Review: Scorch

Scorch (Croak #2) by Gina Damico
Release Date ~September 25, 2012
Graphia ~ HMH 
ISBN13: 9780547624570
Review copy received from Thomas Allen & Son Ltd. 

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home.
To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

Croak was one of those books that I stumbled upon rather accidentally last year, decided to give it a go and absolutely fell in love. I really feel that this is one of the most underrated series out there, and that more people should read it because so many other people will love it. So if it’s been sitting on your bookshelf, pick it up tonight, and sit down with a cup of tea and thank me when you’re finished ;) 

Combining dry humour with likable characters and a thoroughly creative storyline is a winning combination. But Scorch has that same feel that Goblet of Fire has for Harry Potter fans – it’s when we finally realize that it isn’t all just fun and games, and that the stakes are very high. Too high. 

  1. Lex is a witty and lovable as ever:

    Lex is one of those characters I want to be BFFs with. She’s funny as can be, a little rough around the edges but with the BIGGEST HEART. She’s always getting into some sort of trouble or another, but does her absolute best to keep those she loves safe. And she isn’t constantly whining or being ridiculous. She’s brave, and I love her sense of justice because we totally have that in common. Guys, I can't even begin to describe how funny Gina's writing is when she's writing as Lex. I'm just not funny enough to make you understand.
  2. And we get to see more of the super cool Reaper world!:

    I love the way Gina Damico has imagined Reapers in the Croak series! It’s so much fun and totally different, and I enjoyed getting a look at some of the other Reaper towns in the world aside from Croak. I think it’s really neat that they each have their own sort of “personalities” too.
  3. Some things are gained. Others are lost:

    Gina doesn’t back down from making things not quite as bad as they seem... yet still hard. If I’m being honest, I don’t always want to read a book that’s going to break me and shatter my heart into a thousand little shards. I like that silver lining on a cloud, and I think Gina nails that really well in these books. Yes, things sometimes turn out terribly wrong. But there’s this little seed of optimism that means it isn’t what you expected or wanted – but it isn’t entirely lost either. And that’s okay. I think that’s a lot like real life. 

These books are so much fun, but not at all forgettable. They almost feel like light, fun books but they really aren’t. They delve into some deeper issues and don’t shy away from tackling problems. 

And it’s hard for me to put my finger on it, but Scorch didn’t quite have the same charm that Croak had for me. It’s like a certain je ne sais quoi, but I think part of it was sequels are always suffering a little bit from trying to live up to the first. It’s all a little bit less magical and amazing. Or maybe some of my bitterness about the bad things that happen is seeping in here. That could be it too. I mean, bad stuff is good because it’s real and makes for good character growth but it doesn’t mean I need to like it. NOPE. 

Also, as a sidenote I really love Lex and Driggs. I think they're one of the best YA couples out there. They have super cute kissing scenes and I just adore them and their sneaky ways trying to get around Uncle Mort's rules.


Review: London Eye

London Eye (Toxic City #1) by Tim Lebbon
Release Date ~ October 2, 2012
Pyr ~ Prometheus Books
ISBN13: 9781616146801
Review copy received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Hunger Games meets The X-Men in an exciting post-apocalyptic debut.
Two years after London is struck by a devastating terrorist attack, it is cut off from the world, protected by a military force known as Choppers. 
The rest of Britain believe that the city is now a toxic, uninhabited wasteland. But Jack and his friends, some of whom lost family on what has become known as Doomsday, know that the reality is very different. 
At great risk, they have been gathering evidence about what is really happening in London, and it is incredible. Because the handful of London's survivors are changing. Developing strange, fantastic powers. Evolving.

The Hunger Games meets X-Men? Some crazy attack on London that has left the city absolutely devastated and isolated from the rest of the world? People with superhuman powers and abilities? This is EXACTLY the kind of premise I love to hear about. Plenty of action and excitement should be an unstoppable book.

But unfortunately, London Eye simply failed to deliver those anticipations of mine. I had a difficult time really connecting with the book, and if I can’t do that then I’m bound to dislike it.

  1. There is PLENTY of action:

    This was awesome – I liked that danger really was lurking around every corner and that the further the story moved along, the more likely it was that more danger would take place as the group drew closer to London. It’s a messy and crazy world, and the action at least kept the story moving along for me.
  2. Diversity with characters:

    These definitely aren’t your cookie-cutter YA characters, and I applaud Tim Lebbon for being creative with his characters and making them real and flawed. They were edgier than I expected, and far more honest than most. Plus, I like seeing more male perspectives in YA. And I thought it was brilliant to include Emily as Jack’s younger sister, and giving them a very strong sibling relationship with each other.

Regardless, the story ultimate felt lacking to me. As diverse as the characters were, I couldn’t stand most of them. I had the hardest time relating to Jack and just didn’t find the redeeming characters I was looking for from him. And Lucy-Ann was another character I didn’t take to – I wonder if perhaps it’s because I didn’t buy into her relationship with Jack. We’re introduced to them at a time when they’re both having a hard time with their relationship but because they were so new to me, I couldn’t fully appreciate how difficult this struggle was for them.  I couldn’t fathom why these kids were so trusting with strangers, considering they had been on their own for so long.

But mostly, I felt like I was thrown into a world with characters I didn’t know anything about. I wanted to like them, I wanted to know more about what was going on in this time and place, but I didn’t get that. It felt glossed over and rushed, and without strong world building and character development I just couldn’t connect with the story at all.

Waiting on Wednesday {34}

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...

Rush (The Game #1) by Eve Silver!
Release Date ~ June 11, 2013 from Katherine Tegan Books

Goodreads Description:
So what’s the game now? This, or the life I used to know?

When Miki Jones is pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game—her carefully controlled life spirals into chaos. In the game, she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader Jackson Tate, who says the game isn’t really a game, that what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival, and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn’t. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.

There's a few reasons I've grown to become REALLY excited about Rush - first of all, my interest was picqued at the mention of "alien creatures", the Drau. I'd really love to read more alien books, because there's so much potential there from a YA standpoint and I'm utterly fascinated by the idea of aliens.

And then there's the survival aspect. I love The Hunger Games and Rush sounds very different - but I'm really into this idea of a survival game. I can't wait to see what Eve has done with this idea in her book!

I want to hear what you're waiting for this week too! Any other sci fi fans out there that can't wait to read Rush? 


Review: Earth Girl

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
Release Date ~ August 16, 2012
Harper Voyager ~ HarperCollins Canada 
ISBN13: 9780007443499
ARC received from publisher for review
**Also published by Pyr (Prometheus Books) in March 2013 

Goodreads Synopsis:

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an ‘ape’, a ‘throwback’, but this is one ape girl who won’t give in.
Jarra invents a fake background for herself – as a normal child of Military parents – and joins a class of norms that is on Earth to excavate the ruins of the old cities. When an ancient skyscraper collapses, burying another research team, Jarra’s role in their rescue puts her in the spotlight. No hiding at back of class now. To make life more complicated, she finds herself falling in love with one of her classmates – a norm from another planet. Somehow, she has to keep the deception going.
A freak solar storm strikes the atmosphere, and the class is ordered to portal off-world for safety – no problem for a real child of military parents, but fatal for Jarra. The storm is so bad that the crews of the orbiting solar arrays have to escape to planet below: the first landing from space in 600 years. And one is on collision course with their shelter.

The description for Earth Girl just SOUNDS so cool and science fiction-y. I love cool sci fi and I had heard a little buzz for this one so I was excited and decided to give it a try. When I finally did pick it up, I was curious enough and in the perfect mood for a good futuristic read but I wasn’t really sure what to expect either. It sounds a bit odd, right? I found the idea of the futuristic “handicapped” living on Earth to be interesting, but unfamiliar. So I was completely surprised when I was reading Earth Girl.

Earth Girls is noteworthy for its unique and moving storyline, a well-developed world full of its own history and culture that stands out, and a character so different from any others I’ve read before.

  1. Jarra is this daring, geeky sort of girl:

    And because of that she’s totally relatable. She dares to try and move past her biological and societal limits – she challenges them and isn’t afraid too afraid to fail that it holds her back. She’s bitter at first, but understandably so. And that is a huge part of her transformation throughout the book. And I loved how geeky she was when it came to history! I feel the same way and have my own little geeky quirks when it comes to interests I am PASSIONATE about! (Like books! And politics! And the law! And history!)
  2. Suspenseful moments that’ll have your heart pounding:

    These aren’t your typical sort of suspenseful moments with the good characters running from the bad guys. It’s done in the semi-mundane practice of research and archeology. And that made it better in a sense, because it made you aware of just how brave and passionate you have to be to do the type of work Jarra hopes to do as a historian. There’s nothing boring about this – it feels very real and exciting. And there is some crazy weather going on, which is scary but exciting in the way some of our real weather can be. And people die in familiar ways too. So for a world set so far in the distant future (hundreds of years past beyond us) it feels remarkably familiar.
  3. A real sense and thoughtful consideration of the importance of treating others well:

    The very idea that only those “handicapped” live on Earth sounds weird. It’s a special immune system that means Jarra and her friends will literally die on any other planet – and this is in a world where that’s what everyone else is able to do. You get a very thoughtful insider’s perspective of what it means to be different from the norm, and treated inferior in many instances. I’ve never had any kind of a disability that held me back in any way, but I know what it feels like to stand out from the crowd and be unique. It isn’t always easy, and the way people act towards you can be extremely painful. And Earth Girl totally made me rethink how I perceive disabilities or unique traits (in a good way). I had to seriously reconsider whether that is such a bad thing, or whether it’s just different from me.
  4. A heartbreaking, moving tale:

    I was rooting so hard for Jarra, and I desperately wanted the situation to be different. There are some incredible, life-changing discoveries made during the story and some of it works out well and some of it just falls apart. That pain Jarra felt was described so well that it was raw and truly resonated with me as a reader. I was in awe of how touching Jarra’s story was, and for this reason alone I’d recommend it to many, many readers.

Jarra’s development is remarkable, but at one point it struck me as very odd. I don’t want to spoil anything but I’ll just say that it was the one part of the book that didn’t work for me because of how it was presented. It felt a little too out of left field and bizarre, not that she would act in such a way, but the way it was written and included in the story failed to persuade me and suspend my disbelief. I love reading imaginary, creative stories but the authors needs to be able to convince me that they’re real within the book. Jarra’s actions towards the latter half of the novel stood out to me from the rest of it because it didn’t mesh as well with her character or the plot as everything else did. And it was such a pivotal moment that I can’t brush it off or ignore it.

But in light of the book as a whole, it is fairly minor and didn’t overly detract from my experience reading it. Earth Girl is still one of the most remarkable YA books I’ve read, and I thought it was very well done.


Pandemonium Read-a-long: Week One!

Today's the day! ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS I AM?!

Christa from More Than Just Magic hosted our Delirium read-a-long for the past two weeks as the Requiem Club prepares for Requiem's release (which is only ONE WEEK away now)!

Delirium is by far my favourite of the trilogy (and one of my favourite books of all time) but in Pandemonium we get to see a significant number of changes, and I think there's so much to talk about here.

So whether you haven't read Pandemonium yet, or you're wanting to re-read it before Requiem, or you just want to discuss parts of the book with other readers - make sure you join in! I'll be covering Pandemonium for the next two weeks - and all posts will be located in this post as I'll just update it as we go along.

**Heads up, friends - these posts will be filled with spoilers for Delirium and the parts of Pandemonium we've read. But I won't spoil the end of the book or Requiem**

Day One - First "Now" & "Then" Chapters - Pages 1-45

Quick recap: Lena has escaped from Portland after the disastrous events at the end of Delirium (including Alex being shot and captured/killed). She's delirious, and wakes up in an unfamiliar home where she meets a group of people living in the Wilds who have cared for her after finding her. She meets Raven, who continuously tells her to let things go and move on from the past. 

First of all, can we note how sad I am reading these first pages? My heart is breaking all over again, and it's amazing how well Lauren Oliver picks up right where Delirium left off. Everything that happened in that last chapter of Delirium feels so fresh and newly wounded still. And it is for Lena, even if it isn't for the reader.

One of the key themes of the series that is emphasized a lot in Pandemonium is this idea of new life or rebirth. Lena mentions a number of times that "the old Lena" is dead, and there's only "the new Lena" left. In these first two chapters, she mentions it mostly as she remembers Alex being shot and her escape from Portland. That is her moment of rebirth, but I think looking back we can all see how that isn't exactly true. The beginnings of change had already taken root - I'd say before Lena even really met Alex, but definitely by the time they become friends. And I think possibly it was there inside her all along. Also, I really love the fiery imagery Lauren gives us here; it makes me think of Lena as a phoenix, rising from the ashes. Which I think is pretty much a perfect description of her.

"Fire tearing through every nerve and cell in my body. That's how I am born again, in pain..." 

Another recurring theme throughout the books is this idea that no one is really what they seem. This is hinted at through Delirium, and I think most notably through Alex. Lena sees him as an invalid, and wild and dangerous. Then she gets to know him and realizes... he's nothing really like that. He's sweet and caring and beautiful and thoughtful and brave and.... *sa-wooooon*

But by now this is so clear to Lena. She remembers Portland and the officials there, and she's seriously doubting everything she's ever believed in. She meets some of the people living in the Wilds and things change. for her.

"The animals are on the other sdie of the fence: monsters wearing uniforms. They speak softly and tell lies and smile as they're slitting your throat." 

This is such a hard book for me to read. I think that's partially because everything that happened at the end of Delirium was so dreadful and permanent and all you can do is wish that it will go away and you'll wake up and realize you were dreaming the whole thing. But you can't do that. I can remember a handful of times I felt the same way, and I think that feeling is something all of us can relate to. It's hard, and it stirs up those same feelings.

Day Two - Second "Now" Chapter - Pages 46-58

Quick recap: Lena fills us in a bit more on the super secret spy mission she's doing in New York for Raven. We hear about her attempts to fit in at the school she's attending and her involvement with the DFA to collect information. And while at a big DFA meeting we meet the leader of the movement, Thomas Fineman, and his son, Julian Fineman. Julian gives a speech about how he's willing to risk his life getting cured and what it's been like to nearly die at a young age. 

Confession: I completely forgot all about this side of Julian. I may have been a little bit harsh towards Julian the first time I read Pandy, so it was very eye-opening to re-read this chapter. He is completely different from my recollection of him, and I feel very sympathetic. And I can totally get why Lena is so curious about him, because he really is fascinating with the whole child cancer bit and commitment to the DFA movement by risking his life to get cured. He's a symbol for cureds, and you can tell.

Also, I never took notice of how much info we get about New York and the world outside Portland before. Lena mentions how different it is to have automobiles running because there aren't very many in Portland. Which makes it even clearer how different Porland is from other cured cities - this has been hinted at before, but without Lena experiencing anything else we don't get to see much of it. I really like that Lauren Oliver included this bit to give us a glimpse.

Day Three - Second "Then" and Third "Now" Chapters - Pages 59-86

Quick recap: Lena finally decides to start pulling her weight and really join in with the Raven & Co. group. We see a bit more of their daily lives and see some glimpses of their characters. Lena also realizes that Hana has now gone for her procedure and is coming to terms with Alex's death. But the biggest thing comes in the newest Now chapter where Lena has to go back to the DFA meeting auditorium to retrieve her glove - where she realizes that Juliane Fineman may be hiding some secrets of his own. She notices that he's looking at pictures of far away places all by himself, and he catches her watching him. They have a very brief discussion where neither one likes each other very much.

Lena starts to realize that she has to move forward with her life. Just step by step, day by day to get through it. We see the beginnings of her letting go of Hana and Alex, but she's still grieving over losing them in two very different ways. The Alex-loving part of me is admittedly pleased to see her snub Julian a bit. He really does come across as cold here, doesn't he? It makes sense but still.

One of my favourite quotes is from page 75 - I think it sums up Lena's struggle very well.

"But here's the thing: When I'm running, there's always this split second when the pain is ripping through me and I can hardly breathe and all I see is color and blur - and in that split second, right as the pain crests, and becomes too much, and there's whiteness going through me, I see something to my left, a flicker of color (auburn hair, burning, a crown of leaves)  and I know then, too, that if I only turn my head he'll be there, laughing, watching me, holding out his arms. 

I don't ever turn my head to look, of course. But one day I will. One day I will, and he'll be back, and everything will be okay.

And until then: I run."

I can't get over Lauren's writing. It's gorgeous. Lines like this make my heart stop for a moment.

Day Four - Pages 87-118

Quick recap: Hunter and Lena become closer friends; he shows her how they receive messages from "zombieland" with the birds and the painted nests. She's really throwing herself into life in the Wilds. The group makes plans under the leadership of Raven and Tack to relocate South. then moving back to the present, Lena attends a huge DFA rally with Tack and Raven where she's told to keep an eye on Jlian at all costs. However, Scavengers attack as soon as the rally begins and Julian is taken into the subway by his bodyguards where Lena follows them. She finds Julian's two bodyguards dead and the chapter ends!

I'm so heartbroken every time Lena thinks of Alex and Hana (or even Grace) and how hard she has to work to push them out of her head! I know there's a lot of focus on Alex and Lena's relationship, understandably, but it really becomes clear that Lena has lost more than just him.

Also, I found it interesting that at the DFA rally there were protest groups. We tend to think of the cureds as being one cohesive group, but I think it makes the world here a bit more dimensional to add in this aspect. They don't agree on everything, and we can really see how precarious the situation is for society.

Day Five - Next four chapters - Pages 119-159

Quick recap: Things are really picking up speed now - Miyako is one of the last to get sick in the Wilds and she dies just before the group relocates. The scouts don't come back on time, and Lena discovers the nests have turned red - moments before their area of the Wilds is bombed and the group takes off (minus Squirrel and Grandma who they don't believe made it out of the house). Meanwhile, Julian and Lena in the present end up in a locked room together. Julian finally seems to be letting some of his guard down and Lena eventually does too. 

The most notable part of these chapters for me was probably the bonding between Julian and Lena. You can just see glimpses of friendship taking place there, and Julian is a little bit less flat as he asks Lena to tell him stories and shares some of his own. And I'm realizing he isn't exactly what he seems like at first glance - cold and brainwashed. But there's still something about him that feels a little immature, you know? He just feels so young, although maybe that's just compared to Lena.

I also find it amazing to see how different Lena is between the "Then" and "Now" chapters. Drastic, drastic changes and it's so interesting to see the development.


Blog Tour: Emblaze

Emblaze (The Violet Eden Chapters #3) by Jessica Shirvington
Release Date ~ March 19, 2013
Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN13: 9781402268465
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:

Once again Violet Eden faces an impossible choice ... and the consequences are unimaginable. 
Violet has come to terms with the fact that being part angel, part human, means her life will never be as it was.
Now Violet has something Phoenix - the exiled angel who betrayed her - will do anything for, and she has no intention of letting it fall into his hands. The only problem is that he has something she needs too. 
Not afraid to raise the stakes, Phoenix seemingly holds all the power, always one step ahead. And when he puts the final pieces of the prophecy together, it doesn't take him long to realise exactly who he needs in order to open the gates of Hell.
With the help of surprising new allies, ancient prophecies are deciphered, a destination set and, after a shattering confrontation with her father, Violet leaves for the islands of Greece without knowing if she will have a home to return to...

As I was reading Emblaze, I realized that The Violet Eden Chapters really aren't the sort of books I'd pick out for myself to read but I have to admit I'm absolutely HOOKED on these books! Emblaze made me aware of how invested I am in Violet's story, much like any other series I love, as the stakes get higher and higher for her.

Jessica Shirvington is a master at crafting an exciting YA book; the romantic tension is working in overdrive and there's plenty of action to ensure we don't have a second to feel bored.

  1. Incredible character development:

    By Emblaze it is perfectly clear how much Violet has changed and matured over the past three books. She has always been a strong, grown up character but it's particularly evident in this newest release from the series. I'm amazed at how strong she is - she always has been, but she's on par with some of the best YA heroines at this point. Like many other heroines she suffers greatly, but that never seems to stop her. Yet I love that her struggles are so real for me, and that she never feels distant to the reader or unrealistic. It isn't easy for her, and I was constantly admiring her willpower and strength.
  2. Strong bonds of friendship are established:

    The value of friends is never minimized and the friendships made in these books is one of the most important aspects of the plot. I'm not sure Violet would have gotten as far as she did without the help of some good friends in her life, everyone from Steph to Lincoln, Griffin, Spence, and even Phoenix in some ways. Emblaze features some incredibly touching moments where friends go at great lengths to love and help one another and I find it's so rare to read about such unconditional relationships in books these days that I LOVED it so much!
  3. As much romantic tension as you can get:

    This is KILLER (in a good way) but it's truly driving me crazy (much like it is doing to Violet)! I'm often dismayed by how quickly romance can develop between two characters in YA but this has been anything but simple for Violet throughout the series. But it isn't gratuitous either, which I'm grateful for. There's real purpose and reason behind it, and it's understandable but I just keep holding out hope! 
And I haven't even begun on the amount of action in this story yet! This is such a complex story, and I've mentioned in my review of Embrace (The Violet Eden Chapter #1) that this has some of the best angel mythology I've read in a series. And in my review of Entice (The Violet Eden Chapters #2), I mentioned how much I LOVE the love triangle in these books (for real- I actually appreciate this love triangle) and how it has fantastic, fluid action! 

My one complaint is that it seems to me that the characters don't seem to learn from past mistakes at times. There are a few scenes when I was so frustrated with Violet and Lincoln because it seems like some old issues keep resurfacing - ones that I thought they had talked about and solved in previous books. I'm hoping that's something that will eventually change, because I'd prefer to have some new issues arise rather than rehashing old ones (communication is KEY, my friends. They'll figure it out eventually). 

(Australian book trailer)

My feet tangled beneath me and I stumbled forwards, almost taking a full-on nosedive.
I couldn’t believe it!
I found my balance, hitched my backpack up and powered on.
I was going to be late, again, and Giuseppe was going to kill me.
No, worse, he was going to fire me.
Last time was ‘the last time!’ he’d said, shaking his finger at me, blowing the greying curls that fall over his eyes.
But I needed that job. I needed all of my jobs. So I kept running, knowing that by the time I arrived at the Pizzeria I’d be disgusting and sweaty, and in-desperate-need-of-deodorant. Plus, I was still in my Hades wait-staff uniform, another thing that never went down well. Working a full cycle of shifts at Hades and the opposite at Giuseppe’s had me slogging from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week and constantly running from one side of the city to the other in the 30-minute-between-shifts gap.
I rounded the corner, almost there.
Giuseppe would forgive me. And if he started yelling, I’d just cry. That always worked. He was a tyrant, but the man couldn’t handle tears. I pulled up short of the restaurant when I heard an all-too familiar whistle. Panting, I looked around until I spotted him. The second I saw my brother, Sean, my stomach churned. Something was wrong.
What now?
What more could possibly go wrong?
As if our lives didn’t suck enough already.
He was hidden beneath the shadow of a sunken doorway across the street. I put my hands on my hips and waited. If he wanted to talk to me he could damn well cross the road.
I could just about feel one of his heavy sighs from over the street. He was only three years older than me, but he’d assumed the man-of-the-house role a while back and since then he acted as if he was twenty-two going on fifty.
“Real discreet, Claudia,” he said harshly, pulling me by the arm to the side of the pavement. He was wearing his street clothes, which meant he hadn’t been working one of his legit jobs today. I tried not to notice.
“Sean, whatever it is, I don’t have time. I’m late for work again. Giuseppe will give my job to one of his five million cousins if I don’t hurry up.” His expression softened. I wasn’t the only one who worked constantly. There was a time when all Sean did was chase his med degree and chase girls. He was so different back then, but those days were well and truly gone. Everyone thought he’d have this amazing future, become some kind of medical savior. I guess in a way he had – just not the way he’d thought he would, and not the way that guaranteed any kind of bright future either. Sean was our family’s savior. After what Dad did … Sean kept us all going, kept us together and safe. He looked over his shoulder. He was scared.
More than usual.
I grabbed hold of his clammy hand. “What is it?”
He shook his head, more to himself than me. “We have to go, Claude’s. We have to pack up and leave.”
“But, but … we need more time! We don’t have the money yet!”
“Shh,” he snapped, his eyes urgent as he looked up and down the street. “I have it. I pulled in a favor. Claudia, we have to finish this. We’ll give them the money after your shift tonight and then we’re out of here. All of us.”
“Why? I mean, if you have the money, wasn’t that the whole point? If we give it to them won’t they leave us alone? This is supposed to be the final payment.” We’d worked so hard for the last year. It had all been leading to this. Every single cent we’d made had gone to them.
“They’ll never leave us alone, Claudia. I … I don’t know what they are but they know things … and they can do things that normal people can’t. I … I saw one of them this afternoon …” he paled and grabbed me by the shoulders as if to steady himself. “I can’t even tell you, it was so horrible. I just know we have to go. We have to get Taylor and Mum away from this place.”
I knew he was right. Deep down, I’d always known the men who Dad had been mixed up with before he died were not normal. I don’t know how, instinct I guess. Sean had always known too, even if we hadn’t wanted to admit it to one another. It was why we’d being working so hard to pay off Dad’s debt. Whatever gambling mess he’d gotten himself into, it had ended up costing a lot more than simple interest. I knew I wasn’t the only one in my family who suspected his death wasn’t just a simple car accident. Sean and I had never told Mum about what his body looked like when we’d gone to identify him. We never would.
I nodded.
“I can ask for my pay tonight. Here,” I fumbled in my bag, pulling out my wallet. “I have my pay from Hades, too.”
Sean sighed with relief as he took the money. My contribution was important, but Sean was the one who brought in the big bucks. He’d given up everything and I knew he couldn’t be doing anything good to bring in the kind of money he was. I wished I could hate my father for it. But he was a victim too. “I’m going to get us away from all this, Claudia. We’ll go somewhere else and start fresh. We’ll get Taylor into a good school. You’ll be able to go back to art school. Everything will be better.”
I looked toward the pizza restaurant. I could hear Giuseppe’s booming voice. “I better go.” I threw my arms around my brother and he hugged me back briefly. “I have to go organize a few things. Stay in the restaurant until I get back. Then we’ll go give them the money and we’re gone.”
I bit my lip nervously, but nodded. “Be careful, Sean.”
He mustered a small smile. “Don’t tell anyone, okay. We have to just disappear.”
He was looking around again, pulling his hoodie over his head. Whatever he’d seen had more than frightened him.
“I know. I won’t.”

* * *

I watched the clock on the wall. Giuseppe yelled at me for twelve minutes, which was a long time even for him. I tried to turn on the waterworks but they didn’t come. I don’t know if it was because I was too petrified something might go wrong with Sean’s plan or if I was too excited about the prospect of finally being free of Dad’s unfortunate legacy.
Sean had known about Dad’s gambling when he was alive. Apparently a few weeks before the accident Dad had broken down and told him he was in trouble – that the people he owed money to were dangerous and would come after him. Sean had dropped out of university and started his first shift at a bar that night. I remember yelling at him the next day – not knowing why he’d done it – calling him a deadbeat loser.
I went through the motions. Collecting dirty plates, loading them up on my already tired arms. At least working here, the customers didn’t get too drunk or handsy. Some nights after a shift at Hades my overly pinched ass was the sorest part of all. Here, I just had to put up with being yelled at by Giuseppe and Mario and Antonio and, well, there were a lot of them, for six hours. At least this would be my last six hours of that.
I took a deep breath while making my way to the next table, topping up their wine. Everything was about to change. If Sean and I could just pull this off, if we could get Mom and Taylor packed up tonight, by tomorrow … by tomorrow we could be starting our new life. I could get another job and actually use the money for something I wanted. I knew the first thing I’d buy – after a haircut. Paint.
“Pizza, Claudia!” Mario yelled at me, from behind the wood-fired oven.
I collected the three scorching hot pizzas, which meant one was, resting against my wrist, but I was used to it. I’d been working there for over a year, my arms had burn scars that I was sure would never go away. I delivered the pizzas and noticed new customers seated in the dinky corner. We were obviously full – it was always the last table to go.
I headed over, recognizing one of the diners. Violet Eden and I had gone to the same school, but I’d been ahead of her and apart from the one community art course, we rarely crossed paths. But now this was twice in a few weeks. Weird how that can happen – as if someone is suddenly supposed to be in your life for some reason.
She was looking at me, panic drawn all over her face. Last time I saw her she was at Hades with some hottie, getting drunk on the sly. Nothing I hadn’t done a couple of years back – half her luck. Anyway, she’d forgotten my name. It’s so easy to tell when people do that – maybe because it happened to me all the time, all they see is my bright red hair. Taking those last few steps. I twisted a little so my name badge would be in her line of sight and as I stopped in front of her table I flicked my hair back giving her full view. I could tell the moment her eyes latched on to the golden nametag by the relief flooding her features. “Hey, Violet,” I said.
“Hey, Claudia. So this is the other place you work at,” Violet said, recalling our last conversation. At least she’d remembered that.
“Yeah, unfortunately.” I smiled but something about her was off. She was tense, sitting high in her chair, holding the menu with an almost desperate grip. I thought she looked a little frightened. I leaned towards her, about to ask if she was okay, before stopping myself. I barely knew her, and I was about to know her a whole lot less once this city was in our rearview mirror. So instead, I decided on something more neutral. “Shitty tips and crap boss, but it works,” I said with a shrug, using the movement to step back a little.
Violet smiled awkwardly, looking between her dinner partner and me. I looked at him for the first time and almost fainted right there. “Claudia, this is Phoenix,” she said, kind of leaving things there, up in the air. I wasn’t much help. I was speechless. He was beautiful. I mean, not hottie like – he was utterly, earth-shatteringly and painfully beautiful.
Did people like this actually exist?
He had this presence around him, some kind of humming vibration coming off him and I … Oh. My. God. I just wanted to dive in, lose myself in it.
He didn’t even look at me but it didn’t matter. I felt as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. I stared. I wasn’t usually brazen with guys and especially not ones who looked like that … but I couldn’t look away, couldn’t bear to take my eyes from him, even if all he was doing was staring at his menu, completely disinterested in me.
“Pleasure,” he said, now looking over his menu to Violet.
But when he spoke something happened; a feeling foreign but not, came over me as if it wasn’t mine but had being molded from me somehow. A sureness … that Sean had been right. We needed to leave this city, get as far away from here as possible. Strangest of all, I knew the light-bulb moment had something to do with the guy sitting at the table, Phoenix.
I swayed, overwhelmed, and had to brace a hand on their table.
Violet was watching me strangely. Fair enough, I was macking on her dinner date. How did she suddenly have all these adorable guys around her?
“Hi,” I said, trying to recover, looking at Phoenix. “Can I take your order?”
Violet cleared her throat. “I’ll have the Diavola pizza, thanks.”
I saw Phoenix smirk. He was looking at her so intently. She had her eyes cast down, avoiding his. I almost reached out and slapped her. It wasn’t just that I’d been unlucky in love with a string of guys that fit into the live-and-learn category of life, it was that with everything my life had – or rather had not – turned into, to have one person look at me the way he was looking at her just for one moment. I couldn’t imagine a more heavenly thing. Phoenix glanced my way briefly. “The same, and a glass of the Cabernet,” he said dismissively.
I nodded, writing it down, trying to process the overpowering influx of emotion I was experiencing. Yet again, I was so sure all of a sudden that I had to leave – had to get away.
I staggered away from the table, desperately needing to get away from them, but half wanting to grab a hold of Phoenix and beg him to take me away. But with each step my mind seemed to clear. I had no idea what was going on, but the feelings that had started to stir when I’d been near that guy stayed. The weirdest thing of all was that, I felt as if Phoenix had been trying to help me. I shook my head at myself. Crazy. He didn’t even know me.
I went to the bathroom to pull myself together. Whatever had just happened, it didn’t matter. We were leaving. Everything would be okay. I splashed water on my face and reloaded the toilet-paper holders before heading back out to the busy restaurant, grabbing empty glasses from tables as I passed. That was Giuseppe’s rule, ‘never waste a walk anywhere; you go to the kitchen, bring something with you! You leave the kitchen, you take something out!’
“Pizza! Claudia!” Mario yelled. I grabbed the pizzas and got back to my tables, avoiding Violet and her friend. When I spotted Giuseppe I even got up the gall to ask him for my pay at the end of the shift.
He spat out a string of words in Italian and marched off. I smiled. For Giuseppe, that meant yes. I actually felt bad that I would have to leave without saying goodbye. Maybe Sean would let me write Giuseppe a letter once we were settled.
“Pizza! Claudia!” Mario yelled, again from behind the wood-fired oven. I made my way over to the two waiting Diavola’s. Violet’s order.
I dropped the dishes on their table quickly, trying not to look at Phoenix. Now that I’d managed to get my head straight, I didn’t want to risk it all muddling up again – and I didn’t want to do something stupid like throw myself at him right in front of Violet. For some reason I couldn’t trust myself around that guy so I concentrated on my other tables, hoping that I might be able to make some extra tips.
When the peak-time slam settled down, I offered to go out back and start on clean up. It was usually the job everyone avoided, but I wanted to do something nice for Giuseppe and it meant I could daydream about where Sean and I would take the family.
Taylor would be so excited. She hated her school. We’d had to move her into a public school six months ago because we couldn’t cover the private tuition fees. She didn’t complain but the new school didn’t have a music department and I’d heard her crying every night for the first few weeks. Taylor had an amazing voice – I’d never heard an eight-year-old like her. And she loved choir. There was something about her – she was good. Sean and I both knew it – of all of us Taylor was the best. She would do something amazing with her life. Make a difference. And Sean and I would do anything to protect her so she could.
I started wiping down the prep benches and putting away ingredients in the cool room. I wouldn’t care if I never ate a pizza again in my whole life. Pizza and the occasional pick up from the kitchen at Hades had been the basis of all our family meals for the past year. There is only so much pepperoni one person can take.
I hummed to myself as I worked. This was it. Everything would be better once we were gone. We’d done the best we could, paid off Dad’s debt and now it was time to get on with our lives. Maybe Sean would go back to med school. Maybe Mum would be happy again and let go of some of her guilt. I think she knew what Sean and I had to do to keep us safe – she just couldn’t bear to talk to us about it. Mum was an Irish woman and her pride had been stripped away, but with this new start …
I tied the rubbish bags and used my back to push open the alley door that led out to the bins. Caught up in the disgustingness of my shoes sticking to the dirty ground, I didn’t even look behind me and backed right into what felt like a brick wall. A very human-shaped brick wall, that is.
I dropped the rubbish and tried to spin around, but I barely made any progress before an arm closed around my neck and started dragging me into the darkness of the alley while I gasped, watching the kitchen door slam shut.
Beyond the sounds of my scuffling feet and strangled whimpers I could hear the noises of the world around me – the traffic, the hustle, the buzz of distant voices in the air. But they were so far away. Already I feared I would never again be a part of those noises coming from the end of the alley – the sounds of life.
I screamed, struggling to get away from the person dragging me into the darkness. But he was so strong, it barely seemed an effort for him to counter my attempts until, all of a sudden, he dropped his hold on me so fast I fell to the ground. Too sacred to look around and face my captor, I scrambled on hands and knees, my sights fixed on the kitchen door. If I could just get inside …
But he grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled so hard the fabric ripped apart.
I heard a growl. I froze. Whatever feral noise that was, it was not anything human. Did he have an animal with him? Before I could stop myself I spun around in a crouch to see him and terror I’d never believed existed encased me.
He was incredibly tall and eerily thin, except for his shoulders which seemed to be twice the width of him. He sneered at me wickedly, as if enjoying my fear and ran an eager hand through his bright white hair that stood out like a beacon on his otherwise black outfit.
“You should not have tried to leave. You belong to us.”
Oh God, help me!
I desperately looked down the end of the alley.
“No, no,” I stammered. “We … we have your money. My brother will be here any second. We have all of your money!”
He watched me with hungry eyes that had me trying to shuffle back.
“Your brother needs to be taught a lesson. You’re it.”
He was going to kill me. Sean would come to get me in an hour and he’d find me dead. I didn’t want to die.
“Please!” I panted between fear-filled gulps. “Please, we’ll do anything. We’ll get you more money.”
“Should’ve thought of that before.” He shrugged. “But they don’t send me to negotiate,” he growled.
I backed up until I hit the wall, sobbing and let out a final scream.
The man moved fast, inhumanly fast, grabbing me by the hair, pulling me to my feet.
All I could think about was Taylor. I prayed that she would at least go on. That Sean would find a way to keep her safe – I knew he would.
The tall blond winked as his hand moved back. He was going to beat me to death and by the look in his eyes – he was planning to take his time.
But just before his hand should have collided with my face, he stopped, his arm dropping and his attention drawn to the end of the alley.
I strained under his tight grip to see what he was looking at. Someone was walking towards us.
I started to scream again, a high-pitched desperate holler for life.
The man yanked me savagely, twisting me so my back was to him and his arm, once again, was around my neck.
When the person coming down the alley was only meters away I saw who it was.
Violet’s friend.
But he looked different. Stone faced his cold eyes were fixed on the man holding me. Suddenly, I didn’t know if things had just improved for me or not. ‘This is not your business,” the man holding me said menacingly.
Phoenix shrugged like he didn’t have a care in the world. He didn’t look frightened at all. “Just made it mine, Cherub,” he said the last word with venom. “She’s our property,” the man snarled.
Phoenix didn’t respond. I wondered if he was considering just walking away. If he did, I was dead.
Footsteps pounded down the ally and another figure came into view.
“Violet!” I screamed before I could think. “VIOLET! HELP ME!”
The man yanked my head back, his grasp on my neck tightening while his other hand clamped down over my mouth.
I kept my desperate eyes on Violet.
Oh God. I’d just brought her into all of this. What had I done? She couldn’t help me, how could she? She was just a girl, younger than me. She was watching on, petrified. If I had another chance I’d yell at her to run.
Phoenix whispered something harshly at her but then he turned back to us, a different type of resolve now on his face as he positioned himself between Violet and us.
“Release her,” he said, his voice quietly rebounding off the alley walls threateningly.
I felt the man back up half a step and he did something to me. It felt as if thick syrup was poured over my body, inside and out, covering all of me and then hardening, like glass. Impenetrable glass. And I was locked within.
He threw me down, my head smacking into the concrete and looked at me with absolute hatred as he commanded, “Kneel before me.”
I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to kneel for him even though deep down I was still there, was still petrified, he owned me. I had to do as he commanded. I crawled to his feet, blood dripping from my head onto my hands and I knelt.
“Beg me to take your life,” he spat at me.
My mind fought feebly. Sean was supposed to come for me. Was this the price I would pay for dreaming? Would this be the price Sean would pay, too? My heart pounded with fear as the tall man’s image morphed into something terrifyingly creature-like. I considered I might already be dead and in some kind of hell.
Either way, I was in absolutely no doubt, I must do as I was told.
“Kill me. P-p-please,” I stuttered, tears streaming down my face.
“No! Let her go!” I heard Violet scream. But it was all too far away now. “Claudia! Claudia, run!” She may as well have suggested I fly. Did she not see the terrible things surrounding me?
The man pulled me up, spinning me to face Violet and Phoenix and put a hand flat on either side of my face, holding me still.
“If you want her, come and get her,” he challenged, adding another word at the end I did not know; “Grigori.”
He lifted me into the air, holding me out toward them.
Pain registered distantly. People were not supposed to be held mid air by their heads, but I just dangled, completely disconnected, locked away in my glass prison.
I knew what he was going to do. As if he had somehow whispered it tauntingly in my ear.
Violet launched herself toward me, panic-stricken but brave, eyes on mine, arms outstretched. She knew too.
And then, I saw Phoenix. As if he’d somehow forced me to look in his direction and instantly … everything, all the pain, the fear, even the feelings of entrapment vanished. I was me and I was not afraid.
I was at peace.

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Blog Tour: The Lives We Lost

I am so fortunate to be able to share with you a very special guest post from Megan Crewe, the author of The Fallen World series, for her blog tour to celebrate the release of her newest sequel, The Lives We Lost!

I had the pleasure of meeting Megan at her book launch for The Way We Fall last year, and I loved reading the first book in her series because of how frightening  it was in a very realistic way. The Way We Fall is incredibly creative and well-written, perfect for those of us who love survivor/apocalyptic books.

I hope you enjoy what Megan has to share with us today, because this guest post is a PERFECT fit for the struggles her characters experience in her books. And you know, this is really practical because honestly I don't think I knew any of these (I would never survive the end of the world - I just wouldn't okay? I'm useless.)

Surviving the Winter in an Apocalyptic World

Here are some tips I picked up in my research for THE LIVES WE FALL, to help you survive if you should find yourself out in the wilderness in the middle of winter as Kaelyn and her friends do. Some you may already know, but others I found not so obvious:

-Wear lots of layers. The air trapped between layers of clothes provides extra insulation to help keep you warm, and having layers means you can take a couple off if you start to overheat, rather than sweating and losing heat due to evaporation.

-Keep yourself and your clothes clean as clean as possible, even if all you can do is wipe yourself down every day. When fabric gets greasy, it doesn't work as well at trapping the heat.  And dirt on your skin can lead to rashes and more serious health issues.

-Stay hydrated. If possible, purify water (with tablets or by boiling) before drinking it. Running water from streams, rivers, and springs is ideal.  Keep your water container close to your body so it doesn't freeze.

-You can also melt snow into water. Fill a water bottle or bag with snow and place it inside your layers of clothing so your body heat will melt it while you're on the go. Or melt it over a fire. Make sure to put a little water in the bottom of the pot, as bare snow can scorch, which will give the water a burnt taste. Use ice instead of snow if available, as the same amount of ice will melt into more water than snow (due to ice being denser).

-If trying to avoid notice by other survivors, use dry wood from deciduous trees when building a fire, as it will produce lighter smoke than wet or green wood and wood from coniferous trees (which contain more resin).

-Hold off on drinking much shortly before you go to sleep, so you don't have to get out of your warm shelter to relieve yourself in the middle of the night.

-Wear a hat even when sleeping, because you lose the most heat through your head.

-Avoid sleeping directly on the ground, as your body heat will be leached away as you sleep. Lie on some sort of insulating material (blanket, leaves, grass). And if you have companions, snuggle close to them at night to share body heat!

Okay, I was wrong. I did know that staying hydrated was important (pretty sure The Hunger Games taught me that) and that you lose the most heat through your head. And see? Now we're all better prepared for any camping mishaps or contagious diseases - thanks to Megan!

Thank you SO much for taking the time to write up something special for us, and congratulations on the launch of your new book! I can't wait to read The Lives We Lost.

Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two cats (and does on occasion say "eh"), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and--thankfully--the worst virus she's caught so far is the garden-variety flu.

You can find a more detailed biography on her main website.

Megan welcome questions and comments from readers. Email her directly or visit her blogFacebook pageTwitterTumblr, or GoodReads profile.


Announcement: Delirium Trilogy Read-a-Long!

Super exciting announcement time!

Last year, I was lucky enough to host Pandemonium Club with a few very close friends of mine who also happen to be great bloggers.

In anticipation of the third and FINAL release in the Delirium Trilogy, a few of us wanted to put together something else to celebrate Requiem and the series we've loved since day one.

Angel, Christa and I are hosting a read-a-long for every single book in the series starting next week!

We'll go through each book together, and we want YOU to participate with us. We'll spend two weeks on each book so you have plenty of time to read the books with us, and this is a fabulous chance for those of you who haven't read the books yet to get caught up and it will be a chance for some of us who have already read and loved the books to re-read them before they come to an end. (SOB!)

The read-a-long will kick off on February 11th and Christa from More Than Just Magic will be hosting the read-a-long for Delirium.

On February 25th you'll want to head back here to my blog so we can discuss Pandemonium at Esther's Ever After.

Finally, we'll finish off by reading Requiem and Angel from Mermaid Visions will be hosting that beginning on March 11th. The book comes out on March 5th, so that gives you time to pick up your copy of the book!

And YES - there will also be a fantastic prize which participants can enter to win. More on that later!

I hope you're as excited as we are! It's no secret that Delirium is one of my favourite books ever, and in my opinion Requiem is a FANTASTIC end to a dynamic series. There's plenty to talk about in these three books.

So mark your calendars and get your copies of the books ready!

How many of you have read any of the books in the Delirium trilogy? Are you as excited/sad as I am to see it come to an end?


Review: So Close to You

So Close to You (So Close to You #1) by Rachel Carter
Release Date ~ July 10, 2012
HarperTeen ~ HarperCollins
ISBN13: 9780062081056
ARC won from Epic Reads

Goodreads Synopsis:

Lydia Bentley has heard stories about the Montauk Project all her life: stories about the strange things that took place at the abandoned military base near her home and the people who've disappeared over the years. Stories about people like her own great-grandfather.

When Lydia stumbles into a portal that transports her to a dangerous and strange new reality, she discovers that all the stories she's ever heard about the Montauk Project are true, and that she's in the middle of one of the most dangerous experiments in history.

Alongside a darkly mysterious boy she is wary to trust, Lydia begins to unravel the secrets surrounding the Project. But the truths behind these secrets force her to question all her choices--and if Lydia chooses wrong, she might not save her family but destroy them . . . and herself.

So Close to You is one of those book I didn't have any expectations about, because the description painted such a vague and mysterious description of the story. That didn't deter me at all though, and actually made me more curious to find out what the book was about by reading it because I was just so intrigued.

Unfortunately I don't think that worked as well as it could have, because the story ended up underwhelming me from a creative standpoint, although it still managed to be an entertaining read that has a more fascinating plot than other similar books to it have had.

  1. A fun, VINTAGE setting:

    I love that such a unique setting was included in the story, as it related to Lydia's ancestors and Rachel included so many little details that I felt helped to set the atmosphere for the era. It's a lot of fun without actually being a historical fiction read, and I think this makes it really stand out from other YA books. It's definitely something I'd love to see more of in the future from upcoming releases!
  2. Strong familial relationships:

    I really liked that a lot of emphasis was put on Lydia's relationships with various members of her family, especially her parents and grandfather. But it becomes increasingly apparent how close-knit this family is when other members make their appearance and you see them interact with one another. This is an absolute breath of fresh air and for me, it made Lydia and her family instantly likable characters and something I could really relate to. And I appreciate that it provides a lot of motivation for the choices she makes during this first book.
But I suppose I was just a tad too disappointed with some of the big reveals in the book, and I'm not very keen on the direction it seems to be heading in. It seems like there are a lot of questions regarding the background of the world and Lydia's situation, and too many ideas felt like they were thrown together somewhat haphazardly to really mesh well. And I'm really not sold on the romantic aspect either, which just feels too forced for my liking.

It's still a very quick read that presents a number of interesting ideas and has some very strong non-romantic relationships. And I think it is creative from one perspective, just not in the way I had hoped it would be. So the problem here may have been my expectations (as few as they may have been) rather than the story itself.

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