Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pushing the Limits

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2012
409 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was so excited to pick this book up! Three main reasons for that: 1. Lots of buzz from other bloggers including those who don't normally read much contemporary; 2. the fact that I do read a good amount of contemporary and have a special soft spot for it; and 3. I have read and loved a lot of HarlequinTeen books lately and I think they are just hitting it out of the ballpark with their lists of books. But I was also nervous because it seems like heavily hyped books tend to let me down...what would be the case for Pushing the Limits?

As it turns out, I am not one of the people who will gush over this book: not because it was bad or because I didn't like it. It has a lot of good points and I am comfortable giving it four stars. But it is very much not my kind of story. There is drama on top of drama on top of more drama with little humor to lighten the plot and lift my spirits.

I mean, so much drama! One of our narrators (did I mention this was dually narrated between the lead characters? That was a definite plus for me-I love multiple narrators!) is Echo, former popular girl who lost her status following the news of the death of her brother in Afghanistan and then a night she can't remember but that resulted in serious scars on her arms and a restraining order against her mother. The other narrator is bad boy Noah, orphan, druggie, and foster kid who is trying to fight the system to gain custody of his two younger brothers.

Now that is a lot to take in, right? But it's only a snippet of the drama these two go through. Every time I thought they might catch a break, something else had to break. It added layers and ratcheted up the intensity of their circumstances but it ended up feeling too much for me. I know some people love these melodramatic romantic contemporaries but I'm not one of those people. If you are that kind of person, then I definitely recommend this for you!

Another thing is that while I liked the two narrators, I didn't love them. My love is reserved for supporting characters Mrs. Collins, the slightly off-beat school psychiatrist who just might be an adult they can trust; Isaiah and Beth, Noah's two friends who have been as battered by the foster care system as him; and Lila, a true friend to Echo. In fact, one of my favorite parts of this reading experience ended up being the sneak peek at a companion novel following Beth due in 2013; I can't wait for that!

Overall: A strong contemporary if heavy on the drama and light on the comedy.

Cover: Love Echo's hair-very true to the story. Personally I don't think the cover is very dynamic but it suggests a contemporary love story.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
4/5 stars
Tor, 2012
331 pages
Historical Fantasy

Source: Picked up from library for review.

Light spoilers for first book

Not too long ago I read Shades of Milk and Honey and enjoyed its very Jane Austen-esque plot points along with the addition of magic in the form of glamours. That book concluded with the marriage of heroine Jane to a professional glamourist David Vincent. This sequel promised to expand the magic and test the young marriage, both of which turned out to be true.

The book opens with a high point-Jane and Vincent have worked together to create for the Prince Regent, lifting their profile immeasurably. Furthermore the monstrous Napoleon has been exiled to Elba allowing the pair to journey to Belgium for both professional and personal enjoyment. However no sooner have they arrived then Jane receives news that threatens her future using glamour, Vincent draws away leaving Jane to fear he does not care for her, and Napoleon escapes his prison and rallies his troops as they march on Belgium.

I had mixed feelings about the plot. I was happy that the author drew away from the very over Austen overtones from the first book, which allows her more leeway for future stories, but I was also sad because I love Austen and I want more than six completed novels. But it is mostly for the good as that means this reader got more surprises. There is even more information about the magic and of course politics and war. Napoleon is supposed to be confined to Elba but he still has a lot of support casting a pall over much of the cheeriness.

While I liked a lot, I have to say I didn't think this book was perfect. As Vincent draws away, we don't get nearly enough of him in the book. I love their partnership and was looking forward to more of that. The reason why Vincent pulls away makes sense and is somewhat rectified within the course of the novel but I still want more. The other is the grand climax with Jane doing some extraordinary things that left me a bit skeptical. I think she is very smart and could have come up with such a plan but I just don't know about implementing every element as it actually played out. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've read this book.

Overall: Another enchanting story with the bold and brave Jane Vincent; excited for the third book, which looks like it will be drawing on Emma-I can definitely see Jane as a meddling matchmaker!

Cover: Very pretty-I love the dress although this lady is much prettier than Jane thinks herself to be.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stacking the Shelves 29JUL12

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews to allow us to share what books we have received in the past week. As you can see, I had an exceptional book haul this week. (Sidenote: love this graphic-all the pretty colors!)

On the left is a stack of books I bought at a Kiersten White signing, celebrating the release of Endlessly, the conclusion to her Paranormalcy trilogy. Besides White, Cynthia Hand, Robin LaFevers, and Marie Lu were there so I eagerly snatched up their books and now have autographed copies! I also received a button for Grave Mercy-"Why be the sheep...when you can be the wolf?"

On the right is a mix of sources. Up first is A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger, which I won from Once Upon a Twilight. As a big fan of Keplinger, I am looking forward to reading her latest. Next up are two Amazon Vine review books and then we have Sulan, Episode 1: The League by Camille Picott, which I will be reviewing in September as part of a blog tour. Lastly is a stack of library books, recent YA releases that I requested my library buy. Happily they complied! I have already read Keeping the Castle, which was adorable as expected, and Dreamless (Team Orion!) Currently I am about a quarter of the way through For Darkness Shows the Stars. I am not loving it the way I hoped to but there is still plenty of time.

This is way more books than I usually get in a week (or even a month) but it makes me really happy to see! What did you get this week? If you've read these, which did you like most?

Complete list of links to Goodreads:

Endlessly by Kiersten White
Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
Hallowed by Cynthia Hand
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Legend by Marie Lu
A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
What Came from the Stars by Gary D Schmidt
Scorch by Gina Damico
Sulan, Episode 1: The League by Camille Picott
Keeping the Castle by Patricia Kindl
In Honor by Jessi Kirby
My Life Next Door by Huntly Fitzpatrick
Dreamless by Josephine Angelini
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Winter Town

Winter Town by Stephen Emond
3.5/5 stars
Little, Brown and Company, 2011
331 pages
YA Contemporary Graphic Novel

Source: Library

I'm not sure it's entirely accurate to call this a graphic novel as the majority of the book is told through words. However there are excerpts from the comic created by the two main characters that play a significant role in the narrative (and were personally my favorite part) so I decided to include that above in my categorizing.

