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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: September 27, 2011
Pages: 417
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 Stars

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

In short: I was in awe of Laini Taylor's breathtaking prose and epic creativity in Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
An orphan girl with blue hair who travels the world collecting various kinds of animal teeth for a mysterious purpose; an alternate world in which angels and chimaera have been fighting in a millenia-long war; monsters made up of bits and pieces of different beasts: this is the level of creativity we are presented with in Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and really, I didn't even come CLOSE to doing it justice). I was in near constant AWE of the story and world that Laini Taylor has created. I would like to know what is in that brilliant mind of hers that she was able to come up with such fantastical concepts!

And she presents all her ideas in the most gorgeous way possible: through her lyrical and moving writing, so beautiful in its complexity and feeling. I was held utterly MESMERIZED by the depth of Laini Taylor's descriptions. And it's a good thing she is such a gifted writer: certain aspects of the story were just so extraordinary and unreal that I think if the writing had not been so beautifully descriptive, the effect would've been lost and left me bewildered. As it is, this was definitely not the case: Laini Taylor's gorgeous prose really brought the world of Daughter of Smoke and Bone to life!

I guess the only thing that left me feeling ambivalent about Daughter of Smoke and Bone was that there was such a major focus on the romance - more than I generally like in fantasy/paranormal novels. And it was insta-love to boot! An instant connection was made between the star-crossed lovers upon first meeting and I wasn't a huge fan of the lack of a slow-building relationship, personally. Their relationship was a bit too superficial. BUT I have to say that even while this major portion of the novel was being devoted to the romance, I was STILL held captivated by Laini Taylor's writing all throughout it.

So what am I hoping for in Days of Blood and Starlight (to be released November  6, 2012)? Ideally, I would like to see a bit more development in Karou and Akiva's relationship. And of course, all of the same thrilling intrigue and fascinating story and characters that were present in Daughter of Smoke and Bone!

Other Reviews:
A Myriad of Books
A Tapestry of Words

Authors Links:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

Publisher: Tundra Books
Published: September 11, 2012
Pages: 256
Source: From Random House Canada
Rating: 5 Stars

Thirteen-year-old Henry’s happy, ordinary life comes to an abrupt halt when his older brother, Jesse, picks up their father’s hunting rifle and leaves the house one morning. What follows shatters Henry’s family, who are forced to resume their lives in a new city, where no one knows their past. When Henry’s therapist suggests he keep a journal, at first he is resistant. But soon he confides in it at all hours of the day and night.
In spite of Henry’s desire to “fly under the radar,” he eventually befriends a number of oddball characters, both at school and in his modest apartment building. And even though they know nothing about his past – at least, not yet – they help him navigate the waters of life after “IT.”

In short: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen was a wholly enjoyable read with a very important message.
What a lovely, quick read this was! I'm not really sure what I had been expecting of The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen - perhaps just a nice and moral story about bullying - but I had no idea of the depth of the subject matter, nor that I would end up enjoying it so much! Susin Nielsen manages to create a perfect balance of serious and poignant subject matter and cute and witty humour with effortless writing to produce a thoroughly enjoyable MG contemporary read with an important message. The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen was, simply, a JOY to read and I highly recommend it to all readers.

The varied cast of colourful characters was a huge part of the reason The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen was such a delightful read for me. I seriously loved them all. They were excellently written, with their quirks on full display, and they were just so VIBRANT. They may have been a bit on the cliched side, but I found that there was something very comforting and heartening about them, perhaps because of those reliable well-known personalities.

Something else that I really and truly loved about this book was how Canadian it was. Admittedly - and rather ashamedly - I don't really read a whole lot of local fiction. But after reading The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, I am convinced that I MUST read more books from local authors in the future. It was so fun to read a book with Canadian references and a Canadian setting. And it's always good to support local authors.

But above all, I really appreciated the message of the novel. The importance of being true to yourself and loving others for being themselves. The importance of standing up for yourself and not taking to heart what the bullies say. Because in the end, those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind. I wish I could've had the maturity and self-assuredness that Henry develops when I was his age.

