Monday, October 5, 2015

August + September Wrap-up

I missed August and am a few days late for September, but here we go!

Books Reviewed in August:

The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan - 4 stars
The Riddles of Hillgate by Zoey Kane and Claire Kane - 3 stars

Average rating = 3.5 stars

Books Reviewed in September:

The Talisman of El by Alecia Stone - 2 stars
You Won't Remember This by Kate Blackwell - 2.5 stars
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott - 4 stars
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry - 4 stars
Crossing into Brooklyn by Mary Ann McGuigan - 2 stars

Average rating = 2.9 stars (not a great month, but it's interesting to note that 3/5 books were written by a Kate or Katie).

Books Received in August/September:

For Review:

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay
Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie
Perdita by Faith Gardner - Thanks to Merit Press for this one and the two above
Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland - Thanks to Tor for this one


A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Mass - Forgot this one is a previous haul. Thanks to It Starts at Midnight!

Amazon Freebies:

Crystal Magic by Madeline Freeman

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: Crossing Into Brooklyn

Title: Crossing Into Brooklyn
Author: Mary Ann McGuigan
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

To Find Your Future, You Have to Face Your Past

At sixteen, Morgan Lindstrum has the life that every other girl wants--at least from the outside. A privileged only child, she has everything she could ever want, except her parents' attention. A Princeton physicist and a high-powered executive, they barely have any time for each other, much less for Morgan. Then her beloved grandfather dies, depriving Morgan of the only stable figure in her life. If that's not enough, she suddenly finds out he was never her grandfather at all. To find out the truth about her family, Morgan makes her way to Brooklyn, where she meets Terence Mulvaney, the Irish immigrant father who her mother disowned. Morgan wants answers; but instead of just satisfying her curiosity, Mulvaney shows her the people in his condemned tenement building, who are suffering and have nowhere to go. He challenges her to help them, by tearing away the veil of shame, and showing her wealthy parents and her advantaged circle of friends a world they don't want to know exists. The temptation to walk away from this ugly reality, as her mother did, is strong. But if she does, can Morgan ever really leave behind what she learned when she crossed into Brooklyn?

I was a bit apprehensive going in to this book, since it's not kind of book I would usually choose. Unfortunately, in this case, my gut feeling was right. This book just didn't work for me.

The characters, especially Morgan, didn't feel all that real and relateable. Her parents were useless and annoyed me a lot. Her grandpa was a asshole. Morgan was spoiled and naive.

Also, I felt like this book majorly overemphasized the income and class gap. It was this huge deal for her to find out her grandpa was poor and another huge deal for her to visit Brooklyn. Maybe things are different in New York/New Jersey, but where I'm from, things are not that divided.

Disliking the characters was a problem I could not overcome in this book. If you can connect with the characters better than me, you might enjoy this one.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: Pushing the Limits

Title: Pushing the Limits
Author: Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #1
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: June 1, 2012
Source: Won.

"So wrong for each other …and yet so right.

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. 

But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible. 

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

“A riveting and emotional ride!”—New York Times bestselling authorSimone Elkeles

“McGarry details the sexy highs, the devastating lows and the real work it takes to build true love.” —Jennifer Echols, author ofSuch a Rush

“An edgy romance that pulls you in and never lets go. I was hooked!”Gena Showalter, New York Times bestselling author of Alice in Zombieland

"Pushing the Limits is an accomplished debut, a perfect choicefor readers who thrive on edgy, riveting storytelling." --Bookpage

"Real aches and real love in Katie McGarry's sensitive, complex, always surprising, really excellent first novel." --School Library Journal.

Yep, I finally read it. I think I say this every time I review a contemporary, but this is not my usual genre and this book especially pushed me outside my comfort zone. But I'm so glad I took the chance on this book, since I really enjoyed it!

Echo and Noah are two very complex characters and they are really what made this book work for me. They were both some multi-dimensional and both felt like they could have been real people. And I loved both of them! And I fell in love with both of them. Echo I connected with fairly quickly, since I saw some of my own personality traits in her (people-pleaser, a bit timid). Plus this girl is having a majorly tough time with everything going on and her father drove me crazy with all his pushiness. Noah, on the other hand, was initially not my type at all. But getting inside and his head and see what made him tick and his extreme love for his brothers made me fall in love with him as well. 