I picked this up because I remember seeing posts about it at the end of last year but then I feel it kind of got lost in the holiday busyness as well as anticipation for the many awesome 2012 releases. So when I was looking for a contemporary read at my library, this caught my fancy.

I had an incredibly difficult time getting started, putting this book down several times to pursue other reading material and only finishing it the day before it was due back at the library. I can't quite put my finger on what the problem was. Evan is normally the kind of character I like to read about (and can easily identify with): straight-A student, kind of nerdy, tight-knit family, "normal." But I just didn't click with him or his struggles to reconnect with his best friend Lucy who only comes to visit for about two weeks over winter break.

However about halfway through the narration shifts from third-person focus on Evan to third-person focus on Lucy and I found myself much more intrigued. I don't know if this is me generally being better able to identify with female narrators or if after so much of Evan's speculation about Lucy's state of mind, I was thrilled to get to hear about it straight from the source. Her section opens with exactly what has been preoccupying Lucy during the previous chapters, many unpleasant events that threaten their fragile relationship.

I can't say I was a big fan of the ending as I found it a bit ambiguous if optimistic for my taste. I would have liked something more concrete, cementing that final scene for the future. Spoilers avoided for general audience but if you've read this, hopefully it makes sense to you.

As I said above, my favorite part was the inclusion of a comic drawn and written by Evan and inspired by Lucy and his' childhood imaginations. We get a little taste in-between chapters but I wanted more!

Overall: I feel like the book blurbs make this seem like more of a romance whereas it felt more like a coming of age book that just happened to involve some romantic feelings as happens. If it's going to be billed as a romance, then it really needs to be a romance for me.

Cover: Cool-with the role of paper, it is fitting that the "snow" at the bottom is composed of the paper punched out by a hole puncher.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
3.5/5 stars
Crown Publishers, 2012
383 pages
Adult Mystery Contemporary

Source: Received an ARC from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I read Lupton's Sister because I am a big fan of sister stories but I wasn't as interested in this one since I saw it did not have sisters at the heart of it. But when I had the chance to review a copy through Amazon Vine, I accepted it with interest.

Although it's been a while since I read Sister, I thought the writing style was pretty comparable and indicates that Lupton has her own distinctive voice that should serve her well as she continues to write. The story for this one also has a mystery: who started the fire at a school that led to Grace and her daughter Jenny being badly injured? And while they are having out of body experiences now, will they survive? It might be a bit hard to wrap your head around the fact that Grace and Jenny's souls are moving around but I've read weird premises so I was able to just go with it. I thought it was pretty cool actually. But my favorite part was definitely trying to unravel the mystery as several stories come together and then need to be taken apart to get to the truth.

However there were a some aspects I really didn't like. First is the jarring use of second-person perspective. Grace uses "you" to talk to her husband but I kept feeling like she was trying to talk to the reader so I would get confused about who was doing and saying what. I think second-person is very difficult to incorporate into a novel and I don't think this one was very well-done. When the culprit is eventually revealed, I confess I was a bit confused. I think part of that stems back to the use of second-person narration. And in-between the mystery parts, there were Grace's musings on motherhood, family relations, and the relationship between mother/daughter especially. I didn't always agree with her, particularly about the last one so the fact that she treated those statements as universal didn't seat well with me.

Overall: I think the second-person narration makes this a more divisive book than Sister but recommended to fans of more literary fiction as well as Lupton fans who will want to see this author develop her writing.

Cover: I like the slide on a playground as there is an incident that is important but I think I would have liked to see a cover with the school on fire, just for comparison.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
4/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2012
388 pages
YA Historical Zombies

Source: Received for review from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I think the thing that most people would get out of reading the Goodreads synopsis of this book is "zombies" but I latched onto 1876 Philadelphia, which in our history is the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. As a history nerd, this is something that made me very interested. But none of the reviews I had seen mentioned it. The other thing I anticipated when going in to this book was to be reminded of Dearly, Departed, which also incorporates historical manners and dress with zombies (and which I liked a lot).

Well the centennial does play a part as the Centennial Exhibition attracts national attention, prompting local politicians to try to downplay the zombie threat and hindering the chances of actually stopping the zombies.  This is also where Eleanor meets the Spirit-Hunters, a trio charged with the responsibility of stopping the Dead with very limited resources. I would have liked more about the city during this exciting time though!

As for the story itself, I thought it was somewhat lackluster. There are two main mysteries: where is Eleanor's brother and how to stop the Necromancer menacing the city with the Dead. I fairly quickly solved them as the clues were unsubtly doled out. And I am not someone who is usually able to pinpoint the murderer or anything like that. There were just a limited number of characters introduced so it had to be *that* one and it was. I grew frustrated with Eleanor's slowness to put the pieces together because it seemed very obvious to me.

But I still gave this 4 stars, a pretty high rating. Why? Well, I did like Eleanor and her fighting against being forced into marriage to save her family from financial ruin while her mother continues to spend as if there are no worries in that arena. I identified with her worry over her brother and what he might be caught up in. And I liked her love interest, dreamy Daniel from the Spirit-Hunters (who is not one of the Dead, thankfully; I do not like zombie/human romances).

Overall: A promising debut that needs to kick it up a notch for the second book.

