Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Title: All Fall Down

Author: Ally Carter

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publication Date: January, 2015

Hardcover: 320 pages

Stand Alone or Series: Series--this is the first installment in the Embassy Row series.

How I got this book: Bought

Why I chose this book:
I really love Ally Carter's novel, and just can't get enough.  I was very excited for this new series to debut.

Synopsis: 

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:
 
1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.
 
As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her -- so there's no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.
 
Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can't control Grace -- no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.


Review: 

I absolutely love all of Ally Carter's novels.  When I heard that this new series was going to start coming out I got really excited.  Carter's novels are rich with detail, witty, and full of mystery and intrigue.  Despite all of that, I was a little hesitant.  I'm always worried that a beloved author's new novel won't live up to the expectations I've made based on her previous novels.  But that wasn't an issue with All Fall Down.

We are introduced to our new protagonist, Grace, and immediately feel like we know who she is and why she is the way she is.  We empathize with her and her past.  But we never fully trust her.  I think this was one of the greatest parts of the novel that I haven't seen with Carter's earlier books.  I'm never fully sure if Grace is giving me the whole truth--if I can trust her.  And it just left me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

All of the characters, really, are so full of life.  They seem like such vibrant, full-of-life people that I would love to be friends with.  Why are they fictional?!

If I had any complaints, there would only be two small issues.  The first being that I wish there was more of a romantic aspect.  The synopsis mentions a mysterious Russian boy, and yes, he's there.  But I want more of him!  I wanted there to be a building of some type of relationship that could be expanded upon in the later installments.  But the interactions between this boy and Grace don't really happen until the end of the novel.  My second issue would be that the book ended.  I wanted more!  I want to read the entire series right now.  Unfortunately I'm going to have to wait.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.  It was amazing.  And if you haven't gotten around to reading Carter's other series, I would suggest you get on that.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review: The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko

Title: The Genome

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Publisher: Open Road Media

Publication date: December, 2014

Hardcover: 496 pages

Stand Alone or Series: As far as I can tell, this will remain a stand-alone novel.

How I got this book: Galley from the publisher.


Why I chose this book:
I was interested in delving into some new sci-fi material.

Synopsis: 

Five months after the horrific accident that left him near death and worried that he’d never fly again, master-pilot Alex Romanov lands a new job: captaining the sleek passenger vessel Mirror. Alex is a spesh—a human who has been genetically modified to perform particular tasks. As a captain and pilot, Alex has a genetic imperative to care for passengers and crew—no matter what the cost.

His first mission aboard Mirror is to ferry two representatives of the alien race Zzygou on a tour of human worlds. His task will not be an easy one, for aboard the craft are several speshes who have reason to hate the Others. Dark pasts, deadly secrets, and a stolen gel-crystal worth more than Alex’s entire ship combine to challenge him at every turn. And as the tension escalates, it becomes apparent that greater forces are at work to bring the captain’s world crashing down.


Review: 

I want to start of by saying that to anyone who is intimidated by the fact that the novel is around 500 pages long--don't be.  It absolutely flew by, since I couldn't put the book down.

I think that the novel has an excellent set-up--with an interesting, unique world, as well as believable and diverse characters.  Race and sexual orientation?  These aren't problems in this new world.  But a new world creates new problems.  There is now prejudices towards the Others, clones, and the Naturals.  Very interesting to delve into as a reader.


There was one major issue that set me back from really getting in to this story, and giving it those five stars.  And that is the relationship between the two main leads, Alex and Kim.  They are 34 and 14, respectively.  I can't read about there relationship and not feel discomfort.  I don't want to read about them having sex.  I understand that this is a whole new world, where these types of reservations don't exactly exist anymore.  But in the world where this novel is published, this type of relationship would make plenty of people uncomfortable to read about.

Book Review: Heart of Dread: Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

Title: Heart of Dread: Frozen

Author:
Melissa de la Cruz, Michael Johnston

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

Publication date: September, 2013

Hardcover: 336 pages

Stand Alone or Series: Series--this is the first installment in a series.

How I got this book: Galley from the publisher.


Why I chose this book: I've read previous books by Melissa de la Cruz, and wanted to see what she had in store for this novel.

Synopsis: 

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.
 
At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.
 
But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all. 


Review: 

I thought that this novel started out in a very interesting way.  We've got this unique world that is frozen over due to some great, spectacular event.  Now that's interesting.  It was enough to keep me captivated at least.  I thought this idea of a frozen world was a great one.  However, I think that the execution of said idea could have been done in a better way.

I think that the biggest problem with this book is that there is just so much going on all at once, like the author couldn't leave out any idea that came into her head.  We have magic maps, magic powers, zombie-ish people, dwarf-like people, more mythical creatures, death squads, and so much more.  If these ideas were all introduced slowly over the series, then that would be one thing.  But I think overall there was just too much packed into this one story, and it made it seem all over the place.

I think the best thing about this book was the characters.  They were memorable.  They were vibrant.  They seemed distinct.  I think a lot of work went into developing each and every one of them.


Overall, I thought the book left me in confusion, with many questions left unanswered.  Perhaps the series will get better as it goes along, but this first installment was a let-down for me.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Title: Snow Like Ashes

Author: Sara Raasch

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: October, 2014

Stand Alone or Series: Series--this is the first installment in a triology.

Hardcover: 432 pages

How I got this book: Bought


Why I chose this book: I was looking around for a new fantasy novel to sink my teeth in.  This new novel from a debut author seemed like the perfect thing.

Synopsis: 

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. The Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been searching for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild their kingdom ever since.
Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter’s future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of half of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics, and to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Review: 

This book was really impressive.  It contained the type of quality that I would expect out of previously published authors.  Considering that this is from a debut author makes it all the more impressive.  Overall, it was a solid fantasy novel that kept me entertained and reading.

I want to talk about the plot, because I think that was one of my favorite things about the novel.  SO MUCH HAPPENS.  It's only around 400 pages, and enough actions happens to fill up a whole trilogy.  And that's great.  We didn't spend ten pages talking about the long boring journey between kingdoms.  No, we skipped ahead to all the great action.  We keep meeting new characters and changing how we feel about existing characters.  By the end of the novel, I thought--how could the series possibly go on?  Everything has already happened.  This book could easily stand on its own.  So I'm interesting in seeing if the next two books are of the same quality as this first one.

As far as relationships go, I thought they were done pretty well, but not perfectly.  It's not clear who Meria feels attraction toward at any given time: Mather, the boy she's known and crushed on her whole life; or Theron, the boy she's just met but seems to like pretty well.  There is no distinction in feeling between these two boys.  And that's what really throws me off.  I should be able to see a difference.  I think these to relationships, especially since they are supposed to be romantic, should be played out a little more--especially the relationship between Meria and Theron, which I think developed seemingly instantly.  Yes, they had chemistry.  But Chemistry does not equate wanting to put your life on the line for the other person instantly, as is portrayed in the book.

Overall, very impressive.  I would definitely recommend this to fans of the fantasy genre.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Review: My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Title: My True Love Gave to Me

Authors:  Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de la Pena, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, Kiersten White

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Publication date:  October, 2014

Hardcover: 336 Pages

Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone


How I got this book: Bought

Why I chose this book: Who doesn't love a good holiday story? Or in this case, twelve.

Synopsis: 

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you're going to fall in love with My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers.  

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa, there's something here for everyone.  So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy.  You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love. 

Review: 

If you didn't know already, this book is comprised of twelve short stories from some of the best Young Adult authors out there.  So the only way to truly review this book is to go through story by story.

The book starts off with, "Midnight" by Rainbow Rowell.  The story tried to build a romance around two best friends who meet at a New Years Eve party.  It's a short story, yes, but that doesn't mean that you can rush the characters through a range of emotions and years in the span of less than ten pages.  Or you can, but it is difficult.  In this case, I just don't think that it was pulled off.  I didn't believe these two were really in love.  I think they were just pushed together for the sake of a romantic saga.

"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link.  This story was...odd.  But I liked it.  I think it would have been much better suited for a longer novel, where all the possible scenarios could have been played out and understood.  I also think that the romance between the main character, Miranda, and her mystery man, was off.  I saw friendship, sure.  But I just didn't get the romance.  Overall decent story--it was certainly original.

"Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Pena.  Interesting story set in a high-rise apartment in Brooklyn.  However, it was just so slow to get moving, especially for a short story, that I really couldn't get into it.  I wanted the character to do something, other than sit on the couch and stare at the wall.  Which he does a lot.  And when it finally came time for the romance, we get this girl who breaks up with her boyfriend on the phone in front of the protagonist.  This is after she had already kissed the protagonist, of course.  True love?  Maybe.  But it sounds more like a preemptive rebound to me.

"Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han.  An interesting concept with an equally interesting setting: the North Pole.  I thought this story had so much potential.  But the plot just didn't move forward.  Our protagonist is constantly lamenting over her love interest while thinking about the past.  Once the end comes around, so many questions are left unanswered!

I know it may sound at this point that I have a problem with every story.  I assure you that's not the case.  I would easily say that the second half of the stories are much better than the first half.

"It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins.  Easily my favorite story in the whole book.  It's sweet.  It's timed perfectly.  I understand my character, even though I only got to know her for such a short period of time.  I watch her start a relationship with a new person, North.  This story has so much character that I couldn't help but wish for me.

"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan.  I found this story to be more introspective than anything else.  One young man reflects on his feelings of being an outsider versus being an insider.  We see all of this unfolding as he enters his boyfriend's house dressed as Santa in order to convince a little girl that Santa does, in fact, exist.  A cute tale, full with emotional problems that are never fully explored.  Good, but not great.

"Krampuslauf" by Holly Black.  This story was quite interesting.  It revolved around this idea of the Krampus, a devil-like creature (possibly the devil himself?) creature who went out delivering whippings to the bad people.  It touches on these issues of self-worth connected to money, and the idea of Krampus delivering justice, unlike Santa Claus.  Was it very holiday-esque?  Not particularly.  Did it depict true-love?  Not really.  But it was an interesting read nonetheless.

"What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman.  I really liked this story.  It was fun, interesing, and plays around with boundaries.  Even better is it adds a little diversity to the rest of the collection by revolving around a girl who is Jewish, not Christian, so she celebrates Hanukkah instead of Christmas.

"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire.  This was a unique, cute little story that centered around the disasters that befall a Christmas Pageant.  I thought the plot and characters were perfect for a short story--everything fit and I wasn't left wondering why there wasn't more.

"Welcome to Christmas , CA" by Kiersten White.  I liked this story, but I think it would have been better suited for something longer.  And while there was decent room to get some good scenes in, I think it was too focused on the protagonist's pity for herself.  So much could have been done with that wasted time.

"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter.  I love Ally Carter, so I wasn't surprised that I liked this story.  Unique and interesting.  However, I think this story would have also been better suited for a full novel.  Too many points needed to be explored.  The relationships developed far too quickly.

"The Girl who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor.  This story just wasn't for me.  I couldn't get into it and I really didn't like it.  But who knows, you may feel differently!