Thursday, April 21, 2011

Haven by Kristi Cook

"Violet doesn't understand why she feels drawn to the Winterhaven School. She just knows it's the right place for her. When she discovers the school's secret, it all makes sense: Everyone at Winterhaven has psychic gifts. For the first time in her life Violet doesn't have to hide her visions. She's always seen them as a curse, but now she can hone her ability and try to control it.

But she's thrown completely off balance when she meets the most alluring - and most mysterious - boy in school. She's never connected with anyone the way she does with Aidan, and the intensity takes them both by surprise. But as their relationship deepens, she begins to have visions of Aidan's death - and sees that she's the one who's fated to kill him."

-from the inside jacket

From the start of Haven, I was hooked. Violet has finally found somewhere she fits in: a school full of psychics. Not exactly the norm among the paranormal books these days. And while the school is more of a safety-in-numbers kind of thing than teaching them how to use their powers, Cook definitely uses the opportunity to build her cast. Violet is surrounded by telekinetics, empaths, astral projectors...and vampires.

Yeah, vampires. This is the point where I started having some issues. There is so much that Cook could have done with Violet's new, psychic friends, but instead the rest of the novel is peppered with supernatural cliches. The Boy, Aidan, can read minds and is inexplicably drawn to Violet...and guess what? He's a vamp (please see Twilight). Then we find out that when Aidan was mortal, he loved a woman who looks exactly like our heroine (Vampire Diaries) and that Violet is one of a select few girls who are destined to slay vampires (Buffy).

One coincidence, I can handle. I was actually interested to see how Cook would handle the mind-reading boyfriend in a unique way. Make him a vampire...okay, she's not the first to do that. But piling together three major plots from three very popular franchises distracted me from a lot of the book's highlights.

And despite the deja vu, I did enjoy reading Haven. Violet has a strong, distinctive voice and her visions - always of someone she cares about, always bad news - drove the mystery of the plot. I especially liked her new friends, Cece and Co, who were a wonderful dose of normalcy even when they were levitating purses and stepping out of their bodies.

So what's my final word? Even though the plot is flawed, Cook's writing style is captivating. The beginning was wonderful, the end less so. If you think you can look past the deja vu, go ahead and give it a shot.

This is Cook's first novel.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Cara is the quiet girl. Ever since she moved away from her best friend Zoe years ago, she's had trouble fitting in. So when Zoe shows up in her room, running away from home, she has to keep her safe. Zoe hides in her room, content to give Cara makeovers and advice on boys. Cara doesn't even mind if Zoe is a little obsessive-controlling; she's just glad to have her friend back.

Knowing that Zoe is around gives Cara the confidence to branch out. She makes friends on the track team and totally connects with Ethan, her crush.

Then tragedy strikes the town. A girl is found dead, another missing. And Zoe's moods oscillate radically, shifting from kind to cruel to needy until Cara can't keep up. Why did Zoe run away from home? And could she be involved with the incidents?


Cara may have gotten the nickname "Choker" because of an embarrassing event in the cafeteria, but Zoe is the one who is strangling her. Even from the first few pages, a prologue when the girls were neighbors and Zoe tried to get Cara to try her mom's "zombie pills," I was yelling at Cara to get away from that girl. The feeling only got stronger when Zoe returned as a teenager; I hated her mind games and the "but don't you love me?" nature of it all. And, every time, Cara gave in to Zoe's demands.

But I suppose that's what turned Choker into such a compelling read - rooting for Cara, watching each time she did try to stand up for herself and got closer and closer to actually succeeding. Who hasn't had a friend that played with her loyalties?

I've seen a lot of reviews that treat this book as an "intro thriller." I haven't read much horror/mystery myself, so it was kind of perfect in that respect. Dead bodies? Check. Murder mystery? Check. Heebie-jeebies? Triple check. And even though I was guessing the end pretty quickly, the true finale was powerful and startling.

Choker is a great read for the horror hesitant (like me) with a narrator worth rooting for.

This is Elizabeth Woods' first novel.