Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

Well, I thought this was wonderful.

What is Cruel Beauty?

– It’s a gorgeously written blend of Beauty and the Beast retelling and Greek mythology.
– It’s at once a powerful, wonderful, heart-breaking love story and so so much more than that.
– It’s a dark tale that stabs you in the heart at every turn and constantly throws all new levels of craziness into the mix.
– And it’s the latest addition to my favourite YA of all time shelf.

Cruel Beauty shouldn’t work. But somehow it does. It managed to have me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. It shocked me. It creeped me out. I laughed. I cried. I’m still not sure I understand the ending but I am sure that it doesn’t really matter. In short, I loved it. It was one of those rare books that literally glued my eyes to the page, had me devouring each sentence in a mad need to find out what the hell was going on and what would happen. It was a bizarrely beautiful little addiction and I only hope this signifies the start of a great year for young adult (after the last was so disappointing).

So… Nyx. The best books are held aloft by a great protagonist and Cruel Beauty is no exception. Nyx is exactly the kind of character I love. She’s strong-willed, witty and brave. She’s also angry, bitter and ferocious. She’s lived her whole life being prepared as a weapon; and as a sacrifice. Her father made a deal with the Gentle Lord – the evil ruler of their kingdom – before Nyx and her twin sister were born. Their mother had been unable to conceive a child, so their father foolishly asked that the Lord grant them children and promised one of his daughters to the Lord in exchange. But he also lost his wife to childbirth in the bargain. The Gentle Lord’s habit of cashing in double on his deals is well-known. Nyx, as the child her father loved less, has long-known her destiny to be the wife of the Gentle Lord. When the times comes, she goes with determination, fear and anger. She does not play by the Lord’s rules. She is defiant. She tests his patience. I liked her instantly.

Then there is Ignifex, of course. The Lord that has terrorized their kingdom for centuries. The one who carries the blood of countless innocents on his hands. But, unsurprisingly, things are never quite that simple. What I liked best about Ignifex was his wicked sense of humour. There’s nothing quite like a villain who is constantly witty and hilarious. The complex layers of each character in this book just blew my mind, no one is ever simple or cliche. The heroine does plenty of bad things and the evil villain… well, be careful you don’t fall in love.

Cruel Beauty was just so unexpected. I thought I knew exactly what it was as soon as I glimpsed the cover, title and GR description. I thought I understood perfectly and I thought I’d probably read countless versions of the same book. How wrong I was. This is honestly quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I liked how everything about the book, the setting, the story and the characters was a bit like one of those Russian dolls. Something else within something else within something else. Then there’s that whole haunting bittersweet tone that permeates this entire novel. I swear Ms Hodge has perfected the art of raising goosebumps with a perfectly-spun twist on an old Greek myth. And it just got better and better.

I think this review is more of an incoherent mess of feelings, so I’ll stop now before the drooling starts. What I want to know is this: when is the author releasing another book?


The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer (The Falconer, #1)The Falconer by Elizabeth May
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

2.5
Goodreads members have differing opinions on what kind of rating is the hardest to write a review for. Some say it’s the ones they didn’t like – perhaps trying to keep a balance between their own subjective dislikes and the overall general standard of the book; some say it’s the all time favourites – how can you put that kind of book love into words? For others, myself included, it’s those annoying books that sit right in the middle. Those books that are okay. Fine. Overwhelmingly average. When they’re neither bad nor good, what do I say? For me, The Falconer is one of those books. I feel like I’ve read this book about fifty times before (okay, five or six but shh…) and I feel like I’ve written this very same review that many times as well.

If you’re new to fantasy, if you’re new to faeries in fantasy, there’s no real reason for you not to like this novel set in an alternative Edinburgh in the year 1844. It’s a little tame for my liking, occasionally almost edging towards the middle grade end of the age range, but I’m sure newcomers to the genre will find it more entertaining. But all I can see are the same recycled features: a female warrior protagonist who’s out for vengeance, an awkwardly forced romance, another love triangle, and a cliffhanger worthy of Moning’s Fever series. In fact, this book feels like an amalgamation of several I’ve read before. It’s like Shadow and Bone without the Darkling, Throne of Glass without the entertainment (or a fabulous sequel to make the first worth sitting through), and Darkfever without, like, everything I love about that series.

