Blog Tour Guest Post: Sekret by Lindsay Smith + Giveaway

I'm so excited today to be part of the blog tour for Lindsay Smith's debut, Sekret! Big thank-yous to Macmillan and Lindsay. This is one book I have been looking forward to for ages!

First, a bit about the book:
Sekret by Lindsay Smith.

Sekret #1.
Published: April 1, 2014.
Published by: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)

An empty mind is a safe mind.
Yulia's father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But 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. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one--not her KGB superiors or the other operatives vying for her attention--and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

Lindsay is here today to share a bit about the setting of Sekret, Soviet Russia! Welcome, Lindsay.

Mystery, Riddle, Enigma: The Allure of a Russian Setting 

As an ‘80s child, my earliest memory of world news was the fall of the Berlin Wall, the domino that set off the Soviet Union’s collapse. It was fascinating to grow up in a world of transition, as attitudes toward Russia and the former soviet republics rearranged. My grandparents subscribed to National Geographic, and every year we got a new globe beach ball for me to play with, and I love watching Europe and Asia subdivide like cells into ever smaller fragments that used to be one solid color for the USSR: here the Czechs and Slovaks split, there the Balkans shattered, and new colors blossomed everywhere. 

My middle school required at least a year of foreign language study, and I immediately felt drawn to Russian. Our awesome teach was a former US Army linguist who was passionate about teaching—not just the Cyrillic alphabet and dense, elaborate grammar structures, but the Russian arts, history, and culture as well. Every day I walked into her classroom and marveled at the slogans she’d taped up over the chalkboard: MOSCOW DOESN’T BELIEVE IN TEARS. I took two student exchange trips with her class in middle school and high school, during the frenetic Yeltsin years, and my love for the Russian enigma—neither east nor west, no longer soviet but still snuffling around for democracy—only grew. 

Needless to say, one of my college majors was Russian Studies. (I also majored in music and computer security, but c’mon, Russian was way cooler.) Much of the baseline for my research into writing Sekret is from the accumulated knowledge of all this obsessive study, but it hey, it never hurts to BUY MORE BOOKS, all in the name of research! 

The history of late Imperial Russia and the early to middle Soviet Union is one of my favorite stretches of time—trauma and chaos and ideological fervor and unifying wars and a determined march toward perfection, however misguided. Anne Applebaum’s The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe splendidly (though frightfully) illuminates the Soviet Union’s oil-slick spread, while Doug Smith’s Former People highlights the plight of the nobles who found themselves gutted, beheaded, gulaged, and more in the wake of “progress” and “redistribution.” For a comprehensive survey of the Russian Revolution and Lenin and Stalin eras, you can’t go wrong with Richard Suny’s The Soviet Experiment. 

For a later examination of the Cold War, K Blows Top by Peter Carlson highlights the sometimes hilarious, often scary, never boring personality of Nikita Khruschev, including the infamous Disneyland incident. A more serious and soul-ripping story spans the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, chronicling life in the gulag prison system, to The Gulag Archipelago. For an exploration of the space race and its heroes (and victims), I highly recommend Starman, a biography of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and the tale of his doomed friendship with the cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. 

While the history of Sekret only reaches into the 1960s, modern post-Soviet Russia is no less mysterious and enigmatic, as current events hasten to remind us. Anna Politkovskaya was a fearless journalist who exposed a great deal of military and political corruption and mismanagement under Vladimir Putin prior to her murder in 2007. Masha Gessen studies life under Putin in The Man Without a Face, while David Satter perfectly captures Russians’ fatalistic attitude toward their dark history with the brilliantly titled It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway. 

But history is only a part of the Russian identity—I tried to weave as much Russian music and literature into Sekret as was natural, to add texture to an otherwise bleak environment largely sealed off from the pop culture of the rest of the world in the 1960s. Russian literature, from Dostoevsky to Bulgakov to Tolstoy, is dense and dark and yet endlessly absorbing; the Russian poets, too, like Anna AkhmatovaAleksandr Pushkin, Boris Pasternak, and Yevgenny Yevtushenko mete out the lushness and desperation with even hands. Finally, I’d challenge anyone to listen to Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos without being swept away by the Russian riddle. There’s always a new corner to explore, and always a new mystery to solve. 

