Blog Tour: This Shattered World

I'm really looking forward to sharing my review of This Shattered World with you today as part of the blog tour hosted by The Midnight Garden! Keep an eye out for some special news (and a giveaway) at the end of this post!

Make sure you visit the kickoff post over at The Midnight Garden for other special features and links to other posts on the tour!

This Shattered World (Starbound #2) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Release Date ~ December 23, 2014
ISBN13: 9781423171034
e-galley received from publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads Synopsis:
The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

After reading (and adoring) These Broken Stars earlier this year, I've basically been sitting around and twiddling my thumbs while waiting for This Shattered World. The second book in the Starbound trilogy features two new protagonists and takes place on a different planet, but it's also different from TBS with slightly different pacing and a distinct storyline. Where TBS was a lonely survival story, TSW is a war story. But Amie and Meagan thoughtfully weave the two books together to create a much larger story.

  1. A rare set of protagonists: 

    Jubilee is a capable, hard-working soldier who's always ready to take the lead and get the job done. In contrast, Flynn is a gracious and brave pacifist. And together they make quite the interesting pair. You can see how well they balance each other out and truly bring out the best qualities in one another. In particular, they're both so conscientious when it comes to their personal roles on Avon, that they regularly think through the consequences of their actions and show incredible maturity. They're such rare types of characters to find in books, that it sets the tone of TSW apart from many others I read.
  2. Fast-paced action:

    Avon is a hostile world with an ongoing battle between the rebels and the military. This is evident from the very first chapter and it sets the stage for the rest of the book. Jubilee and Flynn barely have time to stop and catch their breath, as the secrets on Avon begin to unravel and the discovery of a conspiracy larger than they could have imagined is found. The pacing is even and quick, and it doesn't really end until the book does.
  3. Political science fiction:

    One of the things I've really loved about the Starbound trilogy so far is how well it combines my love for political intrigue and science fiction in books. I love that these books are set on distant, mysterious planets that are both familiar yet strange to me. I love the rippling excitement that comes with the political upheaval taking place on Avon. And the really nice thing about the combination of the two is that it keeps either one from becoming dull - the two merge seamlessly to create a more complex story. 
I like that TSW has light-romance, in the sense that it doesn't take over the rest of the story. Both Flynn and Jubilee are very focused on what they feel they need to accomplish, and they let very little interfere with that purpose. Because of how well this fits in with their characters, the romance feels natural and well-developed. 

I also love the little hints and nods that we find in TSW which will be familiar to those who have read TBS. While I wouldn't say it's necessary to read TBS first, I think readers will better enjoy TSW with the background of TBS. 

My only small issue is that I feel like at some point in the Starbound trilogy, we need some greater reveals as to the overall plot and more knowledge with respect to the world. In TBS, it was less of an issue that the world-building was rather minimal (although it was there to an extent), but in TSW I was more aware at how little development there was in this sense. I still have so many questions about what's going in with LaRoux and how the situation on Avon began. There are small hints, but it seemed like there were a few questions that could have been answered but were swept aside. 

But to be honest, this felt like such a minor issue to me I really don't feel like it majorly detracted from my reading experience in any way! These are great, exciting books that I highly recommend and I love that the newest release didn't disappoint me.

Visit the These Broken Stars website for the latest news on the series and follow the authors on Twitter at @AmieKaufman and @MeaganSpoonerThis Shattered World is available for pre-order (with fun swag!) and will be released in North America on December 23, 2014. 

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DVD Review: Burning Questions

I'm a person who wrestles with a number of philosophical (or religious) questions in real life, and in the interest of full disclosure I'm also an open Chrisitan.

I was thrilled when I was offered a chance to review a new DVD documentary entitled "Burning Questions" which wrestles with a number of common, difficult questions about the deeper meaning of life.

With all of that being said, I also consider myself to be somewhat of an intellectual. I'm about to complete my second university degree, and I can appreciate both an intellectual and faith-filled response to these questions.