The writing is fairly good, though. With some more original material, I think I could find myself returning to see what the author writes in the future. I’ve just exhausted myself on this story line. But anyway. Here’s what’s happening in The Falconer: Lady Aileana Kameron is the daughter of the Marquess of Douglas in Scotland. She was blissfully enjoying upper class life and social events until a faery murdered her mother and she became a hunter. In secret, she slays faery after faery, hoping to one day come face to face with the faery who murdered her mother and quench the need for revenge that is burning inside her. On top of that, drama ensues when her father returns and demands she choose a husband. Other possible suitors aside, Aileana is torn between her fae ally – Kiaran – and her old crush – Gavin – who has recently returned to Edinburgh.

I will say that I’m glad the author included nasty, evil faeries. While there is obviously some faery romanticization with Kiaran, the faeries in this novel tend to be the vicious, blood-thirsty kind (perfect, in my opinion). But I think there is a lot of untapped potential in this story and a bit of tweaking could have made it a more original and engaging tale. For one thing, it actually took me a while to realise that this is supposed to be a steampunk novel, those elements of it were so subtle that I didn’t even notice them at first. I’m really enthusiastic about the new steampunk genre because it combines so many different things that I love, but I find myself being frequently disappointed by the lack of it in books that promise so much. Don’t be afraid to go all out, I say! I want machines! I want old times! I want that magical blend of science fiction and historical! …please?

Afterthought: I compared this book to many others and I remember noting to myself several times that it seemed loosely similar to the Fever series. But Khanh did a fantastic (and shocking) breakdown of the similarities between this and Faefever in her review. Wow. Enough said.


Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking NormalFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

Something is hiding in my childhood. Something Off.

This book literally scared me. I had foreseen Faking Normal having many possible effects on me but fear really wasn’t one of them. And the worst part? This book doesn’t have any monsters in the traditional sense. No demons or things that go bump in the night. Not even any serial killers or psychopaths. The scary things in this book are the memories that people forget over time. The kind of memories we push below the surface and force ourselves to hide away. What don’t we remember from our early childhoods? What horrors did our minds automatically repress to shelter us from dealing with reality? Why are we like we are – could there be an answer hidden deep inside us, a long-forgotten memory that haunts us subconsciously?

There are so many books about sexual abuse in its various ugly forms. I’ll be honest and say I imagined this book would be yet another poor version of Speak. The two do have many similarities: both are about teenage girls who feel unable to talk about their horrific experience. They both have a lot to deal with internally as well as externally and the ultimate theme of both is about gaining an understanding of why many victims feel unable to report what has happened. But, that being said, Alexi’s story felt fresh and unique. The author’s approach to the subject was different from Anderson’s and touched upon elements of child psychology as well. The two girls’ reasons for not reporting the crimes also differ.

Then there’s the other part of this story.

You know, if you’d asked me to draw my perfect guy as a kid, I would have drawn you a cliche. He would have been a stereotype: tall, white (or orange crayon most likely), dark hair, good-looking in a generic way. But we learn as we get older that fantasies don’t hold up in reality. We never want the person we thought we would and we never ever want the person who the world thinks we should. From the heavy metal-loving loner who I watched anime with in high school, to the only Pakistani guy who talked to me in English at the fast food place where I got my first job, to the nerdy guy with the glasses who gave me his copy of Crime and Punishment to read in college. The cliched fantasy is never what we want or need. The person we want in the end is the one we want for all the reasons you can’t draw on paper. And that’s what Alexi Littrell starts to realise in this story.

I do have criticisms and the book might have got five stars otherwise. There was some casual slut-shaming that annoyed me with the character of Maggie playing the role of the throwaway “slutty” girl who is the butt of many jokes. One thought of Alexi’s is: “it’s too cruel to tell Maggie her dating practices don’t lead to roses”, because she’s apparently been around a bit. She also deserves to be used and her feelings are not considered. This is a conversation that’s had when Heather’s boyfriend cheated with Maggie:

“Maggie. But she… why would he do that?”
I give her a look. “Maggie, Heather. She was there,” I say.

It was just such an unnecessary addition to an otherwise really good novel. One thing I will say and I think it’s important to note, I was a little confused about the use of the word “rape” in this novel for a large part of it, but my questions were answered in the end. For once I would say stick with it if you’re unsure. This is a very real spoiler, please do not click unless you’ve read the book: (view spoiler)

The term irritates me, but this novel is very much a coming-of-age tale. It’s about leaving fantasy behind and facing reality. Facing the truth. Facing your fears. And growing up. There are many mysteries to be solved in this book and each revelation is like leaving a little bit of childhood behind. It’s incredibly powerful. And sad. You should read it.


The Seers by Julianna Scott

The Seers (Holders, #2)The Seers by Julianna Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

After finishing this sequel to
The Holders
, I still maintain that this is a massively underrated series. It has a Harry Potter meets X-men vibe but will specifically appeal to teen girls/young women the most. The story itself is not entirely unfamiliar but Scott puts her own unique spin on paranormal boarding schools, superpowers and teen romance. It’s fast-paced, funny, a little creepy at times, but certainly always entertaining and addictive. For the first time in what feels like forever, I find myself wanting a YA paranormal series to never end.

Becca returns in full-force with her sarcastic humour making the narrative sparkle on each page. In short: I like her. But I need to say more than that too. She’s realistically flawed, brave without being ridiculously so, willing to fight for the ones she cares about and a perfect balance of heroine and insecure teenage girl. I have one main criticism of this series and that’s that no other female character is anywhere near as developed as she is. Chloe (Becca’s friend) is inoffensive but pales in comparison next to the depth of Becca’s personality – something that I hope will sort itself out in the next book. And the new character of Shannon is also entirely one-dimensional. I appreciate that the rules of the magic in this book make the main players male but I’d ideally like to see more from other female characters in future.

In this sequel, the story picks up not long after we left off. I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers for the first book as much as possible. The last book left us with one clue as to how Becca could defeat the power-crazy Darragh and save not only Holders but possibly the whole of humanity… Ciaran Shea. But how and if he will help still remains a mystery as Becca, Jocelyn, Alex and Cormac take a trip to Adare Manor and find themselves amid the bitchiness and pomposity of Holder aristocracy. However, Ciaran won’t be easy to find and Adare Manor appears to hold some dark secrets of its own – it seems that Becca and Jocelyn might not be the only ones interested in the information they seek. The main question becomes who to trust in this race for the truth.

Sound exciting? It is!

Though, perhaps what I love most about all of this is Alex. As far as YA paranormal love interests go, he easily has to be one of the best. I mean… he blushes. He’s sweet and considerate but doesn’t treat Becca like a baby. The two of them support one another and – apart from a couple of mild instances to keep the tension going – they are refreshingly free from drama. Plus, I like the maturity of their relationship and the way the sexual side is handled in this book. Scott doesn’t attempt to pretend teen hormones don’t exist and introduces that side of their relationship gradually but realistically. They’re easy to root for and easy to love because this book isn’t primarily about romance and its dramatics. Love is present constantly in the background, but there are more pressing issues to deal with and the author never loses sight of this.

The ending of this book is shocking and sad but leaves a little room for hope too. I honestly don’t know how certain issues are going to be resolved or if they even will be. Ms Scott is just a little bit evil – you never know what kind of hell she’ll be willing to put you through.

But I can’t wait to find out.


The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

The Waking DarkThe Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

I think it’s time to admit a sad truth: me and Robin Wasserman are simply not meant for one another. It’s tragic to have to acknowledge this when most of my GR friends seem to be in the middle of some epic love affair with her books. But I had my problems with The Book of Blood and Shadow – I tried my best to love it but felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall – and even this latest venture into the world of creepy horror and general mindfuckery couldn’t convince me to join the fan club. I don’t think it’ll be easy to explain why, because I do believe Wasserman is a strong writer on many levels… but I’ll do what I can.

Things always start good between us. I open the book and find myself immediately transported into the time and place where the story finds its setting. The author is a master of atmosphere – whether it be the dark, secretive streets of Prague or a creepy little American town that is evidently plagued by something more monstrous than we can even imagine. Her writing is solid and beautifully descriptive. Her characters are complex, driven by emotions that simultaneously scare us and earn our understanding. If you’re like me, then you begin a Wasserman novel believing it’s going to wind up on your all time favourites list. And then something starts to happen. I begin to notice it about a quarter of the way in and become sure of it by the time I’ve read a third of the book.

The descriptive style that was oh-so-lovely at the beginning becomes tiring. The in-depth exploration of the characters which you thought was really clever before starts to hurt your brain. “Plot!” I feel myself screaming “Where are you?” The writing style weighs down each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter and makes the story drag. The author spends SO MUCH time creating a setting and an atmosphere before the story starts to progress. She spends so much time building a complex portrait of the characters before any answers start to be given. And some of you will love this. I know some of you already do and, believe me, I can see why. But I like my stories as much as I like my characters and writing. There’s really only so long I can go without one. I personally prefer novels that integrate character development and atmosphere building with the main plotline, not those that set it all up at the beginning and only then proceed to tell a story.

I want to stress that my feelings towards books like this portrays my own personal dislike for novels that are told in a certain way. It’s affected my enjoyment of almost universally liked books such as The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. For that reason, you should probably disregard this review if you’re a fan of really creepy, small town horror stories. Wasserman owns the creepy in this story. I truly admire her for not easing up on the grit, gore and adult themes just because she’s writing for young adults – she’s not afraid to go there and, for me, that’s a big compliment to give to any author.


Champion by Marie Lu

Champion (Legend, #3)Champion by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

And… it’s over.

This series has come a long, long way from where it started and has managed to shatter boundaries and exceed expectations where, in my opinion, other series like Divergent and Blood Red Road have failed. It started out like almost every other piece of dystopian fiction released in 2011. Some random political facts thrown about, set in a future United States that was torn apart by war, oppressive government in power and, of course, a nice little side order of romance that could *almost* be described as instalove. I confess that the first installment didn’t impress me and it took some seriously positive reviews of the second book to make me try it. But I am so glad that I did.

This final book is brimming with action and suspense. The pacing doesn’t slow down for a second and it suits the high-stakes plot. The previous book left us with some shocking information about Day that will surely be at the forefront of most readers’ minds when picking up this conclusion – it doesn’t disappoint. It’s true that there were only a limited number of ways this could end but with Lu it doesn’t seem to matter because she has your mind constantly running through the options and wondering where she’ll take you next. The sense of constant uncertainty instilled in my brain throughout this book was terrifying and intoxicating. It’s been a while since I read a book so completely unputdownable.

I also really like the way Lu has developed her characters. For me, June and Day have come a long way and matured so much since book one. This kind of natural growth is realistic, important and perhaps one of the main reasons I enjoy reading young adult so much – watching the characters flourish, become wiser and deal with all the different pressures of life in this difficult period of growing up (doubly so when your country relies on you). Looking back, I have a certain respect for the author in the way she portrayed their initial meeting and the start of their relationship. What seemed like lazy writing, in hindsight, actually seems like Lu deliberately showed the difference in maturity between the relationships of hormonal teens and young adults who’ve experienced a bit of life. Day and June were far more likeable as a couple in this book than I’ve ever noticed before.

The last two or three chapters of this book literally had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t look away. It takes a skilled writer to have you questioning what will happen right up until the last page. And it takes an even more skilled writer to bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes I say books make me cry when I really mean they just get a sniffle and an “awww” out of me… because I’m a cold-hearted person. But this book made my eyes fill up at the end. An ending that I thought was perfectly ambiguous – full of both sadness and hope. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.


She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not InvisibleShe Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

I honestly think that Marcus Sedgwick is one of the most underrated writers that I’ve ever read. His books often leave me feeling mesmerised long after I’ve left the final page behind. He doesn’t care about trends or pleasing people. He delivers unique stories and interesting narratives – each of which is nothing like the last. He writes in different genres and isn’t afraid to cross the lines of them and make you wonder exactly what you’ve let yourself in for. I have a lot of admiration for him. From the beautifully written historical fiction of Revolver, to the strange but compelling fantasy of Midwinterblood, he has always seemed to deliver. Which, I think, makes She Is Not Invisible doubly disappointing.

This book tries. You can see it trying from page one. Maybe, you might say, it tries too hard. I was initially delighted by the introduction of a blind teen protagonist – not something I am too familiar with – and the engaging opening that presents us with a bizarre mystery. In this story, Laureth Peak’s father is a famous writer who appears to have gone missing. He is supposed to be doing research in Europe but all is apparently not what it seems when someone contacts Laureth informing her that her father’s notebook has been found in New York. Afraid for her father’s safety and perhaps even his sanity, Laureth runs away with her brother on a mission to locate their missing parent after the other one seems unconcerned. Even inexperienced readers will find themselves mentally working through the possibilities of what could have happened – good news is, you’re all probably wrong.

But there’s bad news too. Or there was for me. Firstly, there’s a lack of believability in everything that happens in this novel. I can suspend disbelief quite a lot, I really can. But not only does Laureth manage to fool numerous airport staff into letting a blind sixteen-year-old girl leave the country with her kid brother, she also manages to sufficiently distract the security at the New York airport enough that they simply wave her through. That’s right. The security staff at an airport were like “oh well, we’re a bit distracted with this other thing over here so go on through”. The book was already losing me by this point.

The problems I had with the believability were a real shame. More so in this than other books because I really appreciated the author trying to realistically portray the way a blind person perceives the world. Through Laureth, I had the opportunity to think about things I don’t normally consider and understand a bit more about the difficulties facing people with little to no eyesight. It made for some sad and terrifying scenes in the book. But it still failed in the end, if you ask me. The book became a joke with every ridiculous turn it took and this detracted from what had started as something really special.

Though perhaps the thing I disliked most were the attempts to make this book deeply philosophical. This is what I mean when I said it tried too hard. Unlike the other novels I’ve read by this author, the book set out to convey a message, not to tell a story. And it didn’t work. The slow build-up was manageable only because it seemed to promise a wow factor somewhere down the line… it was anticlimactic, to say the least. The main story is split up with pages of Laureth’s father’s notebook which talks about coincidence, patterns of the universe, Einstein (amongst other scientists) and the general meaning of it all. It asked big questions but seemed to end with a shrug of its metaphorical shoulders that left me feeling like I’d just wasted the last couple of hours. Very disappointing.


Gated by Amy Christine Parker

GatedGated by Amy Christine Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

I don’t know what I was expecting from Gated. My first bet was on zombies but, if not that, my second guess was Mormons. Turns out I was wrong! This is a book that starts mild and entertaining. It paints you a picture of the protagonist – Lyla – and introduces the reader to her life which, though strange, seems peaceful and pleasant. But then, like a hidden monster crouching beneath the surface, the dark creepiness starts to be unveiled to us. The community where Lyla lives might not be the sanctuary she’s always believed. And the man who leads them might be hiding secrets Lyla never imagined.

Gated completely took me by surprise; from the plot to the characters to the way I felt myself getting more and more hooked as the story went on. This is one of those times when I really appreciate a creepy realistic thriller instead of something more supernatural. There’s something deeply chilling about the knowledge that – not only could this happen – but it actually does in many places around the world. I’ve always been a bit fascinated by cults and their many forms. What does it take to convince people to give up their lives and join you in believing something that, more often than not, is completely bizarre? It amazes me even further the way these small communities tend to reject national law in favour of placing all power in the hands of their own dictator. It amazes me that some people actually have the charm and influence to make this happen.

It’s weird to think that these aren’t all crazy people or those who’ve been born into this life and know nothing else. Cults also recruit people who have your standard, 9-to-5, average lives and make them believe something other than what they’ve always known. It’s scary. I don’t know about you, but it makes me question my own susceptibility. As much as I’d like to say a very firm “no”, is it possible that I could get caught up in something like this? I mean, judging by the half-empty tub of Ben&Jerry’s in my freezer, I wouldn’t say I’m about to win any willpower awards. Who knows? The psychology of cult behaviour is both fascinating and terrifying.

Back to the book. As I touched upon before, the pace of the novel seems to slowly increase as you move along. One minute I thought I was safe and then suddenly I’d gotten to the climax of the novel and my pulse was pounding. It’s a book that will make you angry, then sad, then scared for Lyla, then angry again. More than anyone in this book, I felt such a huge sense of outrage towards Lyla’s parents. They let her down, put her in danger and stood by while she was physically abused. I don’t know if this is really a spoiler but I’ll tag it just in case: (view spoiler)

Possibly the thing I like most about this book is the way the author isn’t afraid to go there. Not many YA authors are brave enough to put their characters through several levels of hell. I don’t like situations in books (or movies, tv, etc.) where the tension is sapped out of the moment by the knowledge that the writer(s) will never dare kill the good guys or just, you know, go there. I don’t even know why the Vampire Diaries writers insist on having those scenes where Damon nearly dies with dramatic music in the background. No one actually believes they’re going to kill off Ian Somerhalder’s character – they’d lose at least half their viewers! Okay, I will stop digressing.

There is one thing I take issue with in this book. And it’s Cody. I didn’t mind the touch of romance between him and Lyla because it was kept on the sidelines but I would question her decision to trust him in the first place. Lyla has never trusted anyone from the outside because she believes they’re damned and evil and yet, despite this, she trusts Cody. Why? I’ll tell you: because he is SO HOT. It didn’t bug me in this anywhere near as much as it did in Hopeless, but I keep seeing this whole thing where girls trust male strangers/people they’ve been specifically warned about because of their pretty faces. It’s kind of a dangerous message, even if Lyla was right to trust him. But the positives outweigh the negatives by a lot.

I really enjoyed this book and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more by Ms Parker.


World After by Susan Ee

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)World After by Susan Ee
My rating: 3.5 of 5 teacups

World After ticks a lot of boxes but it simply isn’t as strong a story as we were given in Angelfall. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series but it seems to fall prey to what would be called “middle book syndrome” in a trilogy. The story plods along, giving the novel a weighted feel which made it easy to put aside at times (something that could never be said for the previous book). My rating leans towards the positive because I did enjoy this sequel – Ee has a talent for balancing gory, gritty action scenes with playful and hilarious banter – but I admit that I was expecting something more from possibly my most anticipated book of this year. Still, the last fifty pages exploded with flashes of everything I love – action, humour, unexpected plot turns and romance – and I adore Penryn enough to know I will be returning for more.

Readers will surely recognise the author’s delightfully sarcastic touches of humour straight away – I found myself laughing aloud multiple times, even when I’d been cringing in horror and sat tense on the edge of my seat just moments earlier. I think this is what I like most about Ee’s writing: she somehow manages to make it both creepy and funny at the same time. This rarely works for me; I almost always find the humour draining the scary atmosphere out of each scene or the jokes falling flat amid the descriptions of gore… but Ee makes it work perfectly. Penryn is as badass as ever, always in the centre of the battle and fighting for the ones she loves. Raffe also returns (though not often enough if you ask me) for hilarity and sexual tension.

My main issue is the lack of progression in this book. Angelfall took us on a wild journey that presented us with so much fascinating information, angel lore and complexly-woven characters and relationships. World After, on the other hand, takes baby steps and reminds us of many things we already know: that Penryn feels conflicted about her newly monstrous sister, that she and Raffe have the hots for one another, etc, etc. While it wasn’t a bad read, I felt like it could have all happened in a few chapters rather than spread over an entire book. The greatest progress made by this sequel is in the character development of Penryn’s mother. She becomes more than the token crazy person in World After and we see her for what she really is: a confused but intelligent woman who loves her children very dearly. This aspect of the book was fantastic, IMO.

A good sequel that could have been better with more careful plotting and pacing – perhaps the author intends this series to be longer than it needs to be (as is often the case). But I enjoyed World After a lot and I’m not surprised to see other reviewers expressing their continued love. I just hope the third book doesn’t take so long!


Bold Tricks by Karina Halle

Bold Tricks (The Artists Trilogy, #3)Bold Tricks by Karina Halle
My rating: 3 of 5 teacups

***NO SPOILERS***

The Artists Trilogy has been one of my favourite series of all time. Really. It has broken all my rules about contemporary romances, love triangles, “bad boys”… everything. I have loved Ellie, Camden and Javier; they have made me sad, frustrated and angry at times, but damn, have I loved them. As soon as this third and final installment was made available to me, I snatched it up with an eagerness that will only be understood by those people who have truly fallen in love with a series and waited desperately for the next book. And I want to give this book five stars. Or four at least. I want to rate it higher to express my love for the whole series, for the characters and for this author who’s given me such a crazy story to love. But I’d be lying. Because Bold Tricks, though not enough to kill my love for the trilogy as a whole, was a real disappointment for me.

The primary strength of this series has always been, in my opinion, its ability to break my own rules. I have always been highly critical of the romance genre and love triangles; so, for this series to come along and give me both of those at once but make me love them, well, that’s really quite an achievement. And one of the main reasons that this love triangle works so successfully is because of the way the author keeps the two men on equal footing. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, they both fulfill an important role in Ellie’s life so that the reader is genuinely unsure which one she will be able to live without. I finished the second book wondering how it would be possible for Bold Tricks to take me from where I was (having no clue who Ellie would pick) to cementing my love for one of the men over the other (or at least convincing me of Ellie’s cemented love). The answer: it didn’t.

Halle has never had any problem putting her characters through several levels of hell. I knew that. I loved that. I expected to be taken to hell in this book and possibly have my heart ripped out along the way. But – and perhaps this is the most disappointing thing of all about this final installment – things were too easy. Ellie’s decision was too easy for her. She’s spent such a long time being tortured by her conflicted feelings for Camden and Javier that it felt like something of a cop-out to turn it around so quickly, so easily and so early on in the book. The characterisation of the man she didn’t pick began to unravel too quickly; everything he did felt like an excuse as to why Ellie shouldn’t pick him and at odds with the multifaceted character we’ve come to know and love. It would have been more realistic and far more satisfying to have Ellie choose between the two men who were on equal footing (even if our hearts were broken by it), than for her to face a choice suddenly made easy and obvious by the actions of one of the men.

Then we come to the issue of the choice she makes. I was willing to accept either and prepared myself to deal with whichever man Ellie ended up with. But I did not expect this book to take such a cheesy turn. “Cheesy” is a word I never thought could be applied to the Artists Trilogy. So imagine my surprise when Ellie’s decision was quickly followed by the dialogue dissolving into the usual romance-y sweet nothings and cringy metaphors. While this book wasn’t a complete disappointment, the romantic side of it was. And, for once, this is a series where the romantic aspect has been my favourite part, so it was doubly disappointing.

Still, there are a lot of positive things to say about Bold Tricks. The writing has the author’s addictive signature all over it, the characters are witty and hilarious as usual, and the action is at a series high. The drug cartel subplot plays an even bigger part in this book and it makes for a number of heart-stopping scenes of tension. The demons Ellie has been battling for most of her life finally surface for one last fateful showdown and a number of unexpected truths are revealed. I can’t say that I wasn’t wildly entertained by this conclusion and I know that I’ll be looking out for everything Ms Halle writes in the future.

And I can’t help but feel guilty about my rating and reaction to this book.