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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Review: City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

Publisher: Harper Teen
Published: February 5, 2013
Pages: 361
Source: For Review from HarperCollins Canada
Rating: 4 Stars

An exotic treat set in an entirely original, fantastical world brimming with deadly mystery, forbidden romance, and heart-stopping adventure.
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.

In short: City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster is an entertaining and addicting read with lush and fascinating world building.
At six-years-old, Nisha was abandoned by her parents at the City of a Thousand Dolls - a community that takes in unwanted girls, trains them in a specialized area like fighting, beauty, healing, or pleasure, and then sells them off to the highest bidder at sixteen-years-old. When one of the girls is found dead in the City, Nisha decides she is going to track down the killer in order to protect the girls, as well as herself. Along the way, she also uncovers secrets about her past.

The world building is where City of a Thousand Dolls truly shines. Debut author Miriam Forster integrates South Asian culture into a lush and fascinating world to pleasing effect. I loved spending time in the City of a Thousand Dolls, learning about the different houses and castes, and the training and schooling for the girls. And, OH YEAH, Nisha can speak telepathically to the cats that roam the city and these cats are basically her makeshift family. I thought that was cute! There are so many ways that the concept of telepathic cats could have gone awry, but for some reason, I found it worked and was never super silly or cliched.

I feel a bit conflicted about the plot and characters in City of a Thousand Dolls. On the one hand, the mystery was a good one and the reveal was shocking. But the execution of the mystery was a little clumsy at times and the plot twists were predictable. And the ending was tied up WAY too neatly and quickly for my tastes. Similarly, I did like Nisha most of the time - she was ultimately brave and good - but she often made questionable choices and could be a little slow on the uptake. The romance was very limited and nothing particularly special - but sweet just the same.

Okay, okay - so that may sound like a lot of faults that I've just listed, but the fact of the matter is that I enjoyed myself while reading City of a Thousand Dolls. It was addicting and easy to read. And I must reiterate that the world building was super interesting! There may not have been as much depth as I was hoping for, but I had FUN reading it and isn't that the most important thing?

City of a Thousand Dolls works well as a standalone, but there is room for a sequel. Recommended for readers who like fun and easy books and cat people.

Authors Links:
HarperCollins Webpage

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Spring 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 Penguin Spring 2013 Catalog:

Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan
Date: May 7, 2013

Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

When I first heard about this author collaboration - between Andrea Cremer and David Levithan - I thought it sounded strange because they seem like very different authors to me. But now I'm more intrigued - I'm interested to see what Invisibility has in store.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Date: May 7, 2013
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After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I am a huge fan of Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series and I know him to be an exceedingly talented horror writer. Which is why I am confident that The 5th Wave will be as an amazing read, as well. I'm excited for this one!

Imposter by Susanne Winnacker
Date: May 23, 2013
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Can Tessa pose as Madison... and stop a killer before it's too late? Tessa is a Variant, able to absorb the DNA of anyone she touches and mimic their appearance. Shunned by her family, she’s spent the last two years training with the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities, a secret branch of the FBI. When a serial killer rocks a small town in Oregon, Tessa is given a mission: she must impersonate Madison, a local teen, to find the killer before he strikes again. Tessa hates everything about being an impostor—the stress, the danger, the deceit—but loves playing the role of a normal girl. As Madison, she finds friends, romance, and the kind of loving family she’d do anything to keep. Amid action, suspense, and a ticking clock, this super-human comes to a very human conclusion: even a girl who can look like anyone struggles the most with being herself.

Impostor kind of reminds me of Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, in that it is about a girl working for a secret agency and just wants to be normal - but with the added bonus that she can touch people and absorb their DNA to appear like them! Cool.

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
Date: June 4, 2013
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In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.
When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.

Okay, okay so... I am not actually familiar with any of Richelle Mead's books personally (I know, I know - bad me), but I understand that people seem to really like her books and her newest release, Gameboard of the Gods, sounds pretty awesome.

