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Poison Dance: A Novella

Poison Dance: A Novella - Livia Blackburne For such a short tale, Poison Dance packed quite an emotional punch and I was surprised by how invested I became in the tale despite its length. Poison Dance has the depth, scope and flesh of a full length novel, featuring a gloriously intriguing world, a rather dashing male lead and - alas - an ultimately tragic romance.

100% recommended - I cannot wait to read Midnight Thief!

Cress

Cress - Marissa Meyer Reviewed on Dead Book Darling

After the genius that was Scarlet, I expected great things from Cress. And while it wasn't quite as stellar, it was certainly an amazing book.

I came to a rather surprising conclusion while reading Cress. Namely, that my enjoyment of Meyer's writing is completely character-based, rather than author-based. With most authors, I find that if I am luke-warm about one book, I will feel the same about the next. But in Meyer's case, it depends completely on the character she is writing. As she changes narrators, she completely immerses herself into that character's mind. So, obviously, if I don't particularly like one character, I am not going to enjoy the writing. Now, you'd expect all authors to change their style according to characters, but most don't. Most tend to write in one style, expressing one set of values - albeit in different ways. Meyer can switch it up while still keeping control of the overall plot. Quite a feat.

That being said, since I didn't particularly like Cress as a character, I wasn't quite as enraptured with her book. My feelings were reminiscent of the way I felt about Cinder in her book (but not in Cress... I'll get to that later). Cress is young, naive and was far too enraptured with Thorne. I understand this girl was locked away with no company and her behaviour was only reflective of that... but that still didn't make it enjoyable to read. Again, Meyer is way too good at getting into her character's brains. So when you aren't so keen on knowing what they think, then you don't love it.

Fortunately, rather like Scarlet, Cress follows the POV of many, many, many characters. We jump back and forth from Cress to Scarlet to Kai to Cinder, so on and so forth. Not only was I totally fine with that, I loved it! There are so many fantastic revelations taking place all over the planet(s), Meyer needs to jump about in order to keep up with the action. And yes, just like its predecessors, there is a ton of action! From Mexican stand-offs to kidnappings to space-ship crashes, Marissa Meyer delivers page after page of keep-you-up-all-night content. It's a joy to find such well-written, engaging plot in a YA novel.

Also, the multiple POV's meant I could check in on two of my favourites: Scarlet and Wolf! Oh my heart. While they weren't featured as prominently as I would have liked, they still made me squee. And surprisingly, I really enjoyed checking in with Cinder. While I've always liked her, she's never been my favourite character. But over the past two books, she has really grown into her own skin. Her self-loathing is dwindling and her confidence is booming - she is really turning into the Queen she is meant to be. Thanks, Ms. Meyer!

Bottom line? Another well-written, action-packed installment of the Lunar Chronicles. While I wasn't the biggest fan of Cress herself, I am looking forward to seeing how Meyer develops her character in the future!

Heartbeat

Heartbeat - Elizabeth Scott There aren’t many books I’d give the “For fans of The Fault in Our Stars” label to. Actually, before Heartbeat, there were exactly zero. But while reading this fantastically emotional book, I couldn’t help but remember my experience reading TFIOS. This isn’t a cancer book, but it is a book about love, loss and happiness… rather key themes of TFIOS, as well.

Heartbeat is one of those books that hits a little bit too close to home. A girl loses her mother but is forced to keep seeing her everyday. When she loses her mother, she loses the rest of her family too. And while that is all hideous, what’s worst is the shock of it all. Her life changes in less than a second. There was no time for goodbye, no time to prepare.

That she finds someone to love during this tragedy may seem unrealistic, but it is a bond forged with a shared understanding of loss. It felt real and it also felt healthy – so I wholeheartedly approved. Perhaps they weren’t a swoon-worthy couple, but hey. It’s hard to be charming when you are sobbing.

Speaking of which: add Heartbeat to the “Made Me Cry” pile. And, for the record, they weren’t tears of joy. Sometimes life really sucks for fictional characters, and us real-life characters are allowed to cry about it.

That said, I wasn’t quite as enchanted with Heartbeat as I was with Scott’s Stealing Heaven. While Scott is certainly an expert at packing a big punch into a little book, Heartbeat was just a tad too short for its content. At times, I felt like Scott was trying to jump to the next plot point without a proper emotional transition… it was a bit jarring at times, but didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the book.

Bottom line? Elizabeth Scott is a fantastic author and Heartbeat is another gem in her treasure-chest of novels.

Reviewed at Dead Book Darling

Horde

Horde - Ann Aguirre Thoughts: I've been Team Aguirre for years now. She is one of my all time favourite authors and, unfortunately for the world, I think she is shockingly underrated. This woman excels in every genre she puts her hand to - be it urban fantasy, Young Adult, Romance or Science Fiction. Every time I pick up one of her books I remember that this? This is why I am a reader.

With that glowing praise in mind, let's move on to Horde, the final book in Aguirre's Razorland trilogy.

When I think back to the first book - Enclave - I see now that Aguirre had had this dramatic conclusion planned for us from the beginning. It seemed like a simple "zombie" apocalypse novel at the time and, while I adored it, I never could have foreseen Horde. I would never have predicted her creating such a complex universe, taking such a different view of strong women at the end of the world, or completely twisting the definitions of "good guys" and "bad guys".

That is because I made the assumption that, as Aguirre was writing YA, she would stick to a lot of YA tropes. For instance, you don't let your YA heroine take off on adventures that will last months, seasons, years... because then she won't be a 16-year-old anymore. She'll be a competent adult. Well, screw tropes. War takes a long time and, unlike Katniss, Deuce does not have a fully trained army sitting in the wings ready to start fighting. Deuce needs to build the world she wants to live in from the ground up.

It is a long slog (timeline-wise, Horde covers the longest period of the three books) and SO MUCH happens. Seriously, a LOT OF PLOT. *luxuriates in plotty-YA novel* Yes, it is a book about growing up. Yes, there is some romance. But mainly it is a book about re-establishing the human race. It takes TIME and PAGES, people.

I can't say too much more, as my favourite aspect of Horde is an extremely spoilery plot twist. One that made me feel as though Aguirre'd read my criticism of Killbox (one of her adult Science Fiction novels) and decided fix the problem this time round.* I was punching my fist to the sky screaming "YES THIS" when I got to it... leave me a comment if you know what I'm talking about!

Bottom line: Horde is an EPIC, thought-provoking conclusion to a stunning series. I cannot recommend the Razorland series enough. Go forth and get the whole bloody trilogy in hardback. They're worth every penny.

* Note that I am under no illusion that that happened but, nevertheless, am extremely happy to see that one of my favourite authors has readdress one of the few issues I've ever had with her writing. So... yay!

Letters from Father Christmas

Letters from Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien, Baillie Tolkien Absolutely wonderful and yet... Rather sad. Maybe me wish I could return to childhood or instill into the rest of the world the innocence of a child's mind... Gosh, that was maudlin.

Full review to come.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You - Ally Carter 3.5 stars - Super cute but not mind-blowing. I hope the later books are a bit more YA!

Fortunately the Milk

Fortunately the Milk - Gaiman Neil 4.5 stars - SUPER lovely. It's like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets Doctor Who. Lovely loveliness.

These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars - Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner I adored this book. I savoured every page, every word, every scene. It has almost single-handedly changed my view of Science Fiction YA (just a week after I proclaimed my distrust of the genre - though I am not quite a convert yet).

These Broken Stars was not what I expected. In the spirit of the best science fiction, the novel incorporates socially-resonate themes elements into a classic tale. It is a story about social classes, corporate cover-ups and exploitation - but all in the context of a star-crossed, enemies-to-lovers romance. In short: it is my definition of a good sci-fi book.

While reading this book, I posted on goodreads that I had found my YA version of Grimspace (Ann Aguirre). I stick to that assessment. While the plots are nothing alike, both books have a certain je ne sais qoui to them that makes me feel like they are in similar verses or perhaps have the same author (Spooner and Kaufman could be Aguirre's long-lost cousins? Well... it's a theory). Either way, I really can think of no higher compliment than this comparison. It's just as fierce, but with more party dresses.

On to a few specifics: These Broken Stars is a duo-narrative book, so the romance vibe is pretty apparent from the beginning. But I wouldn't say the relationship is the sole focus of this book. The characters are fighting to survive, fighting to stay sane... it's not until the end that they are fighting for each other. Not only did this focus make the  relationship more realistic, it gave the authors a lot more page-time to focus on the plot... something I really appreciated.

Besides the realistic romance, I loved the culture in These Broken Stars. It felt almost like the monarchical, Victorian age - where fancy dress and poetry made headline news. But instead of a monarchy, this universe is run by corporations and militaries. I loved how both characters never really challenged this establishment, but both actively hated it. They don't start a Katniss-style revolution (and hey, their lives really aren't as bad), but they do stir the pot. I am hoping for a bit more "fight the system" spirit in the next book.

These Broken Stars is the first book in a trilogy, but the next books do not centre around these same characters. In a similar vein to Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, each book is set in the same universe but focusses on different characters. I think I kind of love this trend for series, as I think it gives the author a wee bit more focus. Always a good thing!

Bottom line? These Broken Stars is a unique novel in the YA section. Romantic, political and with a side of high-tech science fiction goodness. I can't recommend it enough.

Reviewed on Dead Book Darling

TALKER 25

TALKER 25 - Joshua McCune Dragon torture? I think not.

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey To hear some people put it, The 5th Wave should have been called the The 2nd Coming. The hype surrounding this novel was crazy. Absolutely crazy. So much so, that it was hard for me to separate the book from the hype even while I was reading the thing.

But now, having let it stew in my mind for a good long while, I can see why people were excited when it came out. It’s got the right mix of action, fantasy, dystopia and romance in it to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers. This is mostly down to the multiple narrators: we’ve got a mix of genders and ages (oh, and species) telling the story, and I can see how that makes the book more appealing to publishers and booksellers alike.

“Lovely, Kay. Nice insight into marketing. But was it a good read?,” you ask.

Not really.

Sorry people, but the truth is I had to force myself to finish The 5th Wave. While I could appreciate what Rick Yancey was shooting for, I found the jump between narrators extremely frustrating. Just as I was starting to become emotionally invested in a character, we would switch over to someone new. Then, by the time we’d get back to the original subject, I had lost the emotional tie I had previously had.

You play two great symphonies at once, and they’ll just become noise. The 5th Wave was a very noisy book.

So despite the body-snatching aliens, the child soldiers, the Walking Dead style of survival, my main takeaway from The 5th Wave was a lesson in how not to structure a novel. Intellectually, I am interested in knowing how the series ends, but if everyone dies in the end, I wouldn’t really mind. Never a good sign.

Bottom line? The 5th Wave lacked any and all emotional pull, and I can’t say I’m rushing to recommend it. But if you adore multiple narrator books, perhaps you’ll love this book.

Reviewed at Dead Book Darling

Outpost

Outpost - Ann Aguirre I loved Outpost. It was rough, tough, gritty and glorious.

Ann Aguirre is one of those authors whose works I end up hoarding. I want to keep her books for “rainy days” because her work is flawless. But sometimes this hoarding can lead to me disliking a book, because I’ll have waited too long and end up not remembering a thing. I adored Enclave when I read it in 2011, but that was a whopping 2.5 years ago. Perhaps I wouldn’t fall back in love with Deuce and Fade? Perhaps I should have read this book last year when my memory was still fresh? *frets*

Luckily, this was not the case! Despite taking a 2+ year break from the Razorland series, I fell straight back into sync after only 5 or so pages. Aguirre does a great job at reminding you of previous events – using some strategic-and-short flashbacks and some seamless references – without making it feel like she is Reminding You (TM).

Anyhow, on to the book.

Deuce has started to work her way up my list of all time favourite heroines. She is courageous, kind in her own way and possesses a level of pragmatism that I envy. She understands those who hate her, though she won’t let them get in her way. She doesn’t let a bit of emotional turmoil stop her, and she certainly won’t let some man “own” her. She is also developing from the soldier she was trained to be: thinking for herself, and not accepting things at face value. This girl is a leader.

Deuce is also confident in her romantic feelings, thank god almighty. Yes, there is a “romantic triangle” of a sort in Outpost, but it is not a psychological triangle. Deuce always knows what she wants, which made me accept and even enjoy the wee bit of romantic tension that played out in Outpost.

Moving away from Deuce’s awesomeness, Outpost was also a fantastically plotty novel. We learn a whole lot more about the origins of Aguirre’s post-apocalyptic world and we gain some amazingly creepy insight into the “Freaks”. Just… OMG. I really, really, really need to know more. It kills me that there is only one book left in this trilogy, because I want a prequel, a sequel and a tie-in novel.

There was also a wealth of wonderful secondary characters and sub-plots in Outpost. A lot is going on in the background and we get to see peaks of it all through Deuce’s eyes. Aguirre has built a fantastically complex world; you can tell there’s a backstory behind every little detail. Now that’s my kind of storyteller.

Bottom line? This is my first 5 star rating of the year, and I’d give it six stars if I could. Brilliant book in a brilliant series.

Reviewed at Dead Book Darling

Crash into You

Crash into You - Katie McGarry Despite my adoration of Dare You To, I was once again skeptical about Crash Into You. I hadn’t been much of a fan of Isaiah’s based off of his (what seemed to me) possessive, bordering-on-stalker behaviour in Dare You To. I just really couldn’t imagine liking any story he had to tell.

Of course, as seems to be the case with Katie McGarry’s books, I was to be proved wrong.

Crash Into You tipped this series from 4.5 star arena into the 5 star Hall of Fame. I don’t give out too many 5 stars (I gave out exactly zero last year), as a book not only needs to be brilliant while I am reading it, it also needs to be a book I think about once I’ve put it down. Looking back on my other 5 star books, that’s what really sets them apart: emotion. Crash Into You had me dreaming about its characters; it had me savoring every word for fear the book might end; it had me wanting to shout and swear through the pages. It isn’t just intellectually good; it’s emotionally satisfying as well.

On to the specifics: as it turns out, Isaiah isn’t the controlling jerkface I thought he was. OK, so maybe he’s a wee bit controlling… but only in that “I am trying not to get you killed” sort of way. Fortunately, Rachel was there to tell him when enough was enough. While she’s not the in-your-face badass that Beth was, she has a quiet strength to her and she hates having people push her around. In short: she’s exactly what that boy needs.

But while she is strong in a way, Rachel is suffocating. Under the thumb of a stifling family and victim of a crippling panic disorder, she can’t be herself. Isaiah provides support that allows Rachel to flourish – in a healthy, not-co-dependent, “this is exactly what a relationship is supposed to be” sort of way.

Crash into You also featured some fantastic background characters. Namely: drug-dealer/best-BFF-ever Abby, Rachel’s twin brother Ethan, and I-have-a-need-for-speed Logan. I’d read any of their books in a heartbeat (hence my disappointment upon finding out that the next in the series will be about Rachel’s asshole brother West… though I am sure I’ll learn to love him by the end).

I also have to raise my hat to this book’s plot. While novels that require the characters to deal with “inner demons” are great reads (Dare You To was one of them), I love it when there’s a real Big Bad in play. Perhaps that’s my genre fiction side showing, but I think it makes for a better novel. Crash Into You’s Big Bad was deliciously menacing; his threats added a lovely extra dimension of tension to the book.

In my Dare You To review, I went on for quite a while about it being an “issue” book. Let me just confirm: Crash Into You is just as much of an “issue” book as its predecessor. It addresses child abandonment, panic disorders, the effect of sibling death on a family, the psychosis of rich people, etc. etc. Just as in Dare You To, this book is a flawless combination of romance and issues. Only this time, the characterization is even stronger.

Bottom line? I am in love with this series. Completely and utterly in love. This book just goes to show that reading outside of your comfort zone can be a very, very good thing.

http://deadbookdarling.com/2013/11/review-crash-into-you-by-katie-mcgarry.html

Rush

Rush - Eve Silver Rush is a tough book to review. It had potential and I certainly want to read the next book in the series – unlike, say, Breathe by Sarah Crossan or Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which were mediocre reads I will never revisit. However, Rush also had some serious problems.

Let’s start off with the good.  For starters, it was the first Sci-Fi YA novel I have EVER finished. I just don’t think YA Sci-Fi has been all that good… and, at its very worst, Rush was readable science fiction.

Its premise reminded me of the Animorphs books: teenagers fighting off aliens in a secret war to save the planet. The modern twist to Rush was the incorporation of a gaming universe – one that existed but certainly wasn’t prevalent when the Animorphs books came out. I did rather like this concept. It dehumanised their fight, making it entertainment of a sort.

So, I liked the concept. The execution, on the other hand, was far from perfect.

For an action novel, Rush featured an awful lot of chatter. The main character, Miki, was constantly asking questions... which I applaud as a human being but loathe as a reader. It was such an obvious narrative tool and it felt extremely forced. As part of this, Silver made the other characters (no, actually, only Love Interest #1, Jackson) give purposefully cagey responses. There was no reason for Jackson to avoid Miki's questions (he sure as hell didn’t towards the end of the book) other than to keep the “suspense” up. I wanted to scream through the pages, “Don’t ask him now! He won’t answer your simple question until the penultimate chapter!”

Rush’s “romantic” element was also rather tiresome. For starters, a romantic triangle is established right from the first chapter. Although Love Interest #2 doesn’t get much screen time in this instalment, I have no doubt that he’ll be in play in the next book. The pairing we do get page after page of details on was… rather blah. There was no chemistry, just a case of insta-love. God, kill me now. If I have to read about one more girl falling for a mysterious guy in sunglasses, I may just gauge my eyes out.

*sighs*

If you can’t tell: Rush was a frustrating read. It was as if Eve Silver felt “forced” to include a central romantic pairing, when she might have usually let them play out their relationship over a few books. She also could have easily cut Rush in half if she’d only let the key characters divulge more information earlier on. Very, very frustrating.

I am interested, however, in seeing how this universe evolves. As I mentioned, the concept is an interesting one that hits all of my Animorphs-nostalgia buttons and the writing is certainly readable. I will probably be picking up Push when it comes out next year.

Bottom line? Rush is the best YA Science Fiction I’ve read (though that isn’t saying all that much).

Note on the rating: While reading Rush, it felt like a 3.5 star-verging-on-4-star book. But the last few chapters dragged it down to 3 stars. Not bad, but not overwhelmingly great.

Reviewed at Dead Book Darling

Angelfall

Angelfall - Susan Ee Angelfall has a lot of the typical YA Paranormal story elements to it: it stars a strong female character who can kick ass, features an attractive-yet-deadly paranormal male lead and, of course, there's the apocalypse. Cliché? Perhaps. But all of these stereotypical YA elements are so well done in Angelfall, I could care less whether or not they are "cliché".

What makes Angelfall's characters so engaging was their complete unwillingness play out their stereotypes. For example, most authors would have written the angel Raffe as a romantic lead striving to avenge his attackers. Instead, he fights tooth-and-nail not to engage in a political war. He also knows full well the consequences of a romantic relationship with a human - and wants none of it. Meanwhile, Penryn, who can be a total badass when she has to be, is far more interested in saving her sister than she is in joining an anti-angel militia. She recognizes that fighting the good fight is a nobel cause but she has other priorities.

These aren't the last two people you are going to see uniting to save the world. They are going to come to the fight kicking and screaming because, dude, they have far more important shit to be doing. They have lives to live, dammit. Maybe later. It was amazing. 

I also have to give Susan Ee serious kudos for giving me shipper feelings for the first time in months. There was just enough romantic tension in this book to make me eager to see more. Then again, maybe I am just a sucker for angel/human relationships (yes, I have noticed my overwhelming emotional attachment to Supernatural (TV) and Mercy by Rebecca Lim).

I could go on about the world building (solid), the secondary characters (surprisingly well developed), the quality of the writing (simple-but-with-sass), etc. When I first bought this book back in 2011, well before it was ever picked up by a major publishing house, I read reviews praising this book as how YA should be done. "If so many people are looking past the self-publishing aspect," I thought, "this book must be amazing." And it was. Simple as that.

And now? Now you can pick it up in paperback. Which is so much better.

Bottom line? Thank GOD I didn't read this book back in 2011, because the 2 year wait would have killed me. Angelfall is completely worth the hype. Pick it up if you want to rock some old-school paranormal YA.

Review also seen on Dead Book Darling

The Rising

The Rising - Kelley Armstrong 3.5 stars - This book was technically great but... all I could think about was Chloe and Derek (and the rest of their team) and to only see them on the periphery? Meh!!
Full review to come.

With All My Soul

With All My Soul - Rachel Vincent GIVEAWAY: Want a UK copy of WAMS? Click here to enter my giveaway of the book (open worldwide).

Thoughts: And so ends the Soul Screamers series. A series that quite genuinely surprised the hell out of me, delivering character development and plot turns that were utterly realistic and yet so rarely seen in the YA genre. Thank you, Rachel Vincent, for giving me a series I didn’t even know I wanted until I had it.

Let me just confirm that With All My Soul wrapped up the Soul Screamers series rather perfectly. Kaylee has spent the past six books two steps behind her enemies, but when things go from terrible to so-much-worse, she knows just reacting to attacks is not going to work. But with hellion demons being pretty much impossible to beat, and with no power or leverage to think of, what’s a girl to do? Vincent set up the perfect storm, and with it delivered the perfect solution. Every bit of Kaylee’s growth as a character culminated into her choices in this book. Book 1 Kaylee, Book 4 Kaylee and even Book 6 Kaylee would not have preserved… I love it when an author actually knows where they want a character to go – and then takes them there flawlessly. So, kudos, Rachel.

So while I loved that the series was tied up with a bow, I didn’t get the same emotional response to With All My Soul that I did from the other Soul Screamer books. Perhaps it was just me, but it felt like a lot of the “Big. Emotional. Scenes.” were ones we’d seen time and time again. Kaylee feels guilty and angsts! Nash lashes out at people who love him with unnecessarily cruel remarks! Tod and Kaylee profess their (literally) undying love! Adults randomly disappear and cause more angst! Sabine is Sabine! FEELS are meant to be HAD!

But not for me. I mean, intellectually, I understood that all of this was “Very. Important.” but it felt like a rehash of the last book, at least in terms of character interaction. Sure, the plot itself was solid, but the only real emotional development came from Kaylee – and even that was more “Oh look, Kaylee is finally stopping to think before blaming herself”. Perhaps that sounds unnecessarily harsh, but even when I enjoyed Kaylee, I could still admit her self-hatred was damn annoying.

Bottom line? This was an excellent wrap-up of a brilliant series. That said, it didn’t pack the emotional punch that I so loved in the other Soul Screamers books.

http://deadbookdarling.com/2013/06/review-with-all-my-soul-by-rachel-vincent.html