Cover: I like the details in her gloves, jewelry, and what I can see in her hair but it doesn't really pop for me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Didn't Say

What I Didn't Say by Keary Taylor
4/5 stars
CreateSpace, 2012
184 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received an e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I requested this purely because I saw that it was contemporary and I always like to demonstrate support for my favorite genre. I didn't read the summary very closely so I was surprised to read the synopsis with Jake losing his ability to speak. I thought it was just about regret but that regret is also compounded by his physical condition.

This is a super intense story that goes some places I was not expecting and does not shy away from portraying some dark situations. It is not just about Jake like I expected. As the book progresses, his crush Sam's life becomes evenly spotlighted with his, upping the stakes. But before that, Jake is a pretty popular guy, crushing on Sam, the smartest girl in school on track to be valedictorian. One night he gets drunk (they live on a small island in Washington and apparently there isn't much else to do) and foolishly goes driving with his friends. A tragic accident causes a t-post to go through his throat and destroy his vocal cords, ensuring he will never speak again. As he adjusts to his new life, he also manages to befriend and woo Sam whose own life has been tragically disrupted in details that are carefully doled out.

I ended up being surprised by how much the book focused on Sam's life but she is so significant to Jake that of course her life has to become as important. This book also features a great YA family; Jake has a bunch of siblings and really awesome parents as well as a large extended family. They really care and while their personalities are not much distinguished, they are a comfortable presence supporting him throughout.

I was a little confused about the size of the island and its population. Sometimes it seemed very small and contained and other times there seemed to be more people present than one would expect given the tiny size. I was also bothered by the portrayal of one character called Norah the Whorah within the context of the story. She is predatory toward Jake and serves little purpose beyond her cruel nickname and one spectacularly cruel action; I was uncomfortable with her depiction.

Overall: An intense contemporary read with strong elements of romance and drama-definitely not on the lighter side.

Cover: Pretty good-I don't know if I like the yellow tones but it captures the romance as well as Jake's now necessary notepad.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Circle of Silence

Circle of Silence by Carol M. Tanzman
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2012
281 pages
YA Contemporary Suspense

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I saw this on Netgalley and decided to take a shot on something new. After researching it, I discovered that it was a companion novel to dancergirl but made you do not have to read the first book. This one made perfect sense as a standalone to me. In fact it does a great job as I now want to read dancergirl and I will be keeping an eye out for more books in the series (*fingers crossed*).

So what is this book about? It is about a secret society that springs up with journalist Val Gaines and her class TV crew becoming the ringleader in hunting down the members and preventing them from escalating their schemes. I found the plot to be very suspenseful and was on the edge of my seat. Val comes up with many avenues to explore and while at some points, it is one step forward, two steps back, she makes steady progress and kept me engaged. I was about 3/4 of the way through and thought I would call it quits for the night. But then I figured I could read one more chapter...which turned into finishing the book. I just could not put it down.

A surprise for me was the prominent sister-sister relationship; I also like to read about those. This features sisters very close in age with younger sister Beth being very moody and sulky to Val but ultimately blood is thicker than water and their bond is reaffirmed. Val also has an excellent best friend Marci as well as the other members of her crew.

One member in particular stands out: Jagger, Val's ex-boyfriend. Unfortunately I agree with Marci in that he is not good enough for her. He's the pretty typical bad boy that many swoon over in YA but who doesn't do it for me. I like sweet boy next door. Furthermore the romance isn't a very big part of the story so even I was so inclined to care for Jagger, there wasn't much time for that to develop. And while I was caught up in the plot, it was pretty predictable. Early on I suspected a certain character was involved in the secret society although not the leader and ta-da! I was right. However I did not unravel all of the bits, which is what kept me reading.

Overall: Engaging main character's actions to unravel dangerous secret society kept me on the edge of my seat, trying to work with her to solve everything. A really fun read!

Cover: It's pretty cool with the words forming her face-I love those kinds of pictures but it's not to my taste. I like a lot more color in a cover in general.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road by Moira Young
4/5 stars
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011
459 pages
YA Post-Apocalyptic

Source: Library

I want to start with something I'm very glad I knew before picking up this book. It is written in its own distinct dialect that is not the traditional proper English. "Ain't"s, "cain't"s, and dropped "g"s abound in this book. While this is something that normally bothers me, I think it helped that I was prepared. It also helped that the language is very phonetic. I could hear it so clearly in my head and I imagine this could be a really good audiobook, depending on the narrator(s).

That said, let's move on to setting, characters, and plot. The setting is the distant future with a family out in the hinterlands, at least a day's ride from other people. Father, twins Lugh and Saba, and youngest child Emmi are barely surviving in the parched landscape until a mysterious group of men kidnap Lugh and leave their father dead. Now Saba will do anything to bring back her beloved brother and this sets her off on an epic quest.

Saba is the main character and boy is she prickly! My least favorite thing about her was her dislike of her younger sister, who she blames for the death of their mother. While acknowledging the realism of that, it's the opposite of how I feel about my younger sister (who I adore) so it was painful to read at times. She is really mean to Emmi who, to her credit, never gives up and is very much in the mold of her older sister with her incredible stubbornness and perseverance. But beyond that, Saba is strong, not just physically but emotionally and mentally. She undergoes terrible traumas on her journey to save Lugh and always keeps her head up for the next moment.

However, sometimes the plot seemed to almost stall, lingering in one place instead of high-octane action all the time. And a lot of things seemed too easy, too coincidental and it made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief. The big climax at the end with rescuing Lugh felt too short and I wanted to be blown back by the suspense and excitement, whereas I was able to put down this book at several critical junctures without feeling too much loss.

One last element to mention and not to spoil anything for you but there is a bit of romance...and I loved it! I found the male love interest a little rogueish in the best possible way and I love how Saba kept pushing him away despite the obvious signs of interest. She knew there was something about him, a cocky smile, the way he pokes through her defenses, and the way he lives by his wits. I really liked him as a love interest and as a character.

