Saturday, December 31, 2011

December Wrap-Up: New year's resolutions

This month's wrap-up comes a little differently that the usual ones, wrapping up yearly challenges and introducing changes in next year's program:

Upcoming Changes/New Year's Blog Resolutions:

  • This will be the last monthly wrap-up. I'm not taking any reading challenges for 2012, so it'd just be a post of nothing but links you can find in my archive anyway. The actual Book Of The Month giveaway post will be where I'll announce last month's winner.
  • To stop buying into hype for books I know I won't like. I feel like most of my reviews are negative these days, and though I don't feel guilty for them, I'd like to have to write them less for the popular books that literally every Top 10 Of 2011 post I've read mention. 
  • My most important resolution: if I'm not interested in blogging, I won't force myself to blog. Right now reviewing is more of a pain than a pleasure, and you can tell that in the quality of my posting.


2011 Debut Author Challenge: completed
I ended up reading a total of 41 2011 debuts!

100+ Challenge: completed.
I ended up reading and reviewing 182 novels overall.

Aussie YA Reading Challenge: completed.
I ended up reading 32 Aussie YA novels this year!


     - Where the rating went, on the discontinuation of rating books reviewed

     - Faves of TwentyEleven, Day One: The Books
                                                Day Two: The Characters
                                                Day Three: The Scenes
                                                Day Four: The Random

You can find a list of all the books (alphabetized) that I've ever reviewed on this blog here.

Book Of The Month:

A feature inspired by Audrey at holes In My brain, at the end of each month I'll pick the favorite book I read, and feature it as my Book Of The (next) Month.

January's Book Of The Month is The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell. My review can be found here.

Stay tuned for a The Sharp Time giveaway tomorrow! (Tomorrow conveniently happens to be one minute away here!) The winner of last month's giveaway of The Night Circus was Lorraine.

So that was December in review. How was your month?

Review: Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler


Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

Pages: 384
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: March 6th, 2012
IBSN: 9781442423213

Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.

As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?

As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex...and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be.

Gabby wakes up in hospital with no memory of the night that put her there, but what happened was obvious. With the blood alcohol concentration of a keg and in her hand the keys to her boyfriend's car wrapped around a tree beside her, her future looks to be a blur of DUI charges, jail time, and perhaps the most daunting in her mother's eyes, a face mangled by the crash. In the aftermath, she'll question if the events of that night were really what they seemed.

Ann Redisch Stampler's YA debut gets under your skin. Far from the light contemporary the cover and blurb imply, you accompany Gabby through a difficult journey and through so many intense and complicated emotions and realisations -- that growing into the person she wants to be is more important than any relationship is perhaps the most profound of all.

Written in evocative prose in a voice inherently teenaged and inherently Gabby. The narration was so personal, Gabby felt real and like someone we really know. I felt as though in the shoes of a fourth member of their friend group -- another Lisa or Anita bringing board games to her house during her recovery and asking her to open up. Her personality is well realised and well portrayed such that her shortcomings are plausible and sympathetic rather than frustrating.

The characters are dynamic and realistic. I prefer to relate to my characters than to idealise them, so their well-conveyed angst and bias and jealousy and ignorance made them only more engaging. Their flaws and poor decisions bring them to life and make them real. The characterisation was superb, and the narrative voice so true and raw. Stampler creates characters which explore moral grey areas that you can learn things about yourself from.

Gabby's reflection and emotional turmoil pay off in the end, in a huge and unexpected and perfect complete turn around. The way she finds the strength to accept what happened to her free of any bitterness and pursue what she really needs rather than wants is inspiring, and also gives us the comfort of knowing she finds the peace she so deserves.

Where It Began tackles relevant issues in a non-preachy tone, making for a story we get more than a few hours of entertainment from. Characters well-written and are created with relatability prioritised over likeablility, to be affecting on a much deeper level. It's an upcoming, enriching contemporary any fans of the genre should definitely seek out in early March.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi


Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Series: Under The Never Sky (#1)
Pages: 400
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: January 3rd, 2012
IBSN: 9780062072030

Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love - one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

Everything goes awry in Aria's plan to find out what happened to Bliss and why she can't contact her mother there. The only two survivors of their adventure outside the realms are her and the boy that got them stuck there. Coincidentally also the son of a Consul. With his word against hers, she's exiled to the Death Shop, where undeserved kindness from a Savage with his own tragedy helps her discover the secrets of the world she thought she knew.

The world was richly imagined and executed well. There was a vivid quality to it all, especially the aether sky, despite minimal description. The plot was clever in its twists and entertaining in the speed in which events unfolded. Where the plot seems straight-forward from the start -- Aria wants back to her mother, back into the pods, and Perry wants to save his nephew and lead his tribe better than his brother -- revelations and unexpected roadblocks constantly mould their plight into another direction entirely, but while still paying mind to their original intentions. It was thoroughly engaging journey to join them on, and one where the continuation through a sequel would not feel contrived.

Both Aria and Perry are determined protagonists, with a goal and the will to do whatever than can to get it. This attitude of theirs drives the story forward, while you become attached to them for their friendly and kind dispositions. Though memorable voices through their third person narration they certainly did not have, becoming invested in their well being was effortless and added another layer to the drama.

While both characters were fleshed out and likable separately, together -- at least romantically -- they fell flat. So much of Aria's attachment to Perry was based on her