Other Reviews:
Cozy Up With A Good Read
Midnight Bloom Reads

Authors Links:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

Publisher: Thomas Allen and Son
Published: October 23, 2012
Pages: 336
Source: For Review from Thomas Allen and Son
Rating: 2 Stars

There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.

Seventeen-year-old Tricia Farni’s body floated to the surface of Alaska’s Birch River six months after the night she disappeared. The night Roz Hart had a fight with her. The night Roz can’t remember. Roz, who struggles with macular degeneration, is used to assembling fragments to make sense of the world around her. But this time it’s her memory that needs piecing together—to clear her name . . . to find a murderer.

In short: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen was not the riveting murder mystery I had hoped and instead had too much of a focus on high school drama than I am a fan of.
Blind Spot was not the book I had been expecting from the synopsis - it sounded like an intense psychological murder mystery thriller. What I got instead was a whole bunch of high school drama, the mystery taking a back seat for most of the novel. Because I tend not to be a fan of teen drama, Blind Spot was a bit of a disappointment to me. It's a shame because I think the basis of a good murder mystery was there, it was just underdeveloped in favour of some seriously cliched and immature teen feuding.

Roz has macular degeneration, a condition that causes her to have a "blind spot" in her vision. For me, how Roz deals with living with this condition was the best and most interesting aspect of Blind Spot. From what I understand, Laura Ellen herself has experience with living with this eye disease, and it showed - the difficulties that arose for Roz seemed very astute and accurate for what you might expect situations to be like. It made me sympathize with Roz and the bullying she had to endure, and it also made me realize how much I take for granted having - relatively - good eyesight.

Now for what I didn't like: I did not like ANY of the characters in Blind Spot, I'm sorry to say. What an utterly immature, selfish, and pitiful lot! Perhaps some of these characters were meant to be unlikeable, but I highly doubt Laura Ellen meant for all of them to be. Some characters are pathetic, some are clearly exploiters (though Roz is oblivious to this), and one in particular is INFURIATING (and not in a "it's fun to hate them" kind of way). And my sympathy for Roz with her condition extends only so far.

Blind Spot contains a series of nauseatingly repetitive "he-said, she-said" moments that had the characters forming alliances with one another in one moment and then fighting with each other only a few pages later! The romance between Roz and her love interest was especially frustrating. Sure, they were sweet for the little bits they were together, but they went back and forth so many times over the course of Blind Spot that I found myself wondering why I should even care or want to see them get together in the end.

So yes, I was misled by the synopsis and Blind Spot wasn't for me. I would recommend it more to readers who enjoy a healthy dose of teen drama. Just don't go into it looking for a riveting murder mystery as the mystery part takes up only about a third of the novel... and has a bit of a disappointing ending to boot. I also feel that Laura Ellen has a lot of room for growth as a debut author, and I sincerely hope she continues to improve in all her subsequent books.

Authors Links:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: Blood Red Road (Dust Lands #1) by Moira Young

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published: June 7, 2011
Pages: 459
Source: Won from That's Swell!
Rating: 5 Stars

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.
Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

In short: Blood Red Road by Moira Young was an entirely engrossing and exciting read with emotionally gorgeous writing and a fiercely strong heroine.
I was completely and utterly ENRAPTURED while reading Blood Red Road, more than any other book I've read this year. The unique writing style, the memorable and charming characters, the intriguing and enigmatic world - every aspect of Blood Red Road grabbed me instantly and did not let go until the very end. I loved loved LOVED Blood Red Road and would have no trouble including it among my favourite all-time reads. Within this gritty and barren post-apocalyptic desert wasteland of a world, with its frequent sandstorms and violent cage fights, emerges a FIERCE heroine on an epic journey to save her brother.

Blood Red Road is written in an uneducated dialect with no quotation marks. Some people might be turned off by the style of writing, at least in the beginning. But I thought it had personality. I felt the sparse prose really contributed to Saba's voice and the novel's atmosphere - it really brought the book to life! This flow of consciousness type of writing seems to have the effect of making the writing flow quickly as well as enabling the reader to truly FEEL what Saba goes through, making for a very fast-paced and emotional read. Moira Young may be a debut author, but girl can WRITE!

Saba has a laundry list of flaws as a character: she's bull-headed, selfish, and harsh. Not particularly likeable, at least at first. But over the course of Blood Red Road we get to see another side of her: fiercely loyal and determined and somehow also sensitive and vulnerable. And FEISTY! Her desperate plight to save her beloved brother, her fortitude in the cage fighting arena, her strongly protective nature towards those that she loves, and her faithfulness to her friends and family all endeared her to me immediately.

In fact, all the characters, both primary and secondary, are pretty amazing and I loved seeing Saba interact with them. The romance between Saba and Jack is just - OH SWOON! The romantic tension and banter was just perfect. They worked as a great counterbalance to one another and were never afraid to stand up to each other. But I think I may have enjoyed the growth in the relationship between Saba and her younger sister, Emmi, even more, as their relationship grows from a place of disdain to one of respect.

It really is no surprise Blood Red Road resonated with me so strongly considering it has a lot of elements in common with my favourite non-Harry Potter series, the Chaos Walking trilogy: stream of consciousness style of writing, a loveable animal pal, and an uneducated and ill-tempered protagonist who is hard to like initially, but grows into a strong-willed and persevering character that you can't help but root for. I HIGHLY recommend Blood Red Road to anyone looking for a unique and surprising story with strong characters and exquisite writing. The sequel, Rebel Heart, will be released October 30, 2012.

And, thanks to Big Honcho Media, I am also giving away a Rebel Heart prize pack (including a custom t-shirt and a copy of Rebel Heart to two lucky winners!

Other Reviews:

Author Links:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dust Lands: Rebel Heart Giveaway!

YOU GUYS - Dust Lands: Rebel Heart, the sequel to the AMAZING Blood Red Road, is coming out October 30, 2012! How excited is everyone?! And if you haven't read Blood Red Road yet, then why the heck not?! Blood Red Road instantly became one of my all-time favourite books when I read it earlier this year (review soon to come) due to Moira Young's raw and emotional writing style, engaging characters, and brilliant world building.

As part of the promotion for Rebel Heart's release, SimonTEEN has a cool giveaway happening now - click here to enter for a chance to win the first two books in the DUST LANDS trilogy by Moira Young. The giveaway ends on October 31.

And, thanks to Big Honcho Media, TWO winners may enter below for a chance to win a Dust Lands prize pack including a custom t-shirt and copy of Rebel Heart! Entrants must be at least 13 years of age and the giveaway is open to US addresses only. The winners will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond with their address or another winner will be chosen.

About Rebel Heart (Visit the Dust Lands website)
Nothing is certain and no one is safe in the second book in the highly praised Dust Lands trilogy, which MTV’s Hollywood Crush blog called “better than The Hunger Games.” 
It seemed so simple: Defeat the Tonton, rescue her kidnapped brother, Lugh, and then order would be restored to Saba’s world. Simplicity, however, has proved to be elusive. Now, Saba and her family travel west, headed for a better life and a longed-for reunion with Jack. But the fight for Lugh’s freedom has unleashed a new power in the dust lands, and a formidable new enemy is on the rise. 
What is the truth about Jack? And how far will Saba go to get what she wants? In this much-anticipated follow-up to the riveting Blood Red Road, a fierce heroine finds herself at the crossroads of danger and destiny, betrayal and passion.

Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (5): My Second Vlog

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews to showcase any books that I have received for review, bought, borrowed, or won to read.

After some indecisiveness about whether I would make another book haul vlog after my first attempt, I decided just to go for it! I feel like it went better than the first time. It's been a very long time since I've done a book haul post, so this actually encompasses the past 3 months!

For Review:
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larson by Susin Nielson (Thanks to Random House Canada!)
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Thanks to Random House Canada!)
Blind Spot by Laura Ellen (Thanks to Thomas Allen & Son!)
Black City by Elizabeth Richards (Thanks to Penguin Canada!)

Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr (Thanks to Becky from Stories & Sweeties!)

