The Alpha Girl series // by Aileen Erin

  • Becoming Alpha (2013)
  • Avoiding Alpha 2014)
  • Alpha Divided (2014)
  • Bruja (2015)
  • Alpha Unleashed (2015)
  • Shattered Pack (2017)
  • Being Alpha (2018)

Ever since I accidentally read Shiver and its sequels (by Maggie Stiefvater), I’ve been on the lookout for some more decent paranormal stories.  Most of them are weird excuses for erotica (honestly weird), so those are out.  I’m always coming across them for free or cheap as Kindle deals, but usually the synopsis doesn’t really sound that great, or the synopsis lies to me, which is obviously within the first few pages.

All that to say, I didn’t really have a lot of high expectations for Becoming Alpha.  I like to have a fluff book to read a chapter or two of before bedtime, and thought that I would give this one a try – I’ve been attempting to sift through the gajillion Kindle books I have and actually get rid of the ones that I’m really never going to read.  I soon realized that just reading a chapter or two every evening wasn’t going to be enough – I was completely drawn into the story, characters, and world building.

Tessa is not your average teenager.  Her entire life, she’s been having visions that she can’t control, visions that are sparked when she touches something, or someone, and gets a “read” from the emotions left behind.  At the beginning of the story, her family is moving from California to Texas, where Tessa’s mother still has some family.  They are hoping for a new start and also hoping that Tessa’s mother’s family may be able to help Tessa learn to have more control over her visions.

But things only get more crazy when they arrive in Texas.  Tessa’s dad’s boss seems very strange, and the whole neighborhood feels off.  Tessa tries to fit in at her new school, but things go badly awry at a party one night, and Tessa’s whole life gets turned upside down.

After Tessa gets turned into a werewolf, the series builds from there.  Tessa narrates most of the books, but a couple of them are told by/focus on other characters, which was also a lot of fun.  I really can’t explain why I so thoroughly enjoyed these, but I did.  Most of them were 4* reads for me, and they overall managed to keep the YA angst level reasonable.  (Except Alpha Divided, if I’m being honest.)

Although they aren’t as big of players in the later books, one of the reasons I initially got hooked on this series was because of Tessa’s parents.  It was SO FANTASTIC to see kind, loving, supportive parents who also love each other.  Tessa has a great relationship with her brother as well, and I loved that!  It was also really nice to read a series where there wasn’t any extra-marital sex.  Despite the fact that Tessa and Dastian are “true mates” (and there are other pairs in other books), they don’t just jump in the sack.  There were a lot of layers going on that went way beyond mere physical attraction, and I really liked that.  Even after they are married, all sex takes places 100% off-screen so THANK YOU.

There was definitely more swearing than I like to read, and I felt like there was more as the series went on as well.  I could definitely have done with about 99% fewer F-bombs.  They just feel basically unnecessary to me.

As the books progress, the werewolves get involved with a local witch coven.  I wasn’t honestly that comfortable with the witch/religion combination that Erin was using, but as the story developed I was more willing to work with it.  It’s definitely a New Age feel with lots of good vs. bad vibes/energy that aren’t exactly Scriptural, but in some ways the dangers of tampering with powers you don’t understand (i.e. calling on demons) is emphasized.  I guess I didn’t really feel like these books were actually encouraging witchcraft in real life, any more than it was encouraging people to be werewolves.  Instead, it just felt like this whole story was taking place in a different world, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the way religion was involved, I didn’t really find it offensive.

These weren’t perfect stories.  Sometimes the action was too slow or felt choppy, and I definitely could have used way less swearing.  But overall they were good fun with likable characters and an engaging plot that carries through the whole series, even while each books tells its own story.

If you’re like me and you enjoy some YA now and then, and also don’t mind a good dose of paranormal, these are definitely fun reads.  I’m already excited about the next book.

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July Minireviews – Part 2 – #20BooksofSummer

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley – 3*

//published 2016//

I really struggled with rating this book.  There were a lot of things I liked about it, including the main characters (for the most part), the concept of the bookstore with its letter room, and the way the book explored grief and healing.  But I hated the way this book ended so much that I almost gave it zero stars.  It was never going to be a 5* read, but it definitely could have rated higher if the ending hadn’t been so incredibly cliched and stupid.  Plus, there was tons of swearing – it felt excessive for a YA book, especially since people are just, you know, hanging out having regular conversations.  Sorry, I don’t need f-bombs every three paragraphs.  Honestly, the further I get away from finishing this book, the more I can only remember the things that annoy me, and I’m already thinking about dropping my rating another star…

The Chance of a Lifetime by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1931//

A lot of GLH’s books are way too preachy or saccharine, but every once in a while she writes one that’s just a nice story with characters whose faith is very central to their lives, and that’s where this one falls.  I actually really liked the people in this book, and felt that the central theme about what a “chance of a lifetime” really means was developed well.  While there were times that the plot was over-simplistic, on the whole it was really an enjoyable book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 3.5*

//published 1962//

I was going to wait and review this book after reading some more of L’Engle’s books, but I’m realizing that even though they are loosely connected, they aren’t all exactly a series in the traditional sense.  I’m reading all her books in their published order that have crisscrossing characters.  Which means I actually should have read Meet the Austins first, but didn’t realize until it was too late…

Anyway, I hadn’t read Wrinkle since probably junior high.  I remember having a vague feeling of not-liking it, but this is considered a classic, and I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they love this book, plus it’s a Newbery Award winner… so I thought I would give it another whirl.  At the end of the day, I just felt kind of ambivalent towards it.  It was a decent and interesting story with likable characters, but it didn’t really have that intensity that made me love it or feel like I urgently needed to keep reading.  I didn’t mind having a lot of “God talk” in the story, but the religious message felt a little vague to me, and it also seemed like the entire point of saving Earth from this “darkness” was really rather left open-ended.  Like, is Earth still under attack or….???

So all in all, not a bad read, but not one that I loved.  I still found it interesting enough to want to try some of L’Engle’s other books.  As for this one, a good read and also #5 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – 4*

//published 2008//

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve joined a “Traveling Book Club” where each member chose a book to mail out, and each month receives/mails the next book in the circle.  Eventually, I should get my original book back, complete with annotations from all of its travels.

Funnily enough, this month’s book was another Newbery Award winner.  I had only ever read one other Gaiman book before, quite a long while ago, so I was interested to pick up another of his stories.  I still hear so much about him around the book blogging world, and have several of his books on my list.  This one was quite enjoyable – an engaging story with a unique setting and memorable characters.  It didn’t capture me completely, but I still really enjoyed it, especially the gentle humor throughout (“he had died of consumption, he had told Bod, who had  mistakenly believed for several years that Fortinbras had been eaten by lions or bears, and was extremely disappointed to learn it was merely a disease”).

While I’m not racing to find my next Gaiman book, I’m still interested to read more of his works as I come across them.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – 4.5*

//published 2011//

I initially read this book back in October 2016, and was pretty excited when it came up on my random draw for my #20BooksofSummer list, as I’ve been wanting to reread it.  Honestly, this book was even funnier and more perfect than I remember it being.  Lincoln is such a wonderful character and I love the way that he doesn’t necessarily have to change himself, but change his perspective of himself in order to become more content and comfortable with his life.  You can read my old review for more details.  For here – a genuinely funny, happy, yet thoughtful read that I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting.

#8 for #20BooksofSummer!

Meet the Austins // The Moon by Night // by Madeline L’Engle

//published 1960//

I’m currently reading all of L’Engle’s books that seem to have crisscrossing characters from what generally seemed to be referred to as her “Chronos” and “Kairos” books – the Austins, whose stories move through time chronologically; and the Murrys/O’Keefes, whose stories move through time in a more wibbly-wobbly manner.  I’m coming into these more or less completely unfamiliar with them.  I read A Wrinkle in Time and at least a couple of its sequels back in middle/junior/high school sometime and felt rather ambivalent towards them.  This time around, I’ve taken all the books listed as Chronos or Kairos and am reading them in publication order.  I’ve mentioned it before, but published order is, generally speaking, my favorite way to read a series for the first time – it seems more organic to read them in the order the author created them.

And so, here we are.  I didn’t realize that there were multiple interconnected series until after I had already read A Wrinkle in Time (which is being reviewed in July’s minireviews).  Technically, I ought to have read Meet the Austins first, then Wrinkle, then The Moon by Night.  But I think I’ll manage to muddle through despite reading Wrinkle first.

Both of these books focus on the same family and have the same narrator.  Vicky Austin is part of a rambunctious, happy, close-knit family growing up in a small town in Connecticut.  In the first book, their family peace is somewhat disturbed by the arrival of a new foster sister.  In the second book, set two years later, things are changing as the children all get older, and the family takes a long road trip around the country as one last hurrah before the oldest child heads off to college and the rest of the family moves to New York City for Vicky’s dad’s new job.

I really enjoyed these stories – Meet the Austins more than The Moon by Night – mostly because it was so enjoyable to read about a family wherein the members of said family actually like each other.  Vicky’s parents are happily married and work together to parent their children as best they can.  They are patient and understanding.  The children have their squabbles, but are ultimately very loyal to one another.  I also grew up in a tight family, and still consider my siblings to be my closest friends.  It was really pleasant to read about a family that more closely matched my own than all these broken, angst-riddled families in more modern YA, with angry, bitter parents who hate each other and whiny, selfish children who only think of their own problems and no one else’s.  I was quite in agreement with the majority of the Austin parents’ parenting decisions, which is more than I can say for most modern writing.

We seem to watch a lot less television than most of our friends, partly because our parents limit our watching, but largely because there’s so much else to do.

It was also fun to read Meet the Austins from Vicky’s perspective.  She’s the next-to-the-oldest in the family.  When Maggy comes to stay with their family, she’s closest in age to Vicky’s next sister, Suzy.  I feel like a lot of time, this story would have been told from the perspective of either Maggy (freshly orphaned, struggling to fit into a new home) or Suzy (suddenly sharing a room and life with a new sister almost her exact same age).  Instead, the story is told by one of the more ‘regular’ characters, an interesting reminder that a tragedy touches many more people than those closest to it.

There is a lot of “religious talk” in both these books.  On the whole, I was okay with it.  I didn’t always agree with L’Engle’s theology, but I appreciated the way that she created a family who believed in attending church and saying prayers, without making a huge fuss out of it.  Vicky’s grandpa is a retired minister, but that doesn’t turn him into a hypocritical monster.  Instead, he’s a wise and gentle old man who loves his family dearly and is always there for advice and compassion.

//published 1963//

I did feel like the religion part was a bit more preachy in The Moon, and it was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy that book quite as much as Meet the Austins.  In The Moon, Vicky is going through a “rebellious” phase, which mostly seems to consist of her complaining about her super amazing life.  I got a little tired of her internal whining and her condescending attitude towards her family’s religion.  There was a lot more philosophizing and contemplation in The Moon, and it didn’t always make for exciting reading.

Meet the Austins had much more of a story than The Moon.  While there wasn’t this big mystery or anything, there were interconnected vignettes of daily life that painted a picture of how life was changing for the family.  In The Moon, swaths of the story felt much more like a travelogue, with Vicky describing specific state parks in detail, including what types of restroom facilities were available and how nice the fire rings were, and reiterating repeatedly about how different different parts of the country were from others.  It’s also hard to get a grasp on how much time is passing in The Moon – I assume they were gone all summer??  And their route seemed incredibly meandery, as they kept popping up into Canada and then back down into Wyoming and that sort of thing.

However, it was really interesting to read a book so firmly set in the Cold War.  There was a lot of talk about evacuation routes and emergency school drills and bunkers.  It’s just intriguing how that was so much a thing on the mind all the time.

One weird thing about The Moon that I’m not sure if it was originally published this way purposefully, or if something got messed up when they were printing the edition that I was reading, but during dialogue, instead of entire words being italicized, it would just be a syllable.  This genuinely drove me crazy.  While I definitely feel like people talk with italics (“This genuinely drove me crazy!”), I don’t feel like people only emphasize one syllable most of the time??  Here’s an actual sentence from the book to show you what I mean:

I know, Mother, that’s exactly the point.  It doesn’t matter if a baby isn’t housebroken.  He wears diapers.

???  Is it just me, or does this seem extremely strange?  I try to read that as it’s written and it sounds very strange to me.  It was like that ALL THE TIME.

All in all, 4* for Meet the Austins and 3.5* for The Moon by Night.  I got impatient with Vicky’s teenage angst in The Moon, and the kid she likes, Zachary, was a real tool.  But I’m looking forward to reading some more of these books.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.  :-D

The Infinity Trilogy // by S. Harrison // #20BooksofSummer

  • Infinity Lost (2015)
  • Infinity Rises (2016)
  • Infinity Reborn (2016)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have an unfortunate addiction to getting free/very cheap Kindle books even though I know – know! – that most of them are terrible.  Recently, I took the time to actually sort through the gajillion Kindle titles I own and get them into some semblance of order so I can start actually reading them.  Because I have OCD about reading books in order if they are part of a series, it’s been important to me to find out of if books I own are actually part of something bigger or not.

Anyway, I have a complicated rotation schedule that I use to decide which books to read next, and Kindle books are now part of the rotation, reading through them oldest to newest.  Infinity Lost was an early Kindle purchase, and since I have owned it since October 2015, I thought it was time to finally give it a read!

These were weird books in that they were a bit hard to categorize.  They were kind of pre-dystopian in a way – a story of someone trying to prevent the worldwide catastrophe from happening.  It’s not too far into the future, but technology is doing so much more for humanity.  Many of the advances have been made by a specific company owned by a guy named Richard Blackstone.  The series is about his daughter, Infinity aka Finn.

The story starts when Finn is 17 and away at school.  She’s started having these really weird dreams where she dreams about something that happened in her childhood, except in the dream, it’s completely different than what she remembers happening in real life.  The dream version is usually much stranger and more violent than the reality version.  Except now Finn is starting to wonder which of the versions is actually reality…

Finn’s best friend and roommate is Bit, a computer genius.  When the announcement is made that a field trip has been scheduled for the remote and rarely-visited Blackstone Technologies HQ, Finn has a sneaking suspicion that Bit may have had something to do with it.  No one else at school knows who Finn’s father is, because she is there under a different name for security reasons.  Finn has never met her famous father and was raised on a fancy estate by servants and a military commander named Jonah.

At first, the field trip is awe-inspiring and exciting.  But things quickly go south when the technology is hijacked by a rogue force that seems intent on killing Finn – and doesn’t care who else is in the way.

This was a really engaging story, and I was definitely hooked in while reading the first book.  I wanted to find out about all of Finn’s mysteries, including this strange alternate ego who seems to be lurking within her.  Although this book had a few spots of violence that was more gruesome than my usual fare, I was willing to skim over those bits to get to the story.  The first book was a 3.5* read and left me intrigued to read the next story.

Full disclosure is that the next two books were around $4 each, and even though I was interested in Finn’s life, I’m not sure I was $8 interested, which may say something about my true level of engagement with the story.  However, they were also available on Kindle Unlimited, so I decided to embrace another free month’s subscription and read them that way.

I was very glad I had not paid $4 for the second book, as I don’t see myself ever rereading it.  It definitely suffered from second book syndrome.  A lot of what was happening definitely felt like filler.  There was tons of violence – people don’t just die, they’re shredded or liquefied or get their faces melted or are torn apart, all in full detail.  I skipped loads of paragraphs.  The actual story part wasn’t bad, but it was confusing, because for some reason Harrison decided to have the book start with Finn getting dragged into a bunker almost dead, and then tell what led up to that through a bunch of weird flashbacks, which also involved some other flashbacks, interspersed with conversations of the people trying to bring Finn back around in the present (?).  The timeline was very confusing and disorienting.  I think Harrison was trying to emphasize the differences between Finn and the anti-Finn, Infinity, but it was overly complicated.

Infinity Reborn was a bit better.  Now that we finally had most of the backstory filled in, the narrative actually proceeded in a somewhat orderly manner.  There was still too much violence for my taste, but by this time I was completely committed to finding out how everything wrapped up.