That is precisely where "Burning Questions" fits in for me. I appreciate the fact that the documentary makes use of a number of different thinkers in this area: it isn't merely restricted to Christian apologists despite being a Christian-focused documentary.

The first video session, entitled "Is there a god?" includes well-known thinkers such as Dr. Peter Atkins (an atheist), Dr. Chrisitan Sinkinson (Christian), Professor Richard Swinburne (Christian), Dr. Anna Robbins (Christian), Rabbi Mendel Kaplan (Jew), Dr. Stephen Law (atheist), Sensei Taigen Henderson (Buddhist), Pandit Roopnauth Sharma (Hindu), and Shabir Ally (Mulsim - who I'm previously famliar with, as he's spoken on The Agenda with Steve Paikan a few times), Dr. Stan Fowler (Christian), and Professor Alister McGrath (Christian).

While "Burning Questions" will have a greater appeal to Christians, it still has a place for those who may be seeking to hear from different perspectives. Even from within a religious perspective, this is an important documentary to hear from because of how it includes a number of different perspectives. It clearly focuses in on the Judeo-Christian God, and offers an explanation as to why they choose to focus on this one interpretation.

Some viewers may benefit from further explanation by way of a primer to explain some of the basic ideas being discussed here; the first session launches into a fairly involves discussion on philosophy about the existence (or lack) of god. Much of it focuses on the identity of god, as perceived by the guest speakers.

DVD set has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  All of my thoughts and opinions here are my own.


Book Review: Black Ice

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick
Release Date ~ October 7, 2014
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN13: 9781442474260
ARC received from S&S Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Danger is hard to resist in this sexy thriller from Becca Fitzpatrick, the New York Times bestselling author of the Hush, Hush saga.

Brit Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there and in uncovering this, she may become the killer's next target.

But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Black Ice is New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick's riveting romantic thriller set against the treacherous backdrop of the mountains of Wyoming. Falling in love should never be this dangerous. 

Black Ice is a fast-paced, mysterious read that left me guessing the whole time I was reading it; as much as I thought I had predicted all the twists, I usually ended up being surprised by one reveal or another. I never read Hush, Hush so this was my first impression of one of Becca Fitzpatrick's books.

  1. Britt's natural growth and changes:

    Britt's character is going to bother some readers, I knew that from the very first chapter. She isn't your standard character who's easy to like or maybe even identify with - she's definitely spoiled and rather immature because she hasn't had to figure out much of life for herself yet. But the idea behind Black Ice is that Britt is forced to go through a situation where she can only rely on herself - and you can see her fight that at times. She doesn't have a clue what to do or how to deal. And by the end of the book, I'm not sure I'd say that she's figured that out entirely - but she's clearly changed and there is improvement. She's flawed and far from perfect, but that made the story seem more real to me.
  2. A story with a heavy crime element:

    I am one of those people who has always enjoyed crime stories (weird? maybe a little) so these elements in Black Ice really worked for me. There's a larger part of the plot devoted to a big mystery, but there are a few smaller ones as well. I liked how suspenseful the book was (particularly in a few scenes), but it also doesn't cross that line in to horror/scary territory for readers who are wary of that. 
I had a much harder time with some of the secondary characters - a couple of them are left without any redemption (which is fine) but it can feel awkward when other "bad" characters get their moment to explain at least some of their poor behaviour and actions. It's one of the main ways that a character instantly feels shallow to me. 

I'm not too sure where to include this in my review, but I had very mixed feelings about Mason. I wasn't entirely sold on his character but I also didn't hate him. He clearly had his own issues to work through, and I almost wish I could have a book about Mason in order to see his development - he's certainly not a lost cause and there were many times when I liked him. But by the end of the book, I just wasn't wholly convinced. 

The simplest way of putting it is that while I enjoyed Black Ice as a thriller, I had a harder time with it as a romantic book. Depending on how you feel about either of those genres (and the types of elements you like in those genres) will likely determine your thoughts on Black Ice. 


Sleeping Secrets

I have had trouble sleeping soundly for as long as I can remember. But lately, it's been worse. Sleeping pills are a last option for me - I always try other things before resorting to those. Along the way, I've picked up a few different tricks to help with this and I'm sharing my secrets with the hope that some of you might find them helpful!

Secret #1 ~ Tea to make you feel sleep-tea 

I'm a big fan of tea (all tea, all day!) and it's a normal part of my bedtime ritual to have a cup of caffeine-free tea before bed.

I love DavidsTea because they sell good tea, and I love supporting Canadian brands. There are two options which include valerian root: their organic Mother's Little Helper and The Big Chill (also organic). If valerian root is an ingredient you'd rather avoid, try the herbal Sweet Dreams (which is somewhat similar to Mother's Little Helper with its chamomile and lemongrass flavour) or Jessie's Tea (a rooibos with lavender and coconut).

I've been eyeing the Relaxed Collection, which includes smaller bags of Sweet Dreams, Mother's Little Helper, and Jessie's Tea - I've been meaning to try Jessie's Tea and I can always use a refill of Little Helper!

Secret #2 ~ White noise and music

I actually like a little bit of background noise while I'm falling asleep so I have two picks for this - first, a handy white noise app for my phone and second, a great music album. I've grown accustomed to the Thunderstorm setting on iHome Zen, but I'm also not very picky. My A/C works too (in the summer).

But on a more exciting note, lately I've been listening to Ellie Holcomb's latest album titled As Sure As the Sun and letting Night Song repeat about three times - works like a charm.  Her voice is so gorgeous and soothing. This song is peaceful for me, and very calming when I often feel anxious at night.

Secret #3 ~ A silk eye mask

Even though I like a little background noise while drifting off, I need darkness! Since I'm a die-hard Audrey Hepburn fan, I'm currently using this Breakfast at Tiffany's-inspired mask which I purchased from AdorabellaBaby on Etsy. I love that it's large so it covers my eyes well, it has an adjustable strap, and it's silk which is nice for my facial skin! (I have one tiny little complaint which is the plastic connector on my strap broke after a couple of months - it's an easy enough fix, but still disappointing.)

Do you have any tips or suggestions that work for you? 
I'm always on the look out for new things to try. Lately I've been thinking I'd like to try some lavender scented body lotion before bed - I've always heard that lavender can help, but I haven't been a big fan of floral scents until this year. I've been using a nice vanilla body lotion from LOVEFRESH (another Canadian brand! The vanilla scent is divine, FYI) and I'm dying for their lavender body butter. Well, I'm actually dying to try out a whole bunch of their products but the lavender is first on my list!


Book Review: Stitching Snow

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Release Date ~ October 14, 2014
Disney-Hyperion ~ Hachette Book Group Canada
ISBN13: 9781423187974
ARC received from HBG Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

Science-fiction infused fairytale retellings are no longer completely out of the ordinary, thanks to the popularity of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles books, but R.C. Lewis makes Stitching Snow all her own. Despite the popularity of both sci fi and fairytale retellings right now, Stitching Snow is a refreshing story that is thrilling from the very start with memorable characters.

  1. A truly creative take on Snow White:

    I love when an author can take a story readers are familiar with and then write a completely unique spin on that same story. The trick is to maintain enough of the familiar features while infusing them with different explanations and purposes. Stitching Snow is a perfect example of how well this can work, because while it's very clearly a "Snow White" story, at the same time... well, it isn't. It's Essie's story and her adventures as she's plucked from her familiar life and thrown into a political mess.
  2. Essie's independent personality:

    When we first meet Essie, she's living on the snow planet Thanda (let's be honest, I'm picturing Hoth in my mind when I think of Thanda) and the icy temperatures are only partially responsible for her icy heart. She's fine with her mundane and mostly isolated life. And this is precisely what makes it interesting to see her emotional walls begin to crumble in Stitching Snow. She's forced out of the life she's built for herself, and thrust into a life she's been trying to avoid. I love that throughout all of this, Essie continues to take control of her situation - she's an assertive young woman!
  3. Exciting sci fi elements:

    I'm a fan of science fiction, so it is extremely pleasing to me when I read a book that reads like true sci fi and Stitching Snow is a recent addition to my collection of fantastic YA science fiction. I loved learning about the different planets, and I thought it was very cool that Essie was a mechanic who's great at computer programming. 
Once I started reading Stitching Snow, I had a hard time putting it down. I devoured it fairly quickly, and the pacing was perfect for me - there's tension gradually building throughout the story, yet there's action from the very beginning and enough hinting at secrets to grab my interest and hold it. Stitching Snow also has excellent romance - it doesn't overpower the entire story, and it has a nice, natural build to it. 

My only (small) issue was that this is the type of story that I could easily live in if it was spread out over a few books - I would be happy if this was a series. There are some interesting secondary characters introduced, and I think they could have benefited from further development (but I understand, books can only be a certain length before it's ridiculous). Some parts of the plot are fairly predictable, but it didn't bother me since the story was still interesting and there were still a few surprises for me.


Book Cover Reveal: Anne and Henry

I'm very excited to share with you the cover reveal for Dawn Ius' upcoming 2015 release, Anne and Henry! But first the description:

A love worth losing your head over

Wild, brazen, mischievous, bewitching

Driven, haunted, charming, magnetic

Apart they are bound to destroy themselves. Together, they are bound to destroy each other.

HENRY TUDOR’S LIFE HAS BEEN mapped out since the day he was born: student president, valedictorian, Harvard Law School, and a stunning political career just like his father’s. 

But ever since the death of Henry’s brother—perfect, high-achieving Arthur—his family has been twice as demanding. And now Henry’s trapped: forbidden from pursuing a life as an artist or dating any girl who’s not Tudor-approved.

Then Anne Boleyn crashes into his life. 

Anne is wild, brash, and outspoken. She is everything Henry is not allowed to be—or to want. But soon Anne is all he can think about. His mother, his friends, and even his girlfriend warn him away, yet his desire for Anne consumes him. Henry is willing to do anything to be with her. But once he has her, their romance could destroy them both. 

Inspired by the true story of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, ANNE & HENRY reimagines the intensity, love, and betrayal between one of the most infamous couples of all time.

Interesting, yeah? You can really tell that it's a modern story, and I'm curious to see Dawn's take on Henry VIII's relationship with Anne in a contemporary, updated setting.

You can add Anne & Henry to your Goodreads shelf here!

About the Author
DAWN IUS is a short-story author, novelist, screenwriter, professional editor, and communications specialist. She is an active member of the International Thriller Writers association, co-founder and senior editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the author of nine educational graphic novels published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. When she’s not slaying fictional monsters, she’s geeking out over fairy tales, Jack Bauer, Halloween, sports cars, and all things that go bump in the night. Dawn lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Jeff, and their giant English Mastiff, Roarke. 

Connect with Dawn:
Twitter: @dawnmius


Blog Tour: Earth & Sky

Earth & Sky (Earth & Sky #1) by Megan Crewe
Release Date ~ October 28, 2014
Razorbill Canada ~ Penguin Random House Canada (Skyscape in the U.S.)
ISBN13:  9780670068128
ARC received from Penguin Random House Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the panic attacks tormenting her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for its inhabitants and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help--but with each shift in the past, the very fabric of reality is unraveling, and soon there may be no Earth left to save.

I loved one of Megan Crewe's others books, The Way We Fall, and I'm interested in reviewing more books written by Canadian authors. The fact that Earth & Sky is a new science fiction read was more than enough to convince me I needed to read this, because Megan Crewe writes science fiction so well!