The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
The Mediator Series by Meg Cabot
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Blogs Mentioned:
Musings of a YA Reader
Small Review
A Girl, Books and Other Things

Post Mentioned:
My review of The Casual Vacancy

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: The Blessed by Tonya Hurley

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: September 25, 2012
Pages: 416
Source: For Review from Simon & Schuster Canada
Rating: 2 Stars

Brooklyn teens Lucy, Cecelia and Agnes find themselves in the emergency room at Perpetual Help Hospital at the lowest point in their lives. Lucy, the superficial party girl; Cecelia, a drop out rock chick; and Agnes, a hopeless romantic. All rebels running from their lives and themselves, plagued by broken hearts and broken dreams. Enter Sebastian. Mysterious, compelling, seductive. He seems to bring each of them what they long for...
But in the battle for his heart, will they lose their souls?

In short: The Blessed by Tonya Hurley was a bit too strange and abstract for me, but it may be enjoyed by someone looking for an unusual read.
How do I even begin to describe The Blessed? This book is so utterly BIZARRE. I had no idea what I was going to be getting into when I started this book - the synopsis was incredibly vague. The Blessed has three protagonists - Lucy, Cecelia, and Agnes - with three unique and well defined personalities. They aren't exactly relatable - because they're not particularly likeable - but I don't believe Tonya Hurley means them to be in the beginning. These three reprehensible girls have been "chosen" to take up the roles of their namesakes - Saints Lucy, Cecelia and Agnes - by the enigmatic Sebastian, who believes he is a Saint.

The Blessed is just not my kind of read. The writing, the plot, the random interludes of poetic dreams - it was all so weird. Way too strange for my tastes. I mean, I like different and unique, but some scenes in The Blessed were positively hallucinogenic. I'm surprised I didn't end up DNF-ing this one at any point, but admittedly I was strangely compelled to read it through to the end, searching in vain for answers, anything to make sense of this psychedelic trip of a book. My overwhelming reaction upon finishing The Blessed was simply, WTF did I just read?!

So yes, The Blessed was a bit too abstract for me. I will say though that I think it has the potential to be enjoyed and appreciated by a certain very niche audience. I would recommend The Blessed to anyone looking for something different - like, WAY different - or looking to read outside their comfort zones.

Other Reviews:
365 Days of Reading
Cozy Up With A Good Read

Author Links:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Winter 2013 Catalog (Part 2)

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 more picks from the HarperCollins Winter 2013 Catalog. Last week, I also featured a few picks from the HarperCollins Winter 2013 Catalog, but because there was SO MUCH GOODNESS to choose from, I decided that a Part 2 was necessary because it was much too hard to narrow down only a few picks from all the books HarperCollins has coming out in Winter 2013. So here are four more of my highly anticipated reads:

Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Date: January 2, 2013
Add to Goodreads

The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms… is a girl with yellow eyes.
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.

High fantasy + strong female warrior has got to equal an automatic win, right? Well, it seems that way: early buzz for Prophecy has been very positive. All these factors combine into making Prophecy one of my most anticipated reads of 2013.

Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum
Date: January 8, 2013
Add to Goodreads

Twenty years ago, the robots designed to fight our wars abandoned the battlefields. Then they turned their weapons on us.
Only a few escaped the robot revolution of 2071. Kevin, Nick, and Cass are lucky —they live with their parents in a secret human community in the woods. Then their village is detected and wiped out. Hopeful that other survivors have been captured by bots, the teens risk everything to save the only people they have left in the world—by infiltrating a city controlled by their greatest enemies.
Revolution 19 is a cinematic thriller unlike anything else. With a dynamic cast of characters, this surefire blockbuster has everything teen readers want—action, drama, mystery, and romance. Written by debut novelist Gregg Rosenblum, this gripping story shouldn’t be missed.

Revolution 19 is instantly reminiscent of Terminator, and I love that. I feel like Revolution 19 has the potential to be a really intense, action-packed thriller, which is always fun.

Pivot Point by Kasie West
Date: February 12, 2013
Add to Goodreads

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.

