–is slightly different than her friends. She’s not incredibly popular, does things that alienates her from her peers, and longs for adventure. It becomes a little bit of a story of how special she is, which may have been meant as an ah ha! moment but had been obvious from the start.

She also was a whiner, which is something that can drive me crazy in a protagonist. Her call to adventure was so stupid. She’d had a bad evening, people made fun of her, and when she got home the door was locked. Instead of knocking on the door like a normal person, after saying how much her family–half blood, half step–loved her, she decides to run away because she just wants to be anonymous somewhere. I get the desire to escape, especially when this is meant to be an adventure story. However, running away seemed so extreme after she had literally said the paragraph or so before how much they loved her.  It just marked her as very immature, a trend that continued when she had dealings with characters–including a couple cases of instant-love–in the outside world.   The other characters in the outside world were interesting. Dylan Axton helped her around the new world and served as a way for her and for readers to learn how the world worked out there, while Rune served as a tragic character who couldn’t control what was happening to him. I liked when they were more involved in the story.

The world building of the outside world was done well. At first I didn’t feel that it went into much detail, but as the story progressed the world was gradually built up with only a few moments where I felt it was slightly info-dumpy. The outside world was more fascinating than Haven; whenever the characters were in Haven, the story slowed because it was the standard teenagers goofing off just before graduation fare. I thought that A.R. Ivanovich did a nice job with building up the world of abilities (and those who use them for both good and bad), Dragoons and their military standing, as well as the motivations of the people in the outside world. I wish that the novel hadn’t moved so quickly through events and places because it would have been fascinating to see how Katelyn reacted to common life there.

Haven is one of those books that wraps up with a tidy little bow and if I didn’t have the next three in the series lined up on my kindle, I would assume that Haven was the end. As it is, there wasn’t much left in the way of continuing the story other than the vague threat of something is out there, so I am interested in seeing how the series continues. There’s a lot of potential for me to like the outside world and its characters even more, so I’m hoping that they get away from Haven in the next book.

3 stars.

I received a read-to-review copy of Haven from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

[The Diviners] Libba Bray

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I love the cover of my edition.

I read this the year it came out and loved it. 1920s and supernatural, what’s not to love? It’s odd that just the other day I was thinking about this book, wondering if the sequel was out or if I should just reread the Gemma Doyle trilogy. I checked NetGalley to see if there was anything that sounded interesting, but any other book flew out of my head when I saw that the sequel was being offered as an advanced reading copy! I knew it had to be my next read. So instead of continuing the next mammoth of a book in George R.R. Martin’s series, I’m rereading The Diviners so I can start the second with the story fresh in my mind.

Evie is a girl who believes that she is better than her Ohio hometown. After a particularly bad mistake that labels her again as “that awful O’Neill girl,” Evie is carted off to New York to live with her Uncle who runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult.  She’s a dreamer, and believes that New York will give her everything she needs in order to make her dreams come true. She can be anyone, and she wants to be noticed.  She’s always felt too large for her small hometown; hopefully New York will be a better fit. It’s too bad that her scholarly uncle doesn’t exactly approve of her late night romps about the town.

Evie talks with the vibrancy of a young woman growing up in the 1920s. There’s a lot of flapper slang in the book and it makes Evie’s voice very distinct. Although she can be annoyingly bubbly at first, she has to mature fast when her uncle is brought on as a consultant for a crime because of his knowledge of the occult. I really appreciate the effort Libba Bray went in creating the 1920s world of flappers, Prohibition, and the occult in The Diviners. The 1920s are a particular era that I really love, and adding the element of the supernatural was a perfect way to get me to pick up this book. With a cast of characters that include a numbers runner from Harlem, a thief who is itching for justice, a chorus girl who is running from her past, as well as a mysterious former ward of Evie’s uncle, The Diviners refused to let me put it down, even the second time around. These characters stand out from the page. You learn who they are through their actions and what they do or do not share with the other characters, not in a word dump the first time you meet them. They change, but they still have their main desire that drives them. Often at the center of that desire is their gift.

The setting of 1920s New York was well researched and vivid on the page. It acts as a beautiful, glittery contrast to the starkness of the mystery presented in The Diviners‘ pages; bloody and disturbing, even those hardened by age have a hard time stomaching it. Although it may be the time of Prohibition, it is also the time of the Beast. The mystery of what that means for Evie and the city’s inhabitants slowly builds, hints dropping in nearly every chapter as the terror grows. Libba Bray knows how to build a mystery that forces me to stay up until the early hours of the morning in order to see the end. It doesn’t hit you over the head like a bag of bricks, like other young adult mystery novels do. It keeps you guessing, instead of allowing you to see its secrets coming from a mile away.  It helps too, that The Diviners has several smaller mysteries interspersed between the points of the main one.

It seems like every character has their own mystery that it teased in The Diviners. While some of them are solved by the end of the book, others are not. It allows for some great character building. I hope that more answers will be given in the next book. The Diviners may focus on Evie most of the time, but the other characters are also interesting and real. I wanted to spend time with them all. There is romance between them, but it is gradual and not the focus on the story. The Diviners isn’t a secret romance story wrapped in the guise of a mystery. I’m very glad I have the next one in the series in my hands.

5 stars.