  1. Intelligent time-travel:

    I'm a very picky reader when it comes to time-travel stories, because they need to be JUST RIGHT for me to accept the time-traveling as purposeful rather than gratuitous and too few books convince me of this. But Megan's conception of time-travel is reasoned out well and very intentional. It's a necessary component of the story and it didn't rely on cheap or cheesy time-traveling scenes or jokes. It also isn't needlessly complicated so that the story flowed nicely.
  2. Strong character relationships:

    One of the things that I find Megan writes really well are strong dynamics between her characters. Her writing allows for natural relationships to develop among the characters, and nothing is rushed or forced. And this is important when so much of the story in Earth & Sky revolves around its two central characters, Skylar and Win.
  3. Solid world-building:

    Earth & Sky excelled in creating a world I could perfectly imagine. The story is like a carefully constructed puzzle, where each piece slowly comes together and the big picture is revealed to the reader. I liked how intentional much of the story was, and how there's a strong, underlying purpose connecting Skylar to the aliens and the discoveries she makes. All of which is hinting at more secrets we have to learn about. 
Earth & Sky has a very narrow focus for its story and I was left with further questions about the world and Win's people that I need answered - but I'm glad to see that there was a clear ending to this first book and that a sequel is scheduled to come out next year. Hopefully that will satisfy some of the questions I have!

Another thing I like about Earth & Sky is that it isn't the type of science fiction book that might scare readers away - there's still a contemporary feel to it, to help keep readers grounded in a ore familiar world if they're less comfortable with science fiction. This would actually be a great gateway book to science fiction.


Megan very kindly took time to answer some questions about Earth & Sky I had for her as part of the blog tour! Her answers are so insightful and they tie into the story really well - I hope they increase your interest in reading the book!

Q: The plot in Earth & Sky is one of the most creative ideas I've read in a long time. I was so intrigued by the idea of aliens using Earth as an experiment - it's a great sci fi story! But I'm wondering if you could share what inspired you to write about this?

A: Aliens experimenting on Earthlings is a pretty common idea in science fiction--but usually the aliens are just kidnapping Earthlings here and there, and either returning them after a short time or taking them away to study them elsewhere. When I realized I could combine that element with my base idea of a character who was sensing that things on Earth had been altered, I knew that the aliens had to be affecting the entire planet. The scope of their manipulation added an intensity to the story that I found exciting. And it captured a feeling I wanted to give of how little Earthling life mattered to the aliens--that they were looking down on our planet much like people on Earth might study bugs in a terrarium or fish in a tank.

Q: I'm a very picky reader when it comes to time-travel. But I really loved how you incorporated time-travel as one element of the story. What was it about time-travel that interested you enough to include it in Earth & Sky? Did you find it difficult to write about? 

A: Because the story started with the idea of the main character sensing things around her were "wrong" somehow, time travel was really the most essential element to EARTH & SKY. It was the best explanation I came up with (after considering various magical and supernatural possibilities) for how her world might be shifting, and it also allowed for those shifts to not just be a wearing down but people and events having completely changed, which gave me many more avenues to explore. I've always been fascinated by speculation about how the present might change if certain key factors in the past were altered--how one small change might have a massive effect, for example--so I was eager to dive in.

It definitely was difficult, though. It took me a while to figure out the rules of how my version of time travel would work, and even then I regularly ran into scenarios I hadn't considered but that needed to be addressed in a way that fit with what I needed for the rest of the story. At times it got a little tangled! Thankfully my critique partners were a huge help in sorting out what made sense and keeping everything logically consistent.

Q: There are some big revelations in Earth & Sky that surprised me as a reader. Were there any surprises for you as you were writing it or did you know how Earth & Sky would end?

A: I knew all of the big twists before I started writing, but that's mainly because I'm a devout outliner and I never start a story before I have all the key points worked out. But the revelations didn't all arrive with the initial idea, and many of them hit me as I was working out the plot with an excitement I hope they give the reader too.  There are also always some smaller pieces that don't emerge until later drafts… For example, the idea of "standard protocol" and how that affected Win's decisions about contacting the rest of his group was something that came up during later drafts, though it seemed obvious when it occurred to me because it fit so well with everything else that was already there.

Q: I always like to ask authors this question about their books, because the answers are so interesting. Personally, I sensed what seemed to be a theme about free will, and I'm not sure how intentional that was. Do you have any sort of a thought or overall message you'd like readers to take away from Earth & Sky? 

A: I do always consider theme when I'm planning a book--I find it hard to direct a story unless I know what the main concept behind it is. With EARTH & SKY, free will is definitely a factor. To me, both Skylar and the Kemyates are dealing with a similar struggle between keeping their lives the same so they at least know what to expect and can feel prepared, vs. taking risks in changing the course of their lives not knowing for sure whether those changes will end up being for the better or for the worse. Is it better to stick with an unfortunate but livable situation you know or to risk screwing things up more for the chance at something good? My stance, as I intended to come across in the book, is that you never can be completely certain of what the future will hold either way, so you're better off actively reaching for the life you want rather than hoping things will work out the way you'd like without you having to step up. But I realize readers will have their own perspectives on the issue.  :)

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Megan!

And make sure you follow along with the rest of the blog tour and visit other blogs on the schedule to learn more about Earth & Sky!


Book Review: Press Play

Press Play by Eric Devine
Release Date ~ October 28, 2014
Running Press Kids
ISBN13: 9780762455126
e-galley received from publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads Synopsis:
Greg Dunsmore, a.k.a. Dun the Ton, is focused on one thing: making a documentary that will guarantee his admission into the film school of his choice. Every day, Greg films his intense weight-loss focused workouts as well as the nonstop bullying that comes from his classmates. But when he captures footage of violent, extreme hazing by his high school’s championship-winning lacrosse team in the presence of his principal, Greg’s field of view is in for a readjustment.
Greg knows there is a story to be told, but it is not clear exactly what. And his attempts to find out the truth only create more obstacles, not to mention physical harm upon himself. Yet if Greg wants to make his exposé his ticket out of town rather than a veritable death sentence, he will have to learn to play the game and find a team to help him.
Combine the underbelly of Friday Night Lights with the unflinching honesty of Walter Dean Myers, and you will find yourself with Eric Devine’s novel of debatable truths, consequences, and realities.

Press Play is not the typical book I choose to read. But this is a case where I'm grateful that I branched out from my preferred reading picks and tried something different, because Press Play was a pleasantly unexpected read for me.

It's a contemporary read which is much more male-oriented than I'm used to (main character is a teenaged guy, and many of the other characters are male although not all. And it's written by a male author) and it deals with particularly relevant issues for teens in 2014. Not only that, but the main character, Greg, isn't the type of male character I'm used to reading.

  1. Greg's an interesting character to read about:

    In many ways, he seems like a very ordinary teenaged guy. He's far from perfect - fairly self-centred most of the time, with his own insecurities and frustrations. He's interested in girls and doesn't know how on earth to act around them. But at the same time, he's also unusual and different which makes life harder for him. Greg's overweight and on a quest to change that - he's making different food choices and working out with a friend. In many other modes of entertainment, there's "that fat guy" who's just a joke - people are either laughing because he's funny or they're laughing AT him. But with Greg, the reader has an insider's perspective as we experience so many of his embarrassing moments and struggles with his image and trying to take control of his body.
  2. An up-close view of bullying:

    We all know that bullying is a real problem. And we've likely all experienced it at one point or another in or lives (to some extent). Press Play looks at a very serious case of bullying (and hazing) and Greg's attempts to change that. But it also offers a very thoughtful perspective on how we can all do and say things that hurt others - and why it's so important that we recognize that and deal with it. 
Some of the imagery (depictions of events) and language used is rather crude - I point that out as a warning, not a criticism. I had no problem with it, because it always felt genuine and true to the character and his story. But I understand not all readers will be a fan of that. 

Press Play is a surprisingly dark story. The struggles these characters encounter are HEAVY - and in a few instances, I felt like I needed to see further resolution to feel reassured. For the most part, however, I thought the issues were handled well considering this is a standalone book tackling a whole spectrum of real life problems.

This is the kind of book that I believe is important because it's going to appeal to readers who may not be big fans of reading in general and are looking for a different type of book. I think it's realistic presentation of certain high school situations and characters is also going to appeal to readers who can appreciate that which is what makes Press Play worth reading.


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).

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