Overall: Really good-I enjoyed the journey a lot and I am happy to discover there is a sequel due out later this year titled Rebel Heart.

Cover: I think the cover is very evocative of the dusty setting; the sand plays a critical role at multiple parts of the story.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises-Some Thoughts

Like many people, I eagerly went out to see Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. Sadly this movie has become part of a tragedy with that gunman killing appearing at a midnight showing in Colorado. My deepest sympathies are with the survivors and family members as they mourn their losses.

Going in to the film, I had some worries. I wasn't sure I would be able to understand the villain Bane's speaking voice with the mask over his mouth. I was terrified of the long running time (2 hours, 45 minutes). And I was wondering if this could possibly top The Dark Knight, a tremendously amazing picture that only keeps improving, the more I watch it.

Of those three concerns, the first one was eased early on. I thought Bane was very clear and easy to understand-this comes from someone who always puts subtitles on if they're available because I often need a little help. In my theater, he sounded a little louder than the other characters and I was able to understand almost everything he said (there were some trouble spots at the end).

I did think the movie was a tad on the long side. I was fully absorbed in the film (unlike, say, Avatar where I fell asleep) except for some stretches in the middle. The climatic scenes were excellent and I loved the ending although there was some ambiguity (highlight to read spoiler: I would have liked to see JGL as Robin and then to step up in to the Batman role. I loved loved loved Alfred seeing Selina and Bruce at the end though :)

However at the moment I still prefer The Dark Knight with its more charismatic villain and what felt like a tighter plot. Saying that I did not like the film very much after my first viewing, feeling overwhelmed by the darkness. It is entirely possible that this will become my favorite of the trilogy due to my favorite character.

As you might guess from the picture, my very favorite character was Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle (Catwoman). In my opinion, every time she appeared, the movie pepped up from her energy. She's slinky with some killer black dresses, red lips, and crazy long legs (seriously impressive legs-I'm totally using them as inspiration for my exercise regime). Her hair was never mussed and she remained poised in every situation. I love Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman so I'm not comfortable saying that either is my favorite but I'm fine saying they are tied.

Did you see The Dark Knight Rises this weekend? What did you think?

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Fever by Lauren DeStefano
4/5 stars
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012
341 pages
YA Dystopia
#2 in the Chemical Garden Trilogy

Source: Library

Spoilers for Wither and Fever within-be warned!

I loved the cover for first book Wither. Seriously, I talked about it a lot. I didn't love the story within quite as much but I was still eager to know what came next for Rhine and Gabriel as they broke out of the compound.

However I realized fairly quickly that I did prefer the setting at the mansion where Rhine was confined with her father-in-law Vaughn, her forced husband Linden, and her sister wives. I don't really like stories where they're constantly on the run, away from something, in this case the threatening Vaughn who will never let Rhine permanently out of his clutches (Note: I do like quest novels where they're going toward something). However they do have a goal of reaching New York so that Rhine can search for her twin brother Rowan.

I don't want to share too much about this plot but I would say that I would break the book down into four parts: the carnival brothel (or as April humorously called it Cirque du Brothel), extended period journeying on the road, arrival in New York and settling down in an orphange, and finally Rhine returns to the basement of the mansion so that Vaughn can continue his experiments on her. For me, the book increased in interest the more I read with me vastly preferring the concluding location, which was haunting and gripping with Rhine on the brink of madness and almost always in pain. Then there was the ending, the last word in fact, which ensured that I will be returning. I was fearful as the pair fled but the menace increased one-hundredfold once Vaughn was a constant presence. We never knew when he would return to try out some other drug on Rhine and the days pass fitfully. It was great!

That is not to say that there weren't great moments throughout. There were some amazing descriptions with color and touch, for example.  At some times, I felt the focus was more on the writing rather than the characters or plot which accounted for a bit of a lag. For people who like that though, this should be an amazing read.

Overall: Honestly I was neutral about reading this second book and only grabbed it because it happened to be on my library's shelf. Now that I am done, I am very glad I did because this was a roller-coaster ride for me and I am eager to complete the trilogy.

Cover: Part of the reason I took so long to read this book was that I found the cover less attractive than Wither. I *love* that purple and still enjoy looking at the cover. This one is kind of busy although if Rhine is holding a tarot card, that is relevant to the plot.

Friday, July 20, 2012

First Comes Love

First Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky
4/5 stars
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
198 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received an ARC from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I read this author's debut Awaken and ended up really disliking the romance. Thus a book focused on romance may not have been the wisest read for me. But contemporary YA is my genre so I wanted to give her another try. It also helped that this was short-I figured it would be a nice, quick Saturday afternoon read :)

It was a very fast read and I actually really enjoyed myself. This is partly because it is told in alternating perspectives between the boy and the girl-I love the chance to get in to multiple characters' heads and see how they view each other. In this case, we have Gray, frozen in time after a horrific event and Dylan, the free-spirited girl who impulsively acts and blows with the wind. Together they experience a variety of firsts and build a deep relationship.

We are introduced to Dylan through Gray's perspective first. He sees a girl seemingly oblivious to the heat of Phoenix who is unable to sit still and is without the constraints that so many of us feel in society. Dylan meanwhile sees someone with hidden depths and decides to befriend him. She is especially instrumental in challenging him and helping him move on with his life.

Probably my big difficulty though was in understanding Dylan's point of view. She doesn't want to be tied down. She thinks it is great to travel without a plan and she wants to go everywhere and try everything. I'm much more like Gray, more tied to a place and people. Thus the later chapters when she succumbs to the lure of adventure while Gray longs for her to stay were hard for me. I agree that they are both very young (probably about eighteen or nineteen, high school graduates, making this book technically New Adult, I guess) and I don't want Dylan to give up herself and just wither away with Gray. But I am a more settled person so I also kind of didn't understand why she wouldn't want that. It's a very personal feeling.  Also I tend to think of Dylan as a boy's name so I had to keep reminding myself that she was female.

