9/30/13

How My Summer Went Up in Flames

Author: Jennifer Salvato Doktorski 
Pages: 307 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Rosie’s always been impulsive. She didn’t intend to set her cheating ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. And she never thought her attempts to make amends could be considered stalking. So when she’s served with a temporary restraining order on the first day of summer vacation, she’s heartbroken—and furious.

To put distance between Rosie and her ex, Rosie’s parents send her on a cross-country road trip with responsible, reliable neighbor Matty and his two friends. Forget freedom of the road, Rosie wants to hitchhike home and win back her ex. But her determination starts to dwindle with each passing mile. Because Rosie’s spark of anger? It may have just ignited a romance with someone new…



My Summary: Rosie is a bit of a princess - and that's putting it lightly. Impulsive and extremely passionate, she doesn't tend to think ahead... and it's that lack of planning that gets her in huge trouble. 

After getting busted for setting her cheating ex-boyfriend's car on fire (it was an accident, she swears) Rosie's slammed with a restraining order and told she has to appear in court in a few weeks. At their wit's end, her parents make the choice to send Rosie on a road trip with their neighbour's son and a few of his friends. Will she be able to survive ten days on the road with three of the most infuriatingly-reliable geeks in the world, or will she ditch them before the trip is over?

My Thoughts: This was a light read, perfect for the summer. Rosie was honest and funny, and even though she wasn't the typical YA heroine, I enjoyed reading about her escapades and rooted for her throughout the novel. She was realistically flawed and easy to like.

I loved the fact that Rosie and the guys went on a cross-country road trip and visited places like Graceland and Dollywood. It made it all the better to see a girl like Rosie so out of her element, and I loved that each guy's individual personality balanced out the group so well. The witty banter between the Rosie and the guys made me laugh out loud more than a few times. I liked the inclusion of Logan and Spencer's back story, even though I really wished the author would've gone into more detail and included it in the story a little more. 

The romance aspect was extremely realistic - both with Rosie's ex and with Logan. Break-ups are hard for everyone, and if the relationship with Logan had been a full-blown thing from the get-go, the story would've seemed a lot less real to me. Rosie knew she had to focus on becoming a better person before jumping into another relationship - an extremely mature outlook in a genre that doesn't tend to promote the healthiest relationships.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys contemporary lit and is looking for a light, quick read. 

9/28/13

The Vow

Author: Jessica Martinez 
Pages: 432 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Format: Paperback (ARC) 
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): No one has ever believed that Mo and Annie are just friends. How can a guy and a girl really be best friends? 

Then the summer before senior year, Mo’s father loses his job, and by extension his work visa. Instantly, life for Annie and Mo crumbles. Although Mo has lived in America for most of his life, he’ll be forced to move to Jordan. The prospect of leaving his home is devastating, and returning to a world where he no longer belongs terrifies him. 


Desperate to save him, Annie proposes they tell a colossal lie—that they are in love. Mo agrees because marrying Annie is the only way he can stay. Annie just wants to keep her best friend, but what happens when it becomes a choice between saving Mo and her own chance at real love?




Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

My Summary: Mo and Annie have been inseparable since the day she rescued him from an embarrassing pants-peeing incident on a school fieldtrip in grade school. But the thing is, all they've ever been is friends. Best friends - nothing more and nothing less, despite what the citizens of their tiny southern town may think. The two are comfortable in their platonic relationship, and know that as long as they have each other, everything will be alright.

But when Mo's dad looses his job and his work visa, things take a turn for the worst. With their imminent separation looming, Annie suggests something crazy: she and Mo get married secretly so that he won't be deported.

They go through with the plan, but soon discover that married life is anything but bliss. Can their friendship survive the strain (and the government investigation into their marriage), or will Mo have to return to Jordan?

My Thoughts: This was definitely one of those books that makes you stop and think. The premise itself made me wonder: could I ever do what Annie did, even for my best friend? The unique take on what it means to love someone really got me thinking, and the situation the characters found themselves in was both realistic and horrible.

Mo and Annie were incredibly well-developed characters. Each had their own distinct personality, but they were similar in a way that never made you doubt they were best friends. I also really enjoyed the view on platonic friendships between two best friends of the opposite sex - it reminded me a little of When Harry Met Sally in the way that it was very realistic and didn't make you think that the sole purpose of the friendship was a stepping stone to a relationship. 
  
Martinez's writing was easy to follow and pulled me right in from the first page. Her dialogue was witty and clever, and the way she transitioned from Annie's chapters to Mo's chapters was very smooth and kept me hooked. The plot was always engaging and well paced, and I never felt like there was a lull.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of contemporary YA as well as realistic fiction & romance. I'll definitely be checking out more from the author in the future!