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Publisher: Hyperion
Published: January 22, 2013
Pages: 336
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.
Being a Keeper isn't just dangerous-it's a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da's death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In short: With an entirely unique and exciting concept, The Archived by Victoria Schwab is a refreshing read with an excellent mystery and vivid writing.
Just when you think there are no more truly original ideas left for books, Victoria Schwab comes back swinging with an entirely unique concept in her sophomore novel, The Archived. Mackenzie, the novel's easily likeable and sympathetic protagonist, is a Keeper, charged with the purpose of hunting down and returning restless spirits that escape from their shelves in The Archive. That's just the beginning of the premise, but I'll stop there to preserve the story's enigmatic plot. It's a fairly complex concept and Victoria Schwab nails the execution of it, ensuring that we are never confused, only intrigued.

The Archived was my first exposure to Victoria Schwab's writing and I was totally impressed - not only with the beauty and emotion of her prose, but also with how she handled the more practical aspects of the story, like the execution of the world building and the set up of the mystery. I can honestly say that I was left guessing right up to the end. There was also rarely a dull moment - the pacing was swift and the action scenes were numerous. Some of the spirits that Mackenzie has to hunt down are quite violent and this lends itself to some truly thrilling scenes. And this makes me especially excited as to the potential for this series.

There may have been a few times when my largely left-brained mind had trouble fully buying every aspect of the world building, leaving me with some niggling questions, but I think to dwell on them too much would be a bit too nitpicky and unfair of me. Ultimately, The Archived was a compulsively readable novel due to its enigmatic mystery, its thrilling action, and Victoria Schwab's vivid writing. Most significantly, The Archived has a wholly original premise and that is so refreshing and rare in books these days. Very much recommended!

Other Reviews:
Avery's Book Nook
Cozy Up With A Good Read
More Than Just Magic

Authors Links:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Publisher: Atria Books
Published: November 13, 2012
Pages: 448
Source: For Review from Simon & Schuster
Rating: 5 Stars

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.
Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.
Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

In short: Though The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay is an emotionally draining novel, it is also one that will leave you breathless from the outstanding beauty of the characters and the writing.
This book is angst-central. Nastya and Josh, the novel's alternating narrators, are two terribly defeated and depressed characters. They are both subject to some pretty appalling situations, which they deal with over the course of the novel. I usually find myself becoming annoyed with characters that are so angsty, but for some reason I found it didn't bother me in The Sea of Tranquility. Perhaps because debut author Katja Millay does such a brilliant job at showcasing her characters and their circumstances with such genuine and raw emotional depth that you can't help but truly FEEL what they are going through with painful clarity.

Alright, so that doesn't sound like so much fun, so let me clarify: The Sea of Tranquility is about a lot of pain, but through all that hardship, there is HOPE. There is no way I could have enjoyed this novel otherwise. Nastya and Josh can be fairly depressing - though still expertly written - but they do have an excellent support system in the form of some equally well written secondary characters who provide a much needed lightness to contrast all the despair. Plus, while the journey is hard, the ending is beautiful.

I think some people will probably find The Sea of Tranquility to be a bit slow in the beginning and hard to get into. For me, however, I feel that slow start was needed to ease myself into this incredibly draining story. And I urge anyone who is having a difficult time getting into the story to keep reading as what you will find in the end is a beautiful and heartfelt story that will stay with you long after you close the book.

In other news, I am becoming something of a contemporary-issues genre fan! Well... it has really just been The Sea of Tranquility and one other book a few months ago, but dammit if they weren't both truly amazing reads that left a profound effect on me. I am just impressed that someone like me - Miss Speculative Fiction Addict - could be finding new loves in realistic fiction, especially ones with such serious subject matter. Shows that it pays to go outside your comfort zone every once in a while! I HIGHLY recommend The Sea of Tranquility to both contemporary and non-contemporary fans.

