Thursday, April 11, 2013

New Dystopians

 Okay, maybe it would be more accurate to call these sci-fi, paranormal, dystopians. But that just seemed a bit much for a blog post title, don't you think? These are all new releases I've recently read. One good, one bad, one just plain baffling. :D

From Goodreads:
In this gripping exploration of a futuristic afterlife, a teen discovers that death is just the beginning.

Since her untimely death the day before her eighteenth birthday, Felicia Ward has been trapped in Level 2, a stark white afterlife located between our world and the next. Along with her fellow drones, Felicia passes the endless hours reliving memories of her time on Earth and mourning what she’s lost—family, friends, and Neil, the boy she loved.

Then a girl in a neighboring chamber is found dead, and nobody but Felicia recalls that she existed in the first place. When Julian—a dangerously charming guy Felicia knew in life—comes to offer Felicia a way out, Felicia learns the truth: If she joins the rebellion to overthrow the Morati, the angel guardians of Level 2, she can be with Neil again.

Suspended between Heaven and Earth, Felicia finds herself at the center of an age-old struggle between good and evil. As memories from her life come back to haunt her, and as the Morati hunt her down, Felicia will discover it’s not just her own redemption at stake… but the salvation of all mankind.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Level 2 would be the baffling book of the batch. I wanted to like it and I thought it had a rocking premise - so much potential. But it was just weird. And unsatisfying.

I love the idea of there being this waiting area after death. It was creepy and interesting to read about Felicia and her fellow drones and the way they shared and rated their earth life memories. It was so claustrophobic to read about their existence (I almost used the word life, but that's not quite accurate is it? :D) and freaky to think that they might be stuck there forever.

Enter side plot about it all being a huge conspiracy with evil angels called the Morati trying to keep the drones where they are because the Morati were feeding off their energy, trying to break portals open into heaven since they aren't allowed into heaven. That was the story I wanted more of and I wanted to read about Felicia and Julian working together to fight them.

Instead, most of this book is Felicia reliving her earth memories and trying to make sense of her earth life. There are lots of things about Felicia's past being held back for the reader throughout the novel, trying to create suspense. Instead, I found myself kind of annoyed. Is this a contemporary novel, where Felicia comes to terms with the awful events of her life, thus allowing her to move on to the next level? Or is this that cool story with evil angels and Felicia hacking in the afterlife and freeing her fellow drones? It's neither. Not enough time is spent on the stories to make either of them feel complete.

The big fight and resolution at the end are so rushed, so info-dumped, that after it was over I wasn't sure I had any idea what had just happened. Or why, especially. So confusing.

Definite kudos for a creative premise, but the execution did not work for me. So, unless I see some super good reviews for book 2, I don't know if I'll be reading it next year.

Content: Some swearing, some sexual-ish content: Felicia does take all her clothes off in front of her boyfriend hoping for some (he refuses because he's super religious and has signed a church thing saying he'll be a virgin until marriage).

From Goodreads:
Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future.

Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

In a stunning departure from her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy, Kiersten White delivers a slick, edgy, heartstoppingly intense psychological thriller about two sisters determined to protect each other—no matter the cost.

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Mind Games was so good. My favorite Kiersten White so far. Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed her Paranormalcy series, I just found Evie annoying occasionally. Mind Games has no fluff. It is a psychological thriller (like the summary says), both intense and fascinating.

Not gonna lie, it was a little dark at times. Fia's mind is messed up and she has been manipulated into doing things (like assissinating people) because of the society that is keeping her sister hostage, essentially. Fia can be depressed and tortured and she's a great unreliable narrator. You never know what she's going to do and she keeps her thoughts secret and acts purely on impulse (both habits she needs in a world where people can read her mind and see her future if she decides her course too much ahead of time). Lucky for her, her impulses are always right. She has perfect instincts, which I thought was a very cool power. She's a great fighter and a super spy.

Annie is also a wonderful characters. Blind, but with the ability to see the future, she makes a great pair with Fia. These two girls have not had it easy, but they do their best to work together and try and protect each other. Overall, I thought the whole story was well done. I loved the spy elements and how they work together to fight the system they're stuck in. I don't want to give too many more details, because I don't want to spoil anything, but this book is a wild ride of instability and surprise. The ending is heartbreaking but fitting. I wanted something different for Annie and especially Fia, but things are in place for a killer sequel. I can't wait to see where it goes.

Content: Yeah, plenty violent at times. Not gory, though. It's mostly situational intensity that makes it so scary. Little swearing and the occasional sexual innuendo, but nothing much.

 From Goodreads:
You or your Alt? Only one will survive.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

I knew going into this that it wouldn't be my favorite, but I was in the mood for fast-paced and intense one day so I pulled it out of my library pile. So horribly dark and violent. Yikes!

I had a really hard time connecting with West (and every other character in this book). She's so withdrawn, so obsessed with being a fighter and keeping everyone out of her life that there was no way I was going to feel connected to her. This book would really have benefitted from some comic relief, some show of humanity from West. I just didn't get her. She was a killing maching. I don't know why she decides to become an assassin, why she was motivated to anything she did in this book.

I didn't understand anything about this world, actually. It's never explained in a really convincing way why this society feels the need to create doubles of each person and force them to kill each other off as children/teens. Some mumbo jumbo about there being a huge war outside their compound and to keep themselves safe every person needs to be capable of fighting and killing. Not good enough for me. I thought it would have been better if alternates had been explored more, been given better personalities. Because it's not like they're robots. They're actually people with families and hobbies and lives. They just happen to have an identical twin. West is an alt herself. Plus, there's no way this kind of constant murder wouldn't have major psychological effects on their society. Instead, people go on to live happy lives after the murder in their youth. Not believable.

What I was hoping for was for West to fight the system. To not believe in it. Maybe to get to know her alt and see her as a person. Instead, she does exactly what the system asks her to, without question. She's bothered, of course, but there are no hints that she's interested in changing anything about the status quo.

Oh yeah. Technically there's a bit of romance too. I guess. Not sure I would call it that. Remember how West refuses to get close to anyone? It's a pathetic attempt at a love story.

So, overall, pretty bad. Read it if you can suspend your belief and want a fast-paced action story (and really, the whole cat and mouse game between West and her alt is intense and well-written suspense). But I won't be reading the sequel.

Content: Loads of killing. Bloody and stomach-turning at times. Swearing, no sexual content.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The 3 Best Books of 2013 (so far)

I have recently read three seriously amazing books. I don't know what my end of the year lists will look like yet, but I can guarantee these three books will be on them (and likely somewhere at the top because I'm going to have to find some mind-blowing things to beat them). I bought Scarlet before reading it and got the other two at the library (though I immediately went and ordered them from Amazon after finishing both - they are that good). I highly recommend you pick up one or all three ASAP!!!

From Goodreads:
The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Don't read any further if you haven't read Cinder yet (and if you haven't I recommend it's the next book you read :D)!

Scarlet was so incredibly satisfying. All sequels should be this amazing! It is as good if not even better than Cinder. I loved the way the story continued and all the new characters that were introduced. And the incredibly brilliant way Marissa Meyer brings in fairy tale touches is my favorite, favorite part. This series really is the best of sci-fi, the best of dystopian, and the best of fairy retelling books. So, Scarlet is Red Riding Hood, but with moxy. She is so freaking awesome. The whole story and how it unfolded had me on edge, because as Scarlet gets to know Wolf (and holy cow, Wolf!) the whole time I'm thinking, "Ummm... we like him, but hello!!! His name is Wolf!!!! Don't trust him!" Let's just say the way it all turns out is (like I said before) incredibly satisfying. Staying true to the fairy tale, but still taking a completely original and clever spin on it.

And don't forget about Cinder. She plays a big part, along with the hilarious Captain (or should I say Cadet?) Thorne. Oh this book needed him. Scarlet's story is intense and when it switches over to Cinder and Thorne's POV (and Iko! So fabulous the way she returns!!!) Thorne provides some much needed comic relief. He's such a swaggering Han Solo wannabe and he cracked me up. Cinder finds much-needed answers and proof of her past and decides to embrace her real identity. It is so empowering. Don't forget Kai (love!) and Queen Levana either. Poor Kai is left confused and conflicted about missing Cinder and has a huge burden left on him - that would be Queen Levana and her wrath. And she further proves she is the most psycho evil queen of all time. All the stakes are being raised here for all characters and I am dying to see where this goes next.

Which is to the moon, by the way. And a Rapunzel character (who we know from her brief book 1 cameo as the instantly lovable trapped hacker - oh my gosh I can't wait for her story).

Content: Nothing in the way of language or sensuality (ok, maybe a little snogging between Scarlet and Wolf, but trust me - it's not a bad thing!). The final battle scene did get a bit bloody for my tastes but it also in my opinion makes the danger more real and got me even more invested in seeing Cinder and her friends succeed in the end.

 From Goodreads:
Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier . . .

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Pivot Point is the first debut novel this year to completely live up to and exceed my expectations. I fell in love with it almost immediately and I am so looking forward to continuing this series. If you try one new book this year, let Pivot Point be it.

It seems like X-Men type superpowers have been done a million times and a million ways, but Pivot Point does the impossible and makes them totally fresh and new, with powers and abilities I've never seen done before. Addie's ability to search choices is so awesome (made me wish I could have had that one as a teenager). So, if you've read the summary you know the gist. Addie is given the impossible choice of deciding which of her parents to live with. One lets her stay in the paranormal compound she's lived in her whole life, and the other takes her to the outside world. The book is essentially her search, alternating chapters between what will happen in each scenario. It was so fascinating, especially as the suspense begins to build and it becomes clear that Addie has an impossible choice. Each scenario is filled with the same very real danger and Addie is able to do things about it in each scenario, but neither is enough to solve the mystery and the crime and to stop the murderer (and his accomplice/s who may or may not be people Addie is close to...) The romance is also worth a mention and so lovely. Addie develops a love interest in each scenario but this is no love triangle. As the book progresses I definitely found myself leaning one way and then wayyyy that way and then some big reveals come out and POW! Just woah. Can't say anymore. Someone read it so we can talk because that was awesome but heartbreaking.

I liked that the same basic events happened on each side; the parallel was so cool to follow. And huge kudos to Kasie West for an excellent job well done making me love and get invested in all side characters. From Addie's best friend Laila to Duke and Trevor (the love interests - both so incredible and layered) to Addie's FBI agent dad. Even the villains are well-drawn and multi-faceted.

And ack!!! Wait till you see how it ends and what Addie has to decide!!!

Highly recommended.

Content: Absolutely, beautifully clean. I found nothing objectionable. No swearing and no violence (even though the danger and evil are very real). I was especially pleased that the teenagers didn't spend their free time partying and drinking. There's a point in the story when a football game has just ended and Addie's with a group of friends celebrating and I thought for sure that the alcohol would come out, but instead they split into groups and played a game where they raced around to each other's houses, competing to see who could find the best dessert. It made me laugh because it's so something I would have done with my friends as a teen. I wasn't surprised to find out that Kasie West is originally from Utah and most likely Mormon, because we Mormons have to get crazy and creative like that as teens, since we don't drink and party. :D Maybe all that creativity is what makes so many Mormons great writers? Who knows, but I seriously appreciate seeing teens spending time not killing their brain cells.
From Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Oh my goodness. Poison is so charming, so funny, so perfectly everything I love in this type of book that I want to cry because there will never be a sequel. If you're a blogger, you've probably heard, but if not, the author Bridget Zinn passed away in 2011 from cancer and this book is being published posthumously. But don't think for a moment that I'm giving this book a glowing review out of charity, because it fully deserves every one of those five stars.

Kyra... well Kyra is fabulous. Hilarious. And talented. Don't mess with her because if you annoy her she'll knock you out with any of the numerous poisonous weapons she has hiding on her person at all times. Her potion and magical abilities are delightful and despite her penchant for poison-tipped weapons she is a good person and would never hurt a thing (I was kidding about her knocking you out for annoying her - she wouldn't... but she would definitely think about it!) unless it was absolutely necessary.

That right there is what drives this book. Why? Why would Kyra try to kill her best friend the princess? What did the princess do to deserve it? I liked Kyra so much I trusted her to have a good reason even though the answers don't come until near the end of the book. And when the answers come they are perfect. So mind-blowing. So good.

Kyra's adventure covers witches, trolls, evil magicians, vengeful thief lords, a seriously adorable pig (I'm not one to easily fall for cute animal sidekicks, but trust me - it's never been done this way before... I want that pig), poison, magical potions with lots of fun effects, mistaken identities, disguises, and I could go on. I loved every moment. And don't forget the romance with Fred. So perfect. So charming. I don't think I've ever liked the name Fred so much before. :D

Some things were predictable, but there were plenty of surprises in store (some huge ones even!). I loved it all. I can't wait to read it again and again.

Content: Nada. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Favorite Bookish Pins

My Bookish Things page on Pinterest is one of my favorite things and I love finding funny book-related pins. If you're on pinterest, you should definitely come check out my board because I have tons of pins on it! Here are some favorites.

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Anyway, there's lots more on my page, like things to make out of books and bookish jewelry and lots of cool home library inspiration pictures, like these:
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Are you on pinterest? I'm obsessed.

Monday, April 1, 2013

For Review from Netgalley: That Time I Joined the Circus, The Look, Entangled, Spellbinding

 Here's a recent batch from Netgalley that I thought looked interesting! Thank you Netgalley, Scholastic Inc, and Nikki Jefford for providing these copies for review. All books are now available.

From Goodreads:
Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

I really liked this one, but don't believe any comparisons to The Night Circus, which is pure fantasy with lots of romance and magic. That Time I Joined the Circus is classic coming-of-age contemporary - and a lot of fun.

But it doesn't start out that way. There's a huge tragedy at the beginning and it was so sad to see Lexi stuck with literally nowhere to go and no money. That part did bother me just a little because it didn't quite seem believable that her life could change so completely and so fast. Maybe if she'd actually communicated with certain people, but that would have ruined the book, of course, and we can't have that.

Lexi finds a home at the circus and friends and complicated romance even. And it's typical contemporary in that the romance isn't absolute and eternal like it would be in a fantasy. It felt much more real with ups and downs and both parties not really knowing how they felt all the time. Lexi was a very believable teenager.

The story wraps up quickly at the end with a little too conveniently perfect, tidy solution to Lexi's problems, but it was a sweet ride and I enjoyed it.

Content: Some kissing, off-page sex, and innuendo. Some swearing - no violence.

 From Goodreads:
Ted doesn't think of herself as glamorous. But her gorgeous sister Ava is. So when it's Ted who spotted by a model agency, at the same time that Ava is diagnosed with cancer, things have clearly gone very wrong. Ted isn't interested in modelling but Ava wants her to give it a try. Just how far will Ted go to please her sister? And what sacrifices will she have to make?

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

I liked this more than I thought I would. I was worried that I'd have to read about a lot of superficial, beauty-obsessed characters, but that is, refreshingly, not at all what this was about. Ted saves it. She's a brilliant character, all interesting and non-conformingly beautiful and fierce. It was fascinating to see some of the behind the scenes work in the fashion industry, which I will admit to being pretty interested in (not that you could tell it from how I dress!). I love the art aspect and how things travel from high fashion on the runway to what I can buy for cheap at Old Navy and Target. :D Ted gives us a real insight into how it is to deal with photographers and other models and super crazy fashion elites. While it's fun for a while, she is confronted with things she'd rather not do and I loved seeing how she dealt with these situations.

Ted's sister's cancer kept this story (and Ted herself) grounded in reality. Ted is there with her sister through every step of cancer treatment and I love that she shaves her head with her, not knowing (or caring) what her modeling agency will think.

Other than that, there's a sweet little romantic side plot, and Ted discovers lots of things about herself and her family. I'd say this is a great book for teens.

Content: A little sexual innuendo in conversations, very little swearing, and no violence.


From Goodreads:
Two months after dying, seventeen-year-old witch Graylee Perez wakes up in her twin sister Charlene’s body.

Until Gray finds a way back inside her own body, she’s stuck being Charlene every twenty-hour hours. Her sister has left precise instructions on how Gray should dress and behave. Looking like a prep isn’t half as bad as hanging out with Charlene’s snotty friends and gropey boyfriend.

The “normals” of McKinley High might be quick to write her behavior off as post-traumatic stress, but warlock Raj McKenna is the only person who suspects Gray has returned from the dead.

Now Gray has to solve the mystery of her death and resurrection and disentangle herself from Charlene’s body before she disappears for good.

 My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

I found the whole premise of this book clever and entertaining. I'm always looking for a good teenage witch story (blame it on my obsession as a teenager with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (anybody else watch that show?). I liked Graylee as a character, she's powerful but doesn't abuse her power. It was interesting to see her dynamics with her twin sister, especially after they start sharing a body (by the way, there are some serious laughs that come from this situation).

The story is mysterious and it takes a while to figure out who is causing all the problems, which was irritating cause I called it in the first ten pages. On top of that, I couldn't bring myself to like Raj - the teenage warlock love interest - because he's a total jerk. Obviously, he's just in lust with Graylee, however much he wants to claim his undying love. I didn't buy into it.

I did not like the resolution. I felt like there was a very evil character who got no comeuppance whatsoever. That and there's some body swapping that I just thought felt wrong. Overall, this fell short for me, but it was entertaining enough.

Content: Plenty of sexual innuendo, off-page sex, and loads of swearing. No violence.

From Goodreads:
There's more than one way to be powerful . . .

It is during a routine school project that Abby Silva--sixteen and nearly friendless--makes a startling discovery: She is descended from women who were accused of witchcraft back in 1600s Salem. And when Abby visits nearby Salem, strange, inexplicable events start to unfold. Objects move when she wills them to. Candles burst into sudden flame. And an ancient spellbook somehow winds up in her possession.

Trying to harness her newfound power, Abby concocts a love potion to win over her longtime crush--and exact revenge upon his cruel, bullying girlfriend. But old magic is not to be trifled with. Soon, Abby is thrust headlong into a world of hexes, secrets, and danger. And then there's Rem Anders, the beautiful, mysterious Salem boy who seems to know more about Abby than he first lets on.

A reckoning is coming, and Abby will have to make sense of her history--and her heart--before she can face the powerful truth.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

I found this book interesting, creepy, and a little cliche. First off, I loved the connection to the Salem witch trials. It was well done. Also, I found Abby's reactions as she discovered her powers to be very convincing. And some of the scenes where she's working actual magic were a little unnerving. Definitely got a couple shivers and was glad I was reading during the day. :D

But the rest is so lame. Abby's first act as a witch? Make a love potion and give it to her crush! Great. I'm pretty sure I've seen that tried a million times and it never goes right. Plus, there's the secondary boy, Rem, and Abby's relationship with him was kind of lame and... well... secondary. The story gets more intense and danger sets in, but I never felt like Abby was really in much danger. The big final scene is, of course, at prom night and everything resolved in a sudden and surprising way. What I expected to happen did not happen and I was actually disappointed by it. I kind of wanted Abby to embrace her witch powers and become super witch, but she turns it all down to be a normal human. It was interesting, though.

It's a bit of a cliche teen witch story, but worth a read if you need a witch fix.

Content: Some swearing, no sexual content, some frightening scenes and actually a little bit violent at times, when Abby's crush's ex bullies her in a brutal way.