Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Devil in the Corner, by Patricia Elliott- Review

From Goodreads:
Penniless, and escaping the horrors of life as a governess to brutal households, Maud seeks refuge with the cousin-by-marriage she never knew. But Juliana quashes Maud's emerging friendships with the staff and locals - especially John, the artist commissioned to restore the sinister Doom in the local church. John, however, is smitten with Maud and makes every effort to woo her.

Maud, isolated and thwarted at every turn, continues to take the laudanum which was her only solace in London. Soon she becomes dependent on the drug - so is this the cause of her fresh anxieties? Or is someone - or something - plotting her demise?

Is the devil in the corner of the Doom a reality, or a figment of her imagination?

A classic Gothic romance, which is sadly rare in YA as a genre, The Devil in the Corner filled my neglected need for something dark and moody.  Why, oh why can't I have a little more dark and moody in my reading? Now that Kenneth Oppel has given up the Victor Frankenstein series,  I only have Megan Shepherds books to look too when I'm feeling a need for some Gothic in my reading flavours. Needless to say I've been saving Shepherds follow up, Her Dark Curiosity for a rainy day.

Tone is always really important to me in a Gothic story. Obviously there are certain requirements that need to be met to make a story Gothic, but tone isn't generally one of them. That being said, I particularly like my Gothic stories when they have a certain dryness to them. Not boring dry, but told as if by a narrator who is emotionally removed from the story. To me it lends that shivery quality to the telling, where even great episodes of emotion are told with a cold voice. Elliott did this especially well, and although her story was first person, two person POV, she used the uptight Victorian time period to her advantage, letting it overtake the way in which we are told the story. John and Maud are nothing if they're not proper, and it's this need to be proper and not overly emotive with each other which ends up causing so much trouble. As a modern reader this can be both frustrating and deeply revealing of a century that wasn't that long ago in time but ages away in both mannerisms, and lifestyle (among other things).

I especially like how Elliott used religion and atheism to great effect by centering the story around the Doom painting. How this painting brings everyone together, how it is both feared and revered, but also how Maud seems to see her own fate within it, is a nice touch to a story that is otherwise about cruel relatives and gossiping towns people who will stop at nothing (it would seem), to cast out someone they see as an interloper.

If you're looking for something to mix up your reading a little, then look no further than The Devil in the Corner. It will be your breath of musty, creepy air, and you'll likely enjoy every dire moment of it.

The Devil in the Corner, by Patricia Elliott
Published by Hachette Children's Books (Orchard in the UK), March 2014
My ecopy kindly provided by the UK publisher.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some more mini reviews! Because YES, I AM that behind.

Ugh, guys. I AM THE WORST REVIEWER! Seriously. I'm behind 30 reviews and lets not even talk about the last time I updated my Reviews by Titles, Goodreads or Review Policy.  So let me get these mini-reviews out of my system with an apology- I totally read some of these over a year ago.

From Goodreads: 
After a bizarre accident, Ingrid Waverly is forced to leave London with her mother and younger sister, Gabby, trading a world full of fancy dresses and society events for the unfamiliar city of Paris.
In Paris there are no grand balls or glittering parties, and, disturbingly, the house Ingrid’s twin brother, Grayson, found for them isn’t a house at all. It’s an abandoned abbey, its roof lined with stone gargoyles that could almost be mistaken for living, breathing creatures.

And Grayson has gone missing.

No one seems to know of his whereabouts but Luc, a devastatingly handsome servant at their new home.

Ingrid is sure her twin isn’t dead—she can feel it deep in her soul—but she knows he’s in grave danger. It will be up to her and Gabby to navigate the twisted path to Grayson, a path that will lead Ingrid on a discovery of dark secrets and otherworldly truths. And she’ll learn that once they are uncovered, they can never again be buried.

I loved this story, it was different and had a nice haunting vibe, plus Paris. I liked that Morgan found a new and intriguing paranormal angle that's still historical, and well, as plausible as vampires and werewolves are ever going to be. Obviously the 1899 time frame was a great addition to this story, I'm not sure it would work as well in a modern setting, but combined with the gargoyles it was the touch that made this story really work for me.

Some thriller overtones, a lot of mystery, an enchantingly unusual and well done paranormal angle, combined with some endearing characters, made this book a surprise win for me. Although it took me nearly a year to sing it's praises, it left me quite charmed and I'm really looking forward to the second part, The Lovely and the Lost due out in May. Gosh, it's only March. Really it's like I got to this review early.

The Beautiful and the Cursed, by Page Morgan
Published by Doubleday, May 14th, 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy The Beautiful and the Cursed on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her, beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing, it's taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest, but there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

I've been eyeing this one up forever. Several bloggers I like had glowing things to say about it back when it first came out, and it had been on my wish list for probably three years. I always loved the dancing princesses story and looked forward to a YA novel adaptation. This Christmas I ran into a soft cover copy while looking for something to spend my last 10$ of a gift certificate on and voila! Just like that it was off my wish list and into my grubby little mitts.

One thing I've considered, while stewing over this review, was maybe there was just too much lead up to this book for me. Spending three years thinking it was going to be lovely was maybe not entirely fair to it's simplicity. Meaning, I liked it, but it certainly didn't leave me with intensive feelings of love.

I felt like there was too much build on the unhappy, burdened sisters, after the death of their mother, it went on much too long before it transitioned into the dancing nights. Also, the king was vilified so badly in the beginning that it was very difficult for me to believe in his caring when he came back into play in the story, I felt like Dixon needed to dial back his cruelty a bit.

I did really enjoy the part of the story about the suitors trying to figure out where the girls danced. This is where I thought Dixon did a really great job on elaborating on the original fairy tale. Overall though, I was underwhelmed. Also, fair warning! Amazon suggests that Entwined if frequently bought with Divergent...Ummmm, not remotely similar! I would definitely not recommend this slow moving fairy tale re-telling with a break-neck, action packed dystopian.

Entwined, by Heather Dixon
Published by Greenwillow, March 2011
Buy Entwined on Amazon

From Goodreads: 
In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power—brutally transforming their subjects' lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:
Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past—and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword. . . .

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

A complex and enjoyable fantasy, I would not bill it as Game of Thrones for teens as they did on Goodreads. Not political enough, nor nearly enough characters. However it is a multi-layered story built on rotating POV's which keeps the plot tight and fast-paced. Being as I read it quite some time ago, *side eyes sequel which has been out since December*, much of the nuancing has long ago slipped my mind. However! I do remember that much of it had me on the edge of my seat and that I was eager to dig into part two. At this point though, I'm guessing it would be wise of me to just hold out for part three and re-read the whole thing at once, so I can really appreciate how it comes together.

Alas, so many books! So little time! But it's always nice to have something you know will be truly enjoyable, tucked off to the side for a future rainy day.

Falling Kingdoms, by Morgan Rhodes
Published by Razorbill, December 11, 2012
Buy Falling Kingdoms on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

This was truly one of the most bizarre books I've read in awhile. Let's start with the obvious, this is a strange hunger games-esque reality race to the death. Except with animals, and some kind of secret group handing out secret cures to the winners. And a weird disease that all the contestants are trying to win a cure to, but that only affects the family members of the race contestants and nobody else in the world knows about it. It's a feeble plot at best.

The animal companions, called Pandora's, are synthetically created and have all sorts of powers to help the contestants win. As a plot point they are the easy way to create an emotional reaction in the reader. All the pairings tell you what you need to know about a character without ever requiring any real work on the authors behalf. Oh look, he has a grizzly, what a big, tough contestant he must be. Oh look, Tella has a tiny little fox like creature, she must be the underdog. Oh wait! the underdog has super awesome powers, how shocking. 

Truly one of the strangest parts of this story though, is the love interest. 
Guy is introduced thus:
The guy looking down at me is very tall, or maybe he just seems so because I'm still on the ground. He appears to be about my age, though the broad width of his shoulders tells me he may actually be a couple of years older. His eyes are blue. Not in the way that makes me buckle at the knees and start naming our children, but the kind of blue that makes my breath catch. A cold, hard blue that looks more like a statement than a color- one that says, "Back the fuck off."

His hair is so dark, it looks like wet ink, and is spiked around his scalp in soft tufts. He has a strong jawline, and right now that jaw is clenched so tightly, I'm afraid this guy is about to kick me when I'm down...
He narrows those chilling blue eyes at me, and in an instant, they flick toward the floor near one of the bookcases. He looks back at me, and I wonder if maybe, even though he looks a little like a serial killer, he's going to help me up.
Later on Tella goes on to call him Serial-Killer guy and Green Beret. She spends a fair amount of time referring to how he looks like someone who will kill her. I bemoaned this kind of description for the love interests in Alice in Zombieland and I can't even begin to believe I'm seeing this appalling kind of description for a love interest AGAIN. At no point, does a guy who has serial killer anything, appeal to me for hot kisses. Um, like ever. I don't care how misunderstood you want the guy to be, that's just taking it too far.

When, at long last, there was a explanation given for the cure, the disease, the race and the secretiveness of it all, I was underwhelmed by the story. It was weak, obscure and asked a level of suspension of disbelief that was downright ridiculous. This is, after all, supposed to be average, everyday, now-times and place. Selling me on crime bosses, huge fortunes and revenge over a death to all the scientists of a huge organization, well, it didn't work out for Scott.

An incredibly weak start to a series being billed as the next big thing, I can only hope that it will improve as it moves on to book two and the second stage of the race.

Fire and Flood, by Victoria Scott
Published by Scholastic, Feb 25th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Fire & Flood on Amazon

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lady Thief, by A.C. Gaughen- Review

From Goodreads:
Scarlet’s true identity has been revealed, but her future is uncertain. Her forced marriage to Lord Gisbourne threatens Robin and Scarlet’s love, and as the royal court descends upon Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, the people of Nottingham hope that Prince John will appoint their beloved Robin Hood. But Prince John has different plans for Nottingham that revolve around a fateful secret from Scarlet’s past even she isn’t yet aware of. Forced to participate at court alongside her ruthless husband, Scarlet must bide her time and act the part of a noblewoman—a worthy sacrifice if it means helping Robin’s cause and a chance at a future with the man she loves. With a fresh line of intrigue and as much passion as ever, the next chapter in Scarlet’s tale will have readers talking once again.

Oh man! I loved Scarlet, so very, very much, and I was dying to get my hands on part two. So much so, that I had my name on the list for the library ebook ages before it was released. There was much merry squeeing when I got my email about it's availability, and not a note of it was undeserved.

Basically everything I loved about Scarlet was amplified and improved upon for Lady Thief, with additional lovely goodies thrown in for good measure.  To be honest, although I loved book the first, I wasn't sure where Gaughen was going to take the series. I mean there were cliff hangers, but what was she going to do to set this book apart from the first? Was the series going to be a game of cat and mouse between Gisbourne and Scarlet forever?

Gaughen did the one thing I didn't expect, she flipped the story on its head. Where book one was all about the commoners, book two focused on the nobility and the famed brood of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Where book one was all about the evil that is Gisbourne, book two revealed the man behind the rage. And of course, Scarlet has more secrets to discover about herself, all while trying to behave as a proper woman of nobility and good little wife. I'm sure you can imagine how that works out.
I were shown to the princess's chambers and made to wait outside until she were ready, with the higher-ranking ladies flocked about her. When she emerged, the few others standing there dropped to curtsies, and it took me a breath to remember I were meant to do it too.
"Come along," she said, and we all stood and followed her out.
It were a messy business, so many puffed-up ladies walking down a single hallway, but the overly layered parade made it to the courtyard intact. It seemed we were meant to follow along behind the princess in a half circle, which one lady- who hadn't introduced herself to me- waved her hands and swatted at me to make sure I'd do.
My hands curled to fists- I left my damn knives in the chambers. Which were probably a blessing, considering what notions ran through my head just then.
Being the big history nerd that I am, I adored Gaughen's take on Eleanore of Aquitaine and Prince John. The way she uses them in this story was a wonderful twist on the Robin Hood/Maid Marion tales, but also a great peek at a fictionalized version of two historical  heavy weights. Where this will go in the future of this series, is tantalizing and I am very very hopeful that she's under a long contract for the series, one more book will hardly quench my thirst!

However! Gisbourne is the surprise love of this story for me. I adore a great villain, but it's a role that's often written very flat. Gisbourne becomes such a nuanced and engrossing character in Lady Thief, that he almost surpasses Scarlet herself as the star of the story, for me at least. I loved the many angles Gaughen brings out in his character for Lady Thief, how you're never really sure what is genuine and what isn't, how he has moments of shocking tenderness, and of course, his all consuming rage. Small looks into his past reveal what he might have been under different circumstances, but Gaughen gives us readers only enough to cause, what I'm sure will be, endless debates as to his actual evilness. To me this was a villain reveal worthy of Rowlings depiction of Snape.

All in all it was an immensely satisfying read that I predict will win over all new legions of fans for this series, which, lets be frank, is not nearly popular enough for how well written it is. Lets correct that, shall we?

Lady Thief, by A.C. Gaughen
Published by Walker Children's, February 11th, 2014
Buy Lady Thief on Amazon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose- Waiting on Wednesday

Currently on my stack of TBR, The True Diary of Mary Rose seems like it will be the counterpoint to books like This Star Won't Go Out: The LIfe and Words of Esther Grace Earl.  Have a look and tell me you aren't excited to give it a try.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Breathe, by Sarah Crossan- Book Brunch Review!

From Goodreads:
Breathe . . .
The world is dead.
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-rich air.

has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?
This has been sitting on my shelf for ages. A BEA leftover from the year before last, I had picked it up several times thinking it sounded promising but was always distracted by other books and time lines. So it was perfect that our little Book Brunch group decided to take it on as the March read.

I have to say, I was disappointed, on basically every count, with this book. The characters were flat or unbelievable, the struggle felt really stilted and set up, and the big climax was uninspired. I have zero desire or motivation to pick up the second part. With such a clever pitch, it was an incredible let down to find the story so boring.

Lets start with the characters. Alina is by far the most interesting of the three mains, though they delve so little into her relationships with others that she has no depth. She is interested in someone who is nothing but a cameo, and her other relationships, like with her cousin, have zero complexity to them. Her parents are dead, but even that is more of an aside to the story more than a defining feature in her life. 

Bea is sweet and has definite possibilities. She has the poor background, hopeful parents she doesn't want to disappoint and an impossible crush on the premium guy who can't see her for who she is.  Her storyline was filled with opportunities to expand on the struggle but also on her personal struggle with morals, love, expectation and belief. Crossan touched on it now and a then, but mostly she wasted the potential she gave herself within the story. Also, and I just have to say this. Bea's internal monologues about how much she yearns for Quinn were kind of weird. They never really went into what she loved about the guy exactly, and since he's completely blind to her (at one point he's going on about the amazing green eyes on a girl he's infatuated with by saying "Now who do you know with green eyes?" to Bea, who has green eyes.), it needed explaining. But also they were just about impotent yearning, worded really oddly:
I don't love him in the way my parents love each other- sweetly, almost wearily. When I'm with him I feel each nerve within me awakening so that when he touches me, when he brushes my arm accidentally, I shiver and I have to bite back an urge to cry out.  I feel the ache everywhere: in my neck, in my belly, between my legs.
Thanks for sharing Bea. Hold on while I go bleach my eyeballs. Horny teenagers.

Quinn was the worst of the bunch. My number one issue with Quinn was that he sounded like what a woman would think a guy would say or think. He noticed women's shoes, refers to a girls strappy sandals (what guy would call strappy heels anything but heels?), his goofier, horny guy moments are too self aware and in the end so much of what he blurts out is just random and strange. I think Crossan was going for comical, but it fell really flat for me, just sounding odd and out of place.  Also, as with all the other characters, Quinn goes from A-B in thought processes without explanation. Like being blind to Bea and then switching gears and being completely into her.

As far as the actual story goes, there is far too little world development to engross me in the struggles of this dystopian world, especially since I wasn't invested in the characters personal struggles within it.  Besides the fact, many of the plot elements seemed to have no reason to them. Like the Pod Minister being a drunk, or Petra (the rebellion leader) having no alternative plan in case of discovery (umm, duh, you're an underground resistance movement, a few miles away from the government you're fighting against). Also, many of the scenes involved complete nonsense:
When I get home, I know I'm right. My father is pacing the living room. He looks like he's about to have some kind of fit. Lennon and Keane are hiding behind the couch, peeking out at him. And my mother is lying on the floor...{then the pod minister arrives with his kids Oscar and Niamh}
"Niamh! What a beauty she is," my father says, taking Niamh's hand between his own and squeezing it
"Ha! She didn't look like that an hour ago. And you should see her wehn she gets out of bed. A horror! ha!" The Pod Minister barges right past my father and into the living room, where he pulls my mother up off the floor and kisses her right on the lips, his mouth opening slightly. My father lets go of Niamh's hand and follows him in.
Why was Quinn's mom lying on the floor? Or his brothers behind the couch? His father isn't portrayed as abusive, in fact you're supposed to be shocked when he's revealed to have a more cut-throat career than he's ever told his family. Why does the Pod Minister disparage the daughter he's trying to pair up with Quinn, or french Quinn's mom? Um...why is there no reaction to him frenching Quinn's mom??! Presumably these are supposed to be subtle hints at abusive personalities (Quinn's dad) and the hidden (?) drunken state of the Pod Minister (who is always drinking, so not really a shocker), but they don't work that way, and instead just come off as awkward, disjointed moments in the story.

In the end nothing in this story kept my interest enough to propel me onwards. I read the whole book, but it was a forced march, as nothing was compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. As for the "cliff hanger" it couldn't have been more uninteresting. This will not be a sequel I have any desire to read, nor a series I am even vaguely curious about where it goes down the road.

Breathe, by Sarah Crossan
Published by Greenwillow, October 2012
My copy obtained at the BEA
Buy Breathe on Amazon
Check out more reviews for Breathe from the Book Brunch Club

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sea of Shadows, by Kelley Armstrong- Review

From Goodreads:
In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

Although she has an enormous back list of books, I've only managed to read The Darkest Powers series, not even the companion trilogy The Darkness Rising! Sometimes my reading fails astound even me. However, since she's from Ontario, I've met Kelley many times and even before reading any of her books I had a tremendous amount of respect for her work. So I was seriously excited when I got an early ARC of this book.

Set in the kind of fantasy world where *certain* kinds of magic are observed and understood but much are simply mythical, where society is very middle ages in it's set up, but where political machinations are as tied into the story as the arrival of Thunder Hawks and Death Worms, Kelley has built my favourite kind of fantasy world to become lost in. The Kind with depth, range and character, unlike the ones that exist simply as a way to explain why characters can do certain things or certain beasts exist. 

More importantly she's taken four characters, who represent very different elements of society, and made me fall in love with them equally, to my peril. Starting, of course, with sisters Moria and Ashyn. The Empire is not a kind world for twins to be born into, and Ashyn and Moria's story about how they became the Keeper and Seeker is what I'm coming to feel is typical Armstrong horror. Chilling, brutal and totally satisfactory to the bloodthirsty beast I become when I'm reading. More importantly, how it's shaped them into very different girls, who are still halves of the same whole is an element I really loved about their relationship. Where Moria is all strong will and decisive action,
"I am the Keeper of the Forest, boy," she said.  "Do you think those pretty patterns on your arms give you the right to threaten me? They do not. Even if your father was still marshal, they would not. I will take your glowers, I will take your insults. I will take your warnings that you'll abandon me by the roadside if I do not keep pace. But you will not call me a liar. And you will not threaten me."
Ashyn is the quiet intellectual, but with an equally cutting tongue. Just in her own way.
"Do you play the lute?" She asked.
He blinked, that soulful look evaporating. "What?"
"The lute. Lies and false flattery go so much better to the strains of a lute. you ought to consider becoming a bard. You have a certain rakish charm. An eye patch would help, too."

Like so many good books though, it's not simply the world or the characters that make this romp grand. I adored Armstrong's use of language devoid of slang. It was somewhat formal sounding but it also gave the dialogue a cadence I just couldn't get enough of (of course there's plenty of witty banter as well).
Moria had argued most strenuously for the obvious solution to her hair issues: chop it off. Gavril refused to permit it. Ashyn would be upset, and Moria would have to answer to the court Keeper and Seeker, perhaps even the emperor. Clearly, the emperor had far too little to do if he'd concern himself with a Keeper's hair, but she ceded Gavril's point. Or she did when he offered to help come up with an alternate solution....
"I fail to see how you'd think I'd be an expert in this matter," he said as she finished brushing out the snarls.
"You've been to court. you've seen the women's styles."
He snorted. "I'm not sure which is more amusing, Keeper: to think you believe I spent much time in court, or to think you believe I'd waste any time there looking at women's hair."
"True," she said. "There are probably far more engaging sights if the rumors are true, about how little some of the court women wear."
"The women of court are not to my taste."
"You have a taste?"
A glare. "No, I have better things to occupy my mind, in and out of court."
And that, she mused, was truly a shame, but sadly not unexpected.
It's very lyrical, and I was as wrapped up in what was happening, as I was in the language being used. I frequently stopped to re-read moments just to taste how it was being said after taking in what was being said.

Even after luxuriating in this story, pulling apart conversations and re-reading bits several times just to enjoy it, Armstrong still managed to throw a plot curve ball that caught me off-guard. One that left me just that much more eager for part the second, which is seeming so very far away at this moment.

By far the best book of hers I have read to-date, Sea of Shadows will be taking a place on my smallish shelf of all-time favourites.  The only upside to having to wait lifetimes for part two would be the many chances I'll have to revisit part one to tide me over.

Sea of Shadows, by Kelley Armstrong
Published b Doubleday, April 8th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Sea of Shadows on Amazon

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Some books I really didn't AT ALL.

Once in awhile I read something that rubs me the wrong way, sometimes in more than one way, and the ranting that ensues- in public, in my head, to my husband- can be pretty over the top. I mean, I could fuel a small suburban with the energy I expend on disliking said book. Thank god it's not often, but alas, every once in awhile you have to hit a stinker to make the great books stand out even more. Or at least that's what I tell myself to help get through them. I would say that a truly bad book can inspire more passion in me than most average books and sometimes, if it's truly heinous, more passion then I have for some of the books I truly love. Talk about mis-spent energy! So let me take up my soap box, and get these out of my system so I can spend my energy on loving some more worth while books.

From Goodreads:
Your heart beats only with their permission.

Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol's family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn't know it was fighting.

Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside -- safe from the shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can't avoid.

She's different. She survived. Why?

When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador's privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn't a coincidence. It's a conspiracy.

Within the Icon's reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions -- which they've always thought to be their greatest weaknesses -- may actually be their greatest strengths.

Riding high on my enjoyment of the the Beautiful Creatures series, I was super stoked to see that Margaret Stohls independent venture was in the library ebook collection.  I had my then new and sparkling Kobo, and I couldn't wait to read my first ebook.

To be fair, I'm generally not a sci-fi kinda gal. My husband disputes it, but really, I'm a tough sell on time travel or aliens and the like.  BUT this was an author whose 4 previous books I'd enjoyed so I figured I likely couldn't go wrong. Also, people on the twitter vine were raving about it, and usually that's a pretty good indicator I'm in for something fun.

Two things really sunk this book for me though. The characters were unappealing and often dry, and the premise seemed like something I'd read 30 times before.

It got off to good start, in the first few pages I was intrigued and drawn in by her set up and the players. It was ominous, but Ro seemed infectiously good natured, and although it had a dystopian vibe to it I wasn't yet feeling like it was derivative. Maybe if there had been a bit more character development prior to Ro and Dol being captured it could have carried me into the much heavier alien invasion-esque parts of the story. Maybe I would have been a bit more invested. However, Lucas was introduced immediately and the friction between him and Ro, over Dol and over loyalties was too much, too soon, and I was constantly rolling my eyes. Drama, drama, drama people. Just putting it there doesn't automatically make it work. I have to give a sh*t about these characters first. Really I do. An awkward love triangle does not a story make.

What's worse is that this sank all the actual plot led tension for me, I was so constantly annoyed by these characters that I didn't care what was going on, it all became tedious.  That being said, the plot was painfully uninventive. Four kids, all who survived when others didn't, turns out they have "super powers" which conveniently make them the perfect weapons to rescue humanity from the aliens. Of course backgrounds, dead parents, live parents and messy love octagons all come into play. So I Am Number Four/False Memory but done with none of the finesse or stylish plot twists.

This was a seriously painful read for me, and the only thing that kept me from DNF'ing it was Stohl's name. I was convinced she was going to pull some last minute trick to make me like these kids, to suck me into the story. Alas, she did not.

Icons, by Margaret Stohl
Published by Little Brown, May 7th, 2013
Buy Icons on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

Oh good god! The reasons I loathed this book are actually legion. I'm not sure if I can hold back my angst over all the heinous faults this book commits. But I will try to limit myself.

FOR STARTERS!! If you're going to steal a classic Tamora Pierce story and use it as the mainstay of your plot, then you better damn well do it justice with a kick ass heroine and some fabulous girl power story telling. Also, you better be an astounding writer. Larson has done, and is, none of these things, and my Tamora Pierce fangirl self is full of rage over it.

Alexa is the single most appalling hidden girl in the history of stories about girls pretending to be boys. Everyone she thinks she's been hidden from all these years, seems to already know she's a girl. Rylan has known forever from some slip up her brother made early on, and the Prince has "figured it out", which seems like a pretty bad sign since she doesn't have a lot to do with him. That is irritating, but certainly something I could overlook if it was the stories only fault. However Alex/Alexa who has been harbouring secrets and telling lies to friends for years is an exceptionally judgey McJudgeypants about everyone else's secrets. And her insanely over the top, girly reactions to them are so offensive to me as a woman that I can hardly think about it without steam coming out of my ears. But probably her biggest offence as a character is her appalling lack of thought for anyone around her, other than herself. As in any trite story, both the boys are in love with her (but of course), and her endlessly thoughtlessness towards Rylan is so awful I can't imagine why he still likes her.
It looked like his eyes glistened but before I could be sure, he pulled me to him and his mouth was on mine and all I could think about was the feel of his lips, his hand in my hair, the intoxicating smell of his skin, and my heart trying to burst from my chest. I wanted to lose myself in his kiss; I wanted him to take me in his arms and never let me go again. But I was all too aware that Rylan slept across the room from us. I forced myself to break away.
When Damian gave me a questioning look, I nodded over at Rylan, who was thankfully still asleep, snoring softly.
Damian sighed and pressed his lips to the groove where my jaw met my neck, just below my ear, sending a shiver of want through me...Unable to speak as he continued to kiss my throat, his lips soft on my skin. At last, when I could barely breath, I took him by the shoulders and pushed him back. He smiled wickedly at me, a teasing glint in his eyes.
"Are you sure you want me to stop?"
I stared at his mouth, my heart still pounding. I almost said no, but then I remembered Rylan.
 For that matter, I can't see what Damian sees in her either.

Between the characters I didn't like, the plot contrivances I couldn't believe, and some really unimpressive writing, this book did nothing but leave a really bad taste in my mouth. Which was seriously disappointing, since a Tamora Pierce-esque fantasy with a kick ass girl heroine is my number one soft spot when it comes to reading.

Defy, by Sara B. Larson
Published by Scholastic, January 7th, 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Defy on Amazon

From Goodreads:
Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

Ok, so it seemed that Sarah Rees Brennan was one of those big holes in my YA reading. Libba Bray, Holly Black, Maureen Johnson, Cassie Clare, among others, are huge friends and fans of her work, so what other convincing could I possibly need to pick up her books?  Unspoken was getting a lot of twitter buzz in the lead up to the release of book two, so I decided to give it a go in the week before book two released, imagining that I would hardly be able to wait if I started it sooner.
Um, not so much.

Let me just start by saying that in all fairness there was something wrong with my Kobo, and I was missing 1-3 sentences off each page, which was insanely confusing and made the story really disjointed. Turns out there was an update I hadn't downloaded, whoops! So obviously there is only so much I can say about the story. I found the story lacking in finesse, and the plot was a bit stilted for me, and although I'm pretty sure that wouldn't change if I'd read a complete story, I certainly can't definitively say, having read a bastardized version.

I can definitively say I didn't get the Kami/Jared relationship at all. The I hate him/I love him?/He's a dick/He's my soulmate conundrum left me cold. Although I can appreciate that this wasn't some immediate and easy romance, I couldn't understand the confusion and aggression about them being real. I mean they described their lives and homes and friends to each other, over the years, in great detail. They had long conversations and shared things to a degree that they had to make boundaries about it. Why would they ever think the other was made up? Also, in all those descriptions, how is it they never, ever got across what they looked like? How is it possibly a shock that Kami isn't white??  I just couldn't get this relationship at all, which was fundamental to liking the story, and even more so to enjoying the big finale leading into book two.

A confusing read for me, one I'm almost tempted to try again with a completed ebook file just to prove I actually didn't like it, since soo many others do! But alas, I'm pretty sure it really wouldn't float my boat either way. The Kami/Jared thing is way to integral to the plot and I just couldn't get on board with their issues and weirdness.

Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan
Published by Random House, September 2012