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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Icons by Margaret Stohl

Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
Published: May 7, 2013
Pages: 428
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 2 Stars

Your heart beats only with their permission.
Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol's family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn't know it was fighting.
Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside -- safe from the shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can't avoid.
She's different. She survived. Why?
When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador's privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn't a coincidence. It's a conspiracy.
Within the Icon's reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions -- which they've always thought to be their greatest weaknesses -- may actually be their greatest strengths.

In short: Unfortunately, Icons by Margaret Stohl failed to impress me with its standard and slow paced plot, its botched scientific explanation, and its flat characters.
I struggled with Icons, which was frustrating because I could see the potential in the concept. Aliens (or "Lords") invade Earth and teens with special powers (the "Icon children") help protect humanity. It was a premise that I should have found interesting and gripping, but instead I found that I just couldn't get into the story. I can't decide if it was just me and the mood I was in when I read Icons or if my issues with it are legitimate concerns. I kind of think it's a bit of both.

I made the false assumption that we were going to see aliens in this alien invasion novel. But we never see them and we are given such limited information about the Lords that the alien invasion aspect of Icons might as well not have been included at all. As such, without the inclusion of any sci fi interest, Icons was a pretty standard dystopian. Not a bad one certainly, but I've read so many of them at this point that Icons fails to leave an impression in the face of much better dystopian fiction, unfortunately.

Like I said, the Icons' concept has a lot of potential on the surface. There are four Icon children and each of them is the embodiment of one emotion - Sorrow, Rage, Love, and Fear - and they are thought to be the key to destroying the Icons that control humanity, as having these heightened emotions somehow gives them special powers. Now, I like a unique concept as much as anyone, but my problem with this one is that I needed a valid explanation for how it works and I never got one. Margaret Stohl only attempts a vague and nonsensical scientific explanation that did the concept no favours. I would have preferred she had called it what it was - just plain magic - instead of attempting a half-hearted and botched scientific explanation.

With the plot of Icons falling to pieces, one would hope that the characterization would make up for it, but unfortunately, I had just as big a problem with that as I did with the plot and concept. I'm not sure if it was because the Icon children were each the embodiment of one emotion only, but this led to some very flat and static characters. Dol, Icons' protagonist, is likeable enough, but her character was pretty unmemorable and bland, which thus made it hard to relate to her. There is also a love triangle here and it is both unnecessary and lacking in chemistry on both sides.

Overall, Icons failed to impress me with its standard and slow paced plot that couldn't keep my interest, its botched scientific explanation for the concept behind the novel, the flat and static characters, and its unnecessary love triangle. I am quite sad about this because I do quite like Margaret Stohl as a person and author and I love her humour. I still maintain the she has great ideas and is a talented writer as I did enjoy the idea and writing for Icons. But I just couldn't get into it. I do think that some of my issues with Icons were quite personal though, so I feel like lots of people will - and have - like it considerably more than I did.

Other Reviews:
Cozy Up With A Good Read
Maji Bookshelf
Realm of Fiction

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Top Ten Favourite Book Covers of Books I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I have a pretty defined and specific set of preferences when it comes to my favourite kind of book covers. And so I made a list!

Book Cover Preferences:
1. Relatively simple. I prefer covers that don't have a whole bunch of different elements going on to draw the eye (with perhaps the exception of detailed illustrated Middle Grade covers). Less is more, I say!
2. Informative. I prefer covers that - even while simplistic - give a general idea or tone of what the book is all about. Covers only featuring a girl in a pretty dress are pretty, definitely, but don't tell me a whole lot about what to expect.
3. No Faces. I tend to dislike seeing faces of real life people (illustrated faces are fine) on my covers. I want to be able to make up my own picture of what a character is supposed to look like and not have it be influenced by any other source.
4. Illustrated. I love illustrated covers, especially in Middle Grade reads. Liesl & Po, the redesigned Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone cover, and Iron Hearted Violet are just a few examples of beautifully animated MG covers.
5. Fonts fonts fonts. I LOVE unique and interesting typography. Why would you go the boring route and use a common, generic font when you could design a font that is specific to the book?
6. Reversibility. Reversible covers are just cool (Example: Across the Universe).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: The Originals by Cat Patrick

