Monthly Archives: February 2016

ARC Review – Riders (Riders, #1) by Veronica Rossi

23430471Title: Riders (Riders, #1)

Author:  Veronica Rossi

Rating:  ★★ 1/2 /  ★★★

Synopsis: For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does. Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen–Conquest, Famine, and Death–are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence. They fail.

Now–bound, bloodied, and drugged–Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for–not to mention all of humankind–he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger. But will anyone believe him?

Huge thank you to Raincoast/Tor Teen for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I seem to have a weird love-hate relationship with Veronica Rossi’s writing. I remember reading Under the Never Sky on the recommendation of my friends and not being impressed by it. Then I read the sequels that followed, adored them, and was still confused why I didn’t connect with that first book. I feel like this might be the same thing with Riders.

That’s not to say Riders is a bad book, but once again I feel insanely distanced by the writing, and I really didn’t like our hero, Gideon. I just found him to be such a flat protagonist, someone whose thoughts didn’t always feel that engaging or interesting to read about. Worse off is the fact that we meet tons of other characters, but they are barely developed in any way. I just didn’t feel like I knew them very well, and part of that really steams from just only being trapped in Gideon’s mind.

However, I loved the concept of this story, and when the action was on, it was fantastic. I just found myself turning pages, needing to know how things were going to go. I’ll also give this to Rossi — the ending of this book is quite the cliffhanger, and despite all my problems with Gideon as a character, she left this book on such a mean note that I STILL will likely end up reading the sequel because I need to know.

But this book is both interesting as it is frustrating. There’s so many ideas being thrown about, there’s a lot of world-building, it almost felt like too much at times. With Gideon’s perspective not always being engaging, I found it hurt the experience for me somewhat and Rossi’s writing didn’t always carry it for me the way it did in the Under the Never Sky series.

Still, I don’t think this is a bad book, but I just didn’t have the same level of engagement that I was hoping for. I do think, like with Under the Never Sky that I am going to check out the sequel, just to see if it’s the same kind of situation or if it really is the case that this series doesn’t work for me.

Also, not enough horses. Needs more horses!

River’s Review:

Soooooooo I LOVED Rossi’s other books. And this sounded so kick ass and HORSES. I was down. And so excited for this.

Sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Oddly I think this would make a much better movie than book.

There were parts of this that I LOVED. The horses, the action, the idea of the characters. Scenes that I could picture so perfectly in my mind.

But the characters were all under developed. I never felt any chemistry between Gideon and Daryn. The back story was very vague and not fleshed out enough. And I kinda hated that this was all told in flashback.

I found most of the first half of this kinda slow and boring. Things weren’t always explained and too much time was spent gathering the four guys. I didn’t feel like anyone was really reacting properly to their situation.

The second half was so much stronger. The training and horses is what I’d be expecting from the start!!!

And the last chapter really should have been an epilogue.

Overall not the strongest Rossi book, but I’ll def pick up the next one to see what’s going to happen!

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Sam’s Top Five Favourite First Second Titles

unnamedThis year is First Second’s ten year anniversary as a publisher. If you are not familiar with First Second, they focus on providing fantastic graphic novel experiences for readers of all ages. My first exposure to them as a publisher was actually the year American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang was released (which was 2006). I was working in a university library in our Transcriptions department, where we focused on providing materials in alternative formats to students with a variety of disabilities. American Born Chinese was a book that ended up on my work truck for transcription purposes. I started flipping through the book, and ended up reading the entire thing before I had even started work on it. I LOVED that book, and it was one that stayed with me over the years, and now that I work in a public library, it’s one I recommend with ease. Since that exposure, I have been a fan of First Second’s publications ever since.

For their tenth anniversary, I thought I’d share with you all five of my favourite graphic novels that they’ve published and why I think you should check them out.

25332007The Delilah Dirk series by Tony Cliff

  I love this series. It’s both laugh out loud hilarious, and it’s whimsy as all hell. Not only does it have political intrigue, but it offers one of the most ingenious heroines to ever grace comics. Delilah will make you die of laughter, but she’s also someone who is able to show compassion for others… with a little help, if you catch my drift. This is a great series for those who love action and adventure, and don’t mind a touch of humour. Also, everyone should love Selim. He never, ever catches a break.

8879121The Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy by Ben Hatke

I was unfamiliar with Zita the Spacegirl when it released. It wasn’t until I got into watching Booktube videos, and fell in love with Misty from The Book Rat’s graphic novel recommendations. I took all three books out from the library, and then went and bought my own copies because I simply adored this series. It’s sweet, delightful, fun, and it will make you cry over a rock. Yes, you heard me, a rock. Seriously though, Ben Hatke’s art and stories are just so much fun to read. I also recommend checking out his latest release, Little Robot because it is just perfection as well.

25332000The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

I feel like I am cheating with choice, given that this book isn’t out until April. I was able to get a digital copy of this book for review, and I was completely in love with this book from page one. Fantastic and intricate storytelling, with strong, interesting characters and gorgeous artwork, The Nameless City just has so much to offer graphic novel fans. Faith Erin Hicks is just such a fantastic writer, and she knows how to put so much emotion into both her artwork and the story that she’s sharing. I also recommend many of her other titles, including Friends With Boys, which was my first exposure to her work.

18465601 The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

I loved this graphic novel. It’s an origin story for a lesser known super hero, the Green Turtle. This book is hilarious as it is full of heart and soul. I loved this one, and it gave me such an appreciation for unknown or lesser known heroes who deserve to have real origin stories writtena bout them. Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew really are a dream team.

18465634

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

This was one of my favourite graphic novel reads back when it released in 2014, and I still have fond memories of it. It reminded me of when I was growing up and going to my cottage every summer. It’s a very interesting and thoughtful depiction of childhood and growing up, and it’s just totally worth checking out.

And there you have it! Five f my favourite First Second titles, and let me tell you, if I had the capcity, there’d be millions of other recommendations, simply because they have such a vast and fantastic catalogue of titles. These are some great titles to check out, especially if you’re new to what First Second publishes.

Congraulations, First Second! May you have many more years of awesome graphic novels! 🙂

ARC Review – The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1) by Heidi Heilig

21979832Title:  The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)

Author: Heidi Heilig

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Heidi Heilig’s debut teen fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City to nineteenth-century Hawaii to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Everywhere, the first of two books, will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir, Rae Carson, and Rachel Hartman.

Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy for review!

River’s Review:

I am afraid this book was over-hyped for me. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as mind blowing as I’d been expecting.

The biggest issue I had with this book was that it felt like something was missing… like a whole other book perhaps that explained how things worked, what was going on… because a lot of this was just left up to the reader to infer and figure out. I wanted WAY more backstory (especially about Kash! Like we find out how he came to be on the ship, and a little about why he ended up there, but I wanted SO much MORE! And like how did he react when he found out that he was basically stowing away ON A TIME TRAVELING SHIP?! How was this explained to him?! To any of them?!) I felt like there were little hints dropped here and there as to how things worked, but nothing was every fully explained. And I’m not talking about info dumps. But I would have liked more mechanics. Especially when it came to the actual time traveling. I also would have liked more world building in the sense of how they GET AWAY with all the time traveling they do. There is a mention about how they dress and speak for the time, but how did they learn about that? How did they learn anything about the different times they’re going to? And just wearing the clothes and trying to talk the talk was enough to fool everyone? This stuff I felt was just kinda glossed over and I was sitting there saying I WANT MORE INFORMATION!!!

The writing in this is very good. I don’t think it’s the best writing ever, but it’s not horrible. I think that Heilig can only improve and in another book or two she’ll be a force to reckon with. The characters could have used a bit more characterization, but I did enjoy Kash (he was my favorite character) and I liked the relationship that Nix had with her father. Blake was kinda okay, and I would have liked a little more from the side characters on the ship because they seemed really interesting! Also… Swag was the cutest and I am concerned about his fate at the moment…

The time travel in this was really cool for me at first! The way it’s done (with the maps) is very clever! But then we got into paradoxes and loops and I got lost and confused and I really hate that kind of time travel because then it just doesn’t make sense and makes me think too much about how it DOESN’T work and it hurts my head. I’m not a time travel fan (did I mention this yet? I guess I should have from the start). So that might have been part of what put me off a little bit. And also the lack of actual pirates (they pretend to be? But aren’t really? But they live on a pirate ship?) was a little disheartening as well.

Overall if you can get past the issues I had you’ll probably love this book. It seems to be THE book for 2016 and I know it’s going to do well despite how I feel about it… so enjoy!

ARC Review – Bluescreen (Mirador #1) by Dan Wells

20499652Title: Bluescreen (Mirador #1)

Author:  Dan Wells

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Los Angeles in 2050 is a city of open doors, as long as you have the right connections. That connection is a djinni—a smart device implanted right in a person’s head. In a world where virtually everyone is online twenty-four hours a day, this connection is like oxygen—and a world like that presents plenty of opportunities for someone who knows how to manipulate it.

Marisa Carneseca is one of those people. She might spend her days in Mirador, the small, vibrant LA neighborhood where her family owns a restaurant, but she lives on the net—going to school, playing games, hanging out, or doing things of more questionable legality with her friends Sahara and Anja. And it’s Anja who first gets her hands on Bluescreen—a virtual drug that plugs right into a person’s djinni and delivers a massive, non-chemical, completely safe high. But in this city, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and Mari and her friends soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that is much bigger than they ever suspected.

Huge thank you to HarperTeen for sending me a copy of this for review!

River’s Review:

When I first heard about this book I was SO EXCITED! I was a huge fan of Wells’ previous series (despite having a few issues with it) and I was all HELL YEAH CYBER THRILLER. Then I started to hear some negative reviews and got a little worried…

I’ll be honest. The first 100 page or so of this? Boring and made me want to put it down. I didn’t care about the games they were playing and the whole “the only way to live is to be in a gang despite having honest ways of living that are way harder no thanks I’ll just join a gang oh shit I’m in poverty and can’t get a job now cuz I joined a gang FUCK THE GOVERNMENT” attitude was REALLY off-putting. If you have a kid and girlfriend who depend on you get a fucking job.

Thankfully once the Bluescreen drug showed up things picked up and I couldn’t put this down! I LOVED Marisa, she was really cool, smart, and actually had her shit together. I enjoyed her friends, a nice mix of rich and poor kids of all different ethnicities and talents. Sadly this book wont get thrown up there with the #weneeddiversebooks bundle because… well, reasons. But since we feel the need to point out any book with POC (deletes rant here) this one should be pointed out. Marisa’s family is Hispanic and there’s a TON of Spanish and Mexican culture in this. I’m not sure how true-to-tone it is but I’m just gonna throw that out there. Anyways, I liked all of the characters in this and hated the appropriate ones.

Also Wells’ must be some kind of Japanophile because he litters his books with obscure Japanese references that only other otaku/Japanophiles will get. Because I lived in Japan for over seven years I tend to catch them. In Partials he made them swear in Japanese. In this there were a few shout outs that I wont get into but, well played sir. I nod to you. I also wonder who else caught them?

Anyways, this book is really action packed, and a very quick read once you get to the heart of things. I will admit that I tended to skip over the parts that were “in game”. I just didn’t care that much about them. I also saw elements of some of my fav TV shows in here (Dollhouse, that Battlestar Galactica prequel that’s name I forget…) which was kinda neat. I guess this just spoke to my cyber thriller loving self. And while it started off shaky and I was going to give it a 3, I’m rounding up to a 4 because I literally read more than half of it in one sitting and only stopped because I had to sleep.

I’m very curious to see where the next book goes!

ARC Review – Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers

21421609Title: Assassin’s Heart

Author: Sarah Ahiers

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.

Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

With shades of The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet, this richly imagined fantasy from debut author Sarah Ahiers is a story of love, lies, and the ultimate vengeance.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this for review!

River’s Review:

Well, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to read this, but then I got a copy from Harper and was in the mood to try some fantasy so I picked it up. And it was better than I had expected. But not great.

My biggest issue with this book was that it is poorly edited and the writing is INCREDIBLY repetitive. We could have probably lost about 50-70 pages with better edits. We are told over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again the same. damn. things. Lea’s family (and Family, can’t forget the fifty THOUSAND times we use the words family and Family in the same freaking sentence) is murdered. The Da Via’s are to blame. Lea blames herself. She will murder them in their sleep. She will get revenge. It’s all she’s ever wanted (for the past two weeks). She will kill them. She will make them pay. She will get her revenge. It’s all she’s ever wanted. It’s all her fault. WE GOT IT BY PAGE 50! I just wanted to pick this book up and shake out all the extra words!

And look, I get the family and Family part, but it was TOO. MUCH.

So this is a book about a world that worships many different gods. It was never really clear if these gods were … corporal? idk how to describe it. They’re gods that have powers only over those who worship them. And the goddess that Lea’s Family (and family!) worship (along side with the entire country?) is a death goddess who grants rebirth upon death if some rules are followed. There are other gods too that other cities and countries(?) follow and it was never really fully fleshed out enough for me. I would have liked some clearer world building. There are also ACTUAL REAL LIVE-DEAD GHOSTS. That apparently are lost souls that didn’t get rebirthed? idk, again, world building. Because there was another god that put you back into the soil if you died (but then people in that same town who worshiped that god were also turning into ghosts? AGAIN. WORLD BUILDING).

There were also some trope-y things like a ~transformative bath scene~ and a ~chopping off my hair because I’m a DIFFERENT PERSON NOW scene~ and a moment of “releasing a breath that one had been unaware of holding”. Eye. Rolls.

BUT the fighting was cool, Lea wasn’t a stupid heroine (aside from the whole choosing her 2-week old future over her family (not Family) because REASONS) and Les was a slightly dashing if not goofy at times sidekick? Love interest? Dude? To be honest thought the Priest was my favorite (and he had like 3 scenes, poor dude).

Hmmmm my review makes it sound like I hated it but I didn’t. I just had some issues… like I usually do with 3 star books. Liked, but with issues.

ARC Review – These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

23688792Title: These Vicious Masks

Author:  Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books/Swoon Reads for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I heard the pitch for These Vicious Masks, it just sounded too ridiculous to be true. Jane Austen meets X-Men? What kind of crack is that? While I went into this with rather low expectations, I can’t get over how much fun this book was on a whole.

First off, let me talk to you about how awesome and badass the heroines, Evelyn and Rose. Despite all their hardships, these two women really know how to stand up for themselves and show how strong and capable they are. I also loved how they respond to their abilities, how they try to rationalize the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with them. The writers did a fantastic job making them characters that you can not only root for, but who are actually fun and engaging to read about.

I admit, I’m not a big romance person, but I even found the romance in this novel pretty good. It didn’t over power the way I was worried it would, considering a lot of young adult romance novels are very cliché in its approach to romance. A lot of the time I generally don’t like the romance itself or the characters, but here I found it worked very well.

In a lot of ways the book does a great job of taking the reader by the hand and whisking them into this weird pseudo-Western, steampunkish novel. The world building is great, it’s vivid, and then there’s the ending. Lord, that ending is really good. If I have any complaints about this book, it’s that sometimes I found the writing hard to get into, so it felt like a rollercoaster for me writing wise, moving up and down in terms of my enjoyment. While I liked the characters, the story had its moments for me where it dragged in spots.

Overall, These Vicious Masks reads like delicious ridiculous candy. Sometimes you just want a book that grabs at your attention and does it in a way that is just plain fun. This book is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy supernatural abilities and kick ass heroines.

ARC Review – Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

25614492Title: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. Yet not all promises can be kept.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Confession time: this book made me sob in public. I was reading it on the bus on my way to work and it just left me an emotional train wreck. Here’s the thing about this book: it’s based off of real historical events, and knowing that means you’re in for a trip to sadtown.

I have yet to read Ruta Sepetys’ other novels, but I heard from a trusted friend that she has a powerful way of weaving a story together and giving the reader all the information possible without being too revealing. Salt to the Sea is the story of refugees attempting to survive during the Nazi regime, and the book offers four very different perspectives: a nurse, an expected teen mother, a fugitive, and a Nazi solider. Each perspective offers unique challenges for each character, as well as how each are interconnected.

This book is depressing, but heart felt. You get a large sense of who these characters are and their struggles during a time where it was hard to have any sense of individuality. I spent a lot of the novel cheer for Florian, and wanting Alfred to get what he deserves. He made me feel so much anger, and yet I could understand him because he seemed so brainwashed into thinking that he was so big hero. Emilia and Joana were also fantastically written, and I felt for them so much throughout the story. Sepetys’ writing is just so emotionally engaging, and it really makes the reader feel as though they are involved in it’s telling.

This may be my first Ruta Sepetys’ novel, but this will definitely not be my last (given that I own Between Shades of Grey and just need to read it). She makes a genre that I generally don’t reach for so accessible and emotional gripping that I will seriously read anything she writes.

River’s Review:

So wow. Brb going and getting all of Sepetys’ books and binge reading them.

I almost didn’t read this book you guys. I grabbed it at ALAMW and then when I got home it was sorted into my “maybe” pile. I don’t know why I put it in my TBR for this month other than I was just in the mood for something different. I don’t generally seek out historical fiction, and I got over reading Holocaust stories in middle school when we had to read that one really sad popular book that they make all kids read to learn about WWII? Yeah… I generally keep away from WWII historical fiction because it’s just really hard to read about the Holocaust that much.

But this book was different. It’s not a Holocaust survival story. It’s a refugee story and it’s an important one, especially in this current political time. I wont get into all that, but I am glad to see a book about refugees and what they go through when they are forced out of their own countries because of the atrocities of war.

This book is told in an alternating four-POV first person narrative. I generally don’t read alternating/multi-POV books, but this worked so amazingly well. Each chapter is short and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE to put the book down because you feel like you can read “just one more…”. I loved the mixture of voices and ages. I was able to empathize with each character’s plight, and I ABHORRED Alfred and it was amazing the way Sepetys wrote such a twisted character.

Another issue I usually have with historical fiction is how bogged down we can get with facts and how damn dense it can be. This is… I don’t want to say light, but it’s incredibly accessible while being full of rich details. I feel like I learned a lot! The fact that a lot of this is fact (while the story is fiction) is mindbloggling. Also the way that the horrors of war were handled in the writing was perfect. There’s just enough sprinkled in that you don’t dwell on the fact that mothers are tossing their babies at a boat in hopes that they’ll land safely, but you do take a moment.

The ending of this really got me and I had to read it twice. I was not expecting that at all.

This is full of gorgeous writing, horrific war time and gut wrenching moments. Read it.