Hallowed by Cynthia Hand
Unearthly # 2
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 416
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

* * *

One of the books that absolutely surprised me last year was Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly. I can’t keep stressing it enough, but you know, when a book surprised you, you would have the tendency not to stop talking about it. And this is for a paranormal romance novel friends. That is really something. With that premise in this review, it was obvious that I was one of the squealing readers who well…squealed, when I saw that the next book, Hallowed was available in Netgalley. I was supposed to read it as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo, but resistance was futile and I ended up reading it even as I was writing.

Spoiler warning for Unearthly in the next few paragraphs — stay away if you haven’t read it yet.

Hallowed picks up from where Unearthly left off, where Clara was still reeling from the events that happened in the fire and how she messed up her purpose by saving Tucker instead of Christian. There was also that fact that Christian was actually an angel, and how she can’t deny the attraction between them, even if her heart belongs to Tucker. But there are other things that require her more immediate attention, like her angel training with her friend and the fact that the Black Wing could return, and finally, there was her dream. Her dream that tells her that someone important to her is going to die, soon. And there is only so much she can do without falling apart.

This book was…well, it’s a lot to digest. On one hand, there’s Clara, who’s still a very entertaining character. Her voice still sounds authentic despite the different challenges she had to face, and she never wavered one bit. Her relationship with Tucker was still as sweet as ever, and sometimes I kind of want to stop reading because they got too sweet. :P The great addition in this book, IMHO, was Christian. Love triangles are kind of an old thing in YA, particularly in paranormal romance, but I think the love triangle in Hallowed was exceptionally done. I liked how there was never really a clear answer on who Clara would and should choose, and how the two guys seem to have equal footing in her life. I’m still a huge fan of Tucker, though, but I would like to see how Clara having Christian in her life would play out.

I also really loved that there were more revelations to Clara’s angel heritage, and her powers as well. The high points in the book is really with knowing all these things like Clara’s powers and the rest of her family. The revelation is done gradually so we never get too much information, and there were some truly surprising parts. As with Unearthly, I thought the mythology here was also well done, and yet there still seemed to be more that could be revealed in the later books.

But you see, Hallowed isn’t really a book that is centered on the romance, or even on Clara’s angel powers. This book is really about family and loved ones and yes, loss. Saying anything more would be spoilery, but it’s probably the thing that could make or break the novel for other people (although I use the term “break” loosely). Hallowed has the capacity to punch you in the gut — hard — and leave you reeling with different emotions. That is what makes this book so different. And good.

Rating: [rating=5]

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Until There Was You

Until There Was You by Kristan HigginsUntil There Was You by Kristan Higgins
Publisher: HQN books
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

Posey Osterhagen can’t complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she’s surrounded by her lovable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend—sort of. Still, something’s missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking…something like Liam Murphy.

When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford, New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he’s back, sending Posey’s traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas….

* * *

I’ve never read any Kristan Higgins, but I’ve read about her in the reviews of my other book blogger friends. It’s been a while since I last read a chick lit book, so when I heard that Higgins’ latest book is available in Netgalley and that it was very entertaining, I decided to get it for some light reading.

Cordelia Osterhagen, also known as Posey, is pretty happy with her life. She has a business that she loves, saving old things such as used bar equipment and selling them again to decorate other people’s houses. Her family is kooky but fun and she even has a sort-of boyfriend. Never mind that this sort-of boyfriend is owner of her parents’ restaurant rival. Then she finds out that Liam Murphy is back in town, and it rocks her world. See, Liam is the guy who broke her heart sixteen years ago, and she felt that she never really got over it. Now that he is back, Posey is determined to not be affected by his charms, but it’s proving to be very, very difficult.

They were right — this was a fun and light novel. I loved the entire quirky town of Bellsford. It reminded me of those Southern towns I’ve read in other chick lit books I liked. I also love Posey’s family and friends, especially his gay brother and his partner. :) I also loved Posey’s business and her colleagues and her pets! Everything about the novel is so positively charming that it wasn’t hard not to fall in love with it.

The build up for the romance is my favorite in this novel. Posey and Liam both have their own issues, but the scenes they had together and their banter are so entertaining to read that I can’t help but smile. I especially liked how Posey gets to her realization about Liam and how she stands up for herself even if it means she could get her heart broken by the same guy again. It was also fun to be inside Liam’s head so we know he is not just your ordinary bad guy. Also, thank you for the fade to black scenes. :)

Until There Was You is really a fun and light novel, but not so much that it doesn’t have an impact. I am definitely stocking more Kristan Higgins’ novels in case I am in the mood for something to cheer me up in between serious reads. :)

Rating: [rating=4]

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The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Publisher: Razorbill
Number of pages: 309
My copy: paperback, borrowed, from Pinoy Book Tours

It’s 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet.

Emma just got her first computer and an America Online CD-ROM.

Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on–and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future.

Everybody wonders what their Destiny will be. Josh and Emma are about to find out.

* * *

I’ve never read a Jay Asher or a Carolyn Mackler book, but The Future of Us popped into my radar soon after I heard people getting copies of it during BEA. I was intrigued by the premise, and I like reading books that include social media in its story. So when I heard that this was going to be a part of Pinoy Book Tours, I thought, why not sign up?

The Future of Us is set in 1996, back in the time where gps tracking for trucks were a rare thing. Our two main characters, Josh and Emma, are juniors in high school. Emma just got a computer, and Josh gives her an AOL CD that has free hours that she could use. Emma signs up for an email account, and when she logs in, she is surprised to find herself looking at something called “Facebook”. They discover their profiles 15 years into the future. Confused, Josh and Emma find themselves digging more information, and realizing that the little actions they do today could ripple into their future.

Don’t you just love the 90’s? I was born in the late 80’s so I barely had memories of that decade, so I am really a 90’s kid. loved that this book brought us back to that time period. I love the pop culture references then, and how not everyone have cellphones, how they listens to Green Day and Dave Matthews and Wayne’s World was the funniest movie. I love that connecting to the Internet required them to dial up, and how they had to disconnect when someone needs to use the phone — those were the days! I had to take a while to get adjusted to the time frame (in 1996, I was in 4th grade!), but once I did, it was easy to read. The 90’s is the time of my generation, so going back in time is a fun trip indeed.

Josh and Emma are pretty good characters too. I assume that Josh was written by Jay Asher and Emma was written by Carolyn Mackler? Their voices were pretty distinct, and I thought Josh was kind of adorable, if not a little trying hard. Emma was a bit harder to get into as she seemed like a very popular girl, but I liked how her character grows as the story progressed, especially when she said this:

I’ve always protected myself when it comes to love. And maybe that’s the problem. By not letting myself get hurt now, it ripples into much bigger pain later.

The Future of Us is a creative, yet somehow straightforward way of showing how even our smallest actions could ripple into the future. It’s creative, because it showed a bit of the “time machine” aspect, but again, straightforward because you pretty much get it early on in the story that Josh and Emma can do things to change their future and see it immediately on Facebook. That actually leaves little room for imagination, except maybe with wondering what could possibly happen if Emma decides to spill water on her carpet. That being said, however, I think the story still gives a pretty valuable lesson on how our actions now would affect not only our future but everyone else around us, and how we should live our real lives instead of living it online. The ending, although kind of expected, was very sweet and I found myself with a silly smile at one of the tender moments there. :)

This is a sweet and creative book that would surely tickle the fancy of contemporary fans and those from my generation. :) The Future of Us comes out on November 21.

Rating: [rating=3]

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Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Forbidden by Ted Dekker by Tosca Lee
The Books of Mortals # 1
Publisher: Center Street
Number of pages:  384
My copy: ebook, review copy from Netgalley

A terrible truth has been revealed to one man: the entire human race has been drained of every emotion except one– fear. To bring life back to the world, Rom must embark on a journey that will end either in his own demise or a reawkening of humanity.  But to bring love and passion back into existence will also threaten the powers of the world with the revolution and anarchy that had nearly destroyed them previously.

After happening upon a journal through strange circumstance,  Rom’s world is shattered. He learns that humanity long ago ceased to “live,” that it exists today in a living death of emotions. In a terrible risk, Rom exposes himself to the vial of blood folded into the old leather of the journal. His change is fearful and fraught with mind-bending emotion. A once-pious observer of the Order’s passionless statues, he is filled with uncontrollable impulses. He is filled with love.

He is undone, terrified, and alone in the desolate world.

My supply of Christian fiction has sort of run low ever since I started reading more YA books, so new books from my favorite Christian authors are always exciting and squee-worthy. One of the dream team-ups I had ever since last year when the news went out was Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, and I have waited with anticipation over this book, Forbidden. Imagine my excitement when I saw that the book was available in Netgalley.

In the year 2005, geneticists discovered that there is a certain gene in our DNA that controlled the emotion of fear, further leading to the discovery of other genes that control other kinds of emotions. After a war that devastated the world, humanity vowed to destroy everything that led to that war, particularly the emotions that come with it — love, joy, passion, anger, hatred, sorrow. Out of all emotions, only fear was allowed to survive. And because of this, peace reigned.

480 years later, we meet Rom Sebastian, a simple, ordinary man who sings songs for the dead. On his way home from a funeral, he meets an old man who tells him of an Order called Keepers and leaves a vial of blood wrapped in a vellum with strange symbols. Citadel Guards caught up with them and to Rom’s horror, they killed the man. Soon Rom is on the run from the guards with his childhood friend Avra, confused and scared to why they were running away. When he decides to drink some of the blood in the vial he carried, long-forgotten emotion surface within him together with the fear that he has been so used to feeling: sorrow. Anger. Passion. And most of all, love.

Early into the first pages of Forbidden, I couldn’t help but compare this book with Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Both books have the same premise and almost the same environment. But where Delirium lacks, Forbidden totally makes up. The world building in this book is solid, so real, and contains the signature Dekker that I have known and loved. I found that the world building here makes the idea of a world operated by fear because of genetic means more plausible as compared to that where “love is illegal and I’d have to cut a vague area under your ear to get that love out”. This book had touches of Dekker’s Circle series, with the countries and royalties and guards and the people. The composition of the world contains both ancient and modern elements that somehow mesh together really well — from advanced alchemy to the hierarchy order of the Brahmin. This somehow gives the readers a clue that while it is set in the future, it doesn’t mean that it is actually advanced. Maybe the truth is, the world is going backwards because of the fear that the people were kept in.

Add to the world building, we have the fleshed out characters, which I think is Tosca Lee’s expertise. I liked how different and conflicted the characters were — Rom with his good heart, Avra’s loyalty, Neah’s hesitation, Triphon’s bravery. Feyn’s wisdom, Sarric’s greed, Jonathan’s innocence. These all seem like typical character traits, and I have to admit that some of the characters’ actions were predictable, but I think they were able to give life to them. People may be a bit turned off with the jubilant exaltation of emotions that some characters did in the book, but I thought it was forgivable as they’ve never experienced emotion like that before. Taking the reactions of the characters in this context, it wouldn’t seem exaggerated but just right. These characters were also involved in the right amount of action that it made me cringe and be surprised a couple of times. There was a particular part in the book that got me shaking my fist, but knowing I was in the hands of good writers, I know well enough to trust them.

Forbidden is very, very good. So what’s keeping me from giving it five stars? Well, it may be just me, but I cannot shake off the similarity of this with the Circle series. Also, this book feels just a tad like a prequel rather than the real first book. While there is action, I felt the climax and the ending was just a little anticlimactic. Perhaps I was expecting more…erm, bloodshed there? Not that there wasn’t enough bloodshed earlier, but I just thought there would be more there. However, that may be just because Dekker and Lee are preparing us for the next book in the trilogy. And the ending really did leave a lot of loose ends that I’m sure will be picked up and played with in the next book.

The Keeper by Ted Dekker and Tosca LeeIf you’re still not sure if you want to splurge on this, the authors have released a short story prequel to Forbidden, entitled The Keeper, available for free as an ebook. In this short story, a man named Talus meets two hermit monk brothers who he chooses to share the terrible secret that he has been carrying, to recruit them in helping protect the knowledge that will save humanity. This short story is a very quick read, and if you’ve read Forbidden before reading this, there’s really nothing much to surprise you here. However, I think that it gives those who have yet to read the first Book of Mortals a chance to taste Dekker’s world building and Lee’s characters. I have a feeling that reading The Keeper will make you want to know more about what this secret is and if Talus ever succeeded with his mission. Also, if you have read the Circle series (Black, Red, White, Green), you will spot a very familiar name in this short story that will probably make you say, “I knew it!” Then the story of Forbidden suddenly makes more sense.

I will finish this review with a quote from the book that pretty much sums up the message of this book:

This is the mystery of it. Life is lived on the ragged edge of the cliff. Fall off and you might die, but run from it and you are already dead!

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee is now out in paperback and hardbound in all stores. In the Philippines, I saw some trade paperback copies of it in Fully Booked. Must. Get. Finished. Copy!
Forbidden – [rating=4]
The Keeper – [rating=5]

My copy:
Forbidden – e-ARC from Netgalley
The Keeper –
ebook from Amazon Kindle store

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There You’ll Find Me

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. JonesThere You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Number of pages: 320
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

In a small cottage house in rural Ireland, Finley discovers she can no longer outrun the past.

When Finley travels to Ireland as a foreign exchange student, she hopes to create a new identity and get some answers from the God who took her brother away and seems to have left her high and dry.

But from the moment she boards the plane and sits by Beckett Rush, teen star of the hottest vampire flicks, nothing goes according to Finley’s plan.

When she gets too close to Beckett, a classmate goes on a mission to make sure Finley packs her bags, departs Ireland-and leaves Beckett alone.

Finley feels the pressure all around. As things start to fall apart, she begins to rely on a not-so-healthy method of taking control of her life.

Finley tries to balance it all-disasters on the set of Beckett’s new movie, the demands of school, and her growing romance with one actor who is not what he seems. Yet Finley is also not who she portrays to Beckett and her friends.

For the first time in her life, Finley must get honest with herself to get right with God.

* * *

When I was younger, I used to write stories about a group of friends who lived in Ireland. It was just a random country I picked out in the world atlas, and I thought I liked the sound of Ireland as a setting. Of course, I really knew nothing of the country then, and it wasn’t until later on that I read and watched some stuff about Ireland on TV that I realized none of what I wrote was even the least bit realistic. But my recent trip to Europe got me to meet a YFC mission volunteer from Ireland, and meeting him reminded me of those days when I’d write those stories.

That’s what made me pick up There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones from my trip readings. Here we meet Finley Sinclair, Save the Date‘s Alex Sinclair’s younger sister. After they had confirmed that Will, Finley’s other brother, had died in an terrorist attack in a mission trip, she was devastated. Her life spun out of control as she tried to cope with her loss. After a year of therapy, she proved herself stable enough to go on an exchange student program to Abbeyglen, Ireland, one of the places that Will had gone to. Finley hopes to find herself and get answers from God who had seemed distant from her ever since she lost Will. But a movie star, the school’s queen bee, a cranky and sick old lady puts a wrench on Finley’s plans. As the pressure all around her builds, Finley starts dealing with things in the only way she knows how, even if it meant harming herself in the process. Can Finley find a way to get it right with God?

I liked Jenny B. Jones’ other novel, Save the Date, a lot, so I was thrilled to find out that There You’ll Find Me was a spin-off novel to that. I always like seeing how other characters I liked from a previous novel were doing in another novel that is not a sequel. There You’ll Find Me is more YA this time around. Finley is such a strong-minded character, sometimes a bit stubborn, but we can also see that she has a big heart, especially with her friendship with her host sister, Erin and her concern for Cathleen Sweeney, the old woman she was assigned to visit for class. I liked Finley’s voice, and I could definitely feel and relate with her need to control things. I liked that she wasn’t portrayed as too depressed or too angry — just very lost. And it made me want to wrap her up in a big, big hug, and tell her that God has not forgotten her.

St. Ciaran’s Monastery — I think this was one of the places Finley and Beckett visited. Image from saintsandstones.net

And speaking of God. The spiritual aspect of this book is not preachy, and I think Jenny B. Jones excels at that. Well, compared to Save the Date, there were more mentions of God, but Finley was in a spiritual journey, so what do you expect? I liked the Finley’s power verse, too, and I admit to shedding some tears at the moment when Finley found what she was looking for. The actual Irish journey was a treat to read, too, and I wished I was actually in Ireland to see the things that Finley was seeing. I wanted to spend a night at a pub enjoying good food, music and company. I want to look at the Celtic crosses that Finley was also looking for. Ireland sounds like a beautiful, beautiful place from the way it was described, and I have already written that place in my bucket list after I was done reading this. :D

There just seemed to be a little too many issues that Finley was trying to get over with in the book: grief, control issues, school stuff, Cathleen Sweeney, a possible eating disorder. Add romance to that and I’m surprised that Finley took that long before she had a melt down. I assume that it portrays real life, but it was just kind of hard to follow and it made the resolutions a little too quickly wrapped up.

And speaking of the romance. Unfortunately, I don’t think there wasn’t anything exciting about the romance, even if it was kind of sweet. I hope I’m not being cynical. I liked Beckett and I thought he was a nice guy, but I felt that the movie star + normal girl pairing has been done a few too many times. Plus points, though, on the development of their friendship to romance, which was fun to read.

There You’ll Find Me is a good follow up from Jenny B. Jones. A little bit paler in comparison to Save the Date, but nonetheless a good one. If you’re looking for a clean contemporary novel that will tickle your romantic and traveling fancies, then I think you’ll like this one. :)

Rating: [rating=3]

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