Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

From Goodreads: It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings .... 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: When I saw the synopsis for Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a character being able to hear the voice of Jacob Grimm. Imagine not just being haunted by any ghost, but the ghost of one half of the Brothers Grimm!

It turns out that Jacob Grimm isn’t just a secondary character in Far Far Away, but actually its narrator. So, although I liked learning about Jacob’s life, the fact that a ghost was narrating the story kind of made me feel emotionally detached from Jeremy and his friends.

It didn’t help that the characters had such ridiculous names (e.g. Jeremy Johnson Johnson, Conk Crinklaw etc.) and that the plot was sort of strange. I loved that reading Far Far Away almost feels like reading a fairy tale, but it took so incredibly long for it to become interesting. And even then, I was disappointed because the climax turned out to be very anticlimactic.

Ultimately, it’s hard for me to figure out who I would recommend Far Far Away to as I doubt most of the people I know will have the patience to get through it. The book also seems like it’s intended for MG readers, but the way it’s written feels more appropriate for a YA audience. 

Far Far Away was released by Knopf Books for Young Readers in June 2013. 

Comments About the Cover: I like that the cover has this mysterious and sinister feel to it. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Random House) for free via NetGalley.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

From Goodreads: Cas Lowood, armed with his late father's athame knife, kills ghosts. In Thunder Bay, Anna, forever 16, drips blood on her white dress from a throat slit in 1958, and rips apart anyone who enters her house - except Cas. He makes new friends - high school queen Carmel, jock Will, admiring nerd Thomas and Tom's voodoo grandpa Morfran - to fight this demon. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: One of the reasons I didn’t read Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood until now is because I’m a scaredy-cat and generally avoid horror movies and novels. I finally decided to muster up the courage to read it though … and want to kick myself for not having read it sooner!

Blake’s descriptive writing makes it so easy to imagine the ghosts that Cas kills. I was especially delighted by the way that the reader meets Anna and the terrifyingly gruesome way that Cas’ father and certain other individuals are killed. I was equally horrified and disgusted, and then had to quickly look around to make sure that there was no vengeful ghost coming after me.

I haven’t read too many novels with male narrators, but Cas came off like a teenage guy to me. I also enjoyed his interactions with Thomas and Carmel. Despite doing his best to isolate himself, I liked how their friendship sort of snuck up on Cas.

I think my only complaint about Anna Dressed in Blood is the romance. Although I understood Cas’ fascination with and pity for Anna, I found the idea of him falling for a ghost a bit forced.

Anna Dressed in Blood was released in September 2011 by Tor Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: I love it! It’s bleak and haunting, and absolutely perfect for the story!

*Sidenote: I love that the setting for Anna Dressed in Blood is Thunder Bay. Can more authors set stories in Canada, please?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Until I Die by Amy Plum

From Goodreads: Kate and Vincent have overcome the odds and at last they are together in Paris, the city of lights and love. As their romance deepens there’s one question they can’t ignore: How are they supposed to be together if Vincent can’t resist sacrificing himself to save others? Although Vincent promises that he’ll do whatever it takes to lead a normal life with Kate, will that mean letting innocent people die? When a new and surprising enemy reveals itself, Kate realizes that even more may be at stake - and that Vincent’s immortality is in jeopardy. In Die for Me, Amy Plum created a captivating paranormal mythology with immortal revenants and a lush Paris setting. Until I Die is poised to thrill readers with more heart-pounding suspense, spellbinding romance, and a cliff-hanger ending that will leave them desperate for the third and final novel in the series. 

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Over my winter break, I’m going to trying to catch up on some series. One of the series I’ve fallen behind on is Amy Plum’s Revenants series.

I don’t know if it was because I read Die For Me such a long time ago, but I found it a bit hard to get into Until I Die. Once Until I Die captured my interest though, I remembered why I love this series. Besides transporting the reader to Paris, I love the amazing chemistry between all the characters. The revenants’ friendships feel so real, and make me wish that they actually existed so that I could get the opportunity to hang out with them.  

Another highlight of this series is the romance between Kate and Vincent. Although Vincent promised Kate in Die For Me that he would try to not die while rescuing humans, I loved that Kate realizes in Until I Die that sacrificing himself is part of Vincent’s nature a revenant. She’s willing to try and find a solution to make their relationship work long-term, but she doesn’t want it to come at Vincent’s expense. Vincent, though, lost a few points in my book because of his refusal to tell Kate what he was doing as an alternative to dying. Despite his behaviour, I still love Vincent, and consider Kate and Vincent to be one of my favourite YA couples.

A well-written sequel that delves deeper into the mythology of the revenants, Until I Die ends with a shocking cliffhanger! I’ve already started reading If I Should Die to see how the Revenants trilogy is concluded.

Until I Die was released in May 2012 by HarperTeen. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s not a bad cover; I just like Die For Me’s better.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: Dorothy Must Die

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme held by Jill at Breaking the Spine to feature upcoming books that we can't wait to get our hands on. 

Title: Dorothy Must Die 
Author: Danielle Paige
Publisher: HarperTeen
Date of Release: April 1, 2014 

Goodreads Description: I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know? Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still the yellow brick road, though - but even that's crumbling. What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe. My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas. I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I've been trained to fight. And I have a mission: Remove the Tin Woodman's heart. Steal the Scarecrow's brain. Take the Lion's courage. Then and only then - Dorothy must die! 

Why am I waiting? I love retellings, but haven't read one yet about The Wizard of Oz. This one sounds deliciously violent!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

From Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie. What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides - especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head - and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length. Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes was kind of an interesting read in that I really enjoyed the parts that I liked and hated the parts that I didn’t. I figured a pros and cons list therefore would probably serve best as a review for this book. 

  • My favourite thing about The Naturals was the mystery. My suspicions about who the serial killer was turned out to be completely off base, and I was very surprised by who it turned out to be!
  • I’m not sure what this says about me, but I also loved being in the head of the serial killer.
  • I really liked that Barnes kept the characters’ abilities seemingly natural. It’s not hard to imagine an ordinary person just being intuitively great at detecting whether someone is lying, for example, by reading body language and facial expressions. As a result, The Naturals never ventured into the paranormal realm.
  • I thought the secondary characters were pretty interesting. I did like the girls more than the guys though. 
  • Unlike the secondary characters, I never connected with Cassie because she sounded so monotonous throughout the entire novel. 
  • The premise is very far-fetched. For example, I find it hard to believe that an FBI agent would come to a twelve-year-old with questions about serial killers. Also, there's no explanation provided for how the FBI finds these so-called Naturals.  
  • Not only was there a dull love triangle, but it also turned out to be completely pointless because Cassie didn’t choose anybody! 
  • The ending was a bit too open for me. I think The Naturals is a standalone, but the way it ended seems like the author has left the possibility open for a sequel. 
The Naturals was released in November 2013 by Disney-Hyperion. 

Comments About the Cover: I love the cover! I think it’s very eye-catching and unique. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Disney Book Group) for free via NetGalley.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: Split Second

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme held by Jill at Breaking the Spine to feature upcoming books that we can't wait to get our hands on. 
Title: Split Second
Author: Kasie West
Publisher: HarperTeen
Date of Release: February 11, 2014 
Goodreads Description: Addie hardly recognizes her life since her parents divorced. Her boyfriend used her. Her best friend betrayed her. She can’t believe this is the future she chose. On top of that, her ability is acting up. She’s always been able to Search the future when presented with a choice. Now she can manipulate and slow down time, too ... but not without a price. When Addie’s dad invites her to spend her winter break with him, she jumps at the chance to escape into the Norm world of Dallas, Texas. There she meets the handsome and achingly familiar Trevor. He’s a virtual stranger to her, so why does her heart do a funny flip every time she sees him? But after witnessing secrets that were supposed to stay hidden, Trevor quickly seems more suspicious of Addie than interested in her. And she has an inexplicable desire to change that. Meanwhile, her best friend, Laila, has a secret of her own: she can restore Addie’s memories ... once she learns how. But there are powerful people who don’t want to see this happen. Desperate, Laila tries to manipulate Connor, a brooding bad boy from school - but he seems to be the only boy in the Compound immune to her charms. And the only one who can help her. As Addie and Laila frantically attempt to retrieve the lost memories, Addie must piece together a world she thought she knew before she loses the love she nearly forgot ... and a future that could change everything. 
Why am I waiting? I really enjoyed Pivot Point, and can't wait to "meet" Trevor again. I'm also curious to see if West can make me change my mind about Laila since I wasn't really a fan of her in Pivot Point. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Mini Reviews: Hooked by Liz Fichera and Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins

From Goodreads: When Native American Fredricka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done. But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome - especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred. But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile ...

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I think I was expecting Liz Fichera’s Hooked to have a lot more romance than it did because of the cover. Instead, the plot kind of revolves more around self-discovery than romance. Besides the lacklustre romance, I also found the characters to be very passive and forgettable. Another reason that I was disappointed by Hooked was because the racism encountered by Fred was never dealt with directly. What I did like about Hooked, however, was that it explored Native American culture and featured golf (which I find incredibly boring) – two themes that haven’t gotten much attention in YA. 

Hooked was released in January 2013 by Harlequin Teen. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Harlequin Teen) for free via NetGalley. 

From Goodreads: Cami Broussard has her future all figured out. She'll finish her senior year of high school, then go to work full-time as an apprentice chef in her father's French restaurant, alongside her boyfriend, Luke. But then twenty-year-old ex-Marine Julian Wyatt comes to live with Cami's family while recovering from serious injuries. And suddenly Cami finds herself questioning everything she thought she wanted. Julian's all attitude, challenges and intense green-brown eyes. But beneath that abrasive exterior is a man who just might be as lost as Cami's starting to feel. And Cami can't stop thinking about him. Talking to him. Wanting to kiss him. He's got her seriously stirred up. Her senior year has just gotten a lot more complicated ...

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins was a quick read that I’m still feeling ambivalent about (though it did leave me quite hungry). On the one hand, the characters had chemistry; and I really liked that they chose to pursue their own dreams rather than trying to adjust them for each other or anybody else. On the other hand, I found it hard to relate to the characters. I just never connected with Cami and didn’t like how she treated Luke. I also think I would have liked Julian more if Stir Me Up had included his POV as well. Overall, the best part about Stir Me Up for me was the characters considering options other than college after high school since this isn’t something that’s really emphasized in contemporary YA.

Stir Me Up was released by Harlequin Teen in October 2013. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Harlequin Teen) for free via NetGalley.

Excerpt: Covert Assignment (and Giveaway)

Elle is ready for graduation and full-fledged adulthood: no more living like the leftover of her parent’s divorce. She’s about to graduate with her degree in Information Science (the 21st century term for Library Science) and has a ten-year plan as well-designed as any model for analyzing metadata: earn her JD/MBA, enjoy a couple of years as a single professional, then marry her college sweetheart, Adam, and start her own family. Yet Elle feels like she returned to an alternate universe her final semester. There are pictures of Adam with a classmate who must be surgically enhanced, but he insists he wants Elle. CIA recruiters show up on campus, and they aren’t just interested in recruiting Elle for future employment: turns out she’s already working for them since they’re funding her thesis. Hot operative Preston Raddick is tasked to work with her. Preston isn’t just hot: he’s hot for Elle, but is he offering happy ever after or happy for right now? A fling with Preston could be the beginning of a new life plan, which is exciting and scary, especially with espionage thrown in. Elle needs a predictive model to tell her which decisions have the greater likelihood for happiness …

As part of the blog tour for Covert Assignment, I have an excerpt from the book:

“That’s the data itself,” Preston said. “So what is metadata?” 

Elle smiled. Lots of people had that question. “Metadata is the information about the information. For example, players have user names. The easiest way to link a player’s information from the game with the message boards and chat is to gather information that is all from the same user name. But sometimes people use different names. So I also tag information by such markers as time of day of play and posting, IP address, similar game strategies: information about the data. That’s the metadata.”

Preston nodded, brow still furrowed as he thought it through. “So by analyzing the metadata, you can group the players.”

He was hot and smart. Elle was impressed; Marni and Tina still got confused about what, exactly, metadata was, despite her repeated explanations over the years. “How do you like my model now?”

Preston’s eyes seemed to pin her in place with a gaze so penetrating it was as if it stripped away the layers and crystallized her thoughts so he could see them. “Very much,” he said with a sly smile. “She’s been good to me. And it’s the hot, one-of-a-kind model that not even our analysts at Langley can duplicate.”

Elle felt herself blush. So annoying. “Well, I understand gamers.” It was as if invisible lasers were beaming out of his eyes, heating her up. “You know, being in college and everything.” Adam was a gamer, but she didn’t want to bring him up right now.

Preston looked amused at her blushing. “I like how you strut your stuff.”

Of course that had her blushing so much she probably looked like she was suffering a coronary. Elle again laughed while trying to think of something to say. All she could come up with was, “So I take it you’re not an analyst?”

She began typing commands into her computer, and he started reviewing whatever he’d been doing as well. “Clandestine Service,” Preston replied. “I use the data you find in the field.”

Clandestine Service. So he was a spy. A super sexy secret spy. Elle managed to block a giggle from escaping but felt her cheeks get warm. She was working with a real live spy. She could see Preston in a tuxedo, doing the tango with some long-limbed woman before stealing state secrets and zooming off in a sleek sports car.

After a while, Preston said, “So if you can put together the right combination of variables, you can predict what will happen.”

“Within a certain degree of accuracy, yes.”

“So what variables would I need to guarantee dinner with you?”

Covert Assignment can be bought from: [Amazon

Monday, December 02, 2013

Guest Post: CJ Lyons

The only thing fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian has ever wanted is a chance at a normal life. Diagnosed with a rare and untreatable heart condition, she has never taken the school bus. Or giggled with friends during lunch. Or spied on a crush out of the corner of her eye. So when her parents offer her three days to prove she can survive high school, Scarlet knows her time is now ... or never. Scarlet can feel her heart beating out of control with every slammed locker and every sideways glance in the hallway. But this high school is far from normal. And finding out the truth might just kill Scarlet before her heart does.

Today, I'd like to welcome CJ Lyons, the author of Broken to my blog. CJ is here to talk about why she decided to become a writer after working as a pediatric ER doctor and if she ever misses working in medicine. 

I’ve been a storyteller all my life and have always used stories to makes sense of the world around me - it’s my coping mechanism for dealing with chaos. But I never really thought of writing as a career until after I sold my second novel - that’s second novel sold. I’d written my first novel in high school followed by two SF/F novels in medical school. 

Then, halfway through my internship year at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh one of my fellow interns was killed in a very horrendous way. The police apprehended the killer, thanks to good forensic work and cooperation of several agencies. But we interns were still traumatized. Left to mourn and make sense of this terrible thing while simultaneously caring for infants and children entrusted to our care and trying to help families cope. 

For me, writing helped me to heal. I wrote my first crime fiction novel, a romantic thriller called BORROWED TIME (which hit the USA TODAY Bestseller list). Before I'd always written SF/F, but after Jeff died I needed to explore good/evil, justice/truth more than I needed the escapism my previous novels provided me. 

After I had two books under contract and was working hard to finish a third I realized that between medicine and writing I had no time for anything else. Medicine was a lifelong dream come-true, but I thought there was no reason I couldn't have two dream-come-true careers and become a full time writer. So I left. My colleagues thought I was nuts - until after I was gone and things went down hill with HMO's, etc, then they were calling me telling me how smart I was, lol! I missed my patients (still do) but no guilt, writing has given me the chance to touch 100,000's of lives. 

This truth really hits home every time I receive fan mail from people sharing with me how my books have empowered or inspired them to change their lives. I realized that being able to write stories that have that kind of impact is just as powerful as practicing medicine. And that’s when I knew I really “made it” as a writer. 

Thanks for dropping by, CJ!

A bit about CJ (as found on Goodreads): New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-one novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. Winner of the International Thriller Writers coveted Thriller Award, CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).