Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis.

Page Count: 320.
Published: September 24, 2013.
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books.
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water. 

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

My Review:

Someone please give me Mindy McGinnis' next book. Now. Because Not a Drop to Drink was utterly fantastic. I can't sing its praises enough. Aside from a moment during the ending that I'm still not sure how I feel about, I absolutely loved this novel. Loved. McGinnis' look at a world that could one day be ours is well-written, has excellent characters, and, best of all, feels downright real.

One thing I really admire about McGinnis is that she doesn't worry about holding her readers' hands or making sure they're okay throughout the novel. This book is raw, rough, and really gets kind of painful! The landscape is bleak, the main character, Lynn, is tough and I was absolutely sucked into this world. It is clear from the opening scene how difficult life is for Lynn and her mother, as well as for all the poor suckers who happen to get too close to their pond. McGinnis doesn't take pity on any of her characters, putting them through challenges that are very fitting for the state of their world and not giving them an easy out. Lynn faces some really difficult times, especially because she's not perfect and her mistakes have more severe consequences than they would if she were living a normal life. She also faces life or death decisions with results that vary and, honestly, that shocked me at times.

I really adored the characters McGinnis has created. They truly drive this novel and aside from what I see as a small blip at the end, are wonderfully real and true. Right from the beginning McGinnis shows us who Lynn is and how she got to be that way. Lynn begins as a strong, take-no-prisoners protector of her land and her pond, which is how she was raised by her single mother. As her range of experiences expands, she resists change at first but later really begins to grow as a character and adapt to the new circumstances she finds herself in. However, despite her personal growth, she still remains a tough and occasionally rather cold girl just trying to survive in this unfriendly environment, just with a wider range of emotions. Which sounds a little ridiculous, but it totally works for her character.

While Lynn and her mother are the gritty characters, there is a small collection of other characters that truly make the novel what it is. Their elusive (at first) neighbour, Stebbs; a little girl struggling to survive, Lucy; and Lucy's young uncle from the city, Eli, with whom Lynn has a romance that is endearing and honest, but not overwhelming to the story. These characters are all extremely likeable, which I think in a way balances out how Lynn can sometimes come across as too harsh. In addition, each of these other characters not only plays a large role in the plot, but also helps make Lynn into the young woman she grows into by the end of the novel. They each possess a quality that Lynn herself either just doesn't have or never had the opportunity to develop because of her upbringing, and with their presence they expose her to some of the little things that she has never really had in her life.

Even though, as I mentioned, there was an incident at the end that I still don't know how to react to, I thought the epilogue McGinnis included was excellent and it helped keep that one incident from leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
I truly can't justify not giving this book 5 stars. 


Blog Tour Review: The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch

Today I'm happy to be part of the blog tour for Jeff Hirsch's The Darkest Path. Thanks Book Nerd Tours for the opportunity!

The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch.

Page Count: 336.
Published: September 24, 2013.
Published by: Scholastic Press.
Source: Received an ARC from Scholastic Canada for review for the tour.

USA TODAY bestselling author Jeff Hirsch once again creates a futuristic world with stunning, dramatic realism.

A civil war rages between the Glorious Path--a militant religion based on the teachings of a former US soldier--and what's left of the US government. Fifteen-year-old Callum Roe and his younger brother, James, were captured and forced to convert six years ago. Cal has been working in the Path's dog kennels, and is very close to becoming one of the Path's deadliest secret agents. Then Cal befriends a stray dog named Bear and kills a commander who wants to train him to be a vicious attack dog. This sends Cal and Bear on the run, and sets in motion a series of incredible events that will test Cal's loyalties and end in a fierce battle that the fate of the entire country rests on.

My Review:

It is clear just from the cover and the synopsis that this is an explosive, wild ride with high tension and higher stakes. The Darkest Path definitely lives up to this promise. A well-crafted novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat, then lull you into a false sense of security only to sneak back up and shock you again. A wild ride, indeed!

The Darkest Path has a great main character but is overall a very plot driven novel. There are many times when it feels like the action is never going to end and the danger just keeps mounting. This novel really took me up, down and around as a reader because the possibility of hope or freedom goes in and out of Callum's hands time after time. While the pace of some scenes did occasionally feel a little slow, I was certainly never bored with the book because the explosive action kept turning up around every corner. It almost felt at times like poor Callum just could not catch a break, but in a way that made both him and the ending of the novel stronger.

Callum is an excellent narrator for The Darkest Path. He is strong, but has his vulnerabilities; determined, but not unwilling to stray from his journey to help others; and he is genuinely a nice guy, one who sees the good in others more than the bad. This is just the kind of narrator I love to root for. Even though he can make some frustrating decisions, these make for a more intense and exciting story, so it's easy enough to forgive him. On top of that, the friendship he forms with the stray dog he finds, Bear, is heartwarming. While no man/animal duo can compare to Patrick Ness' Todd and Manchee to me, they are just who Hirsch's duo reminded me of, which is a testament to what a fine pair they are. Though, like I mentioned before, this is a plot-driven novel, both this partnership and Callum's relationship with his brother, James, play very strong and important roles in the book. It was compelling to watch the way they each affect Callum and how they alter his perspective or his plans accordingly. It was great to see the main character truly be impacted by those around him the way Callum was. It made him an even more interesting and endearing narrator.

One thing that really stood out to me in The Darkest Path was how there is so much destruction and pain throughout the book, but how seamlessly Hirsch weaves in some tender, touching moments to contrast. There is no doubt that this is a war book. There is plenty of shooting and there are lots of explosions. There are characters that are killed before you can connect to them and characters that are killed just as soon as you connect to them. The book also provides an interesting look at how war can change people, which is not always for the better. However, Hirsch excellently places some truly wonderful, hopeful scenes (my favourites being those that show how deep the personal connection between Callum and Bear becomes) that keep this novel from turning into an all-out war-torn pit of despair. His masterful balance is what makes this book, as dark as it can be at times, the interesting and enjoyable read that it is.

In all, I thought this was a strong novel that anyone who loves the darker side of action and adventure will completely adore. It impressed me by being harsh but enjoyable at the same time: a conflict-packed war novel that also has heart.
4 stars!

About Jeff Hirsch:
I live in upstate New York with my wife and a small passel of animals. I used to write plays (I actually have an MFA in it, which is number 8 on US News and World Report's list of the top twenty most useless masters degrees) and now I write books for teens. I've written three, The Eleventh Plague, Magisterium and The Darkest Path.
A few random facts about me:
  • I’m incredibly superstitious.
  • I believe in baking as the ultimate stress reliever. I mean, sure, I write pretty good books but have you tasted my Triple Chocolate Espresso Cookies?
  • I’m deeply obsessed with the work of Joss Whedon, Stephen King, Bryan K. Vaughn, Prince and Tom Waits.
  • I started writing because of two women—Susan Cooper, author of the Dark Is Rising Series and Denise Stewart, my 7th grade English teacher.

Find Jeff at his Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads.

Purchase The Darkest Path:

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Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This by Patrick Ness.

Page Count: 472.
Published: September 10, 2013.
Published by: Candlewick Press.
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.

A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

My Review:

Books are experienced differently by each person as everyone brings their own background, beliefs and history to the reading experience. Although this is something that happens with every book, I believe More Than This will be an especially unique experience for every reader that picks it up because of the way Ness ventures into the unknown of life, death, and what comes after. I don't want to give much away because I want everyone to have the chance to go into this unspoiled like I did, but I will say one thing: I was enthralled.

Going into this, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I knew that I was a fan of Patrick Ness and the way he tells stories, but that was about it. But as much as I didn't know what to expect from the plot, what I got was definitely not what I would have guessed had you asked me to. More Than This is wildly original, thought-provoking, and took turns I never could have anticipated. Told through present narration with the occasional heart-wrenching flashback, More Than This really examines how we live our lives and what we expect from death.

When Seth wakes up after drowning, he knows he has died. What he doesn't know is why he wakes up, or why he ends up where he does. As readers, we don't know that either. As we are fully immersed in Seth's head, we learn as he learns, or, in the case of his background, as he relives. This slow reveal of information makes for a story that I just didn't want to leave because I always had more questions that needed answering. It was addictive in that I was constantly wanting new information or begging for more emotional flashbacks, which were some of my favourite scenes in the book. Over the course of the novel, again without my revealing much here to spoil, Ness really delves into human relationships and the power they can have in our lives. It was a thoughtful and touching exploration that I'm sure will stick with me for a long time.

Ness' writing in More Than This is, as I have come to expect from him, a uniquely captivating style in which he brings the bleakest of landscapes to life in your mind and slowly brings you around to see the big picture in the story. What I find so impressive is how he doles out so little information at a time but keeps you reading until your heart is tattered and your head is racing and you're putting it all together realizing that he has an incredibly creative mind. I'll admit that there were moments I felt lost and struggled a bit to adjust my frame of mind to where Ness was going with the story, but as I read on I was usually able to realign with the story and continue enjoying it.

I know my lack of plot recap may cause some hesitation but I promise you: go in knowing almost nothing about what happens, allow yourself to be immersed in Seth's narration and confusion and pain, and you will hopefully come out with a sense of wonder and possibly a new way of considering life. At the very least, it is a smart and unexpected read that will play with your brain just enough to get you thinking. While I still had questions after turning the final page, I think that was part of Ness' hope; that our speculation wouldn't end where his story does. I was thoroughly impressed by what an intelligent and creative book this is and it cemented Ness' spot on my list of top authors.
4.5 stars.


Waiting on Wednesday #39: NIL by Lynne Matson

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is where you showcase an upcoming release you're anxiously awaiting!

This week, I'm waiting on:
NIL by Lynne Matson.

Expected Publication: March 4, 2014
by: Henry Holt and Co. BYR.

Goodreads Blurb:
On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that she has to find a way to beat the clock, and quickly.

Why I'm excited:
A mysterious and dangerous Survivor-like situation? A year to escape or else death? I am SO IN!

What are you waiting on this week?


Sophomore Spotlight: Trish Doller

I'm very happy to welcome Trish Doller to the blog to chat about her Sophomore novel, Where the Stars Still Shine! First here's a little info about the book:

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller.

Published: September 24, 2013.
Published by: Bloomsbury Children's

Goodreads Blurb:
Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.

Now onto the interview:

First off, thank you for joining me, Trish! Where did the idea for Where the Stars Still Shine come from?
T: I was visiting Tarpon Springs, Florida, a small community on the Gulf of Mexico that has a significant Greek-American population. As I walked through the tourist area with all its restaurants, gift shops, and sponge diving tours, I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to be dropped into the middle of this as an outsider. Then I started thinking about what sort of character I would write into a town like Tarpon Springs and Callie started taking shape. At first I thought maybe she was new to the area, but that wasn't terribly exciting or original. So then I thought maybe her parents had divorced and she'd moved away...and then I realized that her mother had abducted her and that she was returning to a place she didn't remember anymore.

Sounds like a beautiful place for inspiration to strike! How did the journey for Where the Stars Still Shine differ from that for your debut?
T: The journey's were surprisingly similar. Something a lot of people don't know is that I sold a book before Something Like Normal. It was in the pipeline to be published when the deal was canceled by the publisher, so it was kind of like a trial run to publication, you know? So when we sold my debut, the process was pretty smooth. My editor and I were in sync, edits were pretty painless, and we brought the book into the world. It was very exciting! The nuts and bolts of getting Where the Stars Still Shine published were very much the same and my excitement for this book is even bigger than for my debut so it's like debuting all over again! The biggest difference, I think is that while I liked my Something Like Normal cover, I am head over heels in love with the cover of Where the Stars Still Shine.

That is exciting! Loving the cover that much would certainly help, I bet. What is the best part of already having a book out in the world?
T: I think already having debuted I know what to expect this time around. I have a track record. I have fans––which boggles my mind on a daily basis, but is pretty darn cool!

Did you change anything about your writing process for this novel after having written your debut?
T: Having run the review gauntlet with Something Like Normal, I was kind of a basket case for awhile while writing Where the Stars Still Shine. I had a head full of potential blogger complaints. I had an internal editor that said this book was going to suck and I was going to be a one-hit wonder. Fortunately, and with help from some friends, I managed to turn off those voices and get to work. And I'm pleased to say that I don't think Where the Stars Still Shine sucks at all.

That's always good to hear from the author! ;) What made you stick with contemporary for your second novel? Are you interested in writing another genre other than contemporary in the future?
T: Contemporary is my favorite genre of young adult fiction. I like reading it, I like writing it, and I feel it's where my strengths lie. That said, I do have a science fiction story brewing in my head, as well as a paranormal-ish sort of thing. So there might be a day when I write something other than contemporary, but I'm not quite ready for that yet.

Interesting! Well I think one thing about contemporary is that as long as there are writers of it, there will be plenty of readers of it, so I think it's a good one to keep writing. Can you share a favourite quote from this book?
T: This is from near the beginning of the book, but it's one of my favorite descriptions of Callie's mom: 
"It’s as if she hears things at a different frequency, the way a dog picks up sounds the rest of us miss. Or maybe she hears something that isn’t really there at all. Either way, when she’s ready to go, there is no arguing. There is only leaving."

If you could introduce one of your characters from Where the Stars Still Shine to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
T: Wow, this one is tough! There are so many interesting characters to chose from! But, you know, I think I would love to introduce Callie to Carly from Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. Not only do I think they'd get along, Callie would see that there is life after trauma––and it can be great.

That sounds like it'd be a great experience for Callie. In keeping with our theme here, are there any other sophomore releases you've either loved recently or are looking forward to?
T: I am really looking forward to Amy Spalding's sophomore novel, Ink is Thicker Than Water, and Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt.

Excellent picks! I'm looking forward to those as well. Can you share any details about your next project?
T: My next book is tentatively titled Arcadia Falls (although that title will definitely be changing) and it's due out April 2015. It's the story of Arcadia "Cadie" Wells, a girl from a small town in Florida whose life has been burdened with responsibility ever since her mother died. She's tired and lonely and when––on a rare night off––she meets a couple of good looking boys on a road trip of Florida, she jumps at the chance for adventure. But when the trip goes tragically wrong, Cadie wants nothing more than to get back home alive.

Oh, I'm intrigued! Looking forward to it! Thank you again, Trish, for joining me for Sophomore Spotlight! I can't wait to read Where the Stars Still Shine!
T: This was a lot of fun! Thanks for having me!

A big thanks again to Trish for coming on the blog!
Trish was kind enough to offer up a signed copy of Where the Stars Still Shine to one US or Canadian reader. Good luck!

Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open US/Can ONLY.
~ No P.O. Boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via email. The winner has 48 hours to respond to my email, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Neither Trish nor I is responsible for lost or damaged packages.
No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.

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"You're Going To Love It!"

What happens when a bookish friend (or two or three) absolutely LOVES a book that you haven't read?

