The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (Mara Dyer #1)

Mara Dyer book

“The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” by Michelle Hodkin

4 out of 5 stars.

 

Goodreads summary:

“Mara Dyer believes life can’t get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.
There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
She’s wrong.”

A while ago my sister had recommended the “Mara Dyer” trilogy to me, and last December I finally got around to reading Michelle Hodkin’s books (yeah, this review is a little late in coming!). At first I wasn’t a huge fan of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer”; the writing style was pretty good, although I prefer other authors within the contemporary and paranormal genres, and Mara Dyer was an okay heroine. Despite the fact that my initial feelings toward “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” were not particularly favorable, the longer I read this book, the more I found that it had an interesting rhythm to it. Once I was caught up in the current of Michelle Hodkin’s pacing in this book, I got a little bit addicted to Mara Dyer’s story and I began to really like the secondary characters, who all added a lot of weight and substance to “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.”

Mara Dyer was a fairly interesting character, but I didn’t feel particularly attached to her as a heroine while reading the first book in Michelle Hodkin’s “Mara Dyer” trilogy. Mara reminded me a bit of Juliet Moreau from “The Madman’s Daughter” by Megan Shepherd, but with a slightly less compelling voice, and I wasn’t necessarily rooting for her to discover why she felt so different from other people and what had actually happened to her that night when she lost her best friend, Rachel, to a collapsed building. Mara was an interesting enough protagonist, but who I ended up really liking in “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” was Noah Shaw and Michelle Hodkin’s secondary characters.

Yes, I know, I couldn’t resist this bad boy! I tend to not care for the bad boys in books, especially stories that take a more modern route (with the exception of Kaidan Rowe from Wendy Higgins’ “Sweet Trilogy”), but I found Noah to be a really dynamic character when compared to Mara. Even though Mara was the voice behind this book, I found myself enjoying “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” a lot more when Noah became a more present character in it, and him and Mara interacting while trying to figure out what happened to her made me like Mara just a wee bit more. Again, I don’t tend like bad boy personas and I find their broody and self-absorbed attitudes to be extremely annoying and childish, but Noah was somehow a bad boy while not really being one, if that makes any sense; he appeared to be a mildly unsavory individual and had quite the reputation, but he didn’t feel broody or controlling like some of the other main male characters in books, and he also wasn’t whipped by Mara, which I appreciated. I kind of got a Will Herondale (from Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” trilogy) vibes from Noah Shaw at times, although I still prefer Will just a bit more. Noah was definitely the most interesting character in “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer,” probably because the first book in this trilogy revealed so little of who he was, and how everything about this book made me wonder what he was really after and what his and Mara’s connection was.

As iffy as I felt about Mara Dyer, I really loved her family, especially her brothers. Michelle Hodkin did a fantastic job of making me get attached to Daniel and Joseph, and I enjoyed who Mara was around them and appreciated how much she cared about her family. It was refreshing to see a female character who had been traumatized by events in her life who did not take all of her hurt and hate out on her siblings or parents. So many authors write heroines who act terribly and lash out at their families, which ends up just making the protagonists seem cruel and immature, which ends up making me dislike them. Michelle writing Mara’s relationship with her parents and brothers that way helped me to like her more as a female character, and it added a good, positive dynamic to this book.

I wish I could tell you more about this book, but I can’t without spoiling things for you, so I think I’ll keep my review of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” vague like it’s summary. I will, however, say in closing that Noah and Mara’s romance felt fairly natural and not too quick for a pair of modern-day teenagers. Michelle developed their relationship enough before they ever pursued anything, and I appreciated that because I have been reading a fair amount of books lately where the romance makes little to no sense or completely fizzles out before it even begins, which is a bummer because when that happens, it makes the entire book feel forced and less cohesive. Noah and Mara, however, had good chemistry, so it made the romance seem a little more plausible and the pacing of the story more natural. Plus, I liked Noah a lot, so that helped. 😉

Overall, I really enjoyed “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.” I thought that it was an interesting, well put together book with great secondary characters and a good male lead, and although I wasn’t a huge fan of Mara, I thought that she was a good heroine. This book was really fast paced and interesting while not giving much away to its readers, leaving them wondering long into the night what mysteries book two might hold. Everything seemed vague and veiled because of Mara’s loss of time and her hallucinations, so it was hard to tell what had actually happened and what Mara had imagined. I hate to sound like a hippie, but at times this book felt a little trippy thanks to the vagueness of, well, everything, and that definitely kept the pace of this book going and me reading. I would definitely recommend “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” to anyone searching for a quick and surprising read. The first book in the “Mara Dyer” trilogy didn’t feel like horror novel or all that scary to me, but there was definitely some pretty crazy things going on that kept me reading. This book definitely plays tricks on the mind!

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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

these shollow graves

“These Shallow Graves” by Jennifer Donnelly

4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.”

It has been a really long time since I have deliberately picked up a mystery novel. Most good stories all have an element of mystery or surprise to them, because that’s what keeps us on our toes as readers, but this time I chose to read a novel solely based on the fact that I wanted to see a crime or mystery solved. Between its promising plot and Victorian era setting (historical fiction is a weakness of mine), “These Shallow Graves” appeared like it would be a very enjoyable read; its cover did not hurt in the appeal of reading it, either. I was beyond pleased when I began reading this book and found it to be more than just a pretty cover and a promising summary, and it ended up being a very interesting and well-written story.

Jennifer Donnelly started her book off in the fast lane with Josephine receiving the news that her father had died, and I liked that “These Shallow Graves,” which was a lengthier novel, did not take a hundred or so pages to get to the moment that sent the heroine on her quest. I also thought that Jennifer Donnelly made a good choice in using a style of writing that felt more true to the time period because it helped to develop and round out the late 19th century setting in which Jo lived. My only problem with the setting of “These Shallow Graves” was that I had read Megan Shepherd’s “The Madman’s Daughter” trilogy before it.

“The Shallow Graves” was a very well-written and well thought out novel, but I had a hard time not flashing back to Megan’s books due to the Victorian era setting and seeing some similarities between the subject matter in the two authors’ books. Both Megan and Jennifer wrote heroines dealing with the social and economical constraints that were put on women during that time period, they were both trying to uncover secrets that led to costly truths, and they both lived in large cities with dark underbellies. Josephine and Juliet read differently as heroines, but there were definitely quite a few parallels that could be drawn between their two stories, and I think my problem with “The Shallow Graves” was that it lacked the immersive quality that the “The Madman’s Daughter” trilogy possessed. The balls, clothing, mystery, and romance were all written so vividly by Megan Shepherd, and she completely drew me into her story. But with “These Shallow Graves,” it felt like it lacked a certain haunting quality and descriptiveness to its writing style, despite the heavier themes in it, and I was not as drawn into this novel’s story as I had hope I would be. This novel was still very well-written, but I felt a little withdrawn at times when I had hoped to be passionate about the story and its characters.

Josephine, or Jo, was a good female character. I did not connect with Jo as much as I had hoped I would, but I did admire and appreciate the fact that a high society girl cared about the people outside of her little blue blood circle, and that she wanted to write to bring awareness to the issues plaguing her city. There were times, however, when I made a few eye rolls and slapped my forehead because of something Jo had done. During those moments, I wanted to say, “Use your head, honey,” but after considering the time period and that street smarts were little known to ladies, let alone those belonging to the upper classes, I allowed those foolish moments slide in my head while reading “These Shallow Graves.” Jo was a sweet character and she experienced a lot of growth as an individual over the course of this book, which was nice. One of the things that did bother me a little bit about this character, though, was how easily and quickly she fell for Edward Gallagher. I didn’t buy it, but we’ll get to that part of this review in a little bit.

Eddie Gallagher was a pretty interesting character, and I liked the fact that he was a journalist. I did feel like I had a hard time getting to know Eddie as a character, and for the first half of “These Shallow Graves,” he felt a little vague and shapeless; Jennifer Donnelly described his physical traits well (brown hair, blue eyes, etc.), but I did not feel that he had a definitive shape or feeling to him. It was hard at first to see what made Eddie, well, Eddie, and as the story progressed, I kind of just envisioned another character who I knew quite well and was a journalist like Eddie. Brodi and Brock Thoene have written tons of historical novels, and my favorite series that they wrote had an amazing character named John Murphy in it. I think having Murphy in my head while reading this book helped me to see a better outline of who Eddie was by the middle of “These Shallow Graves,” and then by the second half of it, I felt like Jennifer had developed him a little bit better. By the second half, I could see that Eddie had a good heart despite his rough past, and even though I did not like their romance, I appreciated how much he cared for Jo and wanted her to be safe.

In all honesty, I wish that there hadn’t been a romance between Eddie and Jo, that the two of them could have just been two kindred spirits who forged a friendship because of what they went through together. Both Eddie and Jo wanted to write about the truth, to make a difference in the world, and I would have loved it if the society girl and the up-and-coming journalist had become just good friends. Sadly, I did not get what I wanted in that department.

I think that Jennifer Donnelly had Eddie and Jo “fall in love” and start their romance too soon in this book. The bulk of “These Shallow Graves” took place over the course of about three months, the most time passing during the latter half of it. Eddie and Jo had barely started their investigation, and had yet to discover anything vital to uncovering the details of her father’s death, when they started their romance around page 140. “These Shallow Graves” was a nearly 500 paged book, so to me that seemed a little too early to get all doe-eyed when neither of them had spent much time together. There was no tension, suspense, or intrigue to their romance because they fell for each other so soon, and I was a bit frustrated by that since they did not know anything about the other to fall in love with; to truly love someone, you have to know them, who they are, and love them flaws and all. I guess I did not buy into the romance because of that, and I had a hard time rooting for their relationship since I did not really know who they were at that point in this book.

Despite the slightly lackluster romance, I did end up liking “These Shallow Graves.” Jennifer Donnelly did a great job of keeping me reading, even when little was going on in Jo’s monotonous blue blood world, and although it was weightier novel, “These Shallow Graves” was a fast read. I did find while reading that I was able to predict most of its plot pretty early on, but instead of being bored because I knew who was bad or what would happen, I appreciated Jennifer Donnelly’s pacing and the times she chose to reveal small details of the mystery to keep her story moving.

Overall, I enjoyed reading “These Shallow Graves” by Jennifer Donnelly, and I thought it was a well-written novel that was wrapped up quite nicely by its end. As much as I enjoyed reading “These Shallow Graves,” I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to read this book to stick it through to the second half because that was when the characters felt a little more grounded and the plot started to develop and pick up steam. The thing that really made me like this book actually turned out to be the ending itself: slightly bittersweet but quite hopeful. The ending felt final, yet full of possibilities, and I really liked that. “These Shallow Graves” was more of a 3 ½ star book for me, but between its second half and the ending, I am going to round it up to a 4 star book.

Thornhill by Kathleen Peacock

thornhill kathleen peacock

“Thornhill” by Kathleen Peacock

2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads Summary:

Mac can’t lose another friend. Even if he doesn’t want to be found.

The ripple effect caused by Mac’s best friend Amy’s murder has driven Mac’s new love, Kyle, to leave Hemlock and disappear from her life forever. But Mac knows that Kyle plans to enroll in a rehabilitation camp, where he can live with other werewolves. She refuses to accept his decision, especially since the camps are rumored to be tortuous. So she sets out in search of Kyle with a barely sober Jason—and Amy’s all-seeing ghost—in tow.

Clues lead Mac to find Kyle in a werewolf den in Colorado—but their reunion is cut short by a Tracker raid. Now Mac and Kyle are trapped inside the electric fences of Thornhill, a camp for young werewolves. As she devises an escape plan, Mac uncovers dangerous secrets buried within the walls of Thornhill—and realizes that the risk to the people she loves is greater than ever before

Where do I begin? I loved “Hemlock” by Kathleen Peacock sooooo much. Yeah, sure it was kinda like a CW drama, but I found it to be very entertaining. It was cute and fun, and I didn’t care that it wasn’t some deep, philosophical read; it was good quality fluff, and I liked it. So, with liking “Hemlock” so much, I was very much looking forward to “Thornhill” for many reasons, but two of them being:

(1) I really wanted Kathleen Peacock to make me torn between Kyle and Jason.

(2) I needed some delightful fluff to read; I have read quite a few books recently that have been super dark and serious, and I just needed a break from that kind of drama.

All I wanted was a light, entertaining read that left me smiling and happy. Sadly for me, it was not meant to be, and you can probably tell that from the fact that I used the goodreads summary; I couldn’t even muster enough energy or interest to write that part of my review.

“Thornhill” was very different from “Hemlock” in feeling; while reading it I felt…I actually don’t know exactly what I felt. All I know is that “Thornhill” didn’t give me that happy, “I don’t care that this book is like a CW show” feeling that “Hemlock” had. Instead, “Thornhill” turned into one of the CW shows that I want to remove from TV and my memory. Gosh! I am sounding mean…I am not trying to be mean because it is a well written book, it just WAS NOT for me. Okay, aside from the whole “not feeling it” thing, the characters were way different from the first book.