I absolutely love learning about what inspires settings that are unique in YA like this, but this is above and beyond! Thank you, Lindsay, for sharing! I'll definitely have to grab some of those books and brush up on my Russian history.

Author links:
Follow Lindsay Smith on Twitter!
See Lindsay Smith on the Fierce Reads Tour in May!
Check out Lindsay Smith’s website and her blog!
Read Doppel, a new short story by Lindsay Smith set in the world of Sekret.
Download and read (for free) the first five chapters of Sekret.

Click here to follow the rest of the blog tour for more fantastic posts from Lindsay!

Macmillan has kindly offered to send one lucky US/Canada winner a hardcover copy of Sekret! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Waiting on Wednesday #61: The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

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 Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes.

Expected Publication: May 20, 2014.
by: HarperTeen.

Goodreads Synopsis:
Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is used to getting what she wants, and when her boyfriend Jason breaks up with her for no reason, what she wants is to win him back before the start of their senior year. Lainey and her friend Bianca check the interwebz for tips and tricks, but the online dating advice is all pretty lame. 

Then the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. Didn't someone once say that love is a battlefield? Jason isn't going to stand a chance once Lainey and Bee go all Zhou Dynasty on him... 

Old school strategy and subterfuge meet modern-day dramarama in the story of a girl who sets out to win at all costs and ends up discovering what's really worth fighting for.

Why I'm excited:
Okay, technically yes, I have already read this one. But it was SO GOOOOOOD. So I'm waiting on the finished copy to be released so I can have a beautiful completed copy of the book and shove it on everyone who can appreciate the cute, fun book that this is!

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.

Published: March 25, 2014.
Published by: Candlewick Press.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Candlewick!

Goodreads Synopsis:
Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and na├»ve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

My Review:

I rarely find myself venturing into the world of magic realism because past experience has resulted in me finding it rather disengaging, a little silly, and frankly just not my taste. However, I was drawn in by the premise of this novel and hoped that it would mark a change for my relationship with the style. On this it has; I truly enjoyed this novel. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender lives up to its name in many ways, being both strange and very beautiful. It is undeniably unique and was a reading experience like no other.

Ava Lavender tells this story like a multi-generational memoir in her own voice, making her the narrator and the ultimate centre of the story but drawing her mother, Viviane, and maternal grandmother, Emilienne, in as vivid and vital characters in their own right. Ava tells of each woman's life, focusing especially on each's loves and sorrows and the need for freedom from various traps and cages. Over the course of the narrative, all three women become more intriguing and more understandable, more familiar and yet also more mysterious. It is an excellent balance that suits the story so well. Each of the characters explored in the novel - not just these three central women - is undeniably strange in some way or another and has some kind of important effect on the lives of Emilienne, Viviane, and/or Ava. Watching this play out the way it does was truly engaging as they all struggle with what life throws their way.

Once again being true to its name, this novel has a strand of sorrow that weaves its way throughout the entire narrative. It displays itself more prominently in many ways (often related to love) but is clearly present during the whole story and adds a great deal to the feeling of the novel. The emotions that rise and fall in the telling of this story were one of the most powerful parts for me. I felt they were woven so well together and the memoir format helps bring them alive in the forefront. The love that comes and goes and the family bond that quietly permeates so many of the interactions feel so honest that I couldn't help but feel affected. 

The magic realism was, to me, handled with a light hand and a subtle touch and I think that is why I enjoyed it significantly more than I often do. There were occasions where something especially peculiar pulled me out of the story a bit, but someone used to the quirks of magic realism I think would find this an enjoyable adventure throughout. 

This novel really is so unique and immersive. The narrative is one that slowly pulls you deep into these characters' lives so you become invested almost without realizing, and yet also manages to maintain a distance that strikes a masterful balance. If you're looking for a sorrowful, beautifully written tale of human hearts and all the good and bad they take, this is the novel for you. If you're looking for YA with a very literary feel, this one is for you. Even if you're looking for a book set in the past that is not at all about the history, this book is for you. All these wonderful elements blend together so well to create this wonderful piece of literature. For a style that I do not often enjoy, this one truly took me by surprise. 


Novella Review: Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne

Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne.

Midnight Thief #0.5.
Published: September 24, 2013.
Published by: Lion's Quill Press (Self-published).
Source: Accepted a review request and received an e-copy from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Livia!

Goodreads Synopsis:
James is skilled, efficient, and deadly, a hired blade navigating the shifting alliances of a deteriorating Assassin’s Guild. Then he meets Thalia, an alluring but troubled dancing girl who offers him a way out—if he’ll help her kill a powerful nobleman. With the Guild falling apart, it just might be worth the risk. But when you live, breathe, and love in a world that’s forever flirting with death, the slightest misstep can be poison.

My Review:

Poison Dance is a novella prequel to Blackburne's upcoming series beginner, Midnight Thief. It introduces us to James, an assassin who is part of a guild that once essentially ran the land but which is no longer what it used to be. Now he is simply trying to make a living without falling victim to a blade himself. The novella is a great introduction to him and to the world that Midnight Thief is set in and I am looking forward to reading that even more now than I was before. 

The story here centres around James and the struggle he faces as the guild changes but even more so it centres around his encounters with Thalia, a young woman on a mission for revenge who needs his help. This plot line gave the story a lot of its drive and is really what made it move forward. Their goals and the ups and downs to reach them were quite well paced. One of the things I enjoyed was that the stakes for both James and Thalia were made very clear and not taken lightly. I felt the weight of the implications and was impressed by how those were carried through. Blackburne did a great job at making sure these were not brushed over to make things easier for the characters and I hope that continues in the series. 

Thalia herself is a very determined young woman, willing to do anything for this act of revenge. Her conviction is admirable even if it is incredibly risky. She was pretty well developed into an interesting character in her own right. She also helped to reveal more about James that is not much shared around his fellow guild members, which was an excellent aid to making his character more clearly multi-faceted. I really appreciated the way the bond they formed helped to bring out other sides to each of them but didn't pull them away from their goals, which I would have found unrealistic having gotten to know Thalia and seen her resolve and her motivation. The side characters of Rand and Bacchus, James' guild partners, were very enjoyable to have there and sometimes I found myself wishing they got to play a bit of a larger role. For a short novella, though, I did enjoy the characterization that was developed. 

I'm definitely curious to know how James will play into Midnight Thief as well as to see how the characters that feature in it fit within the world that has been introduced here. I hope that it gets expanded on more and I hope the implications of things implied here are fleshed out but I think Poison Dance is a great prequel novella. It has its own story but still serves as a great starting point for the series to follow.


Review: Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott.

Fire & Flood #1.
Published: February 25, 2014.
Published by: Scholastic Press.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Scholastic Canada!

Goodreads Synopsis:
A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother's life—and her own. 

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

My Review:

Fire & Flood is an exciting survive-and-thrive type story that definitely caught and kept my attention. An entertaining and original main character leads a cast of interesting and surprising characters in what is overall a rather intense and mostly enjoyable novel.

One of the original selling point of the book for me was the Brimstone Bleed, the "epic race" that provides the main action. I was glad to find that this element was definitely what I hoped it would be: a difficult survival challenge with obstacles to overcome and fierce competitors to deal with. The varied pacing of the race and the emotion of the high-stakes pressure mixed with the often quieter moments of getting to know the characters made for a very readable novel in the sense that I didn't have time to get bored with the action, but I was still able to keep up well. There was clearly attention paid to the movement of the plot and it pays off.

In particular I really enjoyed the main character, Tella. She is very different from the typical heroine found in this kind of YA novel. She is a girly girl at heart - she struggles with her hair, she loves her nail polish and she longs for a day of shopping and spa-going. But like some of the strongest heroines out there, Tella has something worth fighting for - her brother. He needs the Cure desperately and Tella is his only hope. The way she stays true to her proudly feminine self but is still able to dig down and find it inside her to face the challenges the Brimstone Bleed throws her way is not only incredibly impressive (she faces down some scary tough obstacles) but also is great proof that there is no one type of good heroine. Tella shows that girls don't have to ignore or suppress their feminine side in order to face challenges and survive in extreme conditions. That is not only admirable but also very important today when girly girls seem to have no place in action/adventure type stories. Tella breaks the mold of typical YA heroines but still proves herself worthy of a spot on the list.

The major thing I struggled with in this novel was the animal cruelty that is present. Some could argue that it's not really animal cruelty because the Pandoras aren't natural animals, but they're close enough for me (and Tella) to care about them like animals and I saw them as such. I understand why it's included because it works very well for characterization of one character in particular as well as for Tella, and it certainly worked to elicit a strong emotional reaction from me. However, I know some people who will be immediately turned off by the fact that it is there at all and I must say that it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. I was uncomfortable with the descriptions and the presence of the cruelty, so while I recognize its purpose, I still found it was the lowest point of the book for me.

Overall, there were a lot of exciting high points in this novel and one major low that I struggled with. However, I'm hoping that because of the way Fire & Flood wraps up this won't present much of an issue in the sequel, Salt & Stone, so I'll be able to enjoy it completely. That is certainly one that is going on my must-read list because Scott did a great job of getting me invested in her story and the outcomes for her characters.


Waiting on Wednesday #60: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

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 Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson.

Expected Publication: July 15, 2014.
by: Henry Holt.

Goodreads Synopsis:
In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assasin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

Why I'm excited:
Does this not sound like a FABULOUS fantasy or what? Gah, the promise of deception provides lots of opportunities for exciting drama and in a fantasy setting... well, I'm drooling. Plus that cover is pretty gorgeous!

What are you waiting on this week?


My Bucket List: in Honour of Side Effects May Vary

To help celebrate the upcoming release of Julie Murphy's Side Effects May Vary, Julie has asked us to share what's on our bucket lists. Now I have a lot of things I want to do in my life, so here's a fun selection of some of these things.

Some of the fun things on my Bucket List:

- Road trip to a concert by my favourite band, The Avett Brothers (preferably in their home state of North Carolina)
- Meet said favourite band - September 2013. Seriously, the nicest guys ever. So sweet, so friendly.
- Go snorkeling in crystal clear blue water
- Finish writing a novel
- Get a job in publishing (marketing and publicity, here I come!)
- Visit Berlin (among plenty of other locations... listing them all would take way too long. Berlin is just one of the top places)
- Toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome
- See a show on Broadway - May 2013. Chicago. Loved it.
- Rappel down a waterfall
- Zip-line somewhere tropical
- Learn how to make sushi
- Eat fish & chips at an old English pub (this summer!)
- Learn to love my hair (it's a mess... this one will take some work)
- Attend a masquerade

Those are some of the most fun (and random) things I want to do in my life.

Now, a bit about the book:
Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy.

To be published: March 18, 2014
by: Balzer + Bray.

Goodreads Synopsis:
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you? 

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most? 

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

About the author:

Julie lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she's not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. Side Effects May Vary is Julie's debut novel. Julie can best be found on her website (www.juliemurphywrites.com), tumblr (www.andimjulie.tumblr.com), or twitter (www.twitter.com/andimjulie).

IndieBound: www.indiebound.org/book/9780062245359
B&N: www.barnesandnoble.com/w/side-effects-may-vary-julie-murphy/1115554719?ean=9780062245359
Amazon: www.amazon.com/Side-Effects-Vary-Julie-Murphy/dp/006224535X

I want to know: What's on your bucket list? Are you excited to read Side Effects May Vary?


Waiting on Wednesday #59: A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

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:
A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn.

Expected Publication: May 6, 2014.
by: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Goodreads Synopsis:
A stunning debut novel about a girl who is half dragon, half human, and wholly herself.

As the only heir to the throne, Marni should have been surrounded by wealth and privilege, not living in exile-but now the time has come when she must choose between claiming her birthright as princess of a realm whose king wants her dead, and life with the father she has never known: a wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.

Fans of Bitterblue and Seraphina will be captured by a Creature of Moonlight, with its richly layered storytelling and the powerful choices its strong heroine must make.

Why I'm excited:
Since the sequel to Seraphina doesn't appear to be on its way in the very near future, I'll need something else to give me my human/dragon fix. Seeing as this one has been compared to Seraphina and has a half-dragon girl, I think this one might be a great fit! Plus, more fantasy is always a good thing.

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.

Published: January 28, 2014.
Published by: Balzer + Bray.
Source: Requested an ARC for review from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, HarperCollins Canada!
More from the publisher here.

Goodreads Synopsis:
Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

My Review:

I have very, very mixed feelings about Cruel Beauty. On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the story that Hodge has crafted. On the other, though, I came out of reading this novel feeling almost no emotion or connection whatsoever. It made for an interesting reading experience at least, because while I felt rather neutral about the whole thing, at the same time it was certainly a creative story and I didn't want to stop reading purely because I wanted to see where the plot went.

One thing that I can fully appreciate with this novel is that I can see where Hodge pulls inspiration from. There are clear Ancient Greek and Roman influences as well as a Beauty and the Beast type plot line. These were very enjoyable to explore and I liked the way they were included. There is a strong Ancient Greek and Roman feel to the setting and traditions, which I loved see come to life. The plot crafted is intricate and blends a lot of elements together well. At its base, the plot follows a Beauty and the Beast path, with a girl forced to live in a castle with a man widely regarded as very cruel and a relationship slowly blossoms between them. However, there is also much more going on that distances this story from Beauty and the Beast and really shows off Hodge's imagination. The castle itself becomes like another character as it constantly shifts to hide or reveal some of the many secrets it holds. It is undeniable that this whole world is incredibly creative and I am in awe of Hodge's brain.

I can also appreciate the characters Hodge has created but I think this is a large part of where the connection was lost for me. The main character, Nyx, is by no means a "good" character, despite being forced into a hero role. She is rather mean and angry and has completely valid reasons for being that way. It has been made very clear to her that her father and aunt value her sister's life over her own and are willing to risk her death to help themselves. If that doesn't warrant a strong sense of resentment towards the entire family, I don't know what does. I think she's a very convincing and well crafted character. She just didn't do anything for me personally. Sadly, neither did the Beast to her Beauty. Ignifex is the lord residing in the castle to whom Nyx is promised. He is the man she sets out to kill. He is also the man she falls in love with. While I enjoyed his dark playfulness, I wasn't truly drawn to him in any way. I was almost kind of... bored. I wish I didn't feel so 'meh' about them when I appreciate them as characters, but unfortunately I did.

All in all, this was a beautifully told story that I just didn't connect to. I enjoyed the creativity and the blend of elements that I adore, but couldn't fall in love with the characters. I can absolutely appreciate Hodge's storytelling ability and will certainly be interested in what she writes next. This one just wasn't quite right for me.


Review: Nil by Lynne Matson

Nil by Lynne Matson.

Published: March 4, 2014.
Published by: Henry Holt.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Macmillan!

Goodreads Synopsis:
On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. 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 lying 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 to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

My Review:

*Depending on how strict your definition of a spoiler is, you may find minor spoilers in this review*

My original interest in NIL came from my love of survival stories. Stories of human triumph over odds that seem overwhelming. That is what I wanted out of NIL. What I got was more than a survival story. This is a story about human connections and human strength and, most of all, about living each day without regrets. NIL is a story that I ended up rather emotionally invested in and that in the end I very much enjoyed.

The story itself is one that almost sounds as if it should be repetitive: survive on an island, day after day, until you get out or die. But Matson has done a wonderful job of creating conflicts and rituals and mysteries that don't allow for monotony. Each day holds some familiar challenges and some new ones, which gave the novel great pacing and flow. The main characters, Charley and Thad, were both, to me, very relatable with voices I enjoyed reading through and motivations I felt truth in. Also, though, there were side characters that were interesting and nuanced so that relationships beyond that between the main characters could develop and add to the story. I found the balance created in this story worked very well and certainly kept me reading.

One of my favourite parts of this novel is the way Charley and Thad's relationship develops. They have a dynamic that feels so familiar and so true to life. They have that fun back-and-forth on the outside but an inner insecurity when it comes to one another that I think so many people will recognize as honest and a common experience for many. I really enjoyed seeing both of them as distinct individuals become such a believable and enjoyable couple. I also was very impressed by how Matson dealt with the question of sex within their relationship. It is brought up and I felt that it was covered very well. Firstly, Charley is in control of her own sexual agency. She is the one who first asks about sex and she is comfortable in what she wants. Having a female main character so in control of her sexuality and so honest about it with her partner was really wonderful to read. Secondly, when Thad reacts to Charley's proposition, he doesn't shame her for what she wants and he makes a very smart decision that shows real thought and consideration for both himself and for Charley. I just found it was such an intelligent way to deal with it and overall sends a very positive message.

The actual island of Nil was also very well written, in my opinion. It appears at times to almost be a character itself as it seems to play games with the characters and whisper taunts with the wind. It was a fully developed world in and of itself, as well, with multiple vivid landscapes and some sense of structure to its ways. Learning the secrets of Nil was really interesting and part of me wishes that some of those details and elements had been explained and developed even further. I also wish there had been a little more explanation as to how the characters knew some of the things they did -- like how day 365 is your last -- but given the circumstances I would also understand if these teens had no idea where the knowledge came from, just that it has been passed down.

Overall, I was really impressed by this story. It had a lot working in its favour, including great characters and a well explored base idea. Nil is an intense, exciting and truly creative story that focuses not on simply surviving, but on truly living. 


Waiting on Wednesday #58: Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

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:
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan.

Expected Publication: April 1, 2014.
by: Greenwillow.

Goodreads Synopsis:
Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

Why I'm excited:
I've heard some really great things about this one and it's being marketed as feminist sci-fi, which totally has me intrigued! I'm also trying to read some space sci-fi this year and this one seems like it'll be a perfect fit!

What are you waiting on this week?


Review: Starling by Fiona Paul

Starling by Fiona Paul.

Secrets of the Eternal Rose #3.
Published: March 20, 2014.
Published by: Philomel.
Source: Requested an ARC from Paper Lantern Lit in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, PLL!

Goodreads Synopsis:
The dark, seductive conclusion to the thrilling Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy!

In the final book in the trilogy, Cass and Luca are back in Venice trying to find the Book of the Eternal Rose to clear Luca's name and keep them both out of prison. But the hunters become the hunted when the Order of the Eternal Rose figures out their plan. Filled with twists and turns, danger and torrid romances, this novel brings the Secrets of the Eternal Rose novels to a thrilling, heart-pounding, sexy conclusion.

My Review:

This is a series that I have adored from the very beginning, so to say I had high hopes going into Starling would be extremely accurate. However, I don't think I could have asked for a better ending to this trilogy. I really don't. Starling was everything I wanted for Cass and for this story and I am left feeling so satisfied with this final installment.

The plot of Starling was an excellent balance of wrapping up the mystery and exciting storyline that has run through the series as well as bringing the love triangle to a believable and well-executed conclusion. The early parts of the novel recap from Belladonna well without being a long, drawn out bore of an infodump. There are tidbits thrown in to help readers remember what happened but not so much that it became tired. Of course, the central plot line surrounding the secret society of sorts and the mystery of the Eternal Rose is brought to its ultimate climax here and I very much enjoyed it. There were elements I was hoping for that panned out and there was much I didn't expect that made this an exciting and often tense and somewhat nerve wracking finale. It fit very well with the events and the atmosphere that the series has established thus far and was, ultimately, a wonderful ending. 

As much as I love the boys of the series, Falco and Luca, this book was about Cass and I was so appreciative of that. Cass has been on such a wild ride throughout this series but she never once gives up. Her determination and her bravery are as evident and admirable as ever. It's not as though she has been through a complete transformation - she is still the Cass I enjoyed reading about from the beginning. She is still very smart. She is also still very impulsive and brave to the point of recklessness. But she has shown a wonderful emotional growth over the course of the series - especially in growing more confident in herself, what she can accomplish, and what she wants - and I adore the arc her character has taken. 

Another thing I absolutely LOVED about Starling is the way the love triangle was resolved. This was a very well done triangle from the beginning: the boys were drastically different people but they both offered something to Cass that made them a worthy choice. Both offer romance and the chance for real love (by the end of Belladonna, at least), but Luca offers her stability and a quiet life while Falco offers a more exciting but dangerous one. They are both viable choices for Cass but Paul has made it how I truly hoped it would be: the resolution to the triangle is truly about what Cass wants and needs for her life. It is about what it best for her and for the kind of person she has grown to become by the end of the series. That, in my opinion, is exactly how the series should have ended. It also does both boys justice, which I was very appreciative of. There are so many ways to cop out of a triangle. Paul proves that there's also a way to resolve them completely in a way that is true to the characters.

Overall, I am leaving this series with nothing but a happy heart and having had a great experience with the books. Thank you, Fiona Paul, for such an exciting and interesting story, characters that I feel I know and love, and an ending that left me with nothing but adoration.