Usually they start off shocked that you haven't read it. Then they flail a bit about it and how amazing it is. Finally, they recommend it to you.

We all do this, right? We all have that book (maybe more than one) that we think is perfection and that absolutely everyone should read. We all have a friend who hasn't read it. And I'm sure we've all told that friend "You have to read it! It's (insert choice adjective to express awesomeness here). You're going to love it!" This is totally normal. As bookish people, we want to share our book loves with our friends, especially the ones who we feel have really accepted us in this community. Your friends want to gush about this book with you and they want you to experience the awesome that they see in it. Your friends want you to love this book.

But are you ever scared you won't?

I absolutely love getting book recommendations, especially from my trusted book friends. It's always fun to see which books make them crazy with book love and hear gushing rants about why I must pick up said book or my life will not be complete. It's great! But somehow hearing all that praise from my close bookish friends makes the books scary. Sometimes I get this feeling in my stomach... as if I won't like the book and I'll be letting my friends down.

For example, I recently read The Raven Boys at the request of Ciara from Lost at Midnight Reviews. She is probably this novel's biggest fan ever. I heard plenty of gushing beforehand and, after loving The Scorpio Races by the same author, I went in expecting to love it.

But I didn't.

It was by not means a bad book. I saw a lot in it that was great. I just didn't love it. It wasn't everything I thought it would be. To me, it wasn't everything I was promised.

This has me scared. What's next? There are a lot of books that trusted friends have recommended to me. I really want to read a lot of them. But what if I don't like them? I know it won't be the end of the world and my friends won't hate me for it (they're good people, my bookish friends), but I'll feel like I let them down.

For example, the lovely Shae from Shae Has Left the Room and Gillian from Writer of Wrongs seem to have a lot of favourites in common and part of me wants in on the action. The Girl of Fire & Thorns series, for example, is one they've absolutely raved about to me. I have the first book and I really want a great new fantasy series in my life. It sounds like this should be the one, but I'm scared to start it because even though they didn't think the first one was perfect, they adore the series as a whole. I want to be part of that circle, not the black sheep who hates it and is shunned! (That's dramatic, they wouldn't shun me. Like I said, good people. But you catch my drift).

Another instance of this is Kathy from A Glass of Wine has recommended the Mara Dyer series as well as Just One Day by Gayle Forman because she absolutely loves them. I actually own the first Mara Dyer book and Just One Day, but I haven't picked them up yet mostly because of time but also because I'm a little worried I'm just not going to love them! I want to, but who knows, right?

I want to be able to adore these books and gush about them with my wonderful bookish friends, but the fear of hating a book they love holds me back sometimes. I know there's no way people are all going to love the same books, but it's still a bummer when it happens.

Do you ever experience feelings like this? What books have been recommended to you that you've been afraid to try, whether because of bookish friends or even because of hype?


Review: Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins.

Burned #2.
Page Count: 543.
Published: September 10, 2013
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Source: Received ARC from publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?

My Review:

Ellen Hopkins never fails to impress me. Having read every single one of her YA novels, I know to expect harsh realities and painful circumstances written out in beautiful verse. Smoke is absolutely that, as well as a story about forgiveness, healing, and moving forward in life after tragedy. Ellen has said that she wrote this novel because readers of Burned begged for closure for Pattyn. With Smoke, she not only delivers on that but also gives Pattyn's younger sister, Jackie, a voice and some closure of her own. It is a wonderful novel and well handled sequel.

Pattyn and Jackie are given a lot of room to grow and mature in Smoke, which is something they desperately needed after Burned. I really appreciated the way both characters developed because it felt very natural to who I imagined them to be. As Pattyn runs away from everything she's ever known, she continues to show signs of the good person she always has been but learns to overcome some of the issues she's grown up with and had ingrained in her thanks first to her household environment and then to the tragic events in Burned. The story I truly connected with in Smoke, though, was Jackie's. Jackie stepping into a role as a second narrator really allowed her story to be given the credit it deserved. Pattyn leaving the household in Burned resulted in Jackie having to take her place as head caregiver of their younger siblings, which came with the added role of punching bag for their father. Even after the dramatic events at the beginning of Smoke, Jackie was put through a lot. She dealt with a sexual assault and was forced to keep silent about it for her church. The way she matures and the lessons she learns reveal an inner strength that all girls need to know they possess. I think Jackie's story was more relatable for me so it spoke to me on that extra level to give the book as a whole a stronger impact.

Hopkins does not shy away from difficult issues in any of her books, and clearly Smoke is no exception. It deals with sexual assault, religion, abuse, homosexuality, home-grown terrorism, and foreign and illegal workers, among other things. It is clearly a very heavy book, but Hopkins has developed such a way of handling these issues so that while her characters struggle immensely with them, she personally does not cast judgement where it would seem unfair for her to cast it (in the case of abuse or sexual assault, of course, that is a different matter, and her author's notes tend to reflect that). Her books provide reason for discussion on these many topics rather than a strict dictation of right or wrong.

One thing that always makes Hopkins' books stand out is her use of verse. Her expertly crafted poems and use of word placement on the page to create multiple messages never fails to impress me. It is very easy, in my opinion, for verse novels to become cheesy or melodramatic due to the format, but Hopkins always delivers gritty honesty, even when using more artistic metaphors to get the characters' feelings across. While I have always been impressed by her writing and consider it, for the most part, some of the most authentic and relatable verse out there, I think she just continues to grow stronger as a writer, as evidenced by her work in Smoke.

Overall, I was very impressed by Smoke. Although it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, Burned, I don't think that any book truly could. Smoke, then, is probably the best sequel Hopkins could have written to give Pattyn and Jackie the voices and closure they so deserved.
4 stars.


Waiting on Wednesday #38: Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is where you showcase an upcoming release you're anxiously awaiting!

This week, I'm waiting on:
Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's Daughter #2
Expected Publication: January 28, 2014
by: Balzer & Bray

Goodreads Blurb:
To defeat the darkness, she must first embrace it.

Months have passed since Juliet Moreau returned to civilization after escaping her father's island—and the secrets she left behind. Now, back in London once more, she is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget Dr. Moreau’s horrific legacy—though someone, or something, hasn’t forgotten her.

As people close to Juliet fall victim one by one to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes, Juliet fears one of her father’s creations may have also escaped the island. She is determined to find the killer before Scotland Yard does, though it means awakening sides of herself she had thought long banished, and facing loves from her past she never expected to see again.

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in the midst of a world of scandal and danger. Her heart torn in two, past bubbling to the surface, life threatened by an obsessive killer—Juliet will be lucky to escape alive.

With inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is a tantalizing mystery about the hidden natures of those we love and how far we’ll go to save them from themselves.

Why I'm excited:
The Madman's Daughter was an excellent, creepy gothic novel and I am so looking forward to seeing what happens next, especially after what happened at the very end of TMD. Please don't let that be for good!

What are you waiting on this week?


Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's TTT theme is Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR, which could lead one to create a few different lists. So I'm going to use it to show the ten books I currently have in my possession that I'm most excited to read this fall, no matter what their release date.

 Starling by Fiona Paul.
Because duh, STARLING. The final book in the Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy. Which I love. DUH! I must see how it all works out. This is definitely at the top of my list. 

Vicious by V.E. Schwab.
Not only is everyone RAVING about this one, but it's Victoria Schwab, whose writing I adore, PLUS it's about supervillains! Another DUH!

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill.
Another one a lot of people have been raving about. I was totally in love with the concept from the first I heard of it and I've been dying to read it since I got my hands on it. Many things have kept us apart, but no longer. 

Avalon by Mindee Arnett.
Time for some real space sci-fi to take center stage and I think this will be the perfect book to do that for me. I really can't wait.

Perfect Ruin by Lauren Destefano.
So, honestly, I never finished the Chemical Garden series, but this one sounds so different and intriguing I just can't not be excited to dig in. Here's hoping it works out better this time!

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake.
Greek Mythology. The gods are dying? What? Must. Read.

The Extra by Kathryn Lasky.
I have a crazy fascination with WWII books and this one is about a gypsy hired to work for a Nazi filmmaker. I'm so curious to see what this new-to-me perspective brings to a time I've read so much about.

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas.
Again, one that a lot of people are loving. Plus I could really use some kick-butt high fantasy in my life.

Freakboy by Kristen Elizabeth Clark.
A novel in verse that explores being transgender? Colour me very curious. I'm really hoping I'll be able to take a lot away from this one. 

How To Love by Katie Cotugno.
Some of the bloggers I know have devoured and adored this one and even though I'm not usually huge on contemporary, this really sounds like a great story. 

Do we have any of these in common? Have you read and developed strong opinions on any of them? What are your Top Ten books on your Fall TBR?


Review: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White.

Page Count: 288.
Published: September 10, 2013.
Published by: HarperTeen.
Source: Received ARC from publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up.

Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal.

Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all.

My Review:

The Chaos of Stars is a fun read with a refreshing dose of a mythology other than Greek. Through a great supporting cast and despite an immature main character, White has provided pure entertainment value in a story about family and growth. While I personally had hoped for a very mythological feeling from the book, I found it read more like a contemporary that was just incorporating elements of myth. It was still a good read, just not exactly what I was hoping for in this aspect.

The Chaos of Stars has, unlike many young adult novels, a complex family system that the main character, Isadora, struggles with. It was fun to see a family dynamic that is not totally atypical for teenagers brought up to this scale. While many teens have trouble relating to their parents and feel like they need space from them, White has raised the stakes with Isadora. She has given her gods for parents and made the lack of understanding a much more serious matter: Isadora feels like she doesn't truly matter to her family because she was not made immortal and she feels easily replaceable. Her struggle with this is really the main issue dealt with in the novel, though there is also a mysterious mythical problem that brews and a romance that develops to keep the plot interesting.

While I certainly see how Isadora's family can be frustrating for her, I felt at times that she was too stubborn in her refusal to see any side but her own. She felt quite immature, which worked well for her growth in the novel but which I found went on for too long. She bases many of her decisions solely on whether her mother would disapprove or not, which goes against what she kept saying about just wanting her own life. While there were certainly aspects about her that made her feel more like a real, full person (her passion for interior design, for example), I think the complexity that should have been in her character didn't always come through. I really wanted to like her, and at moments I did, but her attitude kept pushing me away. 

I do think that many of the other characters in the novel were very well done, though. Isadora's friend, Tyler, is a fun break from Isadora's occasional moping and helps to show her a good time. She is very much a normal teenage girl, which helps Isadora in trying to escape her very not normal family as one. There is clearly more to many of the family members she leaves behind in Egypt (especially her mother, Isis, and her half-brother, Anubis) than Isadora is willing to see, which I enjoyed watching unfold, despite occasional predictability. Her new love interest, Ry, is a little off-putting at first, but I grew to like him even though I guessed his secret quite early on. I would have enjoyed the way their relationship developed if not for Isadora's immaturity rearing its head once again. I think she as a character is one of the things that really held me back from loving this book.

I enjoyed the little pieces of Egyptian myth that were placed at the beginnings of chapters. They were clear enough that if you didn't know too much about the mythology, you likely wouldn't have trouble following them. At the same time, if you love the mythology like I do, they serve as fun tidbits to help bring Isadora's story back to the roots and add a little extra piece of her personality to what is presented as her family's history. I think White did a great job at tying it all into the modern world, though, as usually happens for me with mythology stories, I wish there was more. For many people, though, I think the balance of mythology and modern-day will be to their liking.
Overall, while The Chaos of Stars wasn't everything I wanted it to be and had an often immature main character, it was still an enjoyable foray into a combination of Egyptian mythology in the modern world with a familial struggle storyline that many young adult readers will likely relate to.
3 stars.


Waiting on Wednesday #37: The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is where you showcase an upcoming release you're anxiously awaiting!

This week, I'm waiting on:
The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

The Archived #2
Expected Publication: January 28, 2014
by: Hyperion.

Goodreads Blurb:
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.

Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she's struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn't easy -- not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she's really safe. 

Meanwhile, people are vanishing without a trace, and the only thing they seem to have in common is Mackenzie. She's sure the Archive knows more than they are letting on, but before she can prove it, she becomes the prime suspect. And unless Mac can track down the real culprit, she'll lose everything, not only her role as Keeper, but her memories, and even her life. Can Mackenzie untangle the mystery before she herself unravels?

With stunning prose and a captivating mixture of action, romance, and horror, The Unbound delves into a richly imagined world where no choice is easy and love and loss feel like two sides of the same coin.

Why I'm excited:
The Archived was one of the most wonderful and original books I read this year, so I am definitely excited to delve back into that world and get more of Mackenzie and Wes, and even more Roland. I need them in my life!

What are you waiting on this week?


Top Ten Books I'd Like to See On Screen

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme is Top Ten Books I Would Love to See as a Movie/TV Show, with the additional note that this takes place in a perfect world where our beloved stories are not butchered by Hollywood. There are plenty of stories I think could make fantastic movies if done right, so in no particular order, here are just a few of my picks.

 Reboot by Amy Tintera.
This one has action, excitement, friendship, love, and some major butt-kicking. This has the potential to make for such a cool movie.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.
Hello ADORABLE romance movie! This one is funny, sweet, and has some fantastic characters. And who doesn't adore a good love story sometimes?

Black City by Elizabeth Richards.
This one I think could be a visual masterpiece. There is so much visual description for the city to help readers picture it, it's like a scene right in front of you as you're reading. A tv show of the series could look amazing, plus it'd be an intense, exciting story with a great underlying message about acceptance of "different" and equality.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
Another one that would be absolutely stunning visually. I think set and costume designers could have a field day with this. Not to mention the sci-fi feel of the novel which is usually fun on screen, mixed with the classic fairy tales that everyone knows.

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown.
The illusions, the magic, the mystery? Those could totally be translated to film. And the tense family dynamic? Could be very dramatic.

The Archived by Victoria Schwab.
This one would be hard to capture, but in a perfect world I think this could be amazing. There's so much to work with character-wise, plot-wise, with the settings and the flashbacks and, man. I would be all over a movie of this.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.
Medieval. Assassin. Nuns. Who WOULDN'T go see this movie?

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
I'd weep and sob my way through this powerful WWII story and I'd be darn happy to do it. This could be an incredibly heart-breaking film. My only concern is how they'd translate the narration style to film.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.
Another one that could be really hard to capture but man, the setting and the atmosphere would make for such a visually interesting film, and the combination of story elements (historically relevant struggles, ghosts, a love story, etc) could hold appeal to more than one group of people.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
After the epic disaster that was the Eragon movie, I'm pulling for a perfect world version of Seraphina to be the glorious and majestic dragon movie that Eragon should have been. Not to mention there are absolutely wonderful characters in Seraphina.

Those are my picks this week, what are yours?


Getting Organized

I'll admit that I'm not always the best at keeping organized. I try hard but sometimes things get out of hand. So over the past little bit I've been working on tricks to help me out. During school I use a lovely whiteboard calendar to keep track of when papers or assignments are due and when midterms and exams are, and last year I began to add blogging commitments to the calendar when I realized I was taking on a lot more than I had anticipated. Over the summer I stopped using the whiteboard and slowly but surely got totally off track.

School is starting up again so I'll head back to my trusty whiteboard, but now that blogging has become even more intense for me and I'm taking on a lot more with it, I'm worried that my little board won't do the trick. So since I've made a commitment to myself and to you, my wonderful readers, to get back on track, I need to find something to keep myself organized on the blogging front.

This is where you guys come in. I want to know: how do you keep organized? Do you have a calendar or whiteboard or agenda specifically dedicated to blogging? And what do you keep track of? Just things like blog tour dates and author posts, or everything down to ARC release dates and possible discussion post dates? I'm really going to try to be the best blogger I can be and getting organized is a huge part of that. So if you guys are willing, please share your tricks and secrets as to how you stay organized with everything that goes on in the bloggy world.


Waiting on Wednesday #36: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jill at Breaking the Spine. This is where you showcase an upcoming release you're anxiously awaiting!

This week, I'm waiting on:
Sekret by Lindsay Smith.

Expected Publication: April 15, 2014
by: Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan's Children's.

Goodreads Blurb:
From debut author Lindsay Smith comes an espionage thriller
with a dash of both history and dystopia.

Yulia’s father always taught her that an empty mind is a safe mind. She has to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia, especially because she seems to be able to read the minds of the people she touches. When she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power where she can trust no one. 

She certainly can’t trust Rostov, the cruel KGB operative running the psychic program. Or handsome Sergei who encourages her to cooperate with the KGB. Or brooding Valentin who tells her to rebel against them. And not the CIA, who have a psychic so powerful he can erase a person’s mind with his own thoughts. Yulia quickly learns she must rely on her own wits and power to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

Why I'm excited:
I studied Communist Russia in school last year but I don't think I have ever read a fiction novel set in it (terrible, I know), so to find one that sounds this amazing is definitely exciting. I love my history, so I can't wait for this one! Why is April so far away!?

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub.

Page Count: 352.
Published: July 9, 2013.
Published by: Delacorte Press.
Source: Received a finished copy from Random House Canada in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
Romeo and Juliet are gone. Will love live on? Despite the glooming peace that's settled on Verona after the recent tragedy, Montagues and Capulets are brawling in the streets. Faced with more bloody battles, Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to truly marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry them together. Everyone is skeptical, but none more so than the pair selected, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, Romeo's best friend, still anguished by the loss of his companions, and the chosen Capulet maid is Juliet's older cousin Rosaline, the girl Romeo first loved and whose refusal of Romeo's affection paved the way for bloodshed. Contrary to their late cousins, there's no love lost between Benvolio and Rosaline, yet they forge a bond to end the renewed feud not only to escape their forced betrothal, but to save their lives and the city of Verona itself.

My Review:

I probably enjoy Shakespeare more than your average high school graduate but I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan. However, when this book showed up on my radar I was immediately curious. Romeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare's most well-known work and to see a story that focuses on what happens after was very interesting for me. Still Star-Crossed didn't entirely live up to my expectations, however it was still an enjoyable read that I'm glad I tried out.

Following the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, the Capulet and Montague houses are in mourning, but when it becomes clear that even the deaths of their young lovers will not end the feud, Still Star-Crossed focuses on a proposed solution: the forced engagement of Rosaline, Juliet's Capulet cousin, to Benvolio, Romeo's best friend and fellow Montague. Thus begins what is largely a story about the growth of love, with a mystery and a dash of betrayal to add some excitement. I did enjoy the mystery aspect of the story because it adds another layer not only to the plot but also to many of the characters who originally seem lacking in purpose. It also helps give additional direction for Rosaline and Benvolio, besides their attempts to get out of their upcoming wedding.

The characters were an interesting bunch, some of whom I thought were well developed while others were not as complete as I would have liked. I did appreciate the overall sense of loss and the clear black sheep that is revealed along with the end of the mystery. I also have to say I enjoyed the slight sense of ridicule many of the characters had over Romeo and Juliet's choices because that is certainly relatable nowadays. Livia, Rosaline's younger sister, was one of the more well-developed characters and her relationship with Rosaline as well as her own personal growth over the course of the novel was very well displayed, even though we are not often privy to her private thoughts. I felt like Taub has the capability to create wonderful, compelling characters and just didn't go all the way on some of them.

There was a love triangle present in Still Star-Crossed that was a little cliché, but still managed to be better than many out there. While I did have a preference in suitors, each boy had a story and a reason for the connection with Rosaline that I understood and enjoyed, as well as each having something different to offer her. This made for one of the more realistic love triangles thanks to its development on both sides. While Rosaline was undoubtedly the most developed character, there were instances in which each boy had his moment that allowed me as a reader to understand him better, which made the love triangle more than just an eye-roll-worthy complication for the plot.

I will admit that reading this novel was a little choppy at times because the dialogue is meant to be Shakespearean while the rest of the writing is much more modern-like (not to mention I thought a few of the dialogue bits were not Shakespearean at all, but then again, I'm no expert). As it went on I got more used to it, but it just felt a little awkward at times and occasionally pulled me out of the story itself. Not a deal-breaker for me as, like I said, I got used to it, but if you're particular about these things it may be harder to deal with.

If you enjoy hate-turned-to-love type relationships or enjoyed Romeo and Juliet for the supporting cast, this is probably a good read for you. The mystery was probably my favourite part and it was definitely enjoyable, so I'm glad it at least played the part it did (though I wouldn't have complained if there were a bit more focus on that aspect). The characters, while occasionally underdeveloped, were interesting in that I enjoyed seeing their post-Romeo and Juliet reactions and actions.
A solid 3 stars.


An Adult Male on YA Lit

I'm the big YA lit fan in my life, but since I've become a blogger I've tried to get my boyfriend to read more YA. He's certainly not against it, but he's just not into the whole teenage girl romance thing, so he needed direction. I worked to find some YA titles I thought he may enjoy (or some I wanted him to test-drive before I read them) and I asked him to share his perspective on these books since it's rather different from mine. These aren't going to be full reviews and I'll likely review these titles myself later, but I wanted to share this for guys or for readers who maybe have a guy in their life who won't read "girly" YA books. So here are his thoughts:

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff.

Page Count: 337.
Published: June 11, 2013.
Published by: Little, Brown and Co. (BYR).
Source: Teen Author Carnival 2013.

Goodreads Blurb:
Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die -- of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target. 

When his own parents died of not-so-natural causes at the age of eleven, Boy Nobody found himself under the control of The Program, a shadowy government organization that uses brainwashed kids as counter-espionage operatives. But somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the boy he once was, the boy who wants normal things (like a real home, his parents back), a boy who wants out. And he just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's next mission.

Pieter's Thoughts:
Totally my speed. I like spy type books, guns and special forces and sneaking around and suspense and all that goodness. So when I got this and started reading I was addicted. I got this 3 days before leaving NYC, and finished it 2 days before leaving NYC. It might be good. Maybe a bit.
Having read the CHERUB and Henderson's Boys series by Robert Muchamore, I was expecting something pretty similar by the blurb. While the story is similar, it remains just that. It keeps itself distanced in several key details about how the organization is run, how the Boy operates and the objectives the Boy is given.
There was a key plot point that I totally called out early on but I'm not sure whether that's just from experience in reading this style of story or whether it was just a bit obvious. Either way, it distracted me from another plot twist that was well placed and well executed. Would recommend.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Page Count: 328.
Published: February 26, 2013.
Published by: St. Martin's Press.
Source: Received a copy from the publisher.

Goodreads Blurb:
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Pieter's Thoughts:
I had heard good things and had seen the title of the book passed around via twitter and tumblr and thought perhaps I would like this. The book did not agree with me as much as I had hoped. The story started nicely, and I really enjoyed the start of their relationship. Rainbow Rowell captured the emotions well, and it was nice having the flip back and forth between the two perspectives. It made me smile quite a bit I must say, as did the snark that both the characters possessed. I was kinda bummed, however, when I felt like the book had hit a rut. The relationship kept building, the characters got closer, they became more intimate, and I kept waiting for anything big to happen. I was getting ready to quit when suddenly BAM everything happens and then THE END. I read through that bit so fast because I was starved for excitement from the rest of the book. None of this is to say it is a bad novel. I am just more used to guns and action type page turners. So perhaps this was a bit too much of a change from that for me.

The 100 by Kass Morgan.

Page Count: 277.
Published: September 3, 2013.
Published by: Little, Brown BYR.
Source: BEA 2013 (from publisher).

Goodreads Blurb:
In the future, humans live in city-like spaceships orbiting far above Earth's toxic atmosphere. No one knows when, or even if, the long-abandoned planet will be habitable again. But faced with dwindling resources and a growing populace, government leaders know they must reclaim their homeland... before it's too late.

Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents are being sent on a high-stakes mission to recolonize Earth. After a brutal crash landing, the teens arrive on a savagely beautiful planet they've only seen from space. Confronting the dangers of this rugged new world, they struggle to form a tentative community. But they're haunted by their past and uncertain about the future. To survive, they must learn to trust - and even love - again.

Pieter's Thoughts:
So Jess hands me this book and tells me that it's scifi. This gets me excited to read it, because after all I am a huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan, and I love Mass Effect and basically anything in space.
It started out very well with an excellent premise and plenty of action to keep me turning pages. And then it got all "relationship-ey" on me. I was all ready for action and lasers and crazy stuff to go down and instead I got broken hearts and a distinct feeling that the TV show they're going to make will be more of a soap opera than a Sci-Fi, at least if they're basing it on the book. To be fair though I quit pretty early on and flipped through the rest to see what happened. The ending was good, I just never made it there.