This book is told in alternating POV between Echo and Noah. That's often my my favourite form, but in this case I really enjoyed it. I know I would not have connected as deeply with either character without getting to see things from their perspective.

Another thing that impressed me with this book was the build of the romance. Somehow, Katie McGarry made their journey to get to know each other so believable and perfectly paced. I love it (and I'm not usually a huge fan of romances). I also enjoyed the secondary characters of Beth and Isaiah, who made up Noah's dysfunctional little family. I also appreciated Lila's loyalty to Echo, even though I would have liked to see a bit more character development for her.

For a girl who doesn't really do contemporary and almost never is a fan of romances, I'm shocked at how much I enjoyed this book. I think it's a real testament to the author that she was able to win me over. Now I'm excited to read the second book in the series because I get to see more of Beth. I'd love to get inside that girl's head!

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: Court of Fives

Title: Court of Fives
Author: Kate Elliott
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review.

On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It's about a young woman named Jessamy who is caught between two world: playing the sport she loves, called the Fives, and being a dutiful daughter and following the strict rules of her father.

The Fives is basically a competitive obstacle course involving 5 obstacles. Trees, which involves climbing high pillars, Traps, which involves a treacherous climbing course, Rivers, which is a tricky stepping stones path across a river, Pillars, which is a maze, and finally Rings, which is a high course through rings spinning and different speeds. And Jessamy is very good.

The society in this book is split into Patrons and Commoners. Patrons are the ruling class that has taken over the native Efeans and are from the old country or descended from the people from the old country. Commoners are the native Efeans, who have been oppressed by the ruling class. Jessamy and her sisters are of mixed ancestory, with a Patron father and a Efean mother. Generally, Patron men do not hold onto their Commoner lovers, but Jessamy's father has stay with her mother and treats her as his wife, even though they cannot marry. Jessamy and her sisters Amaya, Bettany and Maraya have been raised as Patrons, but will never truly fit into society properly. Clearly there are strong Colonialism themes here, something I liked seeing in a YA book.

I enjoyed Jessamy as a character. She's competitve, but also values her family very highly, which puts her is a bit of a tough spot. Her father is trying to rise through the very political ranks of the army and it would be dishonourable for him to have a daughter who competes in the Fives. So Jessamy practices them secretly. When she finally has a chance to compete, she loses on purpose, since the winner has to show their face (all competitors wear masks). 

The competitor she should have beat is Kalliarkos, a young lord. He recognizes her afterwards and they hit it off, so he promises to keep her secret. Kal is very sweet and I enjoyed his character quite a bit. He is a good person and kind, but at the same time, you can tell he has been raised in privledge and doesn't always understand the hardships that Commoners face. However, Kal's uncle is a very powerful man and dangerous man.

I also enjoyed Jessamy's sisters. Maraya is book worm and dreams of being an archivist, but her mixed ancestory and club foot (which most Patrons would have smothered an infant for) make this dream very difficult for her. Bettany is strange and we don't see a lot from her, although I think she may be mentally ill. Amaya is the pretty, spoiled one, although she does still love her family very much.

Through the course of the book, Jessamy and her sisters' world is turned upside down and it falls to Jessamy (as well as her father) to make some very tough decisions. Jessamy is one tough girl who puts her family above all else.

Court of Fives reminded me a bit of The Winner's Curse, with the colonialism and the heart breaking ending. But I actually preferred Court of Fives with the addition of the Fives competitions and also the hints of magic that exist in this world. I definitely can't wait to see the fallout after the ending of this one.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: You Won't Remember This

Title: You Won't Remember This
Author: Kate Blackwell
Publication Date: May 15, 2015
Publisher: Bacon Press Books
Source: Freebie

"These are necessary stories, which often possess a quality of devastating clarity all too infrequent in short fiction. Each is a rare entrĂ©e into the ordinary everyday world without the added special effects of all-consuming tragedy. This collection is prime proof that there is nothing, nothing like a collection of short stories to offer an almost Cubist perspective on the way women live."--Cynthia Shearer
The twelve stories in Kate Blackwell's debut collection illuminate the lives of men and women who appear as unremarkable as your next-door-neighbor until their lives explode quietly on the page. Her wry, often darkly funny voice describes the repressed underside of a range of middle-class characters living in the South.
"You most definitely WILL remember this extraordinary collection. All of Blackwell's finely crafted stories move as easily as an overheard conversation about what is too often hushed in the human heart."--Robert Bausch
This book was certainly a lot more literary than I usually read and I think that hurt my enjoyment of the stories. Some of them I did enjoy and even became invested in the characters of some of the longer ones. But I did love any of them and I didn't really understand the point of many of them. Most profiled periods of people's lives without really making any impact of me.

I guess the major theme for me was just the every day struggles of life. But many of these struggles turned out to be fairly depressing. Also, some of the stories were downright strange. Specifically the one about "pepper hunting". Totally missed any point or conclusion in that one and was very graphic and upsetting for me.

Overall, this collection of stories wasn't my favourite. I did enjoy the writing style, but the content threw me off. I think readers who enjoy books focusing on the quiet struggles of daily life would enjoy this one, but it simply wasn't my cup of tea.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: Talisman of El

Title: Talisman of El
Author: Alecia Stone
Series: Talisman of El #1
Publication Date: May 20, 2012
Source: Won.


One Planet. 

Two Worlds. 

Population: Human ... 7 billion. 
Others ... unknown. 

When 14-year-old Char­lie Blake wakes up sweat­ing and gasp­ing for air in the mid­dle of the night, he knows it is hap­pen­ing again. This time he wit­nesses a bru­tal mur­der. He's afraid to tell any­one. No one would believe him ... because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago - the day before his dad died. 

Char­lie doesn't know why this is hap­pen­ing. He would give any­thing to have an ordi­nary life. The prob­lem: he doesn't belong in the world he knows as home. 

He belongs with the others.

I really wanted to like this book. I mean, it's written by a book blogger! Unfortunately, this book did not really work for me. I found it really dragged on and I couldn't get invested in the story or the characters. It seemed unnecessarily long and, while I did slog my way through it, I didn't enjoy myself.

Main character Charlie starts off as a typical fictional orphan. But don't worry, he's special! Alex, Derkein and Richmond (who I can't help but picture as a minuature goth version of Richmond from IT Crowd) were fairly stock supporting characters, with the possible exception of Derkein.

On the bright side, I did find the world to be very interesting and original. Elements and angels are a mix I haven't seem before. Unfortunately, for me, the original storyline was not enough to make up for the poor pacing that made this one a chore to read.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Riddles of Hillsgate

Title: The Riddles of Hillgate
Author: Zoey Kane and Claire Kane
Series: Z & C Mysteries #1
Publication Date: October 14, 2011
Source: Won.

Zoey Kane is known around Riverside for making risky purchases. When her daughter Claire learns a most recent investment is eighty acres on the haunted side of town, she is simply flabbergasted. Amazement takes over the whole community, however, when an old mansion is discovered deep within trees. After the estate is turned into a popular hotel, no one could have expected just how risky this purchase would be.

I read this book in the plane and in the airport while I was on holiday and found it was a perfect book for that situation. Something light and fluffy, that was easy to pick up and put down as needed.

That said, this book wasn't memorable or ground-breaking in any way. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it or pick up a sequel. 

Claire is a young woman whose life is falling apart, so she moves in with her mother for a while. Zoey is an unsuccessful real estate agent whose luck is usually terrible. However, Zoey recently bought some scrubby old land, only to find out that there was a forgotten mansion on the estate!

I found Zoey and Claire's relationship a bit odd. It just didn't seem like a realistic mother-daughter relationship and I found it super weird that they shared a bed in the huge mansion. I also found some of the dialogue to be a bit forced and awkward. 

However, this book as short, fast-paced and fun and I enjoyed reading it while waiting for my flight.

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