9/23/13

Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell 
Pages: 434 
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. 

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. 

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. 

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?



My Summary: Ever since her mother left, Cath's entire life has revolved around Simon Snow: a character from a widely popular book series that centers on the adventures of an orphan at a magical school. Her entire life is Simon Snow - she writes a really popular fanfiction and has tens of thousands of readers hanging on her every word. Cath's always been secure in the knowledge that no matter what went wrong, she and her twin sister Wren could rely on Simon.

Until Cath goes to college, where she discovers that her sister is becoming a completely different person and couldn't care less about their mutual obsession. Cath is crushed, but she knows Wren will be okay without her and Simon. But can Cath survive college when she isn't in control of the plot line? Especially if doing so means having to give up Simon?

My Thoughts: This book was a blast. I started it a few hours before bed hoping to get through a few chapters, but I ended up finishing sometime in the early morning. I could not put it down. Rowell's writing pulled me in - it was like love at first sentence. 

Cath was a great main character, and reminded me so much of myself back in the ol' fanfic days. Rainbow Rowell has a way of writing hilariously quirky characters, and I can honestly say I can't pick a favourite. Levi, of course, was amazing - there's nothing like a guy with an adorable accent who also happens to know how to make a gingerbread latte. 

This book tackled a few tough issues, and I think the character's reactions were very realistic. Cath's reaction to her mother's attempt to get involved in her life - to me, at least - seemed warranted. It's not always possible to forgive and forget. 

Final Thoughts: I definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys realistic contemporary YA and new adult fiction. Check out Rainbow Rowell's other books if you haven't already! 

9/22/13

Perfect Ruin

Author: Lauren DeStefano 
Pages: 368 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Format: Paperback (ARC) 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.




Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.




Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. 

My Summary: Sometimes perfection is not all that it appears to be.

Morgan is a resident of Internment - a floating island in the sky, separated from Earth. At first glance, Morgan's home seems like the perfect place to live... but if that's true, why are there still people tempted to 'jump'?

Why would anyone want to leave Utopia? Morgan doesn't understand what inspired her brother to jump, but when a senseless murder shocks their perfect community, she has no choice but to wonder: what lies below? And what do you do when Utopia is revealed to be anything but perfect?

My Thoughts: First off, that cover is absolutely stunning! It fits the story so well and adds to that quality that I can't properly describe but this novel has in doves.

I've always been a huge fan of Lauren DeStefano's, and the first in this series does not disappoint. Just reading the premise on Goodreads a few months ago made me want to get my hands on the book ASAP, and you can bet I was excited when I opened my mailbox and found it waiting for me. I loved the idea that all the cracks were revealed in the Utopian society when something went wrong, and I really liked that the realistic breakdown of Morgan's 'perfect' family paralleled it so well. 

If there's one thing Lauren knows how to do, it's write amazingly complex characters. She managed to make them all so relatable, despite them growing up in a completely different societal structure. Morgan's phenomenal character just cemented that for me - she goes from almost naive and blindly believing to doubting everything she's ever been told about Internment. The supporting characters were pretty great too: I loved Pen, Lex, and of course Basil. I also really enjoyed that the romance aspect was not the main plot focus - it's refreshing to see a YA that included romance but doesn't ignore the rest of the plot elements.   

Lauren's writing style has always been one of my favourites in the YA genres. I adore the way it flows almost lyrically, and a few of the words she used made it into my notebook for future use. And of course, it wouldn't be a Lauren DeStefano novel without a cliffhanger that makes you desperate for the next installment!

Final Thoughts: I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dystopian YA, as well as romance and sci-fi. Fans of Icarceron will definitely love it, as well of fans of Lauren's Chemical Garden trilogy

9/21/13

The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater 
Pages: 450 
Publisher: Scholastic 
Format: Paperback (UK) 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after… 







I don't know what to say other than GET YOUR BUTT TO A BOOKSTORE AND BUY A COPY OF THIS INSANELY AMAZING BOOK. 

Sidenote: I've had a lot of caffeine today. 

Another sidenote: I read this entire book in one sitting and my mind is reeling because it was freaking AMAZING and I have no words. None. This series is definitely one of the best in the paranormal-YA genres, and if you haven't already read the first book (The Raven Boys) than you really should. ASAP. Maggie's writing fits the story perfectly, and I could not have asked for a better plot. This woman weaves plot lines like nobody's business and makes it look easy. The characters are so likable and each is broken in their own little way and it makes you want to reach out and gather them all up into a bear hug: Noah and Blue and Adam and Gansey and especially Ronan. Oh how my heart breaks for them. 

Seriously guys, get yourselves a copy of this book. There's nothing more that I can say. 

If you've read it already, please don't hesitate to comment! I have some theories that I want to discuss without mentioning any spoilers. 


9/17/13

The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms: Interview with Author Ian Thornton!



How my copy arrived - isn't it pretty?


Those of you who follow me know I recently got the chance to read IanThornton book, The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms and fell in love with the characters and story. To my surprise and delight, Ian agreed to answer a few questions I had about the book and his writing process.







Did you get your inspiration for Johan from any other pieces of literature? Were there any aspects of his personality that ‘evolved’ on their own?


If a newspaper article back in the early 90s counts as literature, then yes. I wish I could find it. It always stayed with me in my mind as a kernel of a great story, and when I thought of writing it was an immediate choice for my subject matter. It concerned the tale of a young man, who left his college on a Friday, determined to spend the weekend on his own, in solitude. By the time Monday morning rolled around, he had set fire to the twentieth century. This fragility, this interdependence of events fascinated me then as it does now. Some quite special men spend their whole lives trying to change a city block or a small town, but here's a boy, trying to mind his own business, and ka-boom!, up we all go in flames. The length of Johan's life and perhaps his blue eyes may have their genesis in The Illywhacker. But he HAS to live to be an old man. He HAS to see the full impact of what he believed he had set in motion. And also to span the whole century; born in the 19th, dies in the 21st. He has to outlive it in order to truly own it, as he at one point believes. Reading David Copperfield mid-edit may also have influenced me. Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Mankiewicz, Stephen Fry and Bruce Robinson may also have something for which to answer. The second part of your question - he was all evolution. I had no idea where I was going when I started other than the pivot of June 28th, 1914. Some have told me this is suicide, others have advised that it is the only way to write. Make of that what you will. I think it means do whatever you feel works.


How does this book differ compared to the book you originally set out to write?


I think this is only partially answered in the previous question. But there are more aspects which are just as, if not more, important. The first drafts were violent, nihilistic, crude, angry, ill-disciplined and vile. This mirrored where I was psychologically, in a very dark place with issues around alcohol, an unhappy work career, a desperate lack of direction, a broken marriage, a dying mother. By the time I was completing the later edits here in Toronto a lot of these issues had unravelled; at the centre of which was the love of a good woman and a year and a half without a single drop of booze. These drafts were therefore far more positive and had started to contain large elements of redemption. Humour, friendship and family found root in the manuscript during this time. I hope. I wouldn't want to moralise on drinking though. In hindsight, it was necessary in encouraging my madness, something all writers need in bundles. It helps to be able to stop though; something I was notoriously bad in knowing when to do as a younger chap. My state of mind was a key factor, but also were important and basic elements of writing, particularly discipline, which I hope I discovered a bit of en route. I really see the whole process as a real life university course in spinning a yarn. I still feel a novice in terms of having read the classics and knowing the 'rules' of writing, but when I started I really knew less-than-bugger-all.


What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of writing a novel such as The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms?


Good question. It depends if it is your first one. If it is a debut, I think the natural inclination is to throw the kitchen sink at it. I did this, and ended up with a rambling and ill-disciplined manuscript of 170,000 words; almost twice its current length. The subsequent editing process can be tricky, especially for a rookie, but the flip side of this naivety is that one allows the imagination to run wild, and to be perhaps ballsier than a more seasoned writer would be. Rules don't matter if you simply don't know them. I think there may well be a trade-off between imagination and the craft of professionalism. If I were to expand your question slightly and replace 'writing' with 'producing', then the answer is incredibly clear cut: the business end of the process. Finding a good agent and the right publisher ranks top. I am blessed to have ended up where I am and with whom I have, but when one's future is out of one's hands and in the in-tray of some faceless decision-makers, the weeks can turn into months and into years with no progress on the actual page. I wonder if I had known this, I would have battled on, but once you're in the scrap, you just carry on. As I say, I am very lucky to have found some diamonds who believed in me. I guess the really positive message from all this is 'Don't give up. Ever.'


Do you have any writing 'quirks'? Example: only writing at a certain location, at a certain time of day, etc.


Never within 72 hours of any sort of alcohol. As I say, this is not really an issue today. I could also never write when I was unsettled or in transit. I wrote a lot of the manuscript in Costa Rica, and although the local coffee helped to produced thousands of words, I would need to be in one spot for at least a week before work started. I also can't do a thing if there is an email in my in-tray or any mess on my desk. I think the doctors have a name for this.


What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned while writing this novel?


Where do I start? At one end of the scale, I would say a lesson as functional as the mechanics of writing; from structure on the page and transatlantic spelling conventions. Measure is a lesson I have not learned but of which I hope I am now at least more aware. On a more philosophical plane, there is very little more satisfying than achieving a goal which appears so out of reach to so many and for so long. Persistence and self-belief, even if it is grounded in delusion. As someone famous once said in a song, 'You've got to have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?'

Thanks Ian! I'm looking forward to reading your next novel. Happy writing!

You can check out more from Ian about Johan Thoms on his website.


For those of you who haven't already, check out the book trailer!




And while you're here, check out my review of The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms

9/8/13

The Shrouded Walls

Author: Susan Howatch 
Pages: 179 
Publisher: Stein & Day 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Marianne's letter never reached her brother. It was stolen and destroyed. 

Ever since Marianne married Axel Brandson, strange things have happened. Theirs was no love match; Axel needed to be married to inherit his father's fortune. But it was not until Marianne arrived at the isolated family estate in Sussex that she realized the inheritance was clouded by murder... and that the murderer was still nearby, waiting to strike again. 








My Summary: Marianne and her brother Alex had no idea that their parents had not made any plans for them in the case of their deaths. Now, orphaned and destitute, the twins have no choice but to fend for themselves. Marianne's only choices -- being the illegitimate child of a high-ranking politician -- are to become a governess or to get married, lest her brother be forced to join the army. 

Enter Axel Brandson. A wealthy foreigner, he requests that Marianne become his wife so that he may fulfill the terms of his father's will and inherit the land left to him. She accepts, and all seems well until she reaches the secluded family home that happened to be the scene of a gruesome murder: Axel's father's. And the murderer may or may not be living under the same roof. One thing is certain, though: every member of the family benefitted in some way from Axel's father's death, and they'll also benefit from Marianne's .... 

My Thoughts: I read this book almsot eight years ago and adored it. It was like nothing I'd ever read before, and it introduced me to the word of gothic lit. I found it in a discarded box of books outside the library and decided to give it a shot. A few days ago I rediscovered it as I cleaned up my bookshelves and decided to see if I would enjoy it the second time around. Needless to say, twelve year old me was not wrong. Susan Howatch's writing is timeless, pulling you in and not letting go.

Marianne's predicament sounds like the opening of an Austen novel, but it soon becomes clear that she is caught up in a lot more than a simple family drama. The plot is complex and the writing is detailed, yet not too filled with adjectives and descriptions so as to bore the reader. It was a fairly short novel, but it never felt rushed or hurried.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys gothic lit and anyone who enjoys a good mystery. This book is proof that newer is not always better when it comes to books!

9/7/13

Untold

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan 
Pages: 336 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK 
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)
: It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways. 

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?   



My Summary: After surviving an ordeal and nearly getting themselves killed, Kami and her little band of misfits know they have only one job to do: gather support against Rob Lynburn and protect their sleepy little town. 

But the winning side may not be theirs -- even with all the sorcerers in town. Rob's numbers keep growing exponentially, while Kami and her friends are hard-pressed to find a single new supporter. Can they stand against Rob when he demands a blood sacrifice, or is Sorry-in-the-Vale doomed to return to the old ways? 

My Thoughts: I have adored Sarah Rees Brennan's writing since first picking up the first book in the series (Unspoken) last year. The idea of a sleepy little town with some serious secret-keeping issues hooked me right away, and I have yet to find a person who didn't enjoy the first book just as much as I did. Unspoken was one of those books that I finished in the middle of the night, unable to put it down without finding out what happened. It was also one of those books that you flip over after you're done reading and start again.... I know I've re-read it more than a few times!

Untold picks up right where the first installment leaves off. Amid all the chaos of a town at war with itself, the author manages to incorporate realistic emotion and hilarious dialogue between the characters. It's a great contrast to the dreariness of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and I found myself torn between laughing and stressing about what was going to happen next. I won't say anything for fear of spoiling it for all of you who have yet to read Untold or Unspoken, but there were a few events that transpired in Untold that made me very, very happy. As usual, the characters were incredibly well-developed, and the story didn't center on the romance element.  

The only thing I wish was different is the cover. I absolutely ADORED the cover for Unspoken, and I'm a little disappointed in the cover art for this installment. The cover of the first book really brought together all the gothic elements and made the book stand out, while this cover didn't really do it for me.

Final Thoughts: If you're a fan of fantasy, romance, and paranormal YA, then you absolutely positively NEED to check out the books in Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy series.