Book Review: The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door by Katie van Ark
Release Date ~ January 6, 2015
Swoon Reads ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9781250061461
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Maddy Spier has been in love with the boy next door forever. As his figure skating partner she spends time in his arms every day. But she’s also seen his arms around other girls—lots of other girls. 

Gabe can't imagine skating with anyone but Maddy, and together they have a real chance at winning some serious gold medals. So, he’s determined to keep thinking of her like a sister. After all, he’s never had a romantic relationship that lasted for more than two weeks.

But when their coach assigns a new romantic skating program, everything changes. Will this be the big break that Maddy’s been hoping for or the big breakup that Gabe has always feared?

There are some books that I need to think about for a while after I finish reading them. The Boy Next Door was one of them, because while I mostly enjoyed my experience reading the book, there were a couple areas where I was left with mixed feelings.

  1. Good alternating perspectives:

    The use of alternating perspectives in a book can either be quite effective or it can completely distract from the story. But Katie van Ark uses the alternating chapters very well, as it reveals the private thoughts of the two main characters and their relationship with each other. The different perspectives highlights how differently two people can perceive the same events.
  2. An insider's view on figure skating:

    I'm completely useless at ice skating (as in: I can't do it at all. Worst Canadian ever!) and it was utterly fascinating to me to read about the world of competitive figure skating. I know nothing about it, and yet I was impressed with Maddy and Gabe's commitment to the sport and how The Boy Next Door introduced me to a whole new world. I obviously can't speak to the accuracy of the details in the book, but I certainly felt like this was a very involved, knowledgeable perspective. 
This is actually going to be a reason that is hit-or-miss for some people. But I certainly felt the tension between Maddy and Gabe the entire time I was reading, and I just had to know what was going to happen with them. It was certainly convincing to read about these two characters try to find themselves on the same page with each other. 

That being said, I ended the book with mixed feelings on Maddy and Gabe. They struck me as realistic characters (flaws and all) which is important, but there were some responses and comments made by each that I found hard to appreciate in the book. (I don't want to spoil anything directly, but I'll just say that Maddy's reaction to her bruises from figure skating was not one of which I was a fan.) Overall, I felt that some of this detracted from my overall experience. 

This is a book which is heavy on the romance (obviously since it's from the Swoon Reads imprint), but much of it is a true teenaged romance. The characters are fairly immature and have to mature as the book goes on. That isn't a bad thing at all - I think it's a positive for the book, because that's reality. But to an extent, it can make it harder for certain readers to completely connect with the story. At the end of the day, not enough of the book stuck with me over time although I enjoyed reading it at the time. 


Book Review: All Fall Down

All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter
Release Date ~ January 20, 2015
Scholastic Press
ISBN13: 9780545654746
ARC received from Scholastic Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
This exciting new series from NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter focuses on Grace, who can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world, and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay--in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.

I've been reading Ally Carter well before I ever started blogging and her books have firmly stayed as some of my favourite books to read and recommend to others. I've mentioned before how much I adore her Gallagher Girls books so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to the new Embassy Row series!

And impressively, Ally Carter delivers an amazing read with All Fall Down (as usual). It's a humorous, thrilling read which can be enjoyed by all types of readers.

  1. Witty writing:

    The main character in All Fall Down is Grace and I love that Ally Carter wrote her with such a strong personality and tongue-in-cheek humour. Grace isn't quite like Cammie from Gallagher Girls nor is she like Kat from Heist Society - she's her own person and her own character. One of my favourite things about Ally's books is that she writes with a sense of humour. The books are clever and have me chuckling the whole way through. This is a rare find for me in books, so I treasure the authors that can do this well. Grace is fairly snarky and has a bit of an attitude and you can really see that come out on the pages as you read.
  2. A fast-paced, exciting story:

    One of the things that struck me while I was reading All Fall Down was how appealing this book would be to many readers because it's such a thrilling story. It's about a teenaged girl, yes - but regardless of gender or age, this is a book that can capture and hold a reader's attention. The mystery moves along at an excellent pace which neither too fast nor too slow.
  3. A well-balanced book:

    And yet the story isn't purely action - there's enough depth here to be thought-provoking and emotionally gripping. The characters are endearing, and I easily found myself invested in their stories. Grace's struggle to come to terms with the death of her mother is particularly heartbreaking. She's a strong character, perhaps too strong. She isolates herself from others and is desperate to find peace in her life. 

Since I've read so many of Ally Carter's other books, I started reading All Fall Down with some preconceived notions. I assumed romance would play a larger role (it doesn't - although there's potential for more). I didn't realize Grace would be as much of a tomboy and troublemaker as she turned out to be!

I can say that to an extent, All Fall Down lacked the same charm I found in Gallagher Girls and Heist Society. It isn't something I can put my finger on. Although I think a large part of that may be that I've read more than the first book in those series. It may very well be that Embassy Row is a series I grow to love even more with time.


Blog Tour: Stone in the Sky

My review today is the first stop on the blog tour for Stone in the Sky hosted by Raincoast Books - make sure you read to the end to find out which other blogs are participating so you can read more about the book over the next few days!

Stone in the Sky (Tin Star #2) by Cecil Castellucci
Release Date ~ February 24, 2015
Roaring Brook Press ~ Macmillan
ISBN 13: 781596437760
Review copy received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
In this thrilling follow-up to Tin Star, Tula will need to rely on more than just her wits to save her only home in the sky.

After escaping death a second time, Tula Bane is now even thirstier for revenge. She spends much of her time in the Tin Star CafĂ© on the Yertina Feray—the space station she calls home. But when it's discovered that the desolate and abandoned planet near the station has high quantities of a precious resource, the once sleepy space station becomes a major player in intergalactic politics. In the spirit of the Gold Rush, aliens from all over the galaxy race to cash in—including Tula's worst enemy

As much as I enjoyed Tin Star last year, the ending left me feeling like I needed (and wanted) something more to the story. Fortunately for me, Stone in the Sky quickly followed and as a sequel it absolutely delivered in every way I hoped it would.

  1. Incredible world building:

    While Tin Star introduced us to a breathtaking sci fi world, Stone in the Sky fills us in on all the details. Tula ends up leaving the Yertina Feray and we get to explore the galaxy with her as she embarks on a continuation of her adventure. And this is where the story really shines, because it becomes clear that while there are only two relatively short books in the Tin Star series, Cecil has clearly put in a significant amount of time with creating and developing a world in which Tula's stories take place.
  2. Huge revelations for the plot:

    Tula had her own theories about Brother Blue and the Human colonies as set out in Tin Star, but I really appreciate a story that clearly follows up on those questions and provides some answers. We don't get to find out everything, but the story is certainly resolved and satisfying. I had so many questions while reading the first book and I was so pleased to see they were answered in Stone in the Sky. But more importantly, I loved how thoughtful and complex the story was.
  3. A thoughtful look at humanity:

    Tula often considers and compares Humans to the other aliens she encounters. She's a thoughtful character, and her responses and comments on other species are truly fascinating. This comparison also serves a purpose as it reveals more about humanity and Tula's own character. We can see how we take certain traits for granted, which are not shared by other alien species. And interestingly, this reveals more about why Tula has reacted in such a way to the events in her life. 
Cecil Castelluci writes brilliant sci fi books, and while these are not the most action-oriented books they are some of the most thought-provoking and complex YA books available. They are written beautifully and feature lovely prose and subtle ideas incorporated within the overarching story. 

I would advise readers that this is not a fast-paced series, so readers should not expect that nor turn to the Tin Star books for that type of read. These are books that can be read at a slower pace, in order to be truly appreciated and so as to not miss any of the fine details!

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