My intelligent sister pointed out to me that Mac and Kyle had only been apart about a week; Mac herself says that she and Jason knew exactly where Kyle was going, so all they had to do was find out where he was staying. So, how long does it take to drive from Hemlock to Denver, Colorado? A max of a week, people!! Mac seems to be very different aside from the fact that she is still a worthless heroine (she only gets herself and others into trouble). In “Hemlock” I could handle Mac. Sure, she was a drama queen, but I was okay with her. But in “Thornhill” it was Mac on crack. Everything she did was like stupid Mac from “Hemlock” to the tenth power! After thirty pages, her obsession with finding Kyle, being with Kyle, saving Kyle was driving me up the wall. In this book, Mac was once again useless to the plot, and was the one who had set into motion the Wheel of Misfortune that nearly decimated all of her friends in this book. Practically everything bad that happens is a ripple effect of Mac being irrational and impulsive. STAAAAAPPPP TOUCHING THINGS, MAC!!!!!!

Now, off of Mac and onto the character of Kyle. I have to say, he kind of stunk. Flat liner is the easiest was to put his character in “Thornhill”; Kyle wasn’t even Kyle in this book. There was no character developement on his part, and at times I even felt like his character somehow devolved as the story progressed. The sad thing is I was a Kyle fan in the first book. I thought he was a good and sweet friend and that he and Mac were fairly good together, but he wasn’t himself anymore, even though it has only been a week and a half (at max) since he last saw Mac. And what is with this whole “leaving” thing? Isn’t it more suspicious to run away without your parents knowledge than to just staying in Hemlock, acting like your usual, mostly human self? Personally, if I were Mac, I would feel a bit betrayed over the fact that we had been through so much together, and then once everyone is “safe” he picks up and leaves? Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t be okay with that. Yeah, sure it is understandable to want to find your friend and make sure they are safe, but I would be wary to enter into a romantic relationship when he is ready to pick up and leave me at any time, and without warning.

Last, but certainly not least, I wan to talk about Jason. Ahhhhhhh, I loved him in this book. I would be team Jason, but, much to my dismay, there technically is no team Jason, though Kathleen may want you to think that there is. But let me assure (or disappoint in my case) you, there is no love triangle, or at least it didn’t seem like a love triangle because Mac is too blind to see that Jason is a just as viable option as Kyle. But noooooo, she has only eyes for the guy who left her! Why, I ask you, must I always like the person that never wins? I always choose the losers (they’re the better character but they never get the girl), and I hope and hope that this amazing character will win, and then I am dashed to pieces once again. I expected it, but I still had hoped they would succeed. Jason is another one of those characters. He was the only one in “Thornhill” who actually had any amount of character growth, and yet he is cast aside by Mac, and even the author, it felt like. Jason was the only one who kept me going during this book; it was really slow despite the fact that it is nearly seventy-five pages less than “Hemlock”, and then he is just discarded (even though he LOVES Mac) at the end like a used up tissue.

give mama a hug

I’ll love you Jason even if Mac won’t. I wiiiillll!!!!! I was (again) torn to shreds by an author who had a fantastic opportunity to create an amazing love triangle; we all could have been torn between the two guys, and I wanted to be torn, but instead I just ended up hating the winner and loving the guy who never even stood a chance. I lost. Again.

weeping

“Thornhill” is not a bad book; it is actually quite well written, but it was/is not my kind of book, and it broke my heart to see another author waste such a great character like Jason on a non-existent love triangle. Just make him a super awesome friend so I don’t build up false hope!

I will read the third book because I want to know where Jason ends up and how Serena does, but I couldn’t care less about Mac and Kyle. *Sighs* I don’t want to be mean, and I am sorry if this review is, it’s just that I had something (and Jason) that I loved ripped away is a very unsatisfactory way. I can handle losing, but this isn’t the way I wanted to go down. If nothing else, though, read this book for Jason because he was wicked awesome (and I love him). What is wrong with loving a human, Mac??!!!!! *weeping*

jensen

I have nothing against Kyle and his wolf side ( I actually liked him a lot in the first book), but he just felt so different, and Kathleen Peacock didn’t add anything to his character in the second book; he felt shallow and lackluster in “Thornhill”, whereas he was sweet and endearing in “Hemlock”. Oh, well, sorry about the negative review.

Side Note: This book is fairly well written and deserves a 3 for writing quality, but I really just hated it and I am truly sorry for that.