Publisher: Hachette
Published: May 7, 2013
Pages: 304
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 3 Stars

17-year-olds Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best grew up as identical triplets... until they discovered a shocking family secret. They're actually closer than sisters, they're clones. Hiding from a government agency that would expose them, the Best family appears to consist of a single mother with one daughter named Elizabeth. Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey take turns going to school, attending social engagements, and a group mindset has always been a de facto part of life...
Then Lizzie meets Sean Kelly, a guy who seems to see into her very soul. As their relationship develops, Lizzie realizes that she's not a carbon copy of her sisters; she's an individual with unique dreams and desires, and digging deeper into her background, Lizzie begins to dismantle the delicate balance of an unusual family that only science could have created.

In short: The Originals by Cat Patrick failed to live up to its potential for me, but at the very least was a nice filler book between heavier reads.
The Originals was not the book I had been expecting to read. Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey are the result of an illegal cloning experiment and thus must pretend to be one person, each girl taking their turn to live a third of the life of Elizabeth Best. If their secret ever got out, their family would be in danger. So you might expect a thriller with lots if secrets and intrigue, right? Well, not so much. Instead we get a contemporary story with lots of high school drama. And that? Is not the book for me.

So putting aside the fact that The Originals wasn't the high-stakes story I was looking for, it was at least an easy read. It was a nice filler story between heavier reads. I'm not usually a fan of these high school drama books because I find them cliched and childish, but at least I was kept somewhat entertained by the teen drama in The Originals. Near the end of the book, the plot line involving the danger of being clones finally comes into play, though it wasn't nearly as thrilling and high impact as I was hoping. The book's climax is only a minor hill before trailing off somewhat unimpressively.

As for the characterization, I was worried that I was going to have a hard time telling the three girls apart, especially because their names - Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey - are all variations of the name Elizabeth. Thankfully, I had no trouble distinguishing them and they all had fairly distinct personalities, if pretty one-dimensional ones. There was a pretty sweet romance here between the novel's protagonist, Lizzie, and a certain Clark Kent lookalike and that was nice.

Overall, The Originals wasn't a bad story, but it wasn't really for me. This was my first Cat Patrick read. I had been wanting to try out one of her books because they all seem to have pretty original premises and that is no exception for The Originals, but I can't help but feel like it failed to reach its potential. Still, I don't regret reading it as it was at the very least a nice filler book between heavier reads.

Other Review:
Maji Bookshelf

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Waiting On Wednesday: Random House Summer 2013 Catalog

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine in which upcoming, eagerly anticipated releases are highlighted on the blog.

This week, I've chosen to feature a few picks from the Random House Summer 2013 Catalog:

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
Date: July 23, 2013
Add to Goodreads

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

Beauty and the Beast is my absolute favourite fairy tale, as well as favourite Disney movie. I've only read one Beauty and the Beast retelling before (Beastly by Alex Flinn) and I was not the biggest fan, but I am hopeful this retelling will do better because I've heard good things about Stacey Jay's other books!

The Dark Between by Sonia Gensler
Date: August 27, 2013
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A supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.
Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

Eeeek, that cover gives me the creepiest of creeps! I like a good scare even though I am quite wimpy, so I am hoping The Dark Between brings on the fear and horror!

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
Date: September 10, 2013
Add to Goodreads

They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn't even know why she killed—or whether she'll do it again.
Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander's, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who's not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves.

I recall hearing very good things about Robin Wasserman's The Book of Blood and Shadow last year, and so I understand her to be a very talented writer. I am also incredibly intrigued by the premise for The Waking Dark, so I'm thinking I'll really like this one!

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Date: September 10, 2013
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A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

As a Patrick Ness fangirl for life, I feel like I am guaranteed to love everything he writes and will always be impressed by his fantastic writing skills. More Than This sounds original and enigmatic and I can't wait to read it!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Random House Summer 2013 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Random House Summer 2013 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: The End Games by T. Michael Martin

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: May 7, 2013
Pages: 369
Source: For Review from HarperCollins Canada
Rating: 4 Stars

It happened on Halloween.
The world ended.
And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.
Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.
In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.
But The Game is changing.
The Bellows are evolving.
The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.
And the brothers will never be the same.

In short: The End Games by T. Michael Martin was an exciting post-apocalyptic zombie novel with a wonderful sibling relationship at its heart.
The End Games was one of my most anticipated reads of 2013. Everything about it screamed that it was a "me" book - the male protagonist, the focus on a non-romantic relationship, the fighting of zombies. And as I expected, The End Games was a book that I ended up enjoying a lot. 17-year-old Michael and 5-year-old Patrick are brothers and video gamers who are fighting their way through zombie hordes to get to the safe zone and The End of the Game. The End Games was a surprisingly insightful post-apocalyptic zombie book with plenty of scary, gory, and heart-pounding action scenes. More importantly though, it had a wonderful display of sibling love that was quite lovely.

I can't say that this post-apocalyptic zombie book is particularly groundbreaking in its genre, but The End Games did provide me with enough originality to keep my interest. The zombies in The End Games repeat back to you anything you say to them, earning them the nickname "Bellows". I quite liked this as it added a creep factor, but was also humourous at times. Something that wasn't at all funny about these zombies, however, was their ability to adapt and become savvier over time. Over the course of The End Games, the zombies become progressively harder to defeat and this added a lot of thrilling tension.

The best part of The End Games for me was definitely the display of sibling love between Michael and Patrick. There is some romance in The End Games, as well, but the main focus is on the familial relationship and I can't begin to describe how nice and refreshing this was, as it is something of a rarity in YA these days. Michael's nurturing and protectiveness of Patrick was so wonderful to see. I loved their bond and I loved the insight I gained from their relationship.

The stylized writing is the one thing I have mixed feelings about. Sometimes the writing was striking; there were several unique turns of phrase that added some interest to debut author's T. Michael Martin's prose. I really liked how the style of writing gave a "voice" to Michael's character. Other times, I found the prose to be too harsh and jarring. It didn't always flow very nicely and thus was sometimes distracting and confusing. It could very well just be me and my personal preference though; others may not be so bothered by the writing.

Overall, The End Games was an exciting post-apocalyptic zombie book with an impressively emotional sibling bond at its core. Though the writing may not have always clicked with me, it is evident that T. Michael Martin is an authentic new talent and one to watch. The End Games is a standalone (win!). I would recommend The End Games to zombie-lovers in need of some emotional depth in addition to the gore.

Other Reviews:
A Blog About Nothing
Good Books and Good Wine
Stories & Sweeties

Author Links:
HarperCollins Webpage

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave #1) by Rick Yancey

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Published: May 7, 2013
Pages: 480
Source: For Review from Penguin
Rating: 5 Stars

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

In short: Combining an intriguing plot, intelligent prose, and vivid characters, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is an absolutely gripping story and one that is not to be missed.
"If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."
- Stephen Hawking

So begins the most gritty and realistic post-apocalyptic alien invasion story I have ever read. There have been four waves of terror and mass murder by the billions leading up to the titular event, The 5th Wave. This is not a story for the lighthearted. The 5th Wave presents a realistically bleak - and thus TERRIFYING - post-apocalyptic future ruled by aliens, paranoia, and desperation. The terror is palpable and the story is somehow all the more gripping for it.

I thought I knew exactly what to expect going into The 5th Wave; I have read my fair share of post-apocalyptic novels and I know how they always play out. Very rarely am I surprised by the direction the story goes. But as it turns out, I was completely wrong about The 5th Wave. Rick Yancey somehow manages to take an old tried and true plot and turn it into something that somehow felt more original and much more intriguing. It's no wonder to me that the movie rights for The 5th Wave have already been picked upThe 5th Wave is utterly compelling.

I was already a huge fan of Rick Yancey's writing from his historical horror series, The Monstrumologist, and that, combined with the mountain of hype surrounding this book, meant I knew I was going to be getting something special with The 5th Wave. And of course he delivered. BIG TIME. Rick Yancey is such an amazing storyteller - whether it's a heart-pounding, life-or-death action scene or an intensely poignant emotional scene, he handles it all skillfully and thoughtfully.

Told through multiple interwoven perspectives, Rick Yancey proves that not only can he create a fast-paced and compelling plot, but that he can craft vivid and intriguing characters, as well. The 5th Wave's protagonist is Cassie, who is a spitfire of determination and bleak humour with a M-16 for a best friend. I loved her entirely. Rick Yancey captured her voice perfectly in his prose, bringing to life a memorable teen survivor to rival the likes of Katniss Everdeen. The other perspectives - Zombie, the Silencer, and Nugget - all bring an interesting view of a well defined character, as well.

The 5th Wave is the best sci fi novel I've ever read and is one of the best post-apocalyptic reads I've read (alongside The Road). Combining an intriguing plot, intelligent prose, and vivid characters, The 5th Wave is an absolutely gripping story and one that is not to be missed. For folks who are wary of sci fi: this is your chance to try one that is guaranteed to enthral you and leave you wanting for more!

Other Reviews:
Alice Marvels
More Than Just Magic
The Page Turner

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: The Eternity Cure (Blood of Eden #2) by Julie Kagawa

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Published: April 23, 2013
Pages: 446
Source: For Review from Harlequin/NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Allison Sekemoto has vowed to rescue her creator, Kanin, who is being held hostage and tortured by the psychotic vampire Sarren. The call of blood leads her back to the beginning—New Covington and the Fringe, and a vampire prince who wants her dead yet may become her wary ally.

Even as Allie faces shocking revelations and heartbreak like she’s never known, a new strain of the Red Lung virus that decimated humanity is rising to threaten human and vampire alike.

In short: Though The Eternity Cure wasn't as strong as its predecessor, it was still a welcome return to Julie Kagawa's brutal and elaborate dystopian world.
The Immortal Rules proved to be an exciting and elaborate paranormal dystopian when I read it last year and so I was eager to return to the grim world of Allison Sekemoto in the sequel, The Eternity Cure. Though I can't say I liked The Eternity Cure as much as its predecessor, I did appreciate getting the chance to return to the characters, the darkly atmospheric setting, and the involved action scenes that I remembered from The Immortal Rules.

Admittedly, the first 100 pages or so of The Eternity Cure were rough. The plot is meandering and tedious and I found I had a hard time re-engaging with the characters and the storyline. The one thing that I did like about the beginning, however, was Julie Kagawa's recapping skills. She does a fantastic job of rehashing the forgotten events of The Immortal Rules in a subtle and proficient manner. And after this beginning lull, the action does start to pick up thankfully and reading became less of a chore from that point on. Julie Kagawa raises the bar for gore and violence in The Eternity Cure and the resulting blood bath was an entertaining and welcome change (as morbid as that sounds...).

I do still like Allison for the most part, though her constant internal wrestling with her conflicting feelings about her humanity does get a bit irksome. I get it, it's hard being a vampire and struggling to maintain your humanity. I don't need to hear it again and again. I was hoping that we might finally get to see some development in Allison's character and finally, at the very end of the book, we do and it's absolutely welcome. By far the most interesting character though is the cocky and silver-tongued Jackal, who I admit I don't even remember from The Immortal Rules, but he definitely leaves an impression in The Eternity Cure.

Overall, though The Eternity Cure wasn't as gripping as its predecessor, it was still a strong sequel and a welcome return to Julie Kagawa's involved and brutal dystopian world. The ending was especially high-impact and exciting and I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the Blood of Eden series now.

Previously, my review of The Immortal Rules.

Other Reviews:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Ink Skies
Sweet Tidbits

Authors Links: