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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse #1) by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Published: October 2, 2012
Pages: 320
Source: For Review from Strange Chemistry
Rating: 5 Stars

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.
And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

In short: With an instantly compelling plot, loveable characters, and a completely engaging romance, The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke is one of the most engrossing books I've read this year.
Assassins seem to be the hot new trend in YA fiction lately, with the popularity of books like Grave Mercy and Throne of Glass, and it's no question why when such an addition brings instant danger and excitement to the reading. So what do you get when you have an assassin book, but then also add pirates and magical curses and an adventurous quest into the mix? Pure AWESOMENESS and one of the most addicting books I've read this year. The Assassin's Curse delivers on the entertainment with an incredibly compelling plot and some completely engaging characters.

The standout of The Assassin's Curse for me has got to be the romance between the pirate, Ananna, and the assassin, Naji. And I think that says A LOT because I am by no means a romance fan. In fact, I can't remember the last time I felt so passionately about how a romance played out in a book. But with Ananna and Naji's relationship, I was fully invested. I loved seeing stubborn and head-strong Ananna fall for Naji, adored her attempts to wheedle out the teensiest of smiles out of his stoic and vulnerable demeanour, swooned seeing how protective he was of her, and became ENRAGED seeing the flirty and manipulative Leila mislead and take advantage of Naji. I was OBSESSED with Ananna and Naji's relationship and I can't wait to see it fully take form in the sequel.

The Assassin's Curse opens with Ananna refusing to go along with an arranged marriage that would mean she would never get to be the captain of her own ship and making her getaway on a freaking CAMEL! It was instant love. I absolutely DEVOURED The Assassin's Curse, it was just THAT engrossing. The characters were perfect and the romance was full of tension-ridden goodness. I HIGHLY recommend The Assassin's Curse, releasing October 2, 2012, as it was one of my favourite reads so far this year. The sequel, The Pirate's Wish, is officially one of my most anticipated reads for 2013!

Other Reviews:
Paranormal Indulgence
Planet Print

Authors Links:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: September 25, 2012
Pages: 400
Source: For Review from HarperCollins/Edelweiss
Rating: 4 Stars

Given the chance, fifteen-year-old Peregrine “Perry” Eckert would dedicate every waking moment to Creatures & Caverns, an epic role-playing game rich with magical creatures, spell casting, and deadly weapons. The world of C&C is where he feels most comfortable in his own skin, so when his parents ship him off to summer camp Perry is sure he’s in for the worst summer of his life.
Everything changes, however, when Perry gets to camp and stumbles into the World of the Other Normals. Perry’s new otherworldly friends need his help to save their princess and prevent mass violence. As they embark on their quest together, Perry realizes that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior in this world, and maybe even a hero.

In short: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini is the most hilarious book I've read this year.
Hands up if you've ever wished you could visit a fantasy world that you've always dreamed about seeing in real life. I know I would offer up my first born to be able to go to Hogwarts (kidding, of course...). So I was very envious of The Other Normals' unusual hero, Peregrine "Perry" Eckert, when he finds out that the alternate world he has been obsessing over from his Creatures & Caverns rulebook (a play on Dungeons & Dragons) is a real place that he can visit. What a fun concept! Seriously every nerd's dream.

Having never read anything by Ned Vizzini before, I can't speak to whether all his books have a similar tone, but The Other Normals was BEYOND hilarious and the humour was absolutely the highlight of the book for me. It definitely takes the prize for funniest book I've read this year. That awkward moment when you're reading something funny in public and you burst out laughing causing everyone in the vicinity to stare at you strangely? Be prepared for a lot of that if you read The Other Normals in public. Everything about the world Ned Vizzini created was just silly and ridiculous and brilliant.

Most of the humour is derived from protagonist Perry's interaction with other characters and his approach to various situations. He is without a doubt the most geeky and socially awkward character I have ever read about and Ned Vizzini utilizes these characteristics to maximum comic effect. In other circumstances, I might be annoyed by how ridiculously blundering Perry can be, but Ned Vizzini manages to endear him to the reader, creating a very sweet and charming character. It was nice seeing Perry finally take hold of his life and live it to the fullest.

I will say that I thought the world building and concept was pretty sketchy and riddled with plot holes, but I realize that criticism is not entirely fair. The Other Normals isn't a book that is meant to be taken too seriously. I definitely recommend The Other Normals to anyone looking for just a fun, nonserious read to pass the time. A fast pace, tons of quick witted dialogue, and really short chapters will ensure that you speed through it in no time. I believe it is also a standalone. If ever I'm craving another genuinely funny book, I will be sure to turn to Ned Vizzini's novels first.

Other Reviews:
Maji Bookshelf

Author Links:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Muggle Monday (22): The Casual Vacancy Release Week

It's time for Muggle Monday, in which I post a quote, a video, or a significant piece of news from the Harry Potter franchise. This is somewhat inspired by the Mundane Monday posts by The Mundie Moms.

But let's be real as to why I made up this meme: I just want the opportunity to post something about Harry Potter.

This week, I'm featuring J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy - the release date for which is this Thursday, September 27! I can't believe it's happening this week! Where did all the time go? As part of the promotion for the book, Jo has been taking part in interviews and a brand new synopsis - much more detailed than the previous - has been released to explain to us what this enigma of a novel is going to be about:

The story opens with the death of a parish councillor in the pretty West Country village of Pagford. Barry had grown up on a nearby council estate, the Fields, a squalid rural ghetto with which the more pious middle classes of Pagford have long lost patience. If they can fill his seat with one more councillor sympathetic to their disgust, they'll secure a majority vote to reassign responsibility for the Fields to a neighbouring council, and be rid of the wretched place for good.
The pompous chairman assumes the seat will go to his son, a solicitor. Pitted against him are a bitterly cold GP and a deputy headmaster crippled by irreconcilable ambivalence towards his son, an unnervingly self-possessed adolescent whose subversion takes the unusual but highly effective form of telling the truth. His preoccupation with "authenticity" develops into a fascination with the Fields and its most notorious family, the Weedons.
Terri Weedon is a prostitute, junkie and lifelong casualty of chilling abuse, struggling to stay clean to stop social services taking her three-year-old son, Robbie, into care. But methadone is a precarious substitute for heroin, and most of what passes for mothering falls to her teenage daughter, Krystal. Spirited and volatile, Krystal has known only one adult ally in her life – Barry – and his sudden death casts her dangerously adrift. When anonymous messages begin appearing on the parish council website, exposing villagers' secrets, Pagford unravels into a panic of paranoia, rage and tragedy.

Jo also talks about what we can expect from The Casual Vacancy:

“I think there is a through-line,” Rowling said. “Mortality, morality, the two things that I obsess about.” “The Casual Vacancy” is not a whodunnit but, rather, a rural comedy of manners that, having taken on state-of-the-nation social themes, builds into black melodrama. Its attention rotates among several Pagford households, in the Southwest of England: a gourmet-grocery owner and his wife; two doctors; a nurse married to a printer; a social worker. Most of the families include troubled teens. 

“It’s been billed, slightly, as a black comedy, but to me it’s more of a comic tragedy,” she said. If the novel had precedents, “it would be sort of nineteenth-century: the anatomy and the analysis of a very small and closed society.” A local election was “a perfect way in,” she said. “It’s the smallest possible building block of democracy—this tiny atom on which everything rests.” One could say that national politics does not rest upon local politics, and that no modern British town is a closed society; some of Rowling’s characters may seem eccentric for the earnestness with which they regard a local election. She acknowledged that the scale of parish-council decision-making is “easy to laugh at” but said that “part of the point is that those decisions that are being made do dramatically affect people’s lives, up to life and death sometimes.”

“In my head, the working title for a long time was ‘Responsible,’ because for me this is a book about responsibility. In the minor sense—how responsible we are for our own personal happiness, and where we find ourselves in life—but in the macro sense also, of course: how responsible we are for the poor, the disadvantaged, other people’s misery.” Two years in, she picked up the standard British handbook for local administrators. “I needed it to check certain abstruse points. And in there I came across the phrase ‘a casual vacancy.’ Meaning, when a seat falls vacant through death or scandal. And immediately I knew that that was the title. . . . I was dealing not only with responsibility but with a bunch of characters who all have these little vacancies in their lives, these emptinesses in their lives, that they’re all filling in various ways.”

With terms like "black melodrama" and "comic tragedy" being thrown around, I am officially very much intrigued with The Casual Vacancy. I just know that Jo is going to be able bring those themes to life with her brilliance perfectly. Another thing she does well is building complex webs of character relations and it sounds like she'll be putting that ability to use in The Casual Vacancy - the story will follow several different families in the town of Pagford. I will admit that I do still have slight doubt about the premise - I never thought I would be finding myself reading about an English village's parish-council election. Jo's involvement is pretty much the only reason I would ever consider reading about such a banal subject. But I do have absolute confidence in her storytelling abilities, her sense of humour, and her clever imagination. I can't wait to read The Casual Vacancy (hopefully right when it comes out)! My review may be posted a few weeks later, however, due to prior review commitments.

How about you? Will you be reading J.K. Rowling's first post-Potter book, and if so, will you be reading it as soon as possible or waiting a bit? Will you be purchasing it or borrowing it? Do you plan on posting a review on your blog? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review: What's Left of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles #1) by Kat Zhang

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: September 18, 2012
Pages: 356
Source: For Review from HarperCollins/Edelweiss
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t…
For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable–hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet…for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

In short: What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang has an entirely intriguing and well executed concept, but is lacking in world building.
What's Left of Me presents a world in which two souls are born into one body and in which one of those souls - the recessive soul - should naturally fade away while the dominant one takes over. But this is not what happens in Eva and Addie's case. Despite many years of therapy, Eva - the recessive soul - remains, trapped in a body she has no control over. Kat Zhang has created a fully realized, entirely fascinating concept with What's Left of Me and not only that - it's also executed exceptionally well. It is so crucial in a story like this to be able to distinguish between the two different characters without creating any confusion, and Zhang manages this impressively, creating two separate, independent voices within one body.

I did feel as though the world building was lacking, however. I was left with major questions surrounding how this hybrid concept works and why the government sees hybrids as bad. After a strong start, the second half of What's Left of Me is spent trying to escape an ominous and mysterious government-run hospital that claims they want to cure Eva and Addie - standard dystopian fare. I feel like this is the point where the plot starts to wane and this is probably due to the lack of world building mentioned. It was difficult to become invested in a plot in which so few explanations are given for why the government has this vendetta against hybrids and why the reader should care.

Overall, What's Left of Me has a incredibly intriguing and well executed concept that made it stand out among a sea of indistinguishable dystopian reads. But the second half of the novel was less inventive and less absorbing due to the lack of world building. I still very much plan on continuing on with the series, however, if only to learn more about the hybrid concept. I need answers!

Other Reviews:
Alluring Reads
i swim for oceans
Miss Page-Turner's

Author Links:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smart Chicks Kick It Tour Edmonton Recap

Last Thursday was the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour stop in Edmonton, at Chapters Westside. It was also my first ever author signing. And - if I may take a moment to boast - it was AWESOME. There were seven authors there: Smart Chicks Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr, Ally Condie, Beth Revis, Veronica Roth, and Margaret Stohl, and Smart Chuck Charles de Lint. And they were welcomed by 750 people! Wow. I had no idea it was going to be as busy as it was and I'm glad I got there as early as I did because only the first 100 people got seats. Hopefully now that publishers and authors know that they can get a big crowd in Edmonton, this will be just the first author event here of many to come!

The event started off with a 30 minute Q&A session followed by the signing. Audience members asked the usual "What was your inspiration?" and "What is your writing process?" type questions and then there was a fun lightning round of questions in which much hilarity ensued.

As a naturally and innately shy person, I was pretty nervous about meeting these people I worship. My game plan was thus: Plan out ahead of time something to say to each author. Rehearse multiple times. Smile. Don't make a fool of myself.

The reality: I was a shaking, stuttering mess! When it was my turn to meet each author, I found that I was pretty much incapable of saying anything, never mind the things I had planned!

Me looking awkward with Ally Condie
Me looking awkward with Margaret Stohl
Kelley Armstrong and me
Luckily, all the authors were super nice and seemed at ease around a nervous, flustered girl like myself. They made the meeting as smooth as possible with their friendliness. Margaret Stohl, especially, was incredibly personable and hilarious.

Prior to the event, I ran into Veronica Roth in the bathroom and I went into an immediate deer-in-headlights mode and just stood there, awkwardly frozen to the spot in shock, mouth agape. Ugh, so much for not making a fool of myself! I should've known right then that I was going to have trouble saying anything to these people!

Fun fact: My real name is Eilidh. It's the traditional Scottish Gaelic spelling. When it came to creating my blog though, I decided to spell my name out phonetically - Aylee - so that people wouldn't think my name was pronounced "eyelid" or something. Almost all the authors made a point to compliment my name, which was nice. Beth Revis was almost even able to pronounce it correctly!

I also had the pleasure of meeting some Edmonton Book Bloggers! I met Kristilyn of Reading in Winter, Jenni of Alluring Reads, Rola of XO Reads, and Brie of Eat Books. I had had no idea there were so many book bloggers in my area, so I was quite shocked to learn that there is an Edmonton Book Blogger Directory. It's so cool to know that there are all these like-minded people in my area!

Huge thanks goes out to Melissa Marr, Kelley Armstrong, and Indigo Green Room who helped organize the Smart Chicks Edmonton Event! Also thank you to the bf/book-carrier/ photographer/moral-supporter for being super helpful! I had such a great time and it was an experience I hope to repeat someday (hopefully with less flustered nervousness)!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Shadowfell (Shadowfell #1) by Juliet Marillier

Publisher: Random House
Published: September 11, 2012
Pages: 416
Source: For Review from Random House/NetGalley
Rating: 4 Stars

Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill—a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk—Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.
During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death—but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban’s release from Keldec’s rule.
Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.

In short: Shadowfell showcases Juliet Marillier's talent at crafting beautiful fantasies with her lovely storytelling and writing.
Finally, after hearing people gush about her novels for so long, I have read my first novel by much loved fantasy author Juliet Marillier. And it was an experience I would definitely like to repeat. Shadowfell tells the story of orphan Neryn and her journey across Alban with the help of the Good Folk. I tend to dislike faeries such as they often appear in YA paranormal novels - sort of snobbish and frigid - but the fairy people in Shadowfell were whimsical and delightful little guys, which made the reading experience so much more pleasant for me.

Neryn isn't the type of sword-wielding, tough-as-nails heroine that seem to be so prevalent in high fantasy fiction these days. But what she lacks in fighting skills, she makes up for in pure and true virtue. Some readers may view her character as weak because she lacks the obvious shows of strength, but it's the subtleties of her personality - her loving and kindhearted nature and her courage and mettle in trying situations - that demonstrate the fortitude of her character. I loved seeing Neryn grow and come into her own over the course of the book - it warmed my heart.

If I could name one fault with Shadowfell, it would be the bouts of slow pacing where I found my attention waning, but overall, Shadowfell was simply a lovely read. I totally get why Juliet Marillier is such a big deal. Her writing was beautiful and lyrical and her world building was excellently crafted. The romance was nice, as well - a gradual and sweet relationship - though pretty minimal. I definitely recommend Shadowfell to fans of fantasy reads. I will absolutely be continuing on with this series, especially due to the exciting prospect where Shadowfell leaves off.

Other Reviews:
Musings of a YA Reader
Pure Imagination
Tynga's Reviews

Author Links:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: Random House Fall 2012 Catalog

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

This week, I've chosen to feature a few picks from the Random House Fall 2012 Catalog:

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede
Date: October 9, 2012
Add to Goodreads

In twelve-year-old Taemon’s city, everyone has a power called psi—the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. When Taemon loses his psi in a traumatic accident, he must hide his lack of power by any means possible. But a humiliating incident at a sports tournament exposes his disability, and Taemon is exiled to the powerless colony.
The "dud farm" is not what Taemon expected, though: people are kind and open, and they actually seem to enjoy using their hands to work and play and even comfort their children. Taemon adjusts to his new life quickly, making friends and finding unconditional acceptance.
But gradually he discovers that for all its openness, there are mysteries at the colony, too—dangerous secrets that would give unchecked power to psi wielders if discovered.
When Taemon unwittingly leaks one of these secrets, will he have the courage to repair the damage—even if it means returning to the city and facing the very people who exiled him?

Okay, first of all: this cover is awesome. But more importantly, Freakling sounds like a very original and intriguing read. You know that when "dangerous secrets" are involved, fun reading times are ahead.

Mystic City by Theo Lawrence
Date: October 9, 2012
Add to Goodreads

Aria Rose, youngest scion of one of Mystic City's two ruling rival families, finds herself betrothed to Thomas Foster, the son of her parents' sworn enemies. The union of the two will end the generations-long political feud—and unite all those living in the Aeries, the privileged upper reaches of the city, against the banished mystics who dwell below in the Depths. But Aria doesn't remember falling in love with Thomas; in fact, she wakes one day with huge gaps in her memory. And she can't conceive why her parents would have agreed to unite with the Fosters in the first place. Only when Aria meets Hunter, a gorgeous rebel mystic from the Depths, does she start to have glimmers of recollection—and to understand that he holds the key to unlocking her past. The choices she makes can save or doom the city—including herself.

A psychological mystery combined with a fantasy/dystopian - count me in. Mystic City sounds exactly like the type of books that I have been loving recently. And what a gorgeous cover!

Velveteen by Daniel Marks
Date: October 9, 2012
Add to Goodreads

Velveteen Monroe is dead. At 16, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw. But that’s not the problem.
The problem is she landed in purgatory. And while it’s not a fiery inferno, it’s certainly no heaven. It’s gray, ashen, and crumbling more and more by the day, and everyone has a job to do. Which doesn’t leave Velveteen much time to do anything about what’s really on her mind.
Velveteen aches to deliver the bloody punishment her killer deserves. And she’s figured out just how to do it. She’ll haunt him for the rest of his days.
It’ll be brutal... and awesome.
But crossing the divide between the living and the dead has devastating consequences. Velveteen’s obsessive haunting cracks the foundations of purgatory and jeopardizes her very soul. A risk she’s willing to take—except fate has just given her reason to stick around: an unreasonably hot and completely off-limits coworker.
Velveteen can’t help herself when it comes to breaking rules... or getting revenge. And she just might be angry enough to take everyone down with her.

Velveteen is a girl on a mission and I love that. Velveteen's premise is completely new and original to me and I think that's what interests me most about this one.

Meant To Be by Lauren Marrill
Date: November 13, 2012
Add to Goodreads

Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question.
It's one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she's queen of following rules and being prepared. That's why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that's also why she's chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB ("meant to be").
But this spring break, Julia's rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she's partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.
Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

Contemporaries are still, by far, my least read genre, despite my goals at the beginning of the year to read more of them. Meant To Be sounds cute enough to capture my interest for once.

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Random House Fall 2012 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Random House Fall 2012 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Saturday, September 1, 2012


It's time to announce the winner of my Smart Chicks Kick It Tour Giveaway! And the winner is:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats Lesley! The first winner I picked broke the rules by entering multiple times under different names - which I was able to prove by looking up their IP Address through Rafflecopter - so you are the true winner! Please send me an email with your address and choice of book within the next 48 hours to collect your prize at ayleejaine@gmail.com.