Tag Archives: boarding school

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

10 Oct

Series: Hex Hall, book #1

Published: March 2nd 2010 by Hyperion Book CH

Details: Hardcover, 323 pages

My Rating:  3.5/5

My Summary:

Light and fun read about Sophie, who after casting a particulary bad spell gets sent to Hex Hall, where she learns one or two things about the magical world and about herself. This is a Harry Potter for girls, with a distinct teen-age feel to it. As a 30+ year old, I found it slightly too immature. Yet because of the witty voice of Sophie, and a good pace, it’s still an entertaining read. Sequel is called Demonglass.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Synopsis:

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father–an elusive European warlock–only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My Thoughts:

I remember saying in my review of A Great and Terrible Beauty that it was described as a Harry Potter for girls.

Well, scratch that. This is the Harry Potter for girls!

Let’s see:

  1. The main character Sophie is sent off to a boarding school for magical folk.
  2. Said school is essentially a pale version of Hogwarts, with ghosts floating around, furniture that change shapes, spooky bathrooms and classes featuring subjects such as The History of Warlocks and Transformation.
  3. Like Harry, Sophie was brought up in the human world, hence is a complete novice when it comes to all things magical.
  4. Like Harry, Sophie is famous in the magical world, given her family status, and I won’t say anymore here due to spoilers.
  5. Like Harry, Sophie is special and has a dark streak to her witch craft, which makes her not only a prime target for evil forces, but also has her doubting her own goodness.
  6. Like Harry, Sophie has a tendancy to get herself into trouble, with pretty much everyone at school, earning her several punishments and detentions.
  7. Like Harry, Sophie find herself an archenemy pretty much straight away.
  8. Like in the Harry Potter books, the plot revolves around students getting attacked at school by a mysterious evil force.

Well, isn’t it obvious where Hawkins got her ideas from? I really felt as if I was reading a girl-version of Harry Potter.

A very light version though, which lacked the depth that made Harry Potter such an engrossing read. You see, the theme dealt with here (as in Harry Potter) is quite dark. A character actually dies in this book. Still, because of the light tone of the book, this event never affected me. I didn’t feel the tragedy that the loss of that character was.

Compare that to my reaction to the fourth Harry Potter book where at the end of the book, a character died. I remembering being shocked, as a heaviness settled on me. I just couldn’t believe it had happened. And I certainly felt the grief of Harry and everyone around him.

Hex Hall could have been all that, but instead settled on being just a light, fun and easy read. Something which I liked, but didn’t devour.

Being a girl-version of Harry Potter, the romantic lead is also obvious, pretty much from the start. The romance (or crush as I prefer to call it)  was cute, but that’s about it. Sophie was a well-rounded character and a fun voice to follow. Archer however, felt a bit too one-dimensional for me. He was hot. He was mysterious. He was every girl’s crush. But then what? I would have liked to know more about him. The ending however promises more, and I have to admit I am curious to see how it develops.

Finally, I should warn the adult readers, that the book has a teen-age feel to it, and at times I felt too old (and rightly so, since I am much older than the target audience). I appreciate that Sophie’s voice felt so close to her age, not one year more or less than her 16 years. So kudos to Hawkins for portraying a teen that realistically. However, for an adult reader, it came across as a bit too immature at times.

In fact, I believe the extent of enjoyment of Hex Hall depends on the reader’s age. Say if you’re a teen or early tween, it will most likely rate 4-5 stars. If you, like me, are 30+, the grade is more likely to end up around a 3.

The sequel is called Demonglass.

Advertisements

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

5 Jul

Series: No, stand-alone

Published: December 2nd 2010 by Dutton

Details: Hardcover, 372 pages

My Rating: 5/5

My Summary:

Anna is sent to boarding school in Paris, befriends a group of people, among them the hottie St.Clair. Now, on the paper it sounds fairly ordinary. But don’t let that fool you. This is an AMAZING book!! So real, it felt like I was there with Anna, walking the street in Paris and falling in love. Simply put, A MUST READ!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few chapters in:

This is a book that created quite a stir when it hit the shelves in December last year. I remember reading a flow of rave reviews. It’s contemparary fiction, which means no paranormal creatures in sight. More chic-lit than paranormal romance.

In other words, not my usual cup of tea, but as you know if you’ve followed my blog, from time to time I like to read a contemporary novel, in particularly if they have received amazing reviews. Because paranormal stuff or not, if it has a great love story, I want to read it.

My hopes with this one is that it’ll be as wonderful as Perfect Chemistry, which took my breath away. Let’s see if it’s up for the challenge.

Oh, and not to forget, this book surfaced as the next book to read on my “what to read next poll”. Thanks again to all who voted!

I’m now a few chapters in:

Anna’s parents, or rather her hot-shot dad, has enrolled her into a boarding school in Paris for her senior year. She’s not too happy about this, because she never had a say in his decision and she’s also scared since it’s her first time living away from everything she knows.

Well, she barely has time to unpack until a friendly face pops into her room to welcome her in. Meredith, her next-door neighbour is an arty girl who’s been in Paris for a few years already. She introduces Anna to her group of friends who include the couple Rash and Josh and the hottie Etienne St. Clair.

Anna immediately takes an interest in St. Clair, but soon learns that not only does he have a long-term girlfriend, but Meredith also has a crush on him. In other words, he is strictly off-limits.

And this is as far as I’ve got, but I’m guessing Anna and St. Clair will find a way to get together anyway. Let’s see how it goes!
 
 
 

 
 
 
After finishing the book:

I remember my book depression after reading Divergent a couple of weeks ago. I was depressed because I thought it would be some time before I read anything equally amazing.

Well, I think Anna and the French Kiss just cured that depression, because WOW what a deliciously wonderful little book.

It completely swept me away. I read it in one sitting, then went right back and started reading it again! It’s been a couple of days now since I finished it (for the second time), and I’m still thinking about it. So much that I find it hard to get into anything new.

Just WOW.

It’s hard to believe now that I was bit wary at first when I started reading it. Reviews were great of course, but it just looked so ordinary on the paper (girl goes to Paris, meets boy and falls in love), that I suspected it to be just another chic-lit. Even a couple of pages in, I was still not convinced. Anna meets St.Clair pretty much on that first day in Paris and it’s obvious that he is the one she’ll fall for. I was wondering what could possibly happen to keep me interested throughout all of the 300 or so pages?

Well, at chapter 2, I had my last coherent thought. After that, I lost it and got completely swept away as Perkins took me on a ride that felt so REAL that I could have sworn I was there wandering the streets together with Anna and St.Clair in Paris.

Real. That’s the secret right there. It felt so real!

Firstly, the story is described in such a way that you are with Anna on every step of the way, every emotion, every conversation is detailed so that you’re literally there in the same room as her, all the time. The characters are all wonderfully flawed and so spot on described that I saw them all in front of me. Not only Anna and St.Clair but also the others in their group and some of her their class mates.

Secondly, the vividly described setting of Paris. I’ve lived in Paris, and visited it many times after. And I can assure you that Perkins describes a Paris that is real. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s lived in Paris too. What I loved the most is that she doesn’t glorify it, the way a tourist may do, but describes it with all its peculiarities as well, which had me laughing out loud a couple of times. Don’t despair though if you haven’t visited Paris. Just be prepared that you will most likely want to catch a plane to Paris in the immediate hours after having finished the book.

Lastly, the relationship between Anna and St.Clair. I can’t begin to describe how much I loved the two of them. How they were there for each other. Their obvious chemistry. They end up going through quite a few ups and downs throughout the book, but it all felt so real and believable. Not like something that was created by the author to prolong the story. Rather it felt like what happened to them could have been a real story, you know? In fact, I’m still surprised they don’t exist in real life. It sure feels that way.

I don’t want to give too much away, but let me assure you that you will experience every single emotion that Anna feels during her year in Paris. And that you will fall hopelessly in love, as much as Anna, with St.Clair.

In fact, I got the same feelings as I did when I read Twilight for the first time. You know, the heart flutters, the feeling of actually being there with them, and the whole emotional turmoil of falling in love.

I cannot recommend this book enough! Please. just. read. it.

Note: Anna and the French Kiss is Stephanie Perkins debut novel. Her second book Lola and the Boy Next Door is to be published this year in Sep. I am counting the days!

Review: Evernight by Claudia Gray

21 Jun

Series: Evernight, book #1

Published: February 10th 2009 by HarperTeen

Details: Paperback, 327 pages

My Rating: 1/5

My Summary:

About Bianca who reluctantly enters the eery boarding school Evernight, meets Lucas and falls in love. Half way through, an important secret is revealed about the school. Shallow characters, contrived dialogues, fuzzily explained world-building, a romance that is more telling than showing. I could not even get through the book. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few chapters in:

There are two books out there that appear on literally every “what to read after twilight” list, and which I haven’t read. Evermore by Alison Noel and Evernight by Claudia Gray.

Ever since I started this blog, I have been debating with myself whether to read them or not, more out of curiosity than anything else, because lets’ face it. The reviews haven’t been all that great.

Then just recently, two things happened around the same time.

1) I stumbled upon a raving review of Evernight.

2) I realized that I might have mixed up the two books.

You see, I decided quite early on that Evermore didn’t seem like a book I wanted to read in the near future (judging by the reviews), and so Evernight was put in the same box, not having done much else than having a similar title (stupid of me I know).

However, it suddenly dawned on me that I might have just misjudged Evernight. That maybe, just maybe it was a good book and I had missed something?

Enough said. I started reading it and I’m now a few chapters in.

The story takes place at the boarding school Evernight. 16-year old Bianca has just moved there together with her parents who are teachers at the school. She is not very happy about having switched her nice and comfortable hometown to this eery and goth boarding school where she knows no one but her parents.

We enter the story when she is about to run away from the school. On her way through the woods, she realizes she is being followed by a young man. Terrified, she sprints through the underbrush and so does he, until he manages to overtake her. Only, we soon learn that he wasn’t actually chasing her, just trying to protect her. He thought she was running from someone else in the woods, and so decided that throwing himself over her was a good idea to stop the attacker. Say what??

But yes, you heard it right. And this is how we are introduced to Lucas, Bianca’s love interest.

You know, I really wanted to give this book a chance, but that first scene literally had me rolling my eyes. Can’t be a good sign. Still, I’m carrying on..

Unfortunately though, it doesn’t get much better. Bianca is shy and introvert, yet despite this fact seems to be making quite a lot of friends here and there, including within the “in crowd”. There is the love triangle, which I don’t mind as long as it is believable, see Nightshade. Here, not so much.

We get that the other guy Balthazar, also the most popular and handsome guy in school, has taken an interest in Bianca. Yet we are never treated to any conversation between the two of them apart from the occasional phrase here and there. Consequently, I’m having problems grasping who Balthazar is and why he is so into Bianca. All I know is that Balthazar is incredibly friendly towards everyone, good-looking and well, just all around perfect.

Lucas on the other hand is moody, behaves weirdly, frequently starts fights with everyone, is hot and cold towards Bianca and what not else. Yet he is of course who Bianca wants.

Why am I even continuing this book, you might ask?

Well, I was just about to dismiss it, when something unexpected happened about midway through, and this has sparked a bit of interest. I’ve decided to keep going a bit more.
 
 

 
 
After finishing the book:

As you can see from above, I  wasn’t very impressed with the first half of the book, but I kept reading anyway. I’m not gonna lie, it was a struggle, but I am stubborn about finishing my books. I nearly gave up halfway through, but then something happened that surprised me, and I decided to continue a little bit further. What if it did get better?

Well no, it didn’t.

I fell about 80 pages from the finishing line. Or rather, I threw in the towel. I was already skimming large chunks of the pages to get to the end as fast as possible. And when that happens, there is really no point in continuing. There are far too many good books out there for me to waste my time on something that I could have written better myself.

Because seriously. That’s how I feel about this book. It’s really not good. At all.

Geez, where do I even start?

The whole book was all telling and no showing. We are only told how Bianca and Lucas feel about each other, and so I never felt any sparks whatsoever reading about these two. Bianca kept saying that Lucas was the only person she could truly be herself with, yet judging from her conversations with other characters, she seemed just as comfortable with them as with Lucas.

Speaking of the other characters, they were all cut-out card board shallow. Let’s for instance look at Lucas’s room-mate Vic. He is this surfer dude who is always in a happy mood, only there to move the plot along at times when Lucas and Bianca needed someone to chip in with dialogue or help. But who is he really? What motivates him?

And that goes for the rest of them. I had absolutely no idea of who the other characters were,  except for the one characteristic each that they were given i.e.  Balthazar is friendly, Patrice is shallow and Raquel is scared.

The writing was so poor that it threw me out of the story a number of times. I felt as if I were reading the script of a soap opera series, that’s how juvenile and stiff it was.

Then there was that surprise element that was thrown at us readers in the middle of the book, which I admit, at first sparked my interest only because I felt so dumbfounded. After the initial surprise had worn off though, irritation quickly followed.

Why?

Well, beware of spoilers:

For the whole first half of the book we are treated to Bianca’s insecurities and feelings of not belonging, and how eery she thinks the boarding school is. Then half way through, we find out that the reason why the school may seem a bit strange is because it is run by vampires. In fact, most of the students and teachers at Evernight are vampires, including Bianca!

We learn that (despite the first-person narrative), Bianca has known this all time along (while we readers had no clue). She was born a vampire, her parents are vampires, and she drinks blood every morning for breakfast. Yet, this little fact was deliberately not mentioned, so that it would come as a surprise to us readers later on. Once the surprise was out, vampire-related stuff was mentioned in just about every other sentence of the book.

I’m sorry folks, but that is just bad story telling. As I reader I felt cheated.

Moreover, I felt like I was reading about two different Biancas. In the first half she was a scared and shy girl, and in the second half she had suddenly become this self-assured strong vampire (or half vampire – whatever). The point is, I lost any concept I had of who Bianca was. Not the best character development if you ask me.

I could go on ranting (and believe me, there are things to rant about) but I think I’ve made my point clear. There are several books out in the series, Stargazer being the sequel. Needless to say, I won’t continue the series.

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

13 Oct

Series: Gemma Doyle, book #1

Published: July 4th 2005 by Simon & Schuster Childrens Books

Details: Hardcover, 403 pages

My Rating: 2/5

My Summary:

About Gemma, who after her mothers death is sent to a boarding school in Victorian England, where she befriends a group of girls with whom she starts a secret club and uses forbidden magic to enter a magical world. For me it lacked in characterization, none of the characters were likable, and so I didn’t care about the book. Possibly ok for teens.

A few chapters in:

Harry Potter for girls. That’s how some people have described this book. I have also heard it’s very young adult – as in – you may need to actually be in your teens to appreciate this book. In short, I’ve heard a lot of various opinions of this series, some less flattering than others. But seeing as it’s recommended by a huge amount of people, and seeming similar to Harry Potter (which I loved), I thought I might as well check it out.

I am now 100 pages in, and I’m stricken by how similar this is to Immortal (note that Libba Bray published a few years previous to Immortal). We have a grief-stricken girl, arriving at a haunting, old private school, not getting the warmest welcome. The click of popular girls treat her badly, and her only friend so far is her room-mate who is a plain and ordinary girl, also poor and an outcast as she was sent there on a scholarship. There is a necklace, passed on from the dead (or sick) family member, which seems to hold secrets in regards to the heroine’s hidden powers. There is also a diary, written by someone else entirely, who experienced the same confusing powers as the heroine, but years previously. Oh, and there are visions as well, and strange dreams. And not to forget, a dark mysterious boy who lingers in the area, watching our heroine, but with unknown intentions.

Did I miss anything? That’s as far as I’ve got, but the premise really does share some striking similarities with Immortal, just saying.

Am I liking it so far? Sort of. I’m not completely captured, possibly because it got me bored reading the same story yet again. I also understand reviewers saying it’s aimed towards young adult only. It feels as if I may be too old for the target audience here. That being said, it’s well written, and I have a feeling it might get better. Let’s see what happens..

After finishing the book:

So what can I say? I wasn’t captured in the beginning and I’m sorry to say it stayed that way throughout the novel.

As I said earlier, Gemma the protagonist is sent to a boarding school in England after her mother’s death. There, she befriends three other girls and they form a secret club, first as a joke but as Gemma’s powers are revealed, it grows into something far more serious and eventually spirals out of control.

So why did it not capture me? I have one word for that: characterization. I didn’t care one bit for Gemma or neither one her three friends. They were immature, stupid and irresponsible, all of which I could have forgiven them in the beginning seeing as they were only teenagers. But there is no growth! Gemma keeps trusting these girls, and I can’t for one understand why, seeing as how they behave in various situations in the book (torturing an animal and having their best teacher at school fired among other things). Gemma might be a nice girl but she is too weak. She seems to know right from wrong, but keeps making stupid decisions anyway due to peer pressure (basically whenever the other girls whine).

It’s hard to care about the book when you are not invested into neither one of the main characters. I’m all for rounded characters portraying both good and bad traits, but these girls seemed to portray flaws exclusively. I would have loved for these four girls to eventually bond and care  for each other as in a true friendship. That never realized though as they were all too absorbed into their own personal goals to truly care about one another.

There is also a weird sort of romance in the book, made up almost entirely by sensual dreams. I’m not sure of why Gemma starts dreaming about Kartrik, seeing as they don’t share one single good moment together. He’s basically threatening her or being plain rude every time they meet. There is also not much of an explanation to why Kartrik made the effort to follow Gemma from India, and incorporate himself into a Gipsy community in her proximity, just to be able to watch her and advise her not to do magic. It seemed a bit too far-fetched to me, but sure, maybe there are explanations in the following two books, what do I know?

The ending fell flat as well. I don’t even think I fully comprehended it. Why was the villain suddenly defeated? What happened? There was a lot of rushing and swivelling and then suddenly Gemma got away. Or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, because to be honest, at that point I had all but given up on the book.

The Bottom Line:

All this being said, and to Bray’s defence, I may be too old for the target audience. Or rather, I know for a fact that I am. If I had read this book at say, the age of 14, chances are I would have loved it. But as it was now, at the age of 32, this book did not deliver. I won’t continue the series.

Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields

4 Oct

Series: Immortal, book #1

Published: August 4th 2009 by HarperTeen

Details: Hardcover, 368 pages

My rating: 1/5

My summary:

Don’t waste your time. It had a good premise about a girl who is sent to strange and haunting private school Wyldcliffe and meets mysterious boy. But the writing is poor, the characters one-dimensional and the plot predictable and full of holes. I never got into the story, and couldn’t care less what happened, not even towards the end. Possibly ok for teens under 15.

Synopsis:

Wyldcliffe Abbey School for Young Ladies, housed in a Gothic mansion on the bleak northern moors, is elite, expensive, and unwelcoming. When Evie Johnson is torn away from her home by the sea to become the newest scholarship student, she is more isolated than she could have dreamed. Strict teachers, snobbish students, and the oppressive atmosphere of Wyldcliffe leave Evie drowning in loneliness.

Evie’s only lifeline is Sebastian, a rebellious, mocking, dangerously attractive young man she meets by chance. As Evie’s feelings for Sebastian grow with each secret meeting, she starts to fear that he is hiding something about his past. And she is haunted by glimpses of a strange, ghostly girl—a girl who is so eerily like Evie, she could be a sister. Evie is slowly drawn into a tangled web of past and present that she cannot control. And as the extraordinary, elemental forces of Wyldcliffe rise up like the mighty sea, Evie is faced with an astounding truth about Sebastian, and her own incredible fate.

Gillian Shields’s electrifying tale will dazzle readers with suspense, mysticism, and romance.

My thoughts:

I feel terrible for what I am about to say, but there’s no way around it. I did not like this book.

I actually had a bad feeling about this one only one or two chapters in. It starts with the heroine Evie arriving to Wyldcliffe boarding school, and in the first two chapters her background information  is thrown in, meaning all the events leading up to her being sent there are explained in between the lines. Usually that type of info is weaved into the story so that I hardly even notice it’s there. Here it was done in such a clunky way that it felt as if lights went on blinking – background info coming!! – every time anything was added, detaching me from the story because of the sheer clunkiness of it.

But I kept reading..don’t ask me why but I did.

About the plot. Well, it  has been done before. Girl arrives at a boarding school after the loss (or sickness) of a family member, only to find out that things are not what they seem at said school. She meets a handsome boy with a dark mysterious past. Somehow all the secrets (of the school and the boy) are linked to her past, and most likely also linked to the dead (or sick) family member.

Even though the plot is a far cry from original it could have been saved with good characterization and writing. This is where it falls short. Now, firstly let me explain: I don’t have the best skills in determining the writing in a book. Usually it goes something like this: “Wow this is something I know I could never achieve myself = great writing” or “Hmm this is something I could have written myself = pretty bad writing”.

This book however (and take into account folks that I am not a writer nor an English native speaker), I could have written better had I tried it myself. It was that bad!! Some phrases had me literally cringing. Not once did I feel it transported me into the story, rather, the writing made me detach from the story as I couldn’t help but notice how awkwardly some sentences were put together.

On top of this, the characters were one-dimensional cut-out from cardboard, with one personality trait each, if even that. I had no interest whatsoever in Evie, the heroine as she had no personality. Her so-called epic romance with the mysterious Sebastian could not hold my attention either. Their romance was all telling and no showing. They were supposedly so in love, yet I didn’t feel it anywhere, not even the slightest.

Also, it didn’t help that I knew where the story was heading as early as a third into the book – no surprises there. Needless to say, I had a hard time finishing this book. In fact, I didn’t. I quit with only a few chapters left. That, if anything, is saying something about how badly executed it was.

If you want to read a similar book, but better accomplished in terms of writing, read “A Great and Terrible Beauty” by Libba Bray. But whatever you do, don’t waste your time on this one. There are so many much better books out there.