While the ending was satisfying for the most part, I still did have some unanswered questions, and I definitely felt like the future was still in jeopardy.  The biggest threat had been removed, yes, but there were still a lot of ??!?! situations floating around.  Like what’s happening with all the Blackstone tech, and why Zero’s identity had been kept a secret and is he still a real person underneath all of that, and why Finn’s dual personality situation was just magically fine now, and what’s going to happen with the technology that made Finn who she was, and whether or not the Infinity project is still considered military property, and a lot of other things.  The big issues were concluded, but a lot of the smaller questions were just kind of swept under the rug with a “everyone lived happily ever after” kind of conclusion.

All in all, I did enjoy these books as a one-time read and would give the trilogy a 3.5* rating overall.  However, they aren’t books I see myself rereading at any point in the future, and they didn’t make me desperate to search out more of Harrison’s writing, either.

Infinity Lost is Book #7 for #20BooksofSummer (#6 is A Wrinkle in Time, which I have read but won’t review until I read a few more L’Engle books and review them together).  The current list can be found here.

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 6-10 // by Margaret Sutton

I reviewed the first five books in this series last month, so you may remember that the Judy Bolton mysteries were published in the 1930’s and focus on the titular character, around age 15 in the first book, who lives in a small country town but nonetheless finds herself entangled in many adventures.  There were about 35 books published in this series, and I own a lot of them.  I’ve collected them off and on over the years, so there are several that I haven’t read yet, and the rest I haven’t read in years.  So it’s been fun to delve back into this series.

6.  The Yellow Phantom (1933)
7.  The Mystic Ball (1934)
8.  The Voice in the Suitcase (1935)
9.  The Mysterious Half Cat (1936)
10.  The Riddle of the Double Ring (1937)

Basically, these have all been 3* reads for me.  While perfectly nice, they aren’t anything outstanding.  Some of them are definitely worse than others (The Yellow Phantom seems to have been mostly about how amazing Judy is), while others have side plots that make no sense (a character in The Mysterious Half Cat is apparently only deaf sometimes…???).  However, they do seem to be getting somewhat better as Judy gets older.  She’s practically engaged at the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, so we are making slow but sure progress!

There are funny things that are reflections of the time.  While Judy overall is pretty modern, honestly – quite interested in a career and not a fan of housework – it’s still interesting how other things come through.  For instance, one of Judy’s friends gets married between The Mystic Ball and The Voice in the Suitcase… and she’s only 17!  Judy graduates from high school before she’s 17, and although she isn’t quite 18 yet at the end of Double Ring, she’s already received (and turned down) a marriage proposal, and is basically engaged to someone else.  She actually almost sticks with the first guy because she’s just graduated and “doesn’t know what else to do with her life”!

I don’t love these as much as I hoped that I would, but I have still been enjoying them overall.  I’m taking a break from them right now so I can get some other reading done, but will hopefully return to these in a few weeks and read the next ten.  Who knows what Judy will get up to next!

July Minireviews + #20BooksofSummer

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – 2*

//published 2006//

I recently reread Ella Enchantedwhich was a childhood favorite and is still a book that I love.  Full of delightful characters, fun world-building, and a really excellent story, I’ve read it many times and still enjoy it.  Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Levine had written another book set in the same world as Ella, although not a direct sequel.  Part of me wishes that I still didn’t know that, because Fairest was pretty terrible.  The main problem was the heroine, Ava, who was incredibly boring, and spent the entire book whining about how ugly she was.  I mean CONSTANTLY.  Every.  Page.  And it never really felt like a lesson came out of that, or if it did it was very muddled.  If the prince thought she was beautiful the first time he saw her… was she really not as ugly as she thought?  Because here’s the thing, ugly/plain people often DO become more beautiful in our eyes as we get to know and love them, but if you’re just sitting there and someone walks into a room – you don’t know anything about them, and literally just judge them on how they appear at that moment.  So the prince is either lying, has horrible taste, or Ava isn’t actually that ugly.  All of those answers annoyed me.

Anyway, the rest of the story was also very weak – I’m never a fan of a plot where the villain is actually NOT the villain but is being controlled by another, in-the-background villain.  This seems convoluted and confusing.  All in all, I skimmed large portions of Fairest, and had trouble focusing on the pages because I was so busy rolling my eyes at Ava’s endless whining about her appearances.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1965//

This was my third read for #20BooksofSummer (you can find my original post here), and a thoroughly enjoyable one it was.  While I had read Frederica quite a while ago (2012), it had been several years.  At the time of my initial reading, it was actually one of the first Heyer books I had read (somehow, I didn’t discover her until adulthood!), but even after reading several of Heyer’s other books since then, I still found this one to be adorable and fun.  I think that part of the reason I love this one so much is that Alverstoke, the unwilling hero, falls in love not just with Frederica, but with her whole family.  I just loved the way that he went from being a selfish, lonely Mr. Grumpy-pants to being part of a happy, loving family.  While Alverstoke was a smidge *too* selfish to really be my favorite Heyer hero, he was still quite nice.  Frederica is a typical, but nonetheless enjoyable, Heyer heroine, being independent and intelligent without being too sassy and obnoxious.  She doesn’t take any nonsense from Alverstoke (or anyone else) and is such a wonderful sister.  My only complaint about her was how she could possibly be blind to her sister’s preferred beau??

All in all, Frederica is a delightful read for anyone looking for a bit of relaxation.  I wasn’t feeling super great over the weekend, and this ended up being the perfect book to devour.

Scotty by Frances Pitt – 3.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1932//

I purchased this book years ago at a book sale somewhere, but somehow had never gotten around to reading it before.  This ended up  being a perfectly enjoyable, although not outstanding read about a Highland fox cub who is raised in captivity buy then escapes and adjusts to life in the wild.  It had a very Jim Kjelgaard-y vibe for me, and it was fun to read an outdoors book about an area of the world that is unfamiliar to me.  It was written between the Wars, so it was also an interesting, if somewhat limited, glance into life when things were starting to really undergo a big cultural change.  While I’m not convinced this will be a classic that I read time and again, it was still engaging – and also Book #4 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – 4.5* – #20BooksofSummer

//published 1907//

This book is so precious that I just wanted to eat it up.  Every time I thought the story couldn’t get more adorable, it did.  These are the kind of children’s books that I grew up with, and I can’t believe that I didn’t discover Nesbit until adulthood!  This wasn’t a story full of angst or the need for anyone to “discover” herself – just a roly-poly happy story about four children and some magical adventures.  I can’t wait to read more Nesbit!!!  #6 for #20BooksofSummer.

NB: #5 for the list is actually A Wrinkle in Time which I have already read but won’t be reviewing until I have finished some more books in the series.

The Paper Magician series // by Charlie Holmberg

  • The Paper Magician (2014)
  • The Glass Magician (2014)
  • The Master Magician (2015)

NB: There is a spin-off book set in the same universe, The Plastic Magician, which I didn’t bother reading because I was over these books.

These books are set in an alternative universe (it feels like around 1900) wherein magic is a reality.  However, magic can’t be used all willy-nilly by just anyone.  People attend a school and are then apprenticed before becoming full-fledged magicians.  In school, students learn about the different types of magic – each kind adheres to a different material: glass, paper, plastic, metal, fire, etc.  When students become apprentices, they bond with a specific material.  Once the bonding spell has been cast, there is no going back – a magician can only work with his bonded material.  This isn’t because of a law or rule – it’s just the way the magic works.

loved this world concept.  This leaves room for so many different side trails of intrigue and interest, and I was way into it.  I found myself wondering how this would apply to a modern variation of this world, and I was really interested in how this applied to the everyday lives of non-magicians.  But I think this was a case where I allowed myself to get so interested in the concept that it took me a while to notice that the actual story was kind of terrible.  By halfway through the second book, I was getting incredibly bored, and I basically skimmed the entire third book just to make sure of how things were going to turn out – which wasn’t too hard to guess, as the entire storyline was absurdly predictable.

Part of the problem was the main character, Ceony.  I didn’t like her from the very beginning – and I kept not liking her through the rest of the series.  She annoyed me.  Ceony is one of those characters who ALWAYS knows what’s best and is constantly ignoring everyone around her and doing whatever she wants because she is SO CLEVER.  Clever and ANNOYING.

In the first book, we start with Ceony, on her first day as an apprentice, arriving at the home of her new mentor.  Ceony has been more or less forced to accept a position as a paper magician (a Folder) because there aren’t enough Folders.  She’s quite depressed at the prospect of bonding with what she considers to be the most boring of all the materials, but while students’ inclinations are taken into consideration, ultimately the board decides which apprentices bond with which material – so paper it is.  Because of the dearth of Folders, Ceony is being apprenticed a male magician, which isn’t exactly against the rules, but isn’t preferable.  Ceony is surprised to find that her new mentor is (conveniently) rather youngish and good looking.  Wow, I wonder what’s going to happen next.

What happens next is that Ceony falls in love with Emery immediately, to the point that when he is attacked she is willing to risk literally everything to save him.  And that’s where this book started to lose me already, because Ceony went from “I hate being here and I don’t want to be a Folder and everything about this sucks” to “omg I am so in love with Emery that I am willing to give up everything up to and including my own life just to save his *heart eyes* *kissy face*”  She then frolics off against everyone’s rules and manages to rescue Emery completely on her own, even though she’s only been an apprentice for like two weeks.  This ENTIRE book could have been made at least somewhat believable if Holmberg had just inserted a sentence or a paragraph indicating that at least a smidgen of time had passed.  Something like, “After a few weeks, Ceony had settled into her new life as a Folder. While still not exactly thrilled about it, she had at least come to appreciate some its finer subtleties.”  Or maybe, “As the days went by, Ceony found herself reluctantly drawn into the world of Folding, not least because she found Emery himself increasingly engaging.”  ANYTHING.  Instead, I’m supposed to buy that in a mere handful of days she knows a crapton of amazing Folding techniques, is desperately in love with Emery, and is able to take on – and defeat – an incredibly powerful magician.  Ummm.

The other weird thing is that somehow the story becomes all about Emery.  Ceony is learning about  his past life through his memories… so even though Ceony is the main character, it ends up being this weirdly passive story all about Emery.  It just read really strangely and left me feeling incredibly disconnected from the story.

Still. I wanted to give the second book a chance… but it was just as ridiculous.  By book three I was just over the whole thing.  What really made me just roll my eyes in disbelief is that the opening of the third book informs me that two years have passed (apprentices have to apprentice for at least that long before testing to be a magician).  During this time, Ceony and Emery are deeply in love.  They kiss and cuddle.  They live alone and unchaperoned.  And… that’s it.  Here’s the deal, folks – if you’re really desperately in love with someone, I do not believe that you’re capable of living alone with them for TWO YEARS without succumbing to temptation.  I’m not condoning that or saying that it’s a good thing.  I’m just saying that that’s reality.  Saying that they had lived together but not slept together despite being “madly in love” the entire time meant that I just didn’t believe that they were really all that in love.  It made their whole relationship feel unbelievable.

And that’s really what it came down to for this whole series.  Throughout the entire time Holmberg is trying to use this amazing romance between these two characters as the catalyst for all of Ceony’s behavior – and it just didn’t work.  Their relationship NEVER felt even remotely believable.  I had zero confidence in their ability to make it work long term, and there was absolutely NO chemistry between them.  And it just emphasized how uncomfortable their relationship was to me because Emery was in a position of authority over Ceony.  So despite the fact that “Ceony fell in love first” and Emery wasn’t “taking advantage” of their situation – just no.  If they were serious about not taking advantage of their situation, Ceony should have transferred to another Folder, and let Emery court her for those two years.  Instead, she goes, at the age of 19, straight from school into Emery’s house where she falls in love with him – her teacher and boss – and then that’s it.  It was just sooo uncomfortable to me.

I really wanted to like these books.  The concept is fantastic.  But Ceony was completely unlikable to me, and the relationship that is supposed to be the driving force for the whole series was unbelievable and forced.  That meant that the entire story dragged and never felt natural or particularly engaging.

These books have their fans, but they are not really for me – despite the fact that I love the cover art!