Waiting on Wednesday #33: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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:
Allegiant by Veronica Roth.

Expected Publication: October 22, 2013
by: Katherine Tegen Books.

Goodreads Blurb:
What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth’s #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Why I'm excited:
Because it's the end of the trilogy! I'm not over-the-moon in love with the books but I really enjoyed the first two, so of course I have to see how it ends!

What are you waiting on this week?


Blog Tour: Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green

Today I am very excited to be part of Paper Lantern Lit's blog tour for Jacqueline Green's Truth or Dare. All the bloggers taking part in the tour were emailed a truth and a dare to complete, so my confessions and dare-completing abilities are what await you in this post. My review for Truth or Dare will be coming up soon.

I'll start with my truth, which was:
What was the first book that made you ugly-cry?

WELL. I have been a reader all my life, so it probably comes as no surprise that I've cried over my fair share of books. The first I remember crying over was the Bambi picture book when Bambi's mother dies. I'd seen the movie; I knew it was coming. Still gets you right in the feels, though.

Since then, I've cried over many books. I've cried over books like Bridge to Terabithia, and Forever by Judy Blume, but they were not the first to make me ugly cry. No, the book that holds that title is probably the last one you'd imagine and, quite frankly, is very embarrassing (I don't know how Adam knew that this was the truth to give me, but good on you).

Here goes... the first book that made me really, genuinely ugly cry was...
Maine Squeeze by Catherine Clark.
I know exactly what you're thinking: THAT light, cheesy teen romance made you ugly cry, Jessica? Who ARE you?

Well, let me try to justify this a bit. It was very late at night and little pre-teen me should not have still been up reading. This means overtired and therefore more emotional. Pre-teen me was also very involved in love lives; not so much my own at that point, but my friends always came to me for advice and for help solving their love problems. I still genuinely believed in true, adorable love, but all the crazy pre-teen "love" drama my friends were dealing with had me growing more and more skeptical every day.

So along comes this book, late at night, and, as so often happens in these books, the main character has just determined that the love interest doesn't care a bit about her so she turns her back on any relationship they may have. That made me sad. What made me ugly cry was the big, ridiculous romantic gesture the love interest does for the mc to make her see his love. I read that scene and I lost it. I started bawling (as silently as possible, of course, because it was so far past bedtime) and when I saw myself in the mirror I was horrified at my reflection. All over some ridiculous, cheesy teen romance novel.

Now, moving along quickly to my dare to escape further embarrassment...

I've been hiding something from you all. For the past little bit I have held a secret identity. Can you guess?

That's right, I am the Anonymous PLL Dare Master.

Here was the dare, word-for-word: I dare you to create a twitter for an Anonymous Darer and tweet at the other Preferred Bloggers.

I was provided with a list of the other bloggers (here, if you want to follow them... also this list didn't have Nikki on it when I got it... sorry Nikki I still love you!), and off I went.

Bloggers were warned of my presence:

Every blogger got an intro tweet. (Yeah, I tweeted at myself, too. Had to keep up the illusion!)
Big thanks to these awesome people for the shoutouts!

So I tweeted dares. A lot of the bloggers played along but they somehow escaped the full level of embarrassment I was trying to put them through, so these gals are good! Here is some of the mischief I managed to stir up:

All the bloggers got the same dares. This first one got the most girls completing it.

I agree, books hats are all the rage... clearly I need to raid Jamie's closet (or... bookshelf?)

I sent out a warning that they were hiding from me and Gaby was quick to respond:
And Rachel managed to slide in afterwards:

Then it was time to move onto another dare:
Which I gladly took part in as well (any chance to show some author love... )
Overall quite successful, though not everyone got the "haiku" part ;)
Touché, Anna. That was well done. 

Later dares didn't go over as well. Weekends keep people busy, so I really should have known, but I got some fun responses anyway! 

I think these bloggers take the word "crazy" a little too lightly, don't you? ;)
This was definitely creative, so way to go, Emma!

One of the bloggers noticed that I was definitely turning up the creep factor on this one:

But I promise, I'm not as creepy as this in real life, or on all my personal stuff. I just wanted to see how long I could keep up the mysterious creepy persona. Thanks for playing along, fellow preferred bloggers. I hope I can show you all my friendly, not creepy, real side! I sent out one last dare last night, so go over and check out the @AnonDares twitter account and I'll be sure to retweet what I get back from the bloggers!

So that was my truth and dare. Thanks again to PLL for having me take part in the tour! Make sure you check out the book that inspired it all, Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green! And, if you want to check out what the other bloggers were given for this crazy game of truth or dare, follow the tour. Also make sure to go enter Paper Lantern Lit's giveaway for copies of Truth or Dare!

July 18th: Fiction Freak
July 19th: The Reading Lark
July 20th: Queen Ella Bee ReadsJuly 21st: No one! :) July 22nd: The Starry-Eyed RevueJuly 23rd: The Compulsive Reader + Miss PrintJuly 24th: Chick Loves Lit + Tiger Lily RachelJuly 25th: Boekie’s Book Reviews + Read My Breath AwayJuly 26th: Anna Reads


Waiting on Wednesday #32: Not a Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis

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:
Not a Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis.

Expected Publication: September 24, 2013
by: Katherine Tegen Books

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.

Why I'm excited:
I've been looking forward to this one since I first heard about it. I'm still not over the whole apocalyptic-type survival novel craze and not only does this one sound amazing, but the cover is fantastic! The Harper Canada ARC fairy recently surprised me with this one and I am beyond excited to dig in!

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.

Unearthly #1.
Page Count: 435.
Publication Date: January 4, 2011.
Published by: HarperTeen.
Source: Library.

Goodreads Blurb:
In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .
Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

My Review:

What started out a little slow for me developed into an enjoyable, well-crafted novel that showed how two very different worlds can come together in one person and how much of a struggle that can be. I am not normally an angel fan, but I was impressed with the way Cynthia Hand put this story together and showed the very human side of the main character, Clara, while also giving significant weight to the angel world. It was an excellent balance and I think that is what really drew me into the story.

I grew to really like the cast of characters in Unearthly. Clara I didn't find exceptional, but her narrative voice is easy and friendly to read and worked well overall. I was very happy to see that Clara's family (mother and brother) plays such an important role in Clara's life and in the story because so often in YA, family, parents especially, are absent. Her mother's significance to the plot and to who Clara is as a person was clear and actually provided some repercussions to Clara's actions, which is another thing that is often amiss in YA. I also very much enjoyed Clara's friends, Wendy and Angela, and the contrast they provided to the story.

When it came to world-building, I think the "human" world aspect of it was very well done. I've never been to Wyoming but I felt like I could see it in front of me. As for the angel part, while there isn't a lot revealed in Unearthly, it gives enough for me not to question everything that goes on in regards to the angels. Because of the first person narration, readers learn as Clara does. I did find myself frustrated with Clara's mother right alongside Clara herself because the lack of angel information was really on her and without any good reason provided. However, I do think that will come into play later on, so if there is a good reason for it, it's understandable. I also feel like being kept in the dark about a lot of things isn't as frustrating when the main character is dealing with it as well.

I know everyone is tired of love triangles, but I think there are instances in which they really work, Unearthly being one of them. The triangles are always stronger when each choice represents something more than just a person. Of course, the connection the main character, in this case Clara, has with each boy is important, but I also think they each stand for something more for her. With Christian, Clara sees him as part of her destiny as he keeps appearing in her visions. He is attractive and seems to be a good guy, but he represents the angel part of Clara's life. Tucker, on the other hand, represents the human side of Clara, which she grows to really appreciate, and he provides a much more emotional relationship and connection. I, personally, am Team Tucker, at least after reading the first in the series.

Overall, I was impressed by Unearthly. It was a much better angel book than I was expecting; providing information along the way, maintaining a very human aspect, while still being creative.
4 stars.


Slowing it Down, aka Vacation Time!

Hey everyone,

I just wanted to put up a post to let you know that the next week or two will probably be pretty quiet from me. I'm still going to try to get some posts up and be on Twitter a bit, but I'll likely be away a lot and terrible at returning comments for at least a week.

Why? Well, I'm going away on vacation for the week-and-a-bit to visit family. My parents both moved far away from home so almost all my family lives hours away. Like, double-digits in the car hours. I only get to see them once a year and this is probably the last year for the next few that I'll be able to make the trek, so I want to make the most of it while I'm there. Plus I'm bringing my boyfriend to finally meet them all for the first time, so it would be nice of me not to leave him alone with them all the time so I can blog. Anyway, the point is the blog will be slow until the beginning of August but I will be back posting and tweeting and commenting before you know it!


What Kind of Reader Are You?

So on Twitter yesterday (yes, this is a spontaneous post), Random House Canada shared a link to this infographic that dissects the different kind of readers to help you figure out where you stand and I thought it was really fun.

Take a look:

Attribution for graphic to Laura E. Kelly .
What Species of Reader Are You?--Infographic
Visit Laura-e-Kelly.com for more about books, reading, and authors. Graphic originally from this page.

While I am overwhelmingly a Book Worshipper, I do fit into other categories as well, like The Book Swagger, The Sleepy Bedtime Reader, The Book Clubber, and, occasionally, the Delayed Onset Reader (only because I always have so many to get through... would that make me a Book Hoarder as well? Probably).

So, I have to ask. After reading about all those possible categories (most of which I think are pretty accurate for some people), where do you fit in? Are you one type of reader, all the way? Or do you fit in a whole bunch of categories, like I do? I want to know what kind of reader you are!


Waiting on Wednesday #31: Canary by Rachele Alpine

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:
Canary by Rachele Alpine.

Expected Publication: August 1, 2013
by: Medallion Press.

Goodreads Blurb:
Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete. 

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse.

Why I'm excited:
I'm not usually a contemporary girl, but when I am, it's for "issue" books, and this one sounds like it could be a great one. It has also received a lot of advance praise, so fingers crossed it lives up to it. I'm so thankful for Medallion Press sending me a copy because I plan to dig in very soon. Not too long until this one is out!

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi.

Shatter Me #2.
Page Count: 461.
Published: February 5, 2013.
Published by: HarperCollins.
Source: Purchased.

Goodreads Blurb:
it's almost
time for war.

Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.

She's finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.

Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.

In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam's life.

My Review:

I absolutely loved Shatter Me when I read it earlier this year, so I was very excited going into Unravel Me. While it wasn't perfect and I had a few character issues, it was very enjoyable overall and I was so glad to see progression of both plot and character development.

One of my biggest struggles with Unravel Me was Juliette. While I understand and respect that she needs to grow and is still on the way to accepting herself, her whining and hopelessness for the first 100+ pages of the book got irritating. For a while I understood because everything she experiences is new to her and she claims she doesn't feel welcome at Omega Point. However, after a while it was clear that she wasn't even bothering to try to fit in, instead simply sitting around moping. Juliette has so much potential as a character and I want to see her reach that, so I was tired of her "poor me" attitude. I was glad when she finally (after some prompting) picked herself up and actually made an effort. Seeing her growth from there on was much more rewarding for me. I also liked how Tahereh Mafi showed some of Juliette's growth through the visual appearance of the writing. As Juliette grows more sure of herself in this novel, especially from how she felt in Shatter Me, there are fewer lines crossed out in the text, showing her increased confidence. I thought that was a smart way to subtly show Juliette's improvement.

I was so glad that other characters got to grow and experience more this time around. While Shatter Me was very focused on Juliette, Unravel Me gives Adam, Warner, and Kenji a little bit more development and helps each of them come into their own some more. Unfortunately, Adam seems very distant, even as more is revealed about him. I was disappointed by his overall lack of significance to the plot. He had a few big moments, including a game changer and a shocking reveal, but it felt like he wasn't all that present overall. Warner, while interesting, is still not someone I see as a viable love interest. He's an intriguing and layered character, sure, but even as Juliette grows closer to him, she feels (and says so) as if for them to be together and be right for each other, she must be a monster. I don't think Juliette is a monster, nor do I want her to think that way, so Warner is not the right match for her in my opinion.

As for Kenji... Kenji was the star of the show in Unravel Me. Kenji becomes much more developed and shows that he is a deep, complex character who is absolutely essential to this story. Kenji not only becomes the glue that sticks Juliette to her fellow Omega Point comrades, but is the only one willing to give her the kick in the pants she so desperately requires to stop her moping and start striving to live up to her full potential. He is passionate and unfailingly loyal to what he truly believes in. He is serious when it comes down to business but has a playful, joking side that puts the others at ease. I was so happy to see Kenji become this charismatic, fierce, beloved guy who serves as a leader and a friend.

The plot was a little bit hit and miss for me, to be honest. More hit than miss, but still. I loved the Omega Point aspect, but since Juliette closed herself off to most interaction for much of the novel, I was left wanting more. During the moments when Juliette was being whiny I often felt the plot was very slow, but the later part of the book did make up for that. However, even the slow parts of the plot weren't too bad because I am still in awe of Tahereh Mafi's writing. The poetic stream-of-consciousness type style she uses in Juliette's head is beautiful. I love the rhythm and the ease with which the words flow and that is one of the things that draws me into the story. It provides a different feeling than with a lot of other writing, which I appreciate.

In all, there were aspects I loved even more than in Shatter Me and aspects I loved less. This one was just a little below its predecessor on my list.
4 stars.


Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall by Susan Ee.

Penryn & the End of Days #1.
Page Count: 283.
Published: May 21, 2011.
Published by: Feral Dream.
Source: Library.

Goodreads Blurb:
It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

My Review:

I have to start off by saying that I've seen tons of gushing reviews of this one. Its Goodreads rating is 4.29. At the same time, though, I don't usually like angel books, so I went in with mixed expectations. There is definitely a lot to enjoy in Angelfall, but honestly, I didn't love it the way everyone else seemed to. I was very encouraged by the beginning and for a while I thought the angel concept was working well, but it all later started to fall apart for me.

I did love Penryn, the main character. She is a perfectly imperfect female lead for the story. She is intelligent (her mental back-and-forth is so fun to read) and knows how to kick some butt, but sometimes she screws up like the rest of us do. Plus her qualities all have reasons behind them. She's strong and self-sufficient because since her father left her family, she has taken on the role of parent. She isn't a good fighter "just because;" she has been trained for years in self-defense because her mother is mentally ill and worried she'd snap and hurt Penryn. She was a realistic and relatable heroine who is capable of taking care of herself, but just doesn't always want to be alone. Hence her travelling companion, Raffe. Raffe I also enjoyed, despite the fact that he remains mysterious and closed off for much of the novel. While not much is revealed about him, I thought their occasional banter was realistic and fun. They both had separate motivations but I think they made a good team and really grew to care and look out for one another.

I also very much enjoyed the beginning of the book. The post-angel-apocalypse world was interesting to explore and at that point of the book I was still assuming I'd get answers to my questions about it (I didn't). The introduction to Raffe and the other angels was exciting and visual and, I think, very well done. It showed the fear the humans have of angels, the discord within the angel community (though, again, not WHY), that Penryn is kick-butt but still a normal and scared human, and it puts into motion the reason for the whole plot. The early scenes in this one really did a lot for me. The middle, even, where they come across the compound (not expanding on that because spoilers), was well done and intriguing.

Where the book really started to lack for me was in the plot in the last third of the novel. I was already getting tired of waiting for answers to some of my questions and a lot of them still hadn't come by the end of the book, which sometimes I'm okay with but in this case was just frustrating. The ending felt very overloaded with new surprises and information being introduced and that led to a jumbled and clunky sort-of resolution that clearly requires reading of the sequel for full acceptance. It really started to lose me with all that was going on at the end and I was left feeling detached and unsatisfied, which is nothing like how I felt at the beginning.

What started out with such promise and had really enjoyable characters ended in a jumbled overload for me. I did enjoy most of the book and I know a lot of people loved the whole story, so if it sounds like your thing I would encourage you to give it a try. I personally just didn't find it anything to get especially excited about.
3 stars.


Blog Tour Guest Post: Belladonna by Fiona Paul

I'm very excited to be hosting Fiona Paul on the blog today as part of her Canadian Belladonna Blog Tour! My gushing review of Belladonna went up yesterday, so if you haven't heard me express my love for this series yet (as unlikely as that is), you can head over to my review to get caught up. Now, onto the tour goodies!

First, a bit about Belladonna:
Goodreads Blurb:
Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancé, Luca. But Luca seems to have his own secrets. When he's arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass's life is once again thrown into chaos. She must save Luca, and that means finding the Book of the Eternal Rose -- the only evidence that will prove he is innocent.

So begins her journey to Florence, a city haunted by whispers of corruption, secret soirees, and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose. And home to Falco, who's working for the Order's eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself. 

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time?

Nothing is as it seems in this seductive thriller, where the truth may be the deadliest poison of all.

I'm so excited that Fiona is here with a scene cut from Belladonna and a little explanation. Take it away, Fiona!

Fiona: Today on the blog tour I’m talking about the importance of killing darlings. Earlier in the USA tour, I mentioned how a certain scene was a favorite of mine because it showed Cass being clever to contrive permission from her aunt to go to Florence. It irks me when book narrators are like “MC so-and-so is very smart. See her study? See her quote philosophy?” but then she acts like a dunce. 

I know Cass does a certain amount of boy-following in Venom and much of that is intentional due to the historical setting, but I really wanted her to start driving the action herself in Belladonna. I purposely looked for ways to SHOW her ingenuity, but the problem with showing is that it often takes a lot more space than telling, which can be problematic. 

In the finished book, Luca tells Cass exactly where he has hidden a key for her. In the first draft, Luca leaves Cass a mysterious present—a lily necklace--before he is arrested, and Cass finds the key via a series of steps, like this:

As she fixed the cover back on the little golden box, her hand caught on a lump in the bed of velvet as she did. She ran a finger across it. There was something hidden beneath.
          Holding her breath, Cass peeled back a corner of the velvet to unearth a square of folded parchment.
          Her mouth went dry as she unfolded the page. Blood hummed in her veins Was this was Luca meant when he said he had left her something? The parchment contained just two sentences:

          This lily will always guide you home. Study it well and you will discover the knowledge it unlocks. 

          Cass touched the petals of the lily again. Study it well? She took the note and the golden box back to her bed chamber, slipped them into the drawer of her dressing table, and stood in front of her mirror. She probed each petal with her thumb and forefinger. Gently, she flipped the pendant over to consider the back. Solid silver. No secret engravings, no detachable parts. She ran one hand along the length of the chain, feeling for any imperfections, but it was flawless. What did Luca mean, study it well?
          She and Luca had played a game when they were younger. Luca liked to collect little trinkets: stones shaped like hearts, ceramic beads, pieces of wood turned almost to glass by the tide. He would hide these treasures for Cass and mark their location with a lily plucked from Agnese’s garden. Cass’s fingers went to the pendant around her throat. Maybe the pendant wasn’t a gift.
          Maybe it was a clue.
          Guide you home... Had Luca hidden something else inside the villa? He hadn’t even seemed remotely concerned when the soldiers tore apart his quarters, so Cass was certain there was nothing to find there. What about her own room? But no, Luca wouldn’t snoop through her things. He was too proper for that.
          But if not his room and not hers, then where? 


A breeze blew through the garden, rustling ivy and sending flower petals spinning across the grass. Cass watched as the silky white bloom of a lily tumbled past her feet.
          She thought again of Luca’s note: This lily will always guide you home. Study it well and you will discover the knowledge it unlocks.
          And then Cass knew. It was as Luca had said; he had spent the entire day at Palazzo da Peraga after his visit to Dubois. Whatever she was supposed to find was there. 


Siena followed her to the next room. Luca’s bedroom. Cass could tell as soon as she crossed the threshold. The room was dark-paneled and plain, with several books stacked on the floor next to the bed. Cass flipped through the volumes, looking for messages tucked within the pages. Nothing. Not a single underlined passage or folded page. Siena bent down to peer under the bed and Cass went to the wardrobe and threw open the doors. White chemises were stacked neatly on one shelf; colored doublets and breeches on another. Cass peeked beneath the piles of neatly folded clothes but found nothing except a sachet of herbs, tied with an orange ribbon. She picked up the small cloth bag and inhaled—citrus and spice. Tears sprung up from nowhere, hot at the corners of her eyes. Luca’s smell. She tucked the sachet into her pocket.
          Siena flopped down on the bed with a sigh. “We’ve got at least ten more rooms to go. Whatever he left for you—it’ll take forever to find it.”
          Cass wished she had brought the letter with her. She tried to remember Luca’s exact words. Study it well and you will discover the knowledge it unlocks.
          The words rearranged themselves in her head. Unlock...study... Suddenly inspired, Cass blurted out: “The study.” When she was a child, the thick wooden door had always remained closed, the voices behind it never rising above a whisper. Perhaps the da Peragas had their own share of secrets. She was already moving back into the hall. “We’re looking for a key, I’m almost positive. And it’s in the study.”

Fiona: Cass goes on to find the key as written in the published book. But I really, really liked the riddle part! First, Luca is all kinds of clever with the wording of the note and in hiding it in the gift box where the soldiers who came to search the villa wouldn’t find it. Then Cass mulls it over while she is doing other things and the answer slowly comes to her in pieces, much like we solve riddles in real life. The problem here is the word slowly. My Penguin editor expressed concern about how long it took to get to Florence where the meat of the plot takes place and she was 100% right. As much as it killed me to cut several pages and again let Cass get crucial information handed to her by a boy, the more important element here was to get the story moving more quickly.

Go Cass! I love seeing her smarts come through for her there. And of course it's always nice to get to see more of the characters we love, so thank you, Fiona, for sharing that with us!

Fiona Paul is a writer and registered nurse from St. Louis, MO.

Fiona's Blog: fionapaulbooks.blogspot.com
Fiona's Twitter: twitter.com/fionawritesYA
Fiona's FB: www.facebook.com/fionapaulbooks
Belladonna on GR: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18042405-belladonna

Did you miss yesterday's stop on the tour? Check out the author interview over at Fantasy's Ink. Tomorrow, make sure to stop by Emilie's Book World for an excerpted teaser scene!


Review: Belladonna by Fiona Paul

Belladonna by Fiona Paul.

Secrets of the Eternal Rose #2.
Page Count: 352.
Published: July 16, 2013.
Published by: Philomel.
Source: Received an ARC from Razorbill Canada in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
In Renaissance Italy, love, lust, intrigue and secret societies converge to stunning results!

In the second in the stunning Secrets of the Eternal Rose series, Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancé, Luca. But Luca seems to have his own secrets. When he’s arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass’s life is once again thrown into chaos. She must save Luca, and that means finding the Book of the Eternal Rose—the only evidence that will prove he’s innocent.

So begins her journey to Florence, a city haunted by whispers of vampirism, secret soirees and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose. And home to Falco, who is working for the Order’s eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself.

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time?
Nothing is as it seems in this seductive thriller, where the truth may be the deadliest poison of all.

My Review:

My struggle here is trying to write a coherent and valid review when all I really want to do is melt into a puddle of swoon and emotions. Fiona Paul made me fall in love in Venom, but Belladonna is like the proposal and the wedding. Emotional, well thought out, and even stronger than what came before. Now I just hope Starling is like a long and happy marriage!

Belladonna is a fabulous second book for this trilogy. There is no sign of second-book-syndrome in sight! It is an excellent follow-up to the storyline of Venom, ensuring that what happened in the first carries through to the second. No dropped plot lines or big, important actions without consequences. It has action and mystery and feelings galore and proved to be everything I wanted and more.

Italy continues to shine as the setting of the trilogy and I loved seeing more of its beauty, this time in Florence. At the same time, though, Belladonna presents some of the creepy and dangerous underground that goes even further than in Venice in Venom. The change in atmosphere was immediate and strong upon Cass' approach to Florence and I thought it was excellent for the novel since Belladonna delves much deeper into the mystery of the Eternal Rose. It is honestly the perfect backdrop for a storyline that combines the beautiful with the creepy and off-putting.

Cass dives much deeper into the overarching mystery in Belladonna and I was very impressed with how it's playing out. I really feel like I'm being kept in the dark about a lot of the details, but only as much as Cass is so it's exciting instead of frustrating. We're introduced to many new pieces of the puzzle this time around and I want to know how they fit together! The beautiful Belladonna and the obsession in Florence with vampires were both intriguing aspects of the story that we get a taste of. Enough to whet your appetite and get you hooked, but not enough to reveal all the answers (no matter how much I wanted them). I also have to commend Cass for her growth so far. She is really starting to come into her own and prove that despite having been sheltered and privileged, she is smart and can take care of herself. It was great to see her take charge of the situation and work tirelessly to save Luca when it put her in such danger. She can be selfless to the point of recklessness, but it just goes to show her heart, her curiosity, and her determination.

When it comes to the boys of the series, I felt so torn while reading. All throughout Venom I was a Falco girl through and through. Luca was far away and didn't even matter to me when Falco and Cass were together. In Belladonna, though, it gets complicated. Falco and Cass get more swoons, which I absolutely loved, but Falco is really showing his not-boyfriend-material side while Luca, despite once again not being present for much of the book, has shown that he is so strong and reliable and loving and clearly the smart choice. This was so hard on me (in the best way possible, I mean), because there are two swoony Italian guys and my heart says Falco while my head says Luca and I just want them both. As for Cass and the boys, I was so glad to get more insight into why she feels so conflicted about them because not only did it help me become more conflicted (THANKS, Cass), but it also helped me understand where Cass is coming from in regards to them. I think she and I feel the same way about the boys: Luca is the smart choice who will love her and take care of her forever, and what girl doesn't want that? But Falco is the mysterious and alluring one who gets your heart pounding and turns your cheeks bright red. It's hard to choose between them, and I understand Cass' struggle so much more after Belladonna.

Belladonna not only has the excellent love interests down pat, but has upped the ante on the mystery, the stakes and the emotions. Paul has shown that she's not afraid to take some risks to make these books the best they can be and I think that's truly paying off.
A glowing 5 stars!


Waiting on Wednesday #30: Starling by Fiona Paul

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:

Starling by Fiona Paul!

Expected Publication: March 20, 2014 by Philomel.

No blurb yet for this one, but oh my gosh do I ever need this book in my hands. Belladonna was... so many things. So many amazing and wonderful and awful things all mixed into an excellent book. My review is going up soon, so you'll see all my fangirling then, but honestly, this is right at the top of my 2014 Must Get list. And ARCs are in existence because Fiona has one, so...*grabby hands.* Luckily my Paper Lantern Lit family has me covered on this one and I absolutely love 'em for it!

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: Salt by Helen Frost

Salt by Helen Frost.

Page Count: 160.
Published: July 23, 2013.
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Goodreads Blurb:
Anikwa and James, twelve years old in 1812, spend their days fishing, trapping, and exploring together in the forests of the Indiana Territory. To Anikwa and his family, members of the Miami tribe, this land has been home for centuries. As traders, James’s family has ties to the Miami community as well as to the American soldiers in the fort. Now tensions are rising—the British and American armies prepare to meet at Fort Wayne for a crucial battle, and Native Americans from surrounding tribes gather in Kekionga to protect their homeland. After trading stops and precious commodities, like salt, are withheld, the fort comes under siege, and war ravages the land. James and Anikwa, like everyone around them, must decide where their deepest loyalties lie. Can their families—and their friendship—survive?
In Salt, Printz Honor author Helen Frost offers a compelling look at a difficult time in history.

My Review:

Salt is a wartime novel written in dual perspective featuring two young boys who end up on opposite sides of the battle lines. It explores the War of 1812 through their narratives and through their friendship, which is a great way to get young readers to connect with the history.

This novel was excellent for a few different things. First off, I was very impressed by how it explores the innocence of children and how it changes in the face of prejudice. While I do think it will take a young reader with a bit of a higher comprehension level than average to really appreciate the novel, I definitely think there is plenty to enjoy. I thought it was wonderful the way it examines the tense relationships that develop during the war in a way that a young reader can grow to understand along with the two narrators. This way they can feel like they're growing with the characters rather than having history pushed on them. I also really enjoyed the way the narratives were set up visually. As the author explains, the visual aspect of Anikwa's narrative is meant to represent the Miami tribe's traditional weaving patterns, while James' is meant to be presented like the stripes on the American flag. I think it adds an interesting visual dynamic to helping identify each individual narrator and their place in the story.

The drawback for me in this one is that I felt it really only skimmed the surface of a lot of what was going on. I suppose I should have expected it from a book clocking in at only 160 pages, but I still wanted more depth and history. I understand that these young boys would have been sheltered and therefore, because the story was told from their perspectives, we would not be exposed to everything, but I almost felt like they were more sheltered than they would have been and so it was all more brushed over than I hoped it would be. I felt the tension in the situation but if I weren't someone who studies history I probably wouldn't have understood why it was present or its true implications.

Overall, though, this was a well-crafted novel that showcases the profound differences that were present between cultures during the War of 1812 through the innocence and friendship of two young boys living on a battleground. I just wish there had been more in-depth exploration of the situation at hand.
A solid 3 stars.


Review: Black City by Elizabeth Richards

Black City by Elizabeth Richards.

Black City #1.
Page Count: 374.
Published: November 13, 2012.
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR.
Source: Won an ARC from Fiona Paul during the Venom Twitter Party.

Goodreads Blurb:
A dark and tender post-apocalyptic love story set in the aftermath of a bloody war.

In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.

When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.

My Review:

Black City has vampires (called Darklings). I am so not a vampire person. I still thought it was a great story. Point for Elizabeth Richards!

This was really an interesting book. There was a lot of world-building to set up, which some people may have trouble keeping straight but which I actually enjoyed. I appreciated the way Richards created an intricate and complicated world with some real depth. This made it easy to get swept up in the politics of it all because there was a lot to the ongoing conflict to consider. I also thought Richards did an excellent job of explaining and justifying her rules to her world. When something scientific or biological about the story is revealed, she doesn't just write it in and expect the readers to accept it. She gives reasons and explains how things work, then follows these rules later on, even surprising readers with their implications. She also drops little hints along the way that come back to be part of major plot points and I have to commend her on the skill with which she wove that together. I do want to note that some of the scenes are very harsh and quite graphic. Richards seems to have taken a no-holds barred approach which I appreciate because it demonstrates the true cruelty of the world they live in, but I still found a scene or two a little hard to read.

Despite the intricate world, the characters and their struggles do manage to take control of the story. I really enjoyed that there was a lot more to most of the important characters than it seemed at first. As the story went on I felt like not only were the characters growing but that they were also constantly continuing to reveal parts of themselves to other characters and to me. It was an excellent reminder not to take everyone at face value. While Natalie starts out frustratingly privileged and naive, she learns over time to open her eyes to the things going on around her and to other people's realities and this made her grow into a likeable character by the end. Ash begins the story very closed off, angry, and defensive, with good reason, but also grows throughout the book to become an interesting and complex character. They are both still not without their faults, though, which makes them seem all the more realistic. It is a balance that Richards has worked out quite well.

Something I thought was interesting with this one was the parallels I noticed to other popular works. The love story between Natalie and Ash was, I thought, very much an homage to Romeo and Juliet. There was a lot that felt familiar from the classic story, including the lovers being from opposing sides in society and even a balcony scene. However, I do not see Romeo and Juliet as a genuine love story. It is a prime example of the insta-love that everyone hates in YA. Black City, though a bit insta-lovey, gives a real reason for the initial connection that then grows into a genuine relationship, so I actually really appreciated their love story. They're also not "the perfect couple" once they get together. There are moments of doubt and uncertainty on both sides, as well as some rocky moments where I worried for their future together. This served not to be unnecessary drama but to show that relationships aren't perfect and I loved that there was a strong representation of that. Still, I got swept up in their relationship and definitely support them as a couple.

The other parallel I noticed was with Harry Potter, and it comes in the form of a character named Gregory. He holds the same hatred and disgust for anything remotely Darkling as Draco Malfoy does for anything not pure-blood wizard. They have a couple similar moments and it was interesting to see where they were similar and where they differed. In the end, though, I think Gregory outdoes Malfoy with his actions.

Overall I was very impressed with the depth and honesty presented in Black City. There was real and interesting world building and flawed characters that grow but do not become perfect. There were so many shades of grey when it came to good and bad that my opinions were constantly shifting. It was a thoughtful and very enjoyable novel.
4 stars.


Review: Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski.

Page Count: 288.
Published: July 2, 2013.
Published by: Henry Holt.
Source: Received from Raincoast Books in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thanks, Raincoast!

Goodreads Blurb:
Sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo has death on the brain. Her summer internship at the local newspaper has her writing obituaries instead of soaking up the sun at the beach. Between Shelby, Sam’s boy-crazy best friend; her boss Harry, a true-blue newspaper man; and AJ, her fellow “intern scum” (aka the cute drummer for a band called Love Gas), Sam has her hands full. But once she figures out what—or who—is the best part of her summer, will she mess it all up?

As Sam learns her way around both the news room and the real world, she starts to make some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most important—herself.

My Review:

I don't love a lot of contemporary novels because I find many of them all feel the same to me. Famous Last Words is definitely an exception to that. It covers, over the course of a summer, a growing phase in a young girl's life that finally sets her on her path. The story is told with humour and heart and I adored every moment of it.

Sam is a fantastic main character in that she is so perfectly average. This isn't a story about her "becoming the chosen one" or "achieving her destiny" or anything extraordinary like that. She's just a normal girl working a summer job that ignites a fire in her (in more ways than one). I absolutely adored Sam. She's the type of girl I could definitely see myself being best friends with, and those are the types of characters that are always fun to read about. I felt like I could totally connect with her; she loves 80s movies, is a bit of an introvert, and tries really hard to please everyone in her life, especially her parents. Throughout the whole book I felt like she was talking right to me, as if we were friends chatting and being funny about the goings-on in our lives. I even felt like I could talk back and tell her she was being blind towards a certain boy's advances (but then, who hasn't been like that at some point?). It was so encouraging to see her grow and begin to realize where she really wanted to be in life and then finally take the steps to get there. I was rooting for her the whole way. Her sense of humour was really enjoyable; a little self-deprecating, occasionally snarky, and overall very relatable. I loved her as main character and as narrator and wish she could actually be my new best friend.

The newspaper office as the primary setting for the story was very interesting in that it's so original for me. I don't think I've ever read another book that takes place in that kind of setting, let alone a YA book. I loved getting an inside look at the workings of a local newspaper and getting caught up in the mysterious scandal that they try to expose. It was a great environment to read about and made for a perfect setting. Getting to know Sam's co-workers was fun because they're all so distinct in personality. Everyone in the office just seemed very real, as if you could meet someone like any of them at any time. I especially enjoyed AJ as a character and his interaction and friendship with Sam. It was so genuine and I think Doktorski handled their awkward phase very realistically. I think I enjoyed all the characters in the novel even more because of the way Sam helps you get to know everyone. It was done so well that I felt like I was right there in the room with them. That's one thing that Doktorski has excelled at with this novel: making you feel like you're a part of it. A lot of the time I didn't feel like I was reading a book, I felt like I was watching a friend's life unfold.

All in all, this was a cute and fun read about a main character that shines for just being herself and figuring out where she fits in her world. With a lively and entertaining cast of characters in a very original setting for YA lit, this book is definitely not just another contemporary.
4 stars!