Book Review: The Young Elites

The Young Elites (The Young Elites #1) by Marie Lu
Release Date ~ October 7, 2014
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers ~ Penguin Random House Canada
ISBN13: 9780399167836
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all. 
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen. 
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

Marie Lu quickly impressed me with her debut, Legend, and as a result, I approached The Young Elites with high expectations. And even with that in mind, The Young Elites easily exceeded the high expectations I had for it!

The Young Elites is an intoxicating story set in a stunning world which shocked me and left me begging for more! If this series never ended, I think I'd be a happy reader.

  1. A very introspective, yet exciting read:

    I loved how Marie Lu used this new book to explore Adelina's mind and her character. Adelina is truly fascinating, as she suffers through a multitude of evils, and is determined to rise above it. This is enough to make her an intriguing character, but what makes it even better is that there is a bit of darkness swirling within her which causes her to react in ways that likely aren't her best option and certainly cause some issues. And she seems to experience an inner struggle as she desperately tries to figure out how to navigate her world on her own. So much of her wants to lash out because of her pain, and much of the story centers on her dealing with this
  2. A special group of characters:

    There's something unique about The Young Elites (and Adelina), and that has to do with their mysterious abilities. And because the characters are so different from one another, you can really see their personalities come out in how they manage and use these abilities. This means that the main characters are well-crafted, and the secondary characters are further developed than they are in most books.
  3. Deeply intimate relationships:

    The very nature of the lives The Young Elites are living draws them closer together in a strange way. They're forced to keep secrets and many of them have experienced rejection and abandonment. As a result, particularly in Adelina's case, her connections with other characters are strangely strong yet still retain the messy, confusing parts. The world is against them and so they're forced to band together. I especially enjoyed Adelina's relationship with her sister and how that plays out in The Young Elites. 

The romance is intoxicating and thrilling, but without being overpowering. This is so important to me, and I loved the tension Marie Lu evokes with her writing. This is a delicate balance to achieve, and it's nearly flawless.

There is so much that is implied and hinted at, which creates a thick atmosphere of mystery within the story and marks Marie as one very talented writer. A perfect example of this is the Epilogue, which gives us just a small taste of what's to come in the next book, and yet it doesn't quite address anything directly. But it certainly has left me eagerly anticipating more details on the next Young Elites book and solidifies The Young Elites as one of my favourite reads of 2014.


Blog Tour: The Spiritglass Charade

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of reading and reviewing The Clockwork Scarab, the first book in the Stoker & Holmes series by Colleen Gleason. And today I'm pleased to introduce the second book in the series, The Spiritglass Charade, on the first stop of the blog tour!

Colleen kindly spent some time answering questions I had for her based on my experience reading The Clockwork Scarab, which touches on a few of the reasons I enjoyed reading the first Stoker & Holmes book! I also have some important news about the blog tour and two excerpts for you at the bottom of this post. 

Q: The two main characters are exceptoinally talented in their own ways (being the niece of Sherlock Holmes and the sister of Bram Stoker) which makes them fascinating characters. And I noticed that both young women experience some pressure with living up to expectations others have for them and their abilities. Why did you decide to write a mystery story featuring relatives to their more famous counterparts?

A: One of the traditional elements of steampunk is the juxtaposition of literary characters with that of real elements of history—characters, events, settings, etc. In fact, steampunk is exactly that: a fascinating mash-up of alternate history and technology and literature. So it seemed like a good place to start when I was dreaming up the concept for this book.

Being a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes (in all of his iterations, both classic and current), I wanted to begin with a female version of the brilliant detective. And when I learned that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker were actually friends, the idea of melding in a vampire element made a lot of sense—especially since I’d also written a series about a female vampire hunter during the time of Jane Austen.

Q: Evaline and Mina are very different young women, and you make that clear in your writing, but do you think they are more similar than readers might realize at first glance? Do they have anything in common?A: Most definitely. They both have just as many commonalities—albeit beneath the surface—as differences. Both are saddled with expectations that come from being part of an exceptional family, both are social misfits—Mina is awkward, and Evaline dislikes being sought-after in Society—both are stubborn and determined to do things “their” way, and both are brave, loyal, and lonely.

Q: One of my favourite parts in The Clockwork Scarab was the inclusion of a secret society. Secret societies are so interesting to me! Did you do any research on secret societies? Why did you choose to include a secret society in this series?

Secret societies are indeed the stuff of which books (and movies!) are made. They allow for such creative license in developing a plot. I’ve done a lot of research on secret societies over the years for a number of projects. They were (and still are) quite prevalent, and I love the whole idea of clandestine meetings, the opportunities for cloak-and-dagger sort of communication and sneaking around. It’s just fun to build a story around a group of people who are secretly connected and must secretly communicate.

Q: Since the Stoker & Holmes series is a story about a mystery and two female detectives, did you plot out the entire mystery arc before you wrote the books? Or has the mystery changed as you've written the series?

A: I’m more of an organic writer than one like, say, J. K. Rowling who had much of her arc plotted out before writing the Potter books. But I do know certain things about the over-arching mystery—who the Ankh is, what’s going on behind the scenes, and other basic elements. As for the mystery in each book, the particular episode…I don’t really know the entire storyline. It becomes revealed to me as I write the book, and sometimes things change as the scenes evolve. I might think I know whodunnit and why, but that might shift as the story goes on. It’s a mysterious experience for me as a writer!
Q: While the Stoker & Holmes books are very exciting all on their own, I'm curious as to whether there is any sort of overall impression or experience you'd like your readers to take away from reading your books?

A: Thank you for asking. It’s my hope that readers of all ages will read about the experiences of Evaline and Mina and see themselves reflected in one or both of the characters’ difficulties—in their awkwardness, challenges, personalities, and relationships—and somehow feel as if they are not alone. It’s my hope that readers come away with an impression that partnerships and relationships between two people—whether they are business or love or familial—aren’t easy, aren’t simple, aren’t smooth, and yet are rewarding and necessary for a fulfilled life. And that two people can seem very different on the exterior, but have so very much in common where it matters: on the inside.

Thank you for having me here on your blog today! 

And thank you for taking the time to provide my questions with such detailed answers, Colleen! I'm particularly interested in the fact that you already know who the Ankh is - that's one secret I'm dying to know! 

I also find the answer to my last question particularly insightful and a great idea to explore in books. Relationships can be so tricky to navigate, but they're absolutely worth the time and effort. 

Make sure you follow along with the upcoming blog tour stops! There are more fun features and giveaways coming up!

Wednesday, October 8th 

Thursday, October 9th

Friday, October 10th

Saturday, October 11th

Sunday,  October 12th

Monday, October 13th

Tuesday, October 14th

Wednesday, October 15th 

Thursday, October 16th

Friday, October 17th

"After the Affair of the Clockwork Scarab, Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes are eager to help Princess Alix with a new case. Seventeen-year-old Willa Aston is obsessed with spiritual mediums, convinced she is speaking with her mother from beyond the grave. What seems like a case of spiritualist fraud quickly devolves into something far more menacing: someone is trying to make Willa appear lunatic using an innocent-looking spiritglass to control her. The list of clues piles up: an unexpected murder, a gang of pickpockets, and the return of vampires to London. But are these events connected? As Uncle Sherlock would say, there are no coincidences. It will take all of Mina's wit and Evaline's muscle to keep London's sinister underground at bay."

Check out the Stoker & Holmes tumblr

Colleen Gleason is a New York Times bestselling author with more than two dozen novels in print, including the international bestselling paranormal romance series The Gardella Vampire Chronicles—about a female vampire hunter who lives during the time of Jane Austen.


Book Review: Lailah

Lailah (The Styclar Saga #1) by Nikki Kelly
Release Date ~ October 7, 2014
Feiwel & Friends ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9781250051516
ARC received from Macmillan for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
The girl knows she’s different. She doesn’t age. She has no family. She has visions of a past life, but no clear clues as to what she is, or where she comes from. But there is a face in her dreams – a light that breaks through the darkness. She knows his name is Gabriel.

On her way home from work, the girl encounters an injured stranger whose name is Jonah. Soon, she will understand that Jonah belongs to a generation of Vampires that serve even darker forces. Jonah and the few like him, are fighting with help from an unlikely Allie – a rogue Angel, named Gabriel.

In the crossfire between good and evil, love and hate, and life and death, the girl learns her name: Lailah. But when the lines between black and white begin to blur, where in the spectrum will she find her place? And with whom?

Gabriel and Jonah both want to protect her. But Lailah will have to fight her own battle to find out who she truly is.

Lailah initially gained popularity on Wattpad, and since then it has been re-released by Feiwel & Friends. It's heralded as a fresh take on standard vampire and angel mythology, and I wholeheartedly agree with that claim.

This first book in The Stylcar Saga is an unexpected read and every time some part of it felt commenplace, it made up for that by surprising me with a creative twist. Lailah was not at all what I expected, and I believe many other readers will find the same.

  1. Innovative mythology:

    Hands down, this is the best part of the book. I've read a number of angel books, and my fair share of vampire books. And at first, Lailah didn't seem to have anything particularly new or noteworthy to offer. But then this story veers off into uncharted territory, with a twist that has left me pondering it since I finished the book. It raises some questions about perspective and personal beliefs, which I hope are further addressed in later books.
  2. A sweet pseudo-father/daughter relationship:

    Lailah finds herself with a ragtag group of friends (mostly vampires) and while I wasn't particularly attached to many of them (although a couple had potential), I really loved a relationship she develops with one of them where she's basically adopted as a daughter. It's touching and so nice to see included in a darker story like this, and it added that extra bit of emotional attachment to the story and its characters. 

Lailah launches into the story right away and it doesn't hold back at all. This was a bit jarring for me as a reader, because I had a harder time grounding myself in the world and its mythology (which is very rich).

Not every reader is going to like Lailah. She's very independent and confident (neither of which are bad things), but as a result of those characteristics she tends to come across as rather reckless and impulsive. In turn, this just gets her into trouble as she doesn't take the time to think things through before acting. It's a little ridiculous at times, but I believe it's consistent with her character. Readers will need to have some patience with her, though.

This definitely ties into her romantic life as well, which features one of the most complex love scenarios I have ever read. It's one of the main motivating factors to keep the plot moving, so be forewarned that romance has a huge role to play in Lailah, and it's definitely over the top.


Cosmetics Stash: MAC's A Novel Romance

A little while ago I heard about the new fall collection from MAC called A Novel Romance. I'm a bit of a makeup junkie, although I've never actually tried anything from MAC! (Shocking, I know.)

I was thoroughly amused by the historical romance novel promotional advertisements to the collection and picked up a small variety of products to try out. I mean, as a book lover how could I resist?

I have big brown eyes and I love to opt for purple eye shadows when I can, so the Passionate Quest quad was a must for me!

The white-looking shade is actually a very pale pink and the darkest shade is a deep purple.  
I've been experimenting with lip colour for a little while now, and I was immediately drawn to the new Good Kisser shade, which is a stunning hot pink. It took guts to go through with this purchase, believe me, because I was worried it would be way too bright for me but I have no regrets.

More importantly, how does all of this actually look when I wear it? Spoiler: I'm a little bit in love with this Novel Romance (see what I did there? I hope you like cheesy jokes!)

Why, yes, I am in fact wearing purple eyeshadow with pink lipstick! 
Remember that I'm new to MAC so I've only now discovered how incredibly these products are - the pigmentation is excellent (so much colour)! They really pop and look lovely with these shadows.

The Good Kisser lipstick has become one of my go-to shades, believe it or not. One swipe, and I'm good! I like to throw it on when I'm in a rush and want something quick to pull my look together. The matte pink is nice because it's fun and less dramatic than a red lip. The matte formula isn't drying, but it leaves a slight stain behind on my lips.

Lastly I picked up the nail lacquer in Midnight Storm, since I was trying to give up my nail-biting habit and I wanted to use a pretty nail colour as motivation. It worked. Guess who is working on gorgeous long nails now?! Bonus: Midnight Storm is perfect for fall because it's this rich, deep burgundy purple. It's thick with a nice consistency so one coat is all I really need, although I use two to get darker look. Without a topcoat, I can only wear it for about two days before it starts to chip.

The one thing I would have liked to have seen with this collection is some sort of packaging to tie into the Novel Romance theme. Since that was the motivating reason to buy some of the products for me, that would have been a fun reminder.

You can find this collection online and in MAC stores. A few of the more popular products are now out of stock online, so you'd have to try and find them in store (that's where I picked up my Good Kisser lipstick).


Waiting on Wednesday {48}

Jill @ Breaking the Spine hosts this weekly meme where we can share a book that we are so excited for and are anxiously awaiting their upcoming release!

This week my WoW pick is...

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas
Release Date ~ February 24, 2015

Goodreads Synopsis:
Rhiannon Thomas's dazzling debut novel is a spellbinding reimagining of Sleeping Beauty and what happens after happily ever after.

One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.

Her family is long dead. Her "true love" is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept. 

As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.

Rhiannon Thomas weaves together vivid scenes of action, romance, and gorgeous gowns to reveal a richly imagined world … and Sleeping Beauty as she’s never been seen before.

Okay, first of all, even though I'm getting a little tired of book covers with girls in fancy dresses, I quite like this one! I think it fits the idea of a Sleeping Beauty story well, and it sounds like it will fit the story well.

For years now, I have loved reading fairy tale retellings and I haven't come across too many Sleeping Beauty ones yet. I'm always curious to see what kind of take an author has on an old story!


Author Interview: Alice Kuipers

My introduction to Alice Kuipers and her writing was back in 2012 when I read her previous release titled 40 Things I Want to Tell You. I was absolutely blown away by Alice's mastery of storytelling, so I was excited to hear she had a new 2014 release called The Death of Us.

I'm thrilled to have Alice stopping by Esther's Ever After today, where she and I chat a bit about The Death of Us and Alice's writing style in general.

Q: I read 40 Things I want to Tell You when it came out, and I fell in love with your storytelling. I noticed that your books often deal with very difficult topics - why do you choose to include such topics? Is it difficult for you, as an author, to write about these hard topics?

A: Tackling big ‘issues’, like alcoholism, violence, anger, cancer, teen pregnancy, terrorism, means I have to do my research to make sure I get the facts right on the page. The worst thing would be for me to present an issue falsely. The research often teaches me a lot and makes it easier to write about topics that are hard.
One of the best things about writing young adult protagonists is that I feel a sense of hope in them as they become the adults they’re going to be. While I love those characters, and I find it hard for them to have to go through terrible things, I have faith they’ll pull through. What was different in The Death of Us from my other books is that they don’t all pull through, and yes, that was hard to write.

Q: I've heard that The Death of Us has some big plot reveals. Was the ending a surprise for you as well, or have you always known it would end?

A: I remember waking up one night realizing what had to happen at the end and feeling like I needed to get out of bed immediately to get the narrative right. The story was exciting to draft, because, while I had outlines and ideas, the twists and turns kept shifting my ideas and making me rewrite the book to make it better.

Q: I'm very intrigued by the non-linear narration, which I'm sure is very effective for telling a mysterious story. Was it difficult writing in 3 different POVs (at different times)? 

My editor told me that each of us is the hero of our own story. Hearing that made me realize that each of my characters had to be the centre of their own universe. They don’t consider themselves only one third of the story. Once I saw that, then I felt like I really got the hang of a multiple character narrative. 
In The Death of Us, the story actually starts near the end, then goes back to the beginning. Having that happen, AND the three perspectives wasn’t easy at all. I needed a good editor to help me hone the story on the page. And I needed faith that the story was going to work.

Q: You do an excellent job with making characters feel real and I think that's important for readers to be able to empathize with your characters. It sounds like Callie is a character many readers will be able to relate to (just from reading the description, I can see pieces of myself in her already) - whereas as Ivy sounds more like the "unattainable". Do you see yourself in either (or both) of these characters?

Thanks very much. That’s really nice to hear. I think there’s always some small part of the author in every one of their characters. To me, we’re all like paper dolls – layered and complicated with many possible versions of ourselves. Think of how different you are when you’re with a friend compared to with a parent compared to in a formal job or class, and then you’re different again with strangers… As an author, thinking about all my different selves helps me to create characters. But then I have to look out. I have to imagine, to dream, to interrogate those characters. I need to find their differences to make the story feel real and true. 
In The Death of Us, Ivy, Callie and Kurt each have secrets – we all do… I do… and knowing that each of us is capable of dark acts made me feel both close to and far away from these characters at different points of the story. 

Q: Now, I haven't read the book yet (I will - soon! No spoilers, please) but I'm wondering if there's anything you hope readers will take away from reading The Death of Us and Callie's story? 

A: This is a great question, although I’m not sure I have a specific answer. I learned early on in writing that I’m the sort of writer who isn’t trying to send a message. I try to leave the interpretation of my books to the people reading them. In my first book, Life on the Refrigerator Door, the pages are mostly white space (it’s a book written in notes) and that white space is for a reader to fill with their imagination. 
In The Death of Us. I don’t have a message but I do think all of my characters have to find themselves in this book. Life is about being honest with, at least, yourself. And above all in The Death of Us, I’d like a reader to come away feeling the risk was worth it – the pay off for investing their time in these characters and the complicated storytelling was worth it. 

Alice, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Congratulations on the release of The Death of Us!

Bestselling author Alice Kuipers was born in London. She moved to Canada in 2003. Her first novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, was published in 28 countries and won several awards. Since then, she has published two further award winning YA novels internationally, with a fourth, The Death of Us, coming out in September this year. Alice has three small children and she began writing picture books for them. Her first picture book Violet and Victor Write The Best Ever Bookworm Book will be published in December this year. Alice’s website is full of tips and hints for those of you who want to become writers too. Find her here: www.alicekuipers.com or on twitter, facebook or goodreads.


Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Release Date ~ August 14, 2014
Dutton ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9780525425632
Signed hardcover pre-ordered

Goodreads Synopsis:
Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last? 

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart. 

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, √Čtienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

Isla is Stephanie Perkin's third book that proves her to be a master of not only romance, but storytelling. I was first introduced (and convinced) to read her first book, Anna and the French Kiss, when I began blogging three years ago (in 2011!) and I've been a devoted fan ever since then! I was looking forward to Isla because although she only had a small role to play in Anna, I knew this last book in this collection was going to be incredible.

  1. Books with a feeling of nostalgia:

    Very few books leave me with such a strong nostalgic feeling. But Stephanie has this way of writing that makes her readers intensely feel the same emotional roller coaster as her characters. Her books perfectly capture many of the feelings and experiences I had as a teenager, and I love that. I found it was particularly strong in Isla because Isla's awkward moments and intense relationship with Josh were so familiar to me.
  2. Romantic longing:

    One of my favourite feelings in the world is that period when you first realize you have a crush on someone... and then it starts to move in the right direction! It is this crazy, wild adrenaline rush and that is exactly what Isla (and Josh) experience in this book. Isla has pined for Josh for years, and we get to read about how she first approaches Josh and their friendship develops from there. But it's that rising anticipation throughout the book that kept me hooked!
  3. Revisit some of our other favourite Perkins' couples:

    I love how Stephanie includes little cameos of characters she's written about in previous books. It's so fun to get to see glimpses of how their lives turned out, and I think that this is especially true in Isla and the Happily Ever After. Because this book is the end of this three-book collection, it seems like so much more than just the potential of a "happily ever after" for Isla - it's as if it's the happily ever after for Anna, Lola, and even for us as readers. 
I can't sing the praises of this book enough. Isla and Josh are adorable. They're also flawed, and kind of stupid at times. Which is fine, because I've done silly things as well. I truly wish I could crawl inside the pages of this book and live in Paris with Anna and Isla and do my makeup and get dressed up with Lola. Because we would be best friends, even if they are fictional. 

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