Overall: A fine entry to the YA romantic contemporary subgenre; recommended for those who are already fans. Not necessarily for paranormal readers.

Cover: It's very plain: just the faces and the dark background. I like a cover with a bit more going on although it does clearly signal romance. I don't think you'd pick this up and expect a thriller.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock
3.5/5 stars
Katherine Tegen Books, 2012
404 pages
YA Paranormal

Finally I have had a chance to read this after skimming many reviews and getting a lot of ideas about what this book contains. It sounded like a different kind of werewolf book and the love triangle actually seemed to be a lot more complex with some different dynamics represented.

The basic plot is that werewolves are known and acknowledged in this world; when captured they are tagged and sent off to camps, never to be seen again. However some evade capture such as the mysterious white wolf that killed Amy, best friend to Mac, our main character.  Now Mac is struggling in grief while her town is overtaken by the Trackers, an extremist group dedicated to crushing werewolves. Meanwhile Mac's personal life is spiraling out of control, largely due to the aforementioned love triangle.

Well let's tackle the love triangle first. Both of the guys are long-time friends of Mac. One, Jason, dated her best friend Amy and the other is her best friend Kyle but the two have never contemplated taking their friendship to the next level (according to Mac's narration). Jason spends most of the book being the entitled rich kid, never forced to deal with consequences because his daddy's money and influence spares him from all that. He is a jerk with a lot of rage so it is not too surprising to see him get entangled with the Trackers. Kyle is much more my type, the very sweet guy who is there when you need him. Of course, both are super hot and there are several intimate scenes between Mac and each guy. One of the elements I was prepared for was for Mac to have a more maternal side to each guy, which is true in my opinion. I thought she spent a lot of time looking after and being protective of them, not that they necessarily appreciated it. And thus, while I liked Kyle quite a bit, I ultimately am not a fan of this love triangle. I think Mac needs someone else outside of their weird little group.

Thinking back on the mystery, it all ties together perfectly although I was not able to puzzle it out for myself. It's money, influence, and politics tying together for someone's agenda. Honestly I was too sidetracked by everything Mac was doing to really consider who the wolf could be (thankfully we do find out or I would have been upset).

One of my favorite parts was that Mac keeps imagining Amy in her head and having conversations with her. It didn't seem exactly like a dream but more of a coping mechanism. I always got excited to see Amy's name appear in print during those scenes. This was especially effective in the end when Amy warns Mac that unveiling the white wolf does not end everything; there is more to come, obviously as this is a trilogy.

Overall: I did like the paranormal elements and mystery but the love triangle was a bit too drawn out for my taste and ultimately I root for Mac as a single gal, unencumbered by the stupid boys.

Cover: The girl looks so separate from her surroundings instead of one with the forest. The dress is also extremely impractical for all of the running around Mac does.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

This Is Not a Test

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
4.5/5 stars
St. Martin's Griffin, 2012
322 pages
YA Contemporary Zombies

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I've read a couple of Courtney Summers books and have admired her writing although I would not call myself a fan girl. I have read a couple of zombie books but still tend to avoid them. So why did I want to read this book? Well, I'm always up for trying something different and early buzz suggested that the zombie part was not too prominent.

I would have to agree with that opinion as the majority of the book focuses on six high-school students trapped in their high school away from the hordes of zombies. While there is obviously a strong element of suspense (will the zombies break through?), the majority of the book is more of a character study of the six kids who are handling the deteriorating situation in varying ways.

The main character is Sloane, who is many ways was already dead. Crushed under the thumb of an abusive father, her older sister Lily abandoned her six months earlier and Sloane feels that she has already faced death. She can barely believe that she has made it as far as she has for life is not what she seeks. My sister read this book before me and was annoyed by what she called Sloane's whininess. I respectfully disagree, finding in Sloane a quiet unrealized strength that is given full rein during this time of ordeal. She does not always make the best decisions but she's a teenager during the apocalypse-she's doing her best.

There really aren't that many characters but I do want to cite Cary, who I liked immensely. I'm pretty sure that I would die in an apocalypse (and I'm okay with that; better death than being a zombie) but I might have a chance of survival if I followed his leadership. He has to make some tough calls and again not always the right ones (remember, he's a teenager!) but I admired his drive and determination.

Plotwise there really isn't that much. There's a bit about the journey to the school and then life inside the school with the kids but if you're looking for exciting locations and kick-butt action, you won't find that here. It's just some average kids in the weirdest situation.

Warning: Language-although I understand that these teens are in a society that has broken down, I was still a bit shocked by some of the language used.

Overall: A really powerful flowing read, even for those who are squeamish or generally uninterested in zombie books.

Cover: I find the overall effect pretty creepy, which is appropriate for a zombie book. The girl's head is at a bizarre angle, there is a bit of blood splattered at the top corner, and the colors are moody and evocative. It's not my favorite color but it works.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Without Tess

Without Tess by Marcella Pixley
3.5/5 stars
Margaret Ferguson Books, 2011
280 pages
YA Contemporary Sisters

Source: Library

One of the themes or plotlines that most preoccupies me in literature is that covering the relationship between sisters. This comes from my own actual life where I have a younger sister. I do not usually anticipate reading books where the sister-sister relationship is as functional as ours (because it isn't very dramatic) but then I don't usually expect a relationship as dysfunctional as the one covered in Without Tess.

Our narrator is Lizzie, a young girl faltering in high school, still mourning the loss of her older sister, the titular Tess. She has no friends, no ambitions, and clutches Tess' journal as her safety. Through the listening help of Dr. Kaplan, Lizzie begins to realize the mental state of Tess and release herself from crippling feelings of guilt over her complicity in her sister's death.