I've always been fascinated with the concept of how one decision can change the path of your future. That Addie can actually see the potential futures her decision will lay out for her is so interesting to me. Pivot Point sounds incredibly intriguing!

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley
Date: March 19, 2013
Add to Goodreads

Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scout camping trip.
Now she’s returned home…only to find that it’s three years later and she’s sixteen—or at least that’s what everyone tells her.
What happened to the last three years of her life?
Angie herself doesn’t know.
But there are people who do—people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren’t locked inside her mind.
With a tremendous amount of courage and support from unexpected friends, Angie embarks on a journey into the darkest corners of her mind. As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: when you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the people responsible, or is there another way to feel whole again?
Liz Coley’s alarming and fascinating psychological mystery is a disturbing—and ultimately empowering—page turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.

I love me a good psychological thriller - it's fun to wander about blindly through the story along with the character until the answer to the mystery is finally revealed and everything becomes clear. So I am definitely interested in reading Pretty Girl-13!

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Muggle Monday (23): The Casual Vacancy Review

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 posting my review for The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's first post-Potter book:

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: September 27, 2012
Pages: 503
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 Stars

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

Disclaimer: This may be already evident to anyone with eyes, but I would like to point out that because J.K. Rowling is the person I worship above all, my review may be biased.

In short: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is brilliance personified, demonstrating Jo's genius at creating complex and insightful story lines and authentic and intricate characters.
It was with bated breath that I opened up the first page of The Casual Vacancy, all my immense expectations over the course of the previous months leading up to that moment. I was majorly excited to finally have something new to read from Jo, incredibly interested in what she could have to offer for adults, and... admittedly terrified that I wasn't going to love what she had written. That it was going to be too different, too foreign from my idea of J.K. Rowling and all she represents to me.

And it was. Different, I mean. The Casual Vacancy is very ADULT. That's not to say that there aren't any mature themes in Harry Potter, mind you, but all the story lines in The Casual Vacancy were definitely meant for adults only. And it was a shock. We're talking a story that involves hard drugs, teen sex, and rape. To go from the MG/YA story of Harry Potter, with maybe the occasional curse word, to the very mature and occasionally crude use of language in The Casual Vacancy was a bit stupefying at first.

Add to that that I had a hard time becoming invested in the story right at the start. I'm not sure if it was because the tone was shockingly adult and I didn't really know what to make of my childhood hero using such mature language, but I wasn't immediately taken into the story. And then there were all the characters. There are about 15 different main characters who all have chapters written from their point of view. FIFTEEN. And I was struggling in the beginning to keep track of them all. And I was just feeling underwhelmed by the story.

But then about a fifth of the way in, I realized that I was enjoying myself. REALLY enjoying myself. It sort of snuck up on me. I had been trundling along, trying to sort out the characters and becoming accustomed to Jo's new mature tone - and it all just came together for me. I understood it. Not just the characters and their complex relationships - I understood the story, the themes, and the message J.K. Rowling had been trying to get across. And I LOVED it. And that feeling continued for the rest of the book. Just like that, I realized I was invested in the story and the characters and I NEEDED to read more.

The incredibly mature tone and language that had shocked me so much in the beginning became more refreshing to me as I read on. It was authentic, it was gritty, it was REAL LIFE. I become complacent sometimes as I read my more tame MG and YA books and I forget about the gritty reality of real life. The Casual Vacancy is not a story about beautiful teens who realize they're special and fall in love and have incredibly banal romantic feuds, like the stories I am so used to reading. It is a story about real people, dealing with real situations, and there aren't necessarily any happy endings because life is crappy and unfair. And I truly appreciated that (not that I don't love my fun, easier reads at times, as well).

The characters all struck me as very genuine and credible and HIGHLY complex and well defined. Also - and this may be a turnoff for some readers - they were VERY flawed. There was not a Mary Sue or Gary Stu in sight, not in the slightest. They ranged from positively cruel-intentioned (inciting me to Umbridge-levels of RAGE) to well-meaning, but none are saints and none are entirely likeable. For me though, it was Barry Fairbrother, the amiable and benevolent people-lover who's death at the start sets off a wave of unease and turmoil throughout the small town of Pagford, and Krystal Wheedon, the tragic and foul-mouthed teen, who really emerge as the story's champions. Barry's presence - and the lack thereof - and his message that he so passionately promoted in his waking life, had a profound effect on the rest of the town as does Krystal's authentic attitude and raison d'etre.

My worry that The Casual Vacancy would be so different from Harry Potter that J.K. Rowling would be unrecognizable to me turned out to be completely unfounded. Her stamp was clearly over every inch of it - from the complex characters to the gorgeous and clever writing to the political views promoted in the story's message. And just like with Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling was able to create a story that rendered me breathless at times, so powerful were the words I had read. The ending had me gasping, sobbing, and meditating. It was simply MINDBLOWING... and a tad sickening, as well. Jo's brilliance is at full capacity in The Casual Vacancy.

Okay, okay, but as much as I thought The Casual Vacancy was brilliance personified, I can admit that it is not the book for everyone. And because I'm all about realness, I'm going to try to lay this out as plainly as possible in the hopes that anyone still on the fence about reading this may come to a decision: DO read this book if you are a mega fan of J.K. Rowling's even if this isn't the type of book you would normally read. DON'T read this book if you are turned off by strong language and graphic content. DO read this book if you are looking to read outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. DON'T read this book if you prefer lighter, easier reads. DO read this book if you prefer character-driven stories. DON'T read this book if you prefer fast paced and action-packed plots. DO continue to read this book if you stopped and gave up reading near the beginning. DON'T read this book just because of all the hype. DO read this book if you love insightful, highly intelligent stories that make you think and leave you breathless.

Author Links:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Ashen Winter (Ashfall #2) by Mike Mullin

Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Published: October 16, 2012
Pages: 576
Source: For Review from Tanglewood Press
Rating: 4 Stars

It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this series. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.

In short: Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin is a strong sequel that takes a very raw and realistic look into humanity in the advent of a terrifying post-apocalyptic event.
Six months after the supervolcano has erupted, plunging North America into darkness and a deluge of ash, Alex and Darla are still struggling to survive in a frozen and crime-ridden world in Ashen Winter. The ramifications of such a destructive, post-apocalyptic event are on full display in Ashen Winter in all its gruesome and cruel glory. This is something that Mike Mullin excels at: he presents a raw and realistic look into humanity akin to The Road, that showcases the lows that people would sink to survive. It is absolutely believable and that makes it all the more terrifying.

Alex remains one of my favourite male protagonists. He is an inherently moral and noble character. Almost to a fault really, as there is admittedly not a whole lot of room for kindness and generosity in such a cruel post-apocalyptic world. But that is why it is so impressive. Time and time again, when faced with the prospect of screwing someone over to his advantage or treating them fairly to his disadvantage, Alex always does the honourable thing (much to Darla's chagrin). In a world full of people who do unforgivable, disgusting things, Alex at least never compromises his morality.

My only problem with Ashen Winter is the same as it was for Ashfall: there is an excessive amount of details in Mike Mullin's writing style, making for an unnecessarily long read that could have been edited and made shorter. Despite the elaborate writing style, I can't deny that I was never bored while reading Ashen Winter. Mike Mullin somehow manages to achieve almost literally non-stop action scenes over the course of the 576 pages. Now that's impressive.

Overall, Ashen Winter is a strong sequel and is definitely recommended to all fans of Ashfall. Ashen Winter will be released October 16, 2012 by Tanglewood Press, with the third and final book to follow in 2013.

Previously, my review of Ashfall.

Other Reviews:
Books of Amber
Page Turner's Blog
Xpresso Reads

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Winter 2013 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 HarperCollins Winter 2013 Catalog. And let me tell you, it was HARD narrowing down my top four picks from all the books HarperCollins has coming out in Winter 2013. There is SO MUCH GOODNESS. So here, after much deliberation, are my top four anticipated reads, but they are by no means my only ones (I may just have to do a Part 2 next week!):

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Date: January 29, 2013
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London, 1894. Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns her father is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations were true.
Juliet is accompanied by the doctor’s handsome young assistant and an enigmatic castaway, who both attract Juliet for very different reasons. They travel to the island only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: he has created animals that have been vivisected to resemble, speak, and behave as humans. Worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape the island, even though her horror is mixed with her own scientific curiosity. As the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

From reading and loving The Monstrumologist, I already know that I love the combination of historical fiction and realistic horror, so I am pumped for The Madman's Daughter! I love the creepy and disturbing feel of this synopsis and cover.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
Date: February 5, 2013
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The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.
Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.

Did somebody say assassins? I'm loving this trend in assassin books, and as a bonus, City of a Thousand Dolls has an ominous and mysterious tone that I really love, as well. And that cover is GORGEOUS!

Mind Games by Kiersten White
Date: February 19, 2013
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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.

Okay, so I will admit that I haven't yet had the chance to experience the awesomeness that is Kiersten White, but I feel like so many people love her and her work that I am already a pseudo-fan of hers somehow. So I will for sure be checking out her newest book, Mind Games. And also it has spies and superpowers and sounds fantastic!

Pulse by Patrick Carman
Date: February 26, 2013
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From New York Times bestselling author Patrick Carman, a teen fantasy-adventure of epic proportions. In 2051, some teens have a “pulse,” the power to move objects with their minds. Compulsively readable, with thrilling action scenes and a tender love story.
The year is 2051, and the world is still recognizable. With the help of her mysterious classmate Dylan Gilmore, Faith Daniels discovers that she can move objects with her mind. This telekinetic ability is called a “pulse,” and Dylan has the talent, too.
In riveting action scenes, Faith demonstrates her ability to use her pulse against a group of telekinesis masters so powerful they will flatten their enemies by uprooting street lights, moving boulders, and changing the course of a hurtling hammer so that it becomes a deadly weapon. But even with great talent, the mind—and the heart—can be difficult to control. If Faith wants to join forces with Dylan and save the world, she’ll have to harness the power of both.
Patrick Carman’s Pulse trilogy is a stunning, action-filled triumph about the power of the mind—and the power of love.

I won't deny that the very first thing that drew me to Pulse is that amazing cover. But upon reading the synopsis, I am definitely fully interested in reading it based on its content, too - superpower stories are one of my favourite things!

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Canadian Thanksgiving Giveaway

It's Canadian Thanksgiving on October 8, 2012 and, just like I did last year, I would like to take the time to express how grateful I am to everyone who has ever left a comment or taken the time to read one of my reviews or followed my blog. I wish I could adequately state how much it really means to me, but I don't think I could ever come close to truly expressing it. Just having this outlet for me to discuss books and form bonds over reading with fellow book lovers is pretty dang cool. So thank you.

This giveaway will be for old followers only. In other words, it is for people who were following my blog (via either GFC, RSS, or email subscription) prior to the announcement of this giveaway. One old follower will win...

Any Book (Old or Preorder) worth up to $15 CAD at The Book Depository!

1. To enter, leave a comment with your email
2. You must be an old follower to enter (either GFC or RSS or email subscription)
3. Open Internationally as long as The Book Depository ships to you
4. Ends the day after Canadian Thanksgiving on October 9 at 12:00AM MST
5. Entrants must be at least 13 years old
6. The winner will be emailed and will have 48 hours to respond with their address.

Good luck and thank you!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Screenplay by: Stephen Chbosky
Produced by: Lionsgate Films
In Theatres: September 21, 2012 Limited
Length: 1 hr. 43 min.
Rated: PG-13

A funny and touching coming-of-age story based on the beloved best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a modern classic that captures the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up. Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a moving tale of love, loss, fear and hope--and the unforgettable friends that help us through life.

This past Monday, I was able to go see an advanced screening of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada - big thanks to them and to Kristilyn of Reading in Winter for setting the whole thing up!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the earnest story of socially awkward teen Charlie who gets taken under the wing of a particularly awesome and open-minded group of friends. Charlie relates his tale through a series of letters to an anonymous friend as he fumbles through his freshman year and deals with problems relating to bullying, sex, drugs, and death. It's a tale about dealing with abuse, coping with grief, friendship, celebrating life, and acceptance of one's true self. It really has it all.

The movie was a remarkably loyal adaptation of the book, leaving out only very minor scenes and managing to capture the message and essence of the novel. And it's no wonder, really: the novel's author, Stephen Chbosky, not only wrote the screenplay for the film, but also directed it. And this makes all the difference when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. The movie was decidedly less racy than the book, presumably to ensure a PG-13 Rating, and Charlie seemed less awkward than he was in the book, but those were the only major differences. It was apparent that a lot of thought went into creating an authentic adaptation that would please the fans of this iconic book.

Everyone is probably curious about how Emma Watson, who played Charlie's love interest, Sam, did in her first major role post-Potter: I couldn't help but fixate on her accent the entire time, which was not always truly American, but I do think she held her own and proved that she has an acting career beyond Potter. The standout star, however, has absolutely got to be Charlie's gay best friend, Patrick - played by Ezra Miller - who gave a brilliant and charismatic performance. Logan Lerman, who played Charlie, also did a great job as the movie's lead; I was quite moved at times during his more emotional scenes.

I always recommend reading the book first before seeing the movie adaptation and it's no different in this case: you should read The Perks of Being a Wallflower because it is poignant and insightful and hilarious and brilliant. BUT if you find that for whatever reason, you are unable to do so, you could probably get away with just watching the movie because it was so faithful. I feel like the Book Police are going to come out and shoot me just for typing that. You really should read the book though - it's a super quick read!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower had an official limited release on September 21, 2012, so it may already be playing in your city. And if not, then it likely will be soon!

Have you read this book or seen the movie yet? If not, do you plan to? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Other Reviews:
xo reads

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: October 2, 2012
Pages: 256
Source: For Review from HarperCollins
Rating: 4 Stars

One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not. In fact, he was quite, quite different.
When Liza's brother, Patrick, changes overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened: The spindlers have gotten to him and stolen his soul.
She knows, too, that she is the only one who can save him.
To rescue Patrick, Liza must go Below, armed with little more than her wits and a broom. There, she uncovers a vast world populated with talking rats, music-loving moles, greedy troglods, and overexcitable nids . . . as well as terrible dangers. But she will face her greatest challenge at the spindlers' nests, where she encounters the evil queen and must pass a series of deadly tests--or else her soul, too, will remain Below forever.

In short: Lauren Oliver has written another truly lovely and whimsical Middle Grade novel that can be enjoyed by all age groups.
After reading and loving Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver, I knew I needed to read The Spindlers, Lauren Oliver's second Middle Grade novel. Liesl and Po was a wonderful and whimsical story filled with cartoonish and memorable characters, and The Spindlers was no different. When Liza's brother's soul is stolen by the Spindlers, she goes Below to rescue it. Bold and brave, Liza comes up against some tricky tasks that she must solve along the way as well as some truly imaginative and quirky creatures and settings, all beautifully described with Lauren Oliver's signature fantastical prose.

If I had any critique for The Spindlers, it's that it was very reminiscent of other works, particularly Coraline by Neil Gaiman, but also Roald Dahl novels and Hayao Miyazaki films. It had so many of the same elements of these other works that at times, The Spindlers came across as cliched and predictable. I don't actually mind it when authors turn to these well known story arcs because they are beloved for a reason, but ideally I'd like to see said author present something new and original to set it apart from the masses and I'm not sure Lauren Oliver accomplishes that with The Spindlers.

BUT - and I would like to stress this - please don't take that one critique as an indication that I didn't enjoy The Spindlers. I loved The Spindlers. Really. It was just as lovely and wonderful as I have come to expect from all of Lauren Oliver's novels. And perhaps it's a bit unfair to call it predictable when I am an adult and this book is meant for children who probably wouldn't see it as being cliched at all. So I would definitely recommend The Spindlers for the age group that it is meant for. And I would absolutely recommend it for older audiences who love quirky and fantastical MG reads, as well.

Other Reviews:
Life of a Bookworm
Novel Sounds
Pure Imagination

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