Other Reviews:
Belle's Bookshelf
For What It's Worth
Tracy's Happy Bookshelf

Authors Links:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Spring 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 Spring 2013 Catalog:

Unbreakable by Elizabeth Norris
Date: April 23, 2013

Four months after Ben disappeared through the portal to his home universe, Janelle believes she’ll never see him again. Her world is still devastated, but life is finally starting to resume some kind of normalcy. Until Interverse Agent Taylor Barclay shows up. Somebody from an alternate universe is running a human trafficking ring, kidnapping people and selling them on different Earths—and Ben is the prime suspect. Now his family has been imprisoned and will be executed if Ben doesn’t turn himself over within five days.
And when Janelle learns that someone she cares about—someone from her own world—has become one of the missing, she knows that she has to help Barclay, regardless of the danger. Now Janelle has five days to track down the real culprit. Five days to locate the missing people before they’re lost forever. Five days to reunite with the boy who stole her heart. But as the clues begin to add up, Janelle realizes that she’s in way over her head—and that she may not have known Ben as well as she thought. Can she uncover the truth before everyone she cares about is killed?

I went into Unraveling not really knowing what to expect and came out actually really loving it. So I'm definitely excited for its sequel, Unbreakable, and looking forward to another mystery, some more action, and more Janelle and Ben!

The End Games by T. Michael Martin
Date: May 7, 2013
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It happened on Halloween.
The world ended.
And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.
Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.
In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.
But The Game is changing.
The Bellows are evolving.
The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.
And the brothers will never be the same.

So WOW, how cryptic and dark and awesome does The End Games sound? I really want to know what The Game is all about. I'm intrigued to say the least! And I love that cover!

Parallel by Lauren Miller
Date: May 14, 2013
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Abby Barnes had a plan. Get into a great college, major in journalism, and land a dream job at a major newspaper. But on the eve of her 18th birthday, she is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she’s in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. A cosmic collision of parallel universes has left Abby living a new reality every time parallel Abby makes a decision. Now Abby must race against time to take control of her fate without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soul mate, and the destiny that’s finally in reach.

LOVE the concept of parallel universes! The potential for such stories - the set-up, the explanation, the different possible paths, the intrigue - is huge. I really hope Parallel reaches its full potential!

Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Date: May 21, 2013
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Plenty of teenagers feel invisible. Fiona McClean actually is.
An invisible girl is a priceless weapon. Fiona’s own father has been forcing her to do his dirty work for years—everything from spying on people to stealing cars to breaking into bank vaults.
After sixteen years, Fiona’s had enough. She and her mother flee to a small town, and for the first time in her life, Fiona feels like a normal life is within reach. But Fiona’s father isn’t giving up that easily.
Of course, he should know better than anyone: never underestimate an invisible girl.

So, this girl Fiona McClean is invisible apparently - not a ghost, not a magical illusion - but actually invisible. Intrigued much? Heck yes. I can't wait to read what Transparent is all about!

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell

Publisher: Dial
Published: January 10, 2013
Pages: 400
Source: For Review from Penguin
Rating: 3.5 Stars

There is a new king on the throne of Tildor. Currents of political unrest sweep the country as two warring crime families seek power, angling to exploit the young Crown's inexperience. At the Academy of Tildor, the training ground for elite soldiers, Cadet Renee de Winter struggles to keep up with her male peers. But when her mentor, a notorious commander recalled from active duty to teach at the Academy, is kidnapped to fight in illegal gladiator games, Renee and her best friend Alec find themselves thrust into a world rife with crime, sorting through a maze of political intrigue, and struggling to resolve what they want, what is legal, and what is right.

In short: The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell was an incredibly exciting and fast-paced read, but unfortunately, it was at the expense of character and world building.
The Cadet of Tildor is an exciting and fast-paced addition to the high fantasy genre. Soldier training at an elite school, powerful magic used for good and bad, gruesome gladiator fights, crime families at war with each other - sounds fun, right? It is. The Cadet of Tildor follows the sole female soldier at the Academy of Tildor - Renee - as she tries to make a name for herself among her male cohorts. I loved The Cadet of Tildor's thrilling action scenes and the dark and gritty undertones of the world debut author Alex Lidell has created.