I felt so much pain reading about Tess, her imaginative fancies, and the way she brought Lizzie in to them. I understand that Tess had mental problems and that their parents were completely ineffectual in getting her the support she needed. But as an outsider, I just wanted to reach in and protect Lizzie. She constantly put herself at risk and alienated others in order to stay in the good graces of her temperamental sister. As it says on the book jacket, "...she did everything her sister asked her to do, even if it meant putting herself in danger." It's absolutely heartbreaking and one of the saddest sister stories I've read. There are the fun times that bind them as sisters but they are far outweighed by Tess' mental illness.

One last element to mention is the writing, which is beautifully lush and did an excellent job capturing Tess' poetic side, the way she could throw out a phrase or sentence to entice Lizzie. However that is not the kind of writing that I really like and I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the writing. It was pretty and character-based where I tend to like a little bit more action. As might be expected, there are a lot of flashbacks in the book to trace the development of the relationship between the sisters; sometimes this can be confusing but in general, I thought it was very clear when events were happening.

Overall: Beautiful poetic writing and a storyline that just made me want to go hug my sister and tell her how much I love her.

Cover: A fitting sparseness for the way Lizzie's life feels.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Through Rushing Water

Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond
4/5 stars
Thomas Nelson, 2012
349 pages
Christian Historical Romance

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read this author's previous work, Spring for Susannah, and absolutely loved the romance so despite not being excited about the setting (1876 Dakota Territory), I was very eager to learn more.

Sophia Makinoff is preparing to become engaged to a rising young Congressman until he announces his engagement to her frivolous roommate and she applies to be a missionary. Her goal is to go to China and perhaps eventually return to her birthplace in Russia. Instead she is sent to Dakota Territory to serve as a missionary and teacher to the Ponca Indians. Running from the pain of the broken relationship, Sophia is soon immersed in the lives of those around her, battling for the Ponca tribe and their livelihood against an encroaching American government.

I have to say that I LOVED Sophia. She is so tough, loving, and full of grace. She could have given up at multiple points but she just kept persevering and attempting new avenues to get the support she needed. She gave her whole heart to the challenge of making a new life in the Dakota Territory. Another notable character is Will, the village's carpenter. Despite warnings from the local pastor and land agent, he learned the Ponca language and has been accepted by them, also putting forth his best efforts in seemingly hopeless conditions.

However plot-wise, the book seemed a bit soggy. I think you could divide the book roughly into thirds. The first is Sophia becoming acclimated; the second is fighting the US government's demands that the Poncas move; and the last third is in Omaha where Sophia and Will's romance really takes off. While I loved the romance, I did think the Ponca storyline was more powerful so to have it almost shelved was frustrating and to the story's detriment.

There were a couple of elements that were new to me, as a sporadic reader of Christian fiction. First Sophia was born in Russia and was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church to the shock of the local Episcopal priest; I've really only read books with Protestant heroines. The second element was the inclusion of the Ponca Indians. Since I tend to read historical fiction set in Regency and WWII, I'm not as familiar with the period. It's also a tough one to read about because of the appalling way the US government behaved; it's hard to read about the underhanded behavior when I know that the bad guys aren't really punished.

Overall: I loved the bits of romance but thought the plot as a whole wasn't as strong and powerful as it might have been.

Cover: The cover does not appeal to my personal preferences as I like bright colors but its muted tones are fitting for this more somber story.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Winner! And the Week to Come

My Lindsey Leavitt Princess for Hire giveaway is completed and the winner is....

#36 Carolyn M

who chose A Farewell to Arms. Congrats Carolyn!

Thank you to everyone who entered and shared about this! I'm going to be taking a break from giveaways for a bit but you'll definitely want to check out my 3-year blogoversary in November where I'm planning a full week of giveaways.

Until then I have a full roster of reviews planned; for example this week, I have:
Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond, a Christian historical romance
Without Tess by Marcella Pixley, YA contemporary about sisters
This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, YA contemporary with zombies (and most excellent!)
Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock, YA paranormal with werewolves
First Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky, YA romantic contemporary
Fever by Lauren DeStefano, YA dystopia-sequel to Wither

For now I will leave you with a picture of my adorable kitty cat, who is also a reader, of course. Happy reading!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Nothing Special

Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach
3/5 stars
Sourcebooks Fire, 2012
290 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I requested this under the impression that it would be a fun contemporary read. While not wrong, it did miss that this is a sequel to Stupid Fast, a book I have not read. I think that was to my detriment as there were many points in this book where I struggled; I seriously think the background from Stupid Fast would have improved my reading experience.

The reason for that is the many relationships and assumed history that were completely bewildering to me. There's our main character Felton and his mother (who he calls by her first name, making me think she was his stepmother but I think she is his birth-mother), his brother, and their now-deceased father who committed suicide. His shadow hangs over the family especially as the man's athleticism is echoed in Felton's skills. Their family also has messed-up relationships with the parents of the father, something that is explored in this book. Felton has his own personal mind to work out too including feelings of inadequacy as suggested by the title of the book. His journey to rebuild relationships and understand himself forms the bulk of the story.

Family plays a big role but so does friendship with Felton reconnecting with his ex-best friend as well as struggling to maintain a romantic relationship with Aleah, who it seems plays a big role in the first book. She doesn't make an appearance here but she is uppermost in his mind. But as I said before, I was so confused for most of the book. It wasn't until the story had really developed toward the end that I felt somewhat settled in the setting.

Saying all that about the confusion of characters, I did really like the writing especially since it was written in letter-format (I am a sucker for epistolary novels). The humor is enjoyable and those who are looking for a male protagonist should enjoy Felton's compelling voice.

Overall: Definitely not a standalone. But if you liked the contemporary of Stupid Fast, you should enjoy the further life experiences of Felton Reinstein.

Cover: I really like the cover; as a yearbook setting, it evokes the entire experience of being in school and looking back and thinking about how you'll be remembered.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Size 12 and Ready to Rock

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot
4/5 stars
304 pages
Contemporary Mystery
#4 in the Heather Wells series

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I read the first three Heather Wells books pre-blog days and while I enjoyed them, I was left unsatisfied with the romantic situation of Heather and her boyfriend Cooper. That issue is immediately resolved in this book with Heather and Cooper being engaged and discussing elopement. Their relationship is pretty rock solid and they are very happy. Nothing could possibly get between them...

Until they are caught up in the goings-on of Cooper's brother/Heather's ex Jordan and his new wife pop sensation Tania Trace who is being blackmailed by a shady character from her past. Tania requests Cooper's services as a bodyguard (remember he's a private investigator) while the first Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp takes over Heather's dorm for the summer. This gives the couple a chance to work out some long-standing issues and allows for more family reunion.

I love that Heather works in a residence hall so I was a bit disappointed that school was out for the summer. Luckily we get a whole host of new characters participating in the rock camp as well as getting to see lots of familiar faces, especially Magda, one of my favorite characters who is in just a few scenes but whose appearance was very much appreciated by me.

The primary mystery is around the person from Tania's past (although there are several smaller suspenses throughout) and I teased about some relationship drama above but the main focus of the novel really is Cabot's trademark humor. I've read most of her books and I find it so comforting to return to one of her worlds. There are several recurring jokes from the earlier books in the series as well as general themes of female empowerment, familiar to fans of Cabot.  I especially loved the burgeoning relationship between Heather and Tania. While the former could certainly bear a grudge to the Tania for getting involved with Heather's fiance while they were still engaged, she knows she is better off with Cooper (so much better off!) and gives Tania a needed boost in confidence and support.

Overall: You probably could read this as a standalone but it will work best if you have read all of the previous books; also serves as a fitting conclusion for the series in case Cabot doesn't produce a fifth.

Cover: Is that model really a size 12? I suspect she is a bit smaller than that.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Scorpions of Zahir

The Scorpions of Zahir by Christine Brodien-Jones
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
3/5 stars
Delacorte Press, 2012
369 pages
MG Contemporary Fantastical

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really love the cover with its vibrant blue/green and the idea of archaeology in Morocco, the primary setting for this book. I didn't know too much about its plot going in to the book and I was okay with that.

Once I started reading though I really struggled to connect with main character, eleven year old adventurer Zagora Pym who aspires to be an explorer just like her father is. I don't know exactly why because on the surface, she is pretty much the kind of character I like. She is spunky, curious, and intelligent. She has ambition and drive that should bring her much success as she ages. But I didn't really like her. Certainly part of that was her habit of taking her father's possessions, hiding them, and then obscuring her actions as well as her generally impetuous nature, which had her diving headfirst into situations without carefully considering the best course to take. But another part is me the reader just not clicking with her.

The other characters are fine. There is her father and older brother whose differences from Zagora actually come in handy and give her a new appreciation for his interests. Then there's the shady Olivia and her cousin the mysteriously reappearing Pitblade. Two characters from the region are their guide Razziq and the imperious Mina who wants to reclaim an artifact for her people. Lastly there are the titular scorpions, who terrified me. Not only are they bigger than the average scorpion, they also seem to be smarter and capable of coordination. Much as they scared me, I did appreciate their importance to the plot.

Overall: Inability to connect with characters combined with slow-moving plot made this an unpleasant read for me. I hope more readers are able to click with Zagora and gave her story its due.

Cover: As mentioned above, I like the cover. Definitely signals middle-grade story as well as capturing the desert setting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
5/5 stars
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012
451 pages
YA Fantasy

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I didn't know much about this book other than that it featured dragons which was reason enough for me to read it. As popular as dragons are, I still have not read much fiction with them. I had also seen several positive reviews of the book, albeit with some cautions about a slow beginning.

So recently I picked the book up and was soon consumed by the world created and especially the characters. I just loved them all so much and I really want to underscore that as I don't always have such a powerful positive reaction to characters. Of course there is main character Seraphina, half-human, half-dragon, who reminded me very strongly of Alanna from Tamora Pierce's series, perhaps because of the deception both must perform to maintain their place at court. Seraphina is not even supposed to exist, living in a country where humans and dragons maintain an uneasy peace. She must keep her dragon parts tightly under wraps even as the two world collide and she possesses a unique mindset to maintain that peace. Because of her covert way of life, Seraphina often lies, trying to maintain the masquerade; although this usually bothers me in a character, I completely understood her reasons and strongly sympathized with her.

After Seraphina, we have her uncle Orma, a dragon secretly masquerading as a human. He has served as her teacher and mentor and serves as our prime insight into the mind of dragons. They're kind of like Vulcans, with an emphasis on logic and pursuit of knowledge while despising human emotions like love, and Orma seriously reminded me of Spock in his careful way of speaking as well as his confusion over the human world. The other major character I have to mention is Prince Lucian Kiggs, who I pictured as Richard Armitage in North and South-sawoon, captain of the Queen's Guard and betrothed to the princess-heir but whose mind is dangerously perceptive to Seraphina's secrets and lies. I realize that of the three characters I mention, I also compared them to others, which I find to be a good thing. They're not exact copies; they just elicit positive comparisons to characters I already love in one way or another.

As for pacing, I can see some people finding parts slow, especially those who generally don't like fantasy. I did struggle with some of the names and new words, being unsure of pronunciation. But I am also comfortable with a slow pace so I can't really comment on that section. I can say that I thought information was doled out at a pretty appropriate pace and I don't have any complaints. It was maybe a bit on the long side but since fantasy has a lot to establish, I am understanding of that.

You may notice that I didn't share much about the plot. That was intentional as I don't want to accidentally reveal any of the many twists and turns. There are so many more great characters I didn't mention as I don't want spoilers and just a lot packed into this book. I am very excited for the next book.

Overall: Pretty dang perfect fantasy!

Cover: Not my favorite-I tend to like bold, bright covers that catch the eye. This seems more muted although I'd have to see it in person to really judge properly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Story of Us

The Story of Us by Deb Caletti
3/5 stars
Simon Pulse, 2012
389 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Library

After enjoying the powerful Stay, I eagerly picked up this latest release from Caletti, anticipating another great story (and hearing Taylor Swift in my head; I love this song!) Would this "look (sic) a lot like a tragedy now"?

Well, sad to say this was most definitely not to my taste for many reasons. The premise I expected was a character narrating the romance and break-up with a guy. That's part of it with main character Cricket tracing her relationship with Janssen up to and past the awful thing she did to him (this is not revealed until toward the end so I will not share it here). The story as a whole ended up being more expansive, including her family's history and their moving on to create a new family as her mother prepares to marry a really good guy. The story takes place over a few days at the beach house where people gather. I didn't have a problem with that. I had a problem with other parts.

First I had the hardest time with the characters. There were a lot of them introduced as people gathered for a wedding and while I could keep track of their relationships, sometimes their specific personality quirks eluded me and I confused two people.  Furthermore there are a lot of references to the past to trace how the characters reached the present. This was usually clearly marked and I've often liked the mingling of past and present in a story but I did not like that method for this one. I think I found it more distancing because of Cricket's voice.

Then there was my uncertainty about what Cricket did that was so awful to her boyfriend. I figured she had cheated...or come very close. Nope, nothing that bad, in my opinion. I think it was perfectly understandable for their situation in life. Furthermore while Cricket thought about this, she became upset that he was friendly with another girl. Meanwhile Cricket was cozying up to another guy! Hypocrite and another reason I was unable to bond with this girl.

I also really didn't like that we saw the letters Cricket sent to her boyfriend, who was presumably responding but whose responses are not shown. This felt very one-sided to me. I think I might have been more interested in this book if it had been alternating Cricket/Janssen chapters to tell the story of them from the beginning to the end.

Lastly there is a lot of talk about dogs. Now I am a cat-person (remind me to show you pictures of my cat some time) but I still like dogs. Or at least I thought I did. I was a little tired of how they were used in this story to prove some kind of point, I think. I didn't really get it. I mean, I understand the relationship between human and pet and I value mine but it was too much.

Overall: I feel like this is definitely not up to the standard set by Caletti with the masterful Stay; it was abstruse and emotionally distancing. While I wish I could recommend this contemporary, it did not work for me.

Cover: Is appropriate as the setting is near a beach and I love the pinks on the side and the book itself.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Am (Not) the Walrus

I Am (Not) the Walrus by Ed Briant
4/5 stars
Flux, 2012
273 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book caught my eye with its Beatles-inspired title; at least I assumed it was inspired by the Beatles given the presence of guitars on the cover. I didn't really know what the story was about, which left me with plenty of room to be surprised.

The story was difficult to get in to, for me, because it opens during  a rugby game or practice. I was only able to figure this out with much difficulty as I am not very familiar with the sport; I imagine others will be similarly thrown. But I quickly got a handle on the setting in England focusing on two boys in a band, one Zach and the other is our narrator Toby.

Zach plays guitar and Toby does bass and vocals in their Beatles cover band. But one day Toby opens up his bass to discover a mysterious note that sets off a chain of events. This note leads to some very scary encounters with a man who is determined to possess the bass, for what reason Toby knows not. There are also several other subplots in this book. One is Toby's family's poverty as his mother struggles to find a job while his brother's military service is in jeopardy after he is caught stealing. Then there is Toby's mishaps with the ladies. Smooth, he is not but there are many funny scenes around that.

For the most part, I thought the family subplots didn't get enough time (this is a pretty short book after all) and I found the ending very abrupt in that regard. But the bass mystery and the girl plots had adequate resolution. I got to learn a bit about guitar history, which is something I knew nothing about.

The real standout though is the humor and Toby's general awkwardness. He does not have game and there are many funny parts throughout relating to that. I also liked that there was some growth for Toby and I really loved all of the musical parts as a fellow musician.

Overall: A humorous novel with some scary moments-I cannot emphasize that enough.

Cover: I like the pinkish cover but due to the color's association with femininity, it was surprising to read a book focusing on the male perspective. I would have guessed something to do with a rocker-chick, based solely on the cover.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mid-Year Check-In

So, it's just over the halfway point; let's check in and see what's going on around my blog...
  • I reached my goal of reading 150 books which puts me on track for my year goal of 300.
  • I am currently hosting a giveaway for one book in Lindsey Leavitt's Princess for Hire series in support of the release of the conclusion, A Farewell to Charms; Lindsey also stopped by for an interview.
  • Getting psyched for 3 year blogoversary-I'm going all out! I'm currently hoping to have some guest posts from some of my favorite bloggers and I'm also planning giveaways of course. In my opinion, the best way to celebrate 3 years of blogging is by giving away books. This won't be until November but I'm very excited just thinking about it.
And lastly, my most favorite reads so far (with links to goodreads):

YA contemporary cancer Hayley MatthewsYA historical fiction WWII Verity Maddie spy 5 starsYA contemporary 5 stars Clem summer boating

Cora Grand Tour Europe Will historical fictionNikki Beckett Jack Cole Underworld first book YA paranormalYA dystopia first book Day June
YA paranormal Lenzi Zak Alden Speaker ProtectorRory Jack the Ripper first book paranormal thriller

How was the first half of your year?

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