Howl of the Sequoia By Deidre Huesmann
**** 4 star rating 9/17/14

The Howl of The Sequoia follows the story of Rachael, a timid high school introvert who develops a relationship with a foreign exchange student, who she later discovers is a werewolf. I had never read a novel featuring werewolves before, so I was very curious to see how the author would handle the topic.

The story gets off to a sweeping start. Descriptive. Engaging. I could literally see it all playing out before my eyes. I felt the wind flow through my hair, fear clutch my throat, and my heart pound in my chest as the wolves dashed through the forest. The story was filled with rich descriptions that were necessary, but not overly detailed. Of note was the author’s descriptions of the character’s eyes. They are indeed the window to a person’s soul, and details like, “…wide, deer-like, yet hauntingly sinister green with flecks of gold dancing in silent mirth”, helped me dive right into the core of who the character’s were.

While I enjoyed almost every character in the book, I was not particularly fond of the main character. Perhaps it is in part due to a personal bias. A majority of the books that I like feature strong, capable female leads (Katniss, Hermoine, Clary) that may suffer from moments of vulnerability and weakness, but are overall competent and resilient. I enjoy characters who seek to pave their own way despite the tribulations that lay before them.

Rachel, however, could not be more different. She is infuriatingly mute, and refuses to stand up for herself or her beliefs. She allows herself to be trampled relentlessly by the high school bully without once speaking up, or even asking for help. She tolerates being pushed around by almost everyone in the story; her brother Jackson, her father Henry, even her love interest Holden. Though there are times throughout the novel where she discovers her inner strength, they are few and far between, and for the most part I found her to be wimpy, annoying, and kind of pathetic. She is however, more than willing to stand up for the people around her. She is fiercely defensive of her ailing mother, deeply protective of her wronged best friend, and willing to throw herself in harm’s way for her brother. I just wish she was willing to do the same for herself.

While my indifferent feelings for the main character made some aspects of the story unlikeable, the author makes up for it by crafting fascinating supporting characters. Each phenomenal in their own unique way. I could visualize each and every one of them in such vivid, alluring color. I could feel their pain, and taste their passion on the tip of my tongue. And herein lays the author’s strength. Such well-developed, brilliant characterization that I found myself attached to each of them almost instantly. And perhaps that is my biggest issue with the main character. She was such a dull and lifeless flame, nearly one gust of wind from burning out, compared to the vibrant sparks of wildfire that blazed all around her.

Holden Cavanaugh, for starters is brilliant. Despite him being unlike the typical dashing, drop dead gorgeous love interest you usually find yourself swooning over in YA novels, his crooked smile, standoffish attitude and blue-green eyes make him shine far brighter. He is passionate in the most detached way. He may be calm along the surface, but what lays beneath is a charming, intelligent, and deeply wounded boy who is filled with such intense, raw emotion. Some of his actions are brash, but at the heart of him, he is a kind-hearted, genuine person. In fact, if you ask me, he is the only truly good person (aside from Rachael’s mother) in this story. Yes he slaps someone, does some name calling, and spies on Rachael, before delivering all the information he acquires to his handler, but from start to finish he does all in his power to protect her, even if by doing so he must put himself in harm’s way. Ever the victim, my empathy for Rachael ran out quickly. Holden on the other hand, I truly felt bad for. He lost his family at an early age, and was then thrust into a life of captivity, plagued by powers he loathed, and forced to do unimaginable things by his abusive alpha. His heart is golden, his inner turmoil palpable, and his pervasive charm so undeniable, I couldn’t help but feel a blush sweep across my cheeks every time he flashed his crooked smile.

Aaron is yet another brilliant spark. Evil to the core, and damn good at it. The author made me hate him fervently. And once again, it’s a shame I could not share that same passion for Rachael. Although Aaron seems nothing more than a vicious psycho path who revels in his charge’s pain, you soon come to find out that he’s also a worried father who believes the ends always justify the means when it comes to ensuring the safety of his pack. Henry, Rachael’s father, is another character I loved to hate, and his behavior, in my opinion, was ultimately more damaging to his young, impressionable daughter’s psyche, than her mother’s illness. However, he is a compelling character, who is well defined and believable. Vera, Nathan and Roxie were all unique in their own ways too. In my opinion, this stories strength lays in its phenomenally developed supporting characters.