I do think the story was a bit too fast-paced for my liking, however. As fun as fast pacing in a novel can be, I felt that certain key elements of The Cadet of Tildor were lacking at its expense and could have used more time to develop - namely, the character development (I felt mostly detached and uninterested in the characters) and the politics and world building (I feel like I have only the barest grasp of these things). Personally, I'd rather take some time out from non-stop action (as fun as it is) to develop the world and characters more fully - or else the end result is that I kind of stop caring about those things.

Something else that I disliked about The Cadet of Tildor that is very subjective: Savoy, Renee's love interest, and their relationship. Try as I might, I just can't seem to fall for the bad boys that other girls go crazy about. Savoy was an arrogant jerk and I really disliked the way he patronized Renee for much of the novel. And meanwhile, Renee spent much of the novel mooning over him, despite his treatment of her, so that was also annoying. Again, I do think this is just my personal taste though - I have no doubt lots of ladies will love Savoy's mysterious and wounded character.

While The Cadet of Tildor wasn't my ideal fantasy read, I do think that a majority of readers are going to really enjoy this one, however, as it was a truly fun and thrilling read. I would highly recommend The Cadet of Tildor to readers who love fast pacing and who are more fantasy novices (I fear more experienced fantasy readers might find this one a bit unoriginal).

Authors Links:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (9) and Vlog (6)

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.

This week, I showcase the books I received for Christmas and am really, really excited about them:

For Review:
The Archived by Victoria Schwab (Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada!)
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd (Thanks to HarperCollins!)
Mind Games by Kiersten White (Thanks to HarperCollins!)
Taken by Erin Bowman (Thanks to HarperCollins!)
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (Thanks to Atria Books!)

Christmas Gifts (Thanks to the bf!):
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
John Green Box Set (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Publisher: Amulet Books
Published: January 1, 2013
Pages: 384
Source: For Review from Abrams
Rating: 3 Stars

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

In short: Splintered by A.G. Howard is an excellent re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, but the plot needed a bit more structure to maintain my interest.
What a cool concept - a spinoff of Alice in Wonderland in which Alice's great-great-great-granddaughter, Alyssa, must return to Wonderland to get rid of the curse that has been placed on her family. In Splintered, the Wonderland we know from Lewis Carroll's classic is much darker and demented. Debut author A.G. Howard does an excellent job of re-imagining the world and story we know so well into an edgier and scarier version, while still maintaining the scattered and strange tone of the original story.

Interestingly - and unfortunately - the thing that I liked most about Splintered (that is, that it did a remarkable job of capturing the strangeness and randomness of the original story) was also the thing I disliked most about Splintered. I prefer a bit more structure and reason in my plots and Splintered was a bit too much on the zany and random side to maintain my interest. Again, I do believe the zany-ness was absolutely necessary in an Alice in Wonderland spinoff, but I just need a bit more realness to feel invested in a story and that is purely my personal taste.

And I can't say I was a fan of the love triangle either - let's see, a choice between a controlling and demeaning guy or a creepy and manipulative guy? No thanks. And by extension, I was pretty annoyed with our protagonist, Alyssa, who falls easily for both guys despite their unappealing qualities - otherwise I would have really liked her, I think, as she seemed to be an independent-minded and strong-willed soul at the beginning of the novel.

While Splintered wasn't completely the book for me, I would recommend it to fans of Lewis Carroll's original story as it is a truly fascinating and impressive take on Alice in Wonderland. And while I wasn't completely enchanted with all aspects of Splintered, I was at least taken in by A.G. Howard's writing and creepily demented imagination, and I would definitely read another book of hers.

Other Reviews:
Books of Amber
Stories & Sweeties

Authors Links: