Review: Falling Kingdoms

Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1) by Morgan Rhodes
Release Date ~ December 11, 2012
Razorbill ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9781595145840
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:

In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power--brutally transforming their subjects' lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:

Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished--and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past--and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword...

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Fantasy YA is just my thing - always has been and always will be! Needless to say that when I first heard about Falling Kingdoms I knew this was one I would NEED to read it because I was fairly confident that this book was pretty much written for me.

I was right. Told from four POVs, with PLENTY of action, fight scenes, and bravery with just enough romance and intrigue. And for what it's worth, I think the Game of Thrones comparison is a fairly good one.

  1. A rich, vibrant world:

    The best part about Falling Kingdoms is the setting, hands down. It's a requirement of mine that the fantasy books I read and love have devastatingly beautiful worlds created - this one was no exception. Each of the three countries stood out on their own, with their own beliefs, culture, and rules. And the interactions between them are vital to the story's progression. Seriously, I was swooning over the culture clash and political relations. (Can you tell I'm a huge nerd?)
  2. Interlacing story lines:

    I'm typically hesitant when it comes to multiple storylines, but the characters here worked really well together and everything just blended so perfectly. It's a fantastic way to see the story from different perspectives, to really flesh out the problems and ideas without much bias. This means that the story is intricate and exciting, with something for every reader to appreciate!
  3. A raw, gutsy sort of book:

    Falling Kingdoms definitely doesn't shy away from the uglier parts of life. Everything is so messed up and crazy, and it doesn't all work out perfectly. But it features strong characters who don't shy away from what they're afraid of or their losses. They stick it out and they're STRONGER because of that. I love reading about brave characters, ones who are able to find ways to survive and move on. Because that's something we all have to go through at some point. Fair warning: Falling Kingdoms is remarkable, in a devastating sort of way. 
The one thing I didn't love about the book stemmed from it's multiple story lines and 4 main characters. I thought it worked really well, for the most part, but there were definitely a few instances where it seemed like they could have benefited from a bit more personal development and time. A few things, including relationships with others, felt too rushed for my taste and I had a hard time being as impacted as I should by some of the events later on as a result of this.

But this is definitely a series to watch out for and I'm really looking forward to Rebel Spring! 


Review: Renegade

Renegade (The Elysium Chronicles #1) by J.A. Souders
Release Date ~ November 13, 2012
Tor Teen ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9780765332455
Review copy received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. 

Her memories have been altered. 

Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. 

And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

Renegade is one of those books that appealed to me from the very first minute I heard about it - the cover has a fairy tale/fantasy feel to it, and the synopsis has this sci-fi/dystopia vibe. BRILLIANT. Plus, the whole altered memory aspect really interested me because I find that incredibly fascinating from a psychological/political point of view.

Renegade delivered on all of those points and more - including a few scenes that were so creepy that this book is clearly a psychological thriller as well, and even a little bit of horror. Plus, I wonder if Renegade was inspired a LITTLE bit by the story of The Little Mermaid, which is my FAVOURITE, so bonus points for that.

  1. Fantasy, fairy-tale inspiration:

    A girl who lives under the sea who dreams of the surface? Evie isn't a mermaid, but that's part of the core idea behind The Little Mermaid. But by no means is Renegade a retelling; it clearly isn't, but it seems to really take this (great) concept and then expand on it in its own creative way - which is exactly what I love my books to do! But there is very much a fantasy element, with Evie essentially playing the role of a princess in her little underwater utopia.
  2. A sci-fi psychological thriller:

    Memory alteration/loss is one of the things that scares me most in life. I just can't stand the thought of not remembering what has happened to me. And the way Renegade is written, you can totally feel just how downright creepy it is. Especially when Evie keeps spouting off, "My life is just about perfect." I GET SHIVERS FROM THAT LINE NOW. It's so messed up, but very much a sci-fi/dystopian thing to do.
  3. A brave heroine:

    Considering the fact that Evie can't really remember much that has happened to her, and she's essentially locked away in her palace, the girl has got major guts. She's inherently curious, and always willing to fight back in any way that she can. And as the story progresses, she just gets tougher and tougher. She comes off a little weak and ditzy at first, but she's totally not. Complete opposite, and it just takes a little while for the real Evie to break through completely.
  4. A poignant ending:

    I know that Renegade is the first part of a series but... it would work really well as a stand-alone. You can easily read Renegade all on its own, and you'll be left with some questions but the story truly does wrap up. And shatter your heart into a million little fragments. And leave you begging for a sequel. NOW. 
There was one big reveal that could have been hidden a little bit better, but it was still a very effective plot. I wish I had been kept in the dark for a little bit longer though, although I noticed when I finished the book that I had a lot of questions about Elysium I hope to have answered in future books.

As well, I was a bit iffy on the romance at first. It felt like they really jumped into things right away, but I could sort of understand why being in such a dangerous and intimate situation. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it was, but I just felt like something was missing. But by the end I was totally sold. #TeamEvie&Gavin


Review: Ten

Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Release Date ~ September 18, 2012
Balzer + Bray ~ HarperCollins
ISBN13:  9780062118783
ARC won from HarperCollins giveaway

Goodreads Synopsis:
Don't spread the word!
Three-day weekend. Party at White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do NOT want to miss it.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

I looooove a good spooky story. Action-packed, semi-predictable-yet-still-surprising thrillers? TOTALLY my thing. I would positively LOVE to see more books just like this filling up the YA genre, and Ten was an excellent addition to that!

This is one book I've recommended to a NUMBER of friends (there's actually a LINE UP of people waiting to borrow my copy). Pick this one up if you're looking for spine-tingling chills and a plot that will keep you guessing.

  1. Solid writing for creepy scenes:

    Gretchen McNeil's writing totally sets up the creepy atmosphere for the whole book; it's solid and the feeling it gives off is just perfect for the reader. Like, all I want to do with this book is curl up with it and a blanket and tea on a dark and stormy night = PERFECTION. Scary books rely so much on strong writing, and I was so pleased that Gretchen absolutely nailed this part.
  2. Predictable - yet still thrilling:

    Here's the thing: Ten is a retelling of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. So anyone familiar with that story won't be completely surprised by Ten's plot. And it isn't the most surprising, mysterious book I've ever read - but that doesn't take away from its enjoyment and it still isn't entirely predictable or formulaic either. It seemed like every time I felt I had finally figured it out, I was wrong about something.
  3. Character dynamics:

    One of the best aspects of And Then There Were None is how it highlights the relationships between different characters, and Ten does a fantastic job including this in the story. It's a driving factor between the plot, trying to figure out how this group of (mostly) strangers are all connected to one another - and then watching how they interact with each other. It's a great look into the dynamics of relationships and how people interact with others. 
Yet there were a couple of relationships that felt a tad too weak for me - Meg and Minnie were interesting and their story wrapped up well for the most part, but I had a harder time buying into it at first.

But mostly, I wasn't impressed with how emotionless Meg felt at times. Especially at the end, when she figures out exactly what has been going on this whole time, she feels somewhat cold and callous towards all the deaths which have taken place. I know that it isn't particularly crucial to a book like this one, but it still felt a little too distant for me, personally. Honestly, except for this one thing I think this book would have been 5 stars. It just rubbed me the wrong way when I finished reading it. 

Overall, Ten was en extraordinary new YA read - it was perfect for the mood I was in when I wanted a scary read, and this one definitely kept me on my toes and glancing over my shoulder!

Ugh! Can you even handle this book trailer?! Thanks for the freaky dreams!


Review: Decked with Holly

Decked with Holly by Marni Bates
Release Date ~ September 25, 2012
Kensington Teen
ISBN13: 9780758274854
ARC received from Kensington for review

Goodreads Synopsis:

Smartly blending of-the-moment pop culture references and timeless themes, Bates follows her YA debut, "Awkward", with a hilarious, over-the-top adventure about a teen girl who becomes the fake girlfriend of a cute rock star.

Taking a Christmas cruise with her two cousins from hell isn't Holly's idea of a good time. And when seasickness forces her into an open suite, she's pepper-sprayed by a gorgeous guy called Nick. But when Holly makes her exit, she's greeted by a horde of screaming teenage fans. Because Nick happens to be Dominic Wyatt, drummer for one of the hottest bands in America. Suddenly rumours are swirling and Holly's face is plastered all over the Internet. The band can't risk a scandal destroying their family-friendly image, so Dominic convinces Holly to be his fake girlfriend - just for two weeks. How bad could it be to be "fauxmantically" involved with a cute rock star? She's about to find out...

Confession: I'm a self-professed Christmas-aholic. And I had heard wonderful things about Marni's book Awkward, and decided Decked with Holly would be an ideal book for me to try out.

Decked with Holly turned out to be a magical, funny and endearing book that reminded me why I love contemporaries in the first place. It's a great book to pick up over the holiday season!

  1. Laugh-out-loud funny:

    I've mentioned before that I have a very picky sense of humour, and I'm not typically a fan of comedy.   BUT Decked with Holly was one of those rare exceptions that had me laughing out loud on the subway! The writing is sharp and witty, and I loved the bantering back and forth between Nick and Holly.
  2. Slow-moving, natural romance:

    Two BIG thumbs up for romance that doesn't start right away from eyes meeting across a room by chance. I loved the way Nick and Holly slowly grew closer together, and that they weren't always close from the beginning. It felt very real and natural and there wasn't anything forced about it at all.
  3. A few heartbreaking elements:

    But the book isn't just fluff either - it's hard hitting in its own ways. Holly's life is far from perfect, and her relationship (even just a friendship) with Nick is difficult. As is Nick's own life. Yet none of it takes away from the story, as much as it deepens it even further. 
The dual point of view didn't work for me so well at first though, and it took a little while for Nick's and Holly's voices to feel distinct from each other - however, once they did, it was great to see the different perspectives on the same events. That ended up working very well for the story, because it makes it easier to understand how easily things can be misconstrued. 

And I really wish it had been a bit longer - it was light and fun, but I think the romance especially deserved a bit more fleshing out to really nail it. Mostly towards the ending, when everything was coming all together and being wrapped up. 


Audio Review: Monstrous Beauty

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Release Date ~ September 4, 2012
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9780374373665
Audio CDs received from Macmillan Audio for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.

I have been hearing phenomenal things about this book from my friend Angel at Mermaid Visions for over year now. I've been fairly hesitant with mermaid books because I'm very picky with them for some reason, but I had heard this one was gorgeous and would sweep me off my feet.

Big, fat checkmark for that recommendation. Monstrous Beauty was everything I was promised it would be and more- that's how special it was. I've read books about friendly mermaids and killer mermaids, forbidden love, and curses but somehow this one still manages to stand out on its own. Also, totally heartbreaking (in a good, moving way).

  1. Gorgeous, descriptive writing:

    Elizabeth Fama is extremely talented when it comes to writing; there's something spellbinding about it, where you lose yourself in the ebb and flow of her words. Everything felt so lifelike and real, the writing positively stole my breath away. Her descriptions brought the story to life and drew you in easily to the story.
  2. Intoxicating mythology:

    This was easily my favourite part of the book. I couldn't get enough of learning more about Syrenka and the world she came from. There is some much tragedy to it, but it felt so rich and just FULL. I also enjoyed the way Ezra found himself so enthralled by studying mermaids, and yet throughout the book they still retained their mystery.
  3. A curse that can't be undone?

    I love good mystery plots. Just love it. So watching Hester attempt to unravel her past, her family's curse, and discover what happened to Syrenka and Ezra.. well, what could be better? These pages are just bursting with excitement on every page, and the way past events start to culminate just before they blow up...? I don't think my heart can beat much faster. 
Interestingly enough though, I didn't find myself nearly as interested in Hester as I did Syrenka. I'm not sure if her personality just didn't quite relate to me as well, or if I just found her less exciting and mysterious... but I found myself craving more and more for the past story than the current timeline. And I wasn't sold on Hester's romance, completely. It was just kind of iffy for me, again because I think I preferred Syrenka's story.

Thoughts on the audio:
Lovely, lovely, lovely. The narrator had an older voice, but that worked well for Hester's character. And the slight accent made the narration melodic. Katherine Kellgren did a wonderful job with enthusiasm and excitement and the audio never felt boring- she really captured the atmosphere of the scenes very well. 


Review: The Hallowed Ones

The Hallowed Ones (The Hallowed Ones #1) by Laura Bickle
Release Date ~ September 25, 1990
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN13: 9780547859262
Review copy received from Thomas Allen & Son Ltd.

Goodreads Synopsis:
Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

I had heard some amazing things about The Hallowed Ones - so one day, while in the mood for something deliciously creepy, I picked it up expecting the best. And fortunately, it had such a strong start that drew in right away.

Unfortunately, it never really picked up for me after that. I felt like I spent the remainder of the book waiting for "it" to happen (I'm not really sure what "it" was, but I was hoping for something truly exciting and captivating) but it just never arrived for me.

  1. Brilliant plot concept:

    The idea behind this story is like blow-your-mind amazing. An Amish setting? In an apocolyptic world (this is great because Katie's Amish community is so isolated that you have no idea what's going on with the Outside world- INCREDIBLY MYSTERIOUS, love it!) with some freaky killer thing(s) running around? I'm not sure it can get much scarier than that.
And the first few chapters are fantastic. They perfectly set the atmosphere up to scare your socks right off, and everyone is like, "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!" and there's some blood and life gets crazy.

And then Katie seems to spend most of her time trying to figure out where she stands in her faith and her love life. There's nothing wrong with that, but it didn't jive very well with the direction the book initially seemed to be headed in. The role of faith was interesting, and for the most part it fit very well until eventually it just felt like we were beating a dead horse.

Plus I really couldn't care for her love life - at all. I sympathized with Katie for a while, because she was in such a tricky spot but after a while it just seemed ridiculous. And I couldn't bring myself to care when I didn't understand why she was acting out that way.

But really, I was hoping for more scares. It felt too much like there was a trade-off part way through the book: exchange scary scenes for kissing/doubting ones. So I believe the ultimate problem for me was that my expectations were for something entirely different, and I was disappointed by that.


Review: A Midsummer's Nightmare

A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
Release Date ~ June 5, 2012
Poppy ~ Hachette Book Group
ISBN13: 9780316084222
ARC received from HBG Canada

Goodreads Synopsis:
Whitley Johnson's dream summer with her divorcé dad has turned into a nightmare. She's just met his new fiancée and her kids. The fiancée's son? Whitley's one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin' great.

Worse, she totally doesn't fit in with her dad's perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn't even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she's ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn't "do" friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn't her stepbrother...at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.

Filled with authenticity and raw emotion, Whitley is Kody Keplinger's most compelling character to date: a cynical Holden Caulfield-esque girl you will wholly care about.

Kody Keplinger has this way of writing about ideas we take for granted and then turning your entire world upside down. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny and really appeal to my sense of humour with their tongue-in-cheek lines.

I knew that I loved Shut Out enough to read her next book, but A Midsummer's Nightmare is the book that sealed the deal for me and convinced me I'll read whatever Kody writes next. They aren't typically the books I'd choose for myself based off of cover and synopsis alone (I only read Shut Out because of the Greek-inspired story) and that's exactly what I love about them - how unexpected these books are for me.

  1. Whitley is not your archetypal YA heroine:

    Every so often, I'll read a book with a girl who's acting out in rebellion in one way or another or is rather jaded for some reason. Very rarely do I read about a character that doesn't feel like they're trying too hard to do this, or who come across as kinda bratty. Whitley is one of those rare gems. She's the very definition of cynicism. She has a complicated love life - but doesn't whine about it. You kind of hate her at first, until those layers start peeling back - because she's the quintessential onion, like Shrek. I feel like the Catcher in the Rye comparison is a fair and good one.
  2. Cute nerdy crush? CHECK:
    I know I can't be the only girl who swoons a little at a cute boy who loves his Star Wars. And other sci fi fun! Nathan was a sweetheart and a half - very Cricket à la Lola and the Boy Next Door. And I appreciated that he really grew as a character all on his own, and it wasn't all about Whitney's maturity and changes. Because frankly, he does some really stupid things.
  3. Highlights issues many books shy away from:

    What happens when you get a girl who uses a guy for selfish reasons? Just read Whitley's story. We always hear about the guy using the girl, but I thought this was some very poignant role reversal. And some binge drinking issues that don't get talked about as much as other problems do. I love that Kody never shies away from hard topics. Love, love, love it.
A Midsummer's Nightmare is far from a light, flawless little story. Quite honestly? It's extremely heartbreaking. This is the story of some young people that very rarely gets shared so openly. But I can understand why some readers may not enjoy it, because it could be very hard to relate to at the beginning when Whitley is heavy into her partying lifestyle. Few will empathize, and some will sympathize, but I'm aware a number of readers just won't get it.

But for those of us who do get it? It'll rock your world.

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