I also love the interaction between those characters. The tension between Holden and Aaron was so palpable there were times I caught myself holding my breath, and felt a tingling burn shoot across my stomach, right where Holden’s scars were. I can only describe Rachel’s ailing mother as an angel, and each and every scene she and Rachael shared was touching and poignant. The barbed wire wall that stood between Rachel and her abrasive father seemed impossible to scale, and was also beautifully crafted. And the slow budding affection between her and Holden was all the more charming, because it mirrored real life. Not something that blooms overnight, but a tenderness that grows and blossoms gradually. I also enjoyed the way the author handled the emotional aspect of being a werewolf. Their joys. Their sorrows. Their fears. They may have been monsters, but they still had hearts, and she made them all the more real.

The concept of the novel was simple, however it boasted writing that made my breath catch in my throat. “All until deep grooves scooped out her mom’s eyes, hollowed her flesh, and stuffed her belly to bursting with an irreversible illness.” I do feel the ending was a little unrealistic. Rachael, who was not the strongest throughout the story, suffered far too many pivotal losses in such a short period of time, to then get over them so quickly. Yet her acceptance of Holden in his natural form was beautiful.

As a whole, the story definitely kept me interested, but lacked that thing that makes you say you couldn’t put it down. There were also quite a few grammatical errors that I think should be addressed so that they do not distract the reader. All and all I found it to be an easy, yet enjoyable read, with vivid descriptions and remarkable characterization that left me wanting more, and secretly hoping for future installments

Becoming Violet by Elouise Field
**** 4 star rating 6/23/14

I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up “Becoming Violet.” I was struck by the intensity of the girl on the cover, and figured there would be a spattering of Vampire lore. Other than that, I wasn’t quite sure what I would get. Well, expect to be surprised, and pleasantly so. Kacey Jones is an ordinary girl going to school, and working at a bar to save up for University. Until one morning when she wakes up, and realizes she is anything but ordinary. Suddenly, Kacey is swept up in a fast paced adventure, and sets out on a course that could change her life forever.

First of all, I loved, loved, loved this stories original concept. I grew up on hardcore Fantasy (Anne Mccaffrey, Andre Norton), and I’ve yet to come across a concept quite like this one. The story moves at a break neck pace that could at times, have been slowed down just a bit, but it definitely keeps you interested and at the edge of your seat. I also really enjoyed Kacey’s path to self-discovery, and transition from a quiet girl who lets her best friend walk all over her, to a strong, assertive woman. Her newfound powers are exciting, and every time she summons the sun I can almost see it in my mind. I love vivid descriptions, and “Becoming Violet” had quite a few, (“…the blazing orange fire licking up into the sky like the pronged tongues of a thousand serpents.”) I only wish there had been more. There is quite a plot twist, and I found myself catching my breath and down spacing dramatically, desperately hoping for more, and utterly disappointed that I had reached the end. All in all, “Becoming Violet” was a fun, interesting read, with an original concept, that kept you captivated from start to finish.

As far as syntax is concerned, there were quite a few grammatical errors that I feel should be addressed, so that they do not distract the reader as much. I was also a little surprised by a small sex scene that occurred toward the end of the book, which took me a little off guard, and almost seemed out of place, because the two characters had had very little intimacy before that point. I also felt like the story needed some copy editing to help it rise to it’s full potential. “Becoming Violet,” reminded me very much of Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Trilogies, a unique idea, simply executed, and thoughtfully done, it just needs some finishing polish to make it gold.

I would definitely recommend this book to Young Adult/Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy fans, especially those who love traditional vampire stories with a twist. The sex scene is the only thing that would keep me from recommending it to someone under the age of 17. Overall, I enjoyed the story and look forward to the next book in the series.


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