Monthly Archives: September 2013

Book Review – Countdown, by Michelle Rowen

17622950Title:  Countdown
Author:  Michelle Rowen
Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: 3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped.

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game.

Kira Jordan survived her family’s murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis.

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it.

Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira’s psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan’s secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira’s only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can’t escape.

Sam’s Review:

I received a finished copy of this book from the author. Huge thank you to Michelle Rowen for giving me this opportunity. Check Countdown out when it releases October 1st.

Countdown is like candy. It’s one of those books where the plot zips by you so quickly that by the time its over, so is your bag of M&Ms. I must admit, while there are parts of Countdown that were full of flaws and generally would annoy me, the other half of me was so forgiving because the ride Kira and Rogan took me one was so fast and frantic.

The world building in Countdown is razor thin. There’s not a lot for the reader to envision and picture in terms of understanding the world that sounds our protagonists. The vivid descriptions definitely come more from the sinister game, Countdown, a televised event wherein teens must fight to their deaths in order to access freedom. In a way this book definitely has some similarities to Battle Royale (particularly later on within the last level and endgame), but what it lacks in some cases in the tension that a story like Battle Royale has, where if your back is turned, you can be killed.

For the most part I enjoyed the plot twists that Rowen lays out on the table. I found, however, there was too many of them, each getting a bit more ridiculous than the last, and yet I enjoyed it. I felt like I was on a sugar high each time I learned something new about Kira or Rogan because as crazy as the twists were, they made for addictive reading. I actually really liked Kira for the most part. I loved that she understood that what she was playing was a game and that in any instance the rules could be flipped with that of a switch. She was very thoughtful, a good soul, and surprisingly humorous. She’s had a tough life and you definitely get a sense of that, where as Rogan is a spoiled high rich kids who essentially was looking for cheap thrills but had to atone for his sins. Rogan was hit and miss with me considering the majority of the twists were about him, but at the same time, I found myself struggling to be angry with him. It was hard to accept his actions, yet at the same time Rowen makes hims someone you can have some sympathy for. Sometimes I wanted to give him a smack because his behavior was inexcusable.

The overall villains of the story were fairly flat, and had they been stronger, I think I could have accepted more of the character development present in the narrative. They felt functional and flimsy, never feeling like their presence entirely mattered. Yet, in the confines of the world Rowen created, this role oddly makes sense and you get a sense of how liaise-faire the world and its economical environment truly is. Everything revolves around money, as well as Countdown, yet no one really gives a crap.

Countdown is not a bad book, it’s surprisingly fun. The flaws are many, but I found myself turning pages as though I was popping candy. It’s a fast, engaging read, though not particularly deep. If you can accept that there isn’t deeper issues here and you want something light and action-packed, Countdown definitely fits that bill. If you’re looking for a more meaningful post-apocalyptic YA read, there’s better options out there.

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ARC Review – Cracked, by Eliza Crewe

17345314 Title:  Cracked
Author:  Eliza Crewe
Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Meet Meda. She eats people.

Well, technically, she eats their soul. But she totally promises to only go for people who deserve it. She’s special. It’s not her fault she enjoys it. She can’t help being a bad guy. Besides, what else can she do? Her mother was killed and it’s not like there are any other “soul-eaters” around to show her how to be different. That is, until the three men in suits show up.

They can do what she can do. They’re like her. Meda might finally have a chance to figure out what she is. The problem? They kind of want to kill her. Before they get the chance Meda is rescued by crusaders, members of an elite group dedicated to wiping out Meda’s kind. This is her chance! Play along with the “good guys” and she’ll finally figure out what, exactly, her ‘kind’ is.

Be careful what you wish for. Playing capture the flag with her mortal enemies, babysitting a teenage boy with a hero complex, and trying to keep one step ahead of a too-clever girl are bad enough. But the Hunger is gaining on her.

The more she learns, the worse it gets. And when Meda uncovers a shocking secret about her mother, her past, and her destiny… she may finally give into it.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Strange Chemistry and Netgalley for a copy of this book for review.

Cracked was a book I requested on a whim. A woman who eats souls? Who can resist such a premise! I have to admit, this book completely surprised me with its quirky narrative, and its sassy protagonist, Meda.

This book had almost a Lost Girl vibe, minus the porn, and yet Meda’s voice really carries the narrative with such ease. She’s sarcastic, no nonsense, bad ass, but she’s full of flaw, often unable to let her ego take a beating or two. She’s partnered with some fabulous secondary characters in Chi, Uri and Jo, all who have equally distinctive voices and personalities to add as well. I REALLY loved Chi, he was such an oaf at times.

The world building in this book sometimes felt a little thin at times, and while I do think it could have done a better job of easing the reader into the world’s politics, I found myself having a ball in what I was reading. Meda makes the reader feel so welcome, treating them almost as though they are a close friend. It’s interesting to see how contradictory her actions are to her inner monologue and yet you understand her conflicts and struggles with utter ease. Meda is so easy to root for, and she’s easily the selling point of the story.

While I wish the world building and the narrative was a bit tighter in places (I think the story could have benefited from some additional clarity between Meda’s family issues and her profession), at least it’s still a fun and fast read. The book has great, distinctive characters, and a protagonist who is so delightfully sassy that it makes it difficult to put the book down. If you’re looking for a quick, humourous read, Eliza Crewe definitely has you covered in her debut.

Book Chat: Books I am Craving

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First off, I am not taking any credit for the originality of this post. In fact, Liz from Consumed By Books shared over at her blog the “Top Ten Books I Plan to Read Before 2013 Is Over.” Her post definitely left me thinking: considering the backlog shelf of doom, what are some books I am craving to read before the year is through? I pulled a few off my shelf and decided to share a few that have been catching my eye.

1) Blood of Tyrants, by Naomi Novik — I’ve been a huge fan of her work since “Her Majesty’s Dragon,” and although I wasn’t fond of the last two books in this series, the idea of talking dragons never ceases to entertain, and I find myself always going back to this series willingly with each new installment.

2) The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson — My love for Sanderson’s world, characters and writing holds no bounds. I always know when I pick up one of his books I’m going to devour it, fall in love with it, and then try to pass it off to everyone person I know because I can. He’s just knows how to craft worlds with characters that feel so real, and it’s something I truly appreciate. Considering this came out in May, I’m truly shocked I haven’t dove into this one yet.

3) The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider — I feel like everyone and their mother has been gushing about this book. I adore contemporary, the buzz is hot, so I figured why not list it? I ended up winning a copy of it through Team Epic Reads.

4) The Inexplicables, by Cherie Priest — I am a huge Clockwork Century fan, this book released last year and there’s a new one on its way… what is wrong with me? You think this one would have been read right now, but actually, I binged read the first four books and hit a bit of a burn out. This series is tons of fun with a great cast of characters. I look forward to digging into this one and Fiddlehead when it releases!

5) Countdown, by Michelle Rowan — This is a newer book to have hit my shelf and was sent to me by Eve Silver, author of RUSH. Back in August when I was working at Fan Expo, I had the chance to interview Eve and we got on the topic of great books for teen boys (since I teach a lot of teens, boys in particular, I was dying for recommendations). Eve suggested Countdown as a title to check out, but what I wasn’t expecting was it to appear in my mailbox. Thanks again Eve!

6) Cold Steel, by Kate Elliot — I adore the Spiritwalker trilogy, and I’m afraid to read this book because it means the series will be over. I’m not ready for that, but at the same time… curiosity always gets the cat.

7) The Time of Contempt, by Andrzej Sapkowski — I adore the Witcher series, and it’s been so long since we’ve had a novel in English (last one being The Blood of Elves). My excitement for this book and getting back in the saddle (tee hee, saddle) with Geralt has been long overdue. Hopefully more of this series will reach North America! Now if I could just get off my butt and play the games that would be good too.

8) Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge I have a friend who absolutely adores this author work and have been told that she has a very poetic style of writing. I have both this and Face Like Glass (on my Kindle), but have read neither. I suppose it will be a toss up between those two books?

9) In Stitches, by Trent Seely — I admit it, I’m a jerkface. Trent is a very dear friend of mine and this is his first published novel and somehow I have not prioritized time for it. So I want to! I LOVE the cover of the book and the premise sounds adorkable. Hold me to this one you guys, hold me to it.

So there you have it! These are the nine books I am craving, and hope to tackle before the year is out. I still also have the small pile of borrowed books, my e-ARCs (Never Fade is done, I just need to review it!), all which need to be tackled as well. I hope to have some new ARC reviews soon, as well as a few other goodies. I’m curious to know what books are hiding in River’s pile that she hopes to finish by the end of year. Who knows? Maybe in December we’ll host a giveaway showcasing our fave books of 2013! So I leave you all with a question: what are some books YOU want to tackle before the end of this year? Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments, a blog post, share it with us. We’d love to know what you’re excited to tackle before the year is up.

ARC Review – Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

16068905Title:  Fangirl
Author:  Rainbow Rowell
Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . . But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? 

River and I received our review copies via St. Martin’s Press and Edelweiss/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

River’s Review:

This is my 3rd favorite book of 2013. I received a copy thanks to my lovely friend Melissa, who hooked me up with some BEA goodies (she went, I’m kinda stuck on the other side of the world).

I want to dedicate this review to my sister. She’s going to get a copy of this for Christmas (hey sis!) and then we are going to read it together and probably laugh and cry. See, fandom, and fangirling, is something that I am very familiar with. I went through many different fandoms, but one of the biggest, and most meaningful ones was Harry Potter. If you’re in your mid-to-late 20s (like my sister and I) then you grew up with Harry Potter. You waited for the books to come out, went to midnight book releases (or worked them! Dressed as a wizard and Professor Umbridge… eheheheh) and movie premiers. My sister actually wished people a ‘Happy Harry Potter day’ when the 6th book came out (and we went to the mall, bought tee-shirts and books and then stayed up forever reading them). I still remember when we were reading the last book and she called me into her room and was sobbing over someone’s death (oh now I feel like crying…)

So this book touched me in SO many ways. Before Harry Potter my sister and I HATED each other. Like, threw harmful objects at each other, locked each other out of the house, never said a nice word to each other HATED. We had nothing in common, and just… despised the existence of one another. Then I accidentally watched the first Harry Potter movie while I was baby sitting and while I was re-watching it at home (where NOBODY would catch me) my sister secretly watched it from the other room and… things changed.

The relationship between Cath and Wren is a bit opposite of mine and my sisters, and at the same time, it’s very similar, just a little backwards. I feel that my sister is a lot like Wren (the wild child) and I’m more like Cath… but when I went to University I was a mix of the two sisters. I had my fandoms (anime and Johnny’s Entertainment), but I also wanted to go out and drink and have the ‘college experience’. I even had a similar roommate situation to Wren’s.

I also went to college for creative writing and could TOTALLY relate to everything about Cath’s writing classes. I was writing partners with the in-before-hipsters-were-cool hipster and we wrote the most flamboyantly pretentious stuff in the world that nobody could understand because they didn’t ‘get us’. I also wrote fan fiction in high school (okay, not quite the same but whatever) and got major flack for it (so I didn’t do it again in college).

While Cath wore her nerd on her sleeve I was more shy about it. I was terrified all through high school about people finding out that I liked Star Wars (until it became cool, and then I was all about letting EVERYONE know that I liked it before it was cool, like ya do) and it wasn’t until a bit later in college that I felt okay letting people know about my weird obsessions. Now I’m just like HEY GUYS I’M A HUGE DORK AND I DON’T CARE. So I felt more like Wren in that aspect, and I really admired Cath’s attitude, or obliviousness, about her own nerd hanging out.

This book was so funny too. EMERGENCY KANYE DANCE PARTY. I need this in my life. And Levi was the sweetest guy and the house he lived in reminded me SO MUCH of the party house that my guy friends lived in in college. And Levi = my sister’s husband. Down to the truck.

Sam’s Review:

Fangirl is a book about growing up, but never entirely growing old of the things you love. A lot of what this novel speaks of in terms of fanfiction, slash, fandom, are all something that growing up geek, you learn to participate and deal with. Cath’s a Simon Snow fangirl, a pseudo-Harry Potter knock off wherein she devotes much of her free time to writing Simon Snow fanfic and being popular in the interwebz. Despite her internet fame, Cath proves her introverted ways when she goes off to college, and her and her twin sister, Wren, are not even going to be roommates.

This is a novel that moves in a circle: you are told from the beginning that Wren is the mature one of the two, and Cath is the awkward introvert who only has confidence in her fictional life. As the novel progresses, we see the roles switch and transform in such a way that is subtle, yet beautifully done. Regardless of their newfound independence at college, both girls attempt to learn what it’s like being without their other half. When you have twins as the lead characters, you always risk the fact that they don’t feel distinctive from one another, but in this novel the distinction is crystal clear. They have to learn to deal with their dysfunctional family and what being a new adult is truly like. Rowell does such a touching job with this that I found myself nodding along with Cath’s convictions, but also having tons of sympathy for her situation. I also genuinely laughed a few times, because I think Rowell gets the notions of fandom so spot on in this story. Especially what it means to be an insane fangirl about “x fandom”.

I adored Cath’s voice throughout the text. She has so much confidence in her writing, but you can tell she isn’t entirely comfortable with parts of herself. However, her growth is such a pleasure to watch throughout the story because we see her come out of her shell, open up about her love of fandom, and of course gets a cute, equally awkward boy to notice her. Levi was such a treat in the novel because he wasn’t not perfect, but he wanted to know so much about Cath’s secret life as a fanfic writer. He doesn’t understand it right away, but he becomes so enamored by it, that it makes it tricky to avoid her. He’s adorkable and in a way, reminds me of what it was like to meet my own spouse.

This novel was a huge flashback of my final years of high school, beginning of university. Cath’s behaviour, mannerisms and even just what she is doing through most of the text reflects how I was (and still am to an extent) about the things I love in my life. I may not be as involved in fandoms as I once was, but I found myself reflecting upon those days with a lot of fondness while reading this novel. I also adored the insertions of Cath’s fanfics, as well as the actual Simon Snow novels. When those appeared you could see it mirroring what was happening with Cath’s story, and t was just well inserted.

Once again, Rainbow Rowell has written a novel so genuine, so kind, with wonderfully flawed people who are simply easy to relate to. I found myself remembering the days of online chats, RPing, and I can admit to doing it all. I still have many friends even to this day who I wouldn’t have had if it were not for fandom. Fangirl is a must read for those who don’t mind dipping back into their fandom pasts, but also love a story about what it means to grow up and grow into who you wish to truly become.

ARC Review – How to Love, by Katie Cotugno

17332564 Title: How to Love
Author:  Katie Cotugno
Rating: ★★★★★
Synopsis: Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Sam’s Review:

I received this book as a part of Goodreads First Reads program.

How to Love is heavy. It’s a book that has no problem playing with the reader’s emotions and tagging at one’s heartstrings. Reena and Sawyer’s relationship can be best described as emotionally draining, stressful, and messy, and yet it’s so easy to root for them from start to finish, especially when the novel starts to reveal its true intentions.

Cotugno’s writing is beautiful. It has a very unique ebb and flow in terms of its Before and After perspectives, yet everything feels perfectly woven together. Reena is not afraid to speak her mind, and considering she’s a single mom putting everything in her life on hold, she’s easy to sympathize with. She doesn’t ask for sympathy, she doesn’t want people’s charity, she merely wants to know why she and her daughter were abandoned. Sawyer on the other hand, isn’t exactly a good person. In fact, he can be downright dickish at times, lacking sensitivity when it matters the most. Yet, as his reasons unfold, they are surprisingly crystal clear — he’s equally afraid to get hurt again, just like Reena.

This book had moments of genuine laughter, hard tears, and it emotionally plays with your mind in a lot of ways. Cotugno makes it clear that our hero and heroine will be together, but she makes the obstacles so high, so stacked above the two of them, that there are instances where that frustration and exhaustion comes into play — the desire to call it quits. Yet, much like Reena, the reader, feeling the same emotions, continues along because you want to believe the world and life will get better.

I had a tough time putting this book down. When I did, I found myself thinking about the kind of emotionally effect it would leave on me. I found it so easy to root for Sawyer and Reena, no matter how imperfect and flawed they are, and I appreciate that Cotugno never sugarcoats the situations and emotions within the narrative. How to Love may be heavy, but it’s a surprisingly rewarding ride in the end.

The Trouble With ARCs – Book Chat

I love and feel insanely fortunate that River and I are able to get ARCs and share lots of reviews with all of you. For me personally, ARCs are both a blessing and a curse. How can an ARC be a curse you ask? Well, there’s the problems:

1) You want to read it immediately. I struggle with this every time I get a new ARC, be it paper of electronic. I look at it and go “I MUST READ YOU NOW”, except for the part where I’m already in the middle of other books and shouldn’t be jumping around too much.

2) Deadlines. While I’m very good about deadlines (I mark all the releases on my calendar), sometimes you’ll find you’ll have more than one book due the day. Depending on how fast a reader you are, this could be or might not be an issue for you. I’m a fast reader and even I feel overwhelmed sometimes!

3) Halts your TBR pile. I have a HUGE paperback and ebook TBR pile and I feel like ever since I started doing ARC reviews I’ve been behind on my own personal reading. I’ve been forcing myself to try and read as many non-ARCs as I can, but sometimes it’s difficult considering the deadlines or other circumstances.  I probably have over 200 books to be read and I question if I will ever get to all of them (book bans, how I loathe and love you).

So these are my three main issues with ARCs. As I’ve said before I feel blessed and fortunate that I can sometimes get them, but there’s a few draw backs of course to process. For those who read ARCs, how do you balance between them and your regular reading? For those who don’t, how do you stop yourself from reading the next big shiny thing in your pile when you’re already in the middle of something? Let me know int he comments!

And finally, I need your help. I’m sitting on a pile of ARCs and I don’t know which one to read after I complete Alexandra Bracken’s Never Fade (Book 2 of The Darkest Minds Trilogy). Generally I go by release date, but I have a few gems in this pile. Vote on my poll and tell me which ARC I should read next for review! 🙂 Which are you the most curious about? If I let River pick she’ll yell at me in all caps (Except, I love when she does that! She really does have awesome taste in books!)

We hope to have more book chats soon! Let me know what you think in the comments or if you have some suggestions for a book chat that you’d like to see River or myself cover. Happy Reading!

ARC Review – Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner

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Title: Wake Up Missing
Author: Kate Messner
Rating: ★★★★★
Synopsis: Meet Quentin, a middle school football star from Chicago…
Sarah, an Upstate New York girls’ hockey team stand-out…
Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest…
And Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.

The four have nothing in common except for the head injuries that land them in an elite brain-science center in the Florida Everglades. It’s known as the best in the world, but as days pass, the kids begin to suspect that they are subjects in an experiment that goes far beyond treating concussions…and threatens their very identities. They’ll have to overcome their injuries – and their differences – to escape, or risk losing themselves forever.

Huge thank you to Netgalley and Walker Children’s for allowing me the chance to review this book.

River’s Review:

When I started reading this I thought it was young adult and was a bit surprised when the kids all turned out to be 12. I checked here and found out it was MG, and that shifted my thoughts a little bit. I don’t know why, but as soon as I found out that Cat was only 12 I just felt SO overprotective of her. Anytime something bad seemed as if it was going to happen I just wanted to hug her and protect her from whatever it was. So my heart was in my throat the ENTIRE BOOK.

I normally shy away from MG because I don’t feel that I can really understand the younger characters that much. I’m not a teen anymore, but with YA I can still reflect back to those years (they weren’t THAT long ago) but I honestly don’t remember much from my pre-teen years (hmmm, maybe I’m older than I think…) so it’s harder for me to think about how I’d react if I was that age in that situation. But I’m glad that I read this because it was quite a refreshing change.

This book starts off with Cat going to a well known clinic that’s supposed to help her recover form a concussion that she suffered while bird watching. She meets some other kids who are staying at the clinic, all of them having suffered from a similar injury. The kids start to become suspicious that things aren’t quite what they seem and Cat and her friends start to do some digging and find out that these doctors aren’t quite what they seem to be…

I loved how REAL all of the kids felt. They’re sick and scared and just want their parents, but they know right from wrong and they’re so trusting but at the same time able to see through the bullshit and rely on themselves.

The pacing, tone and action in this book was so well done. I loved the writing too! I was pulled right in and cared about these kids and what happened to them SO much.

The end made me cry too. Always trust a mom. God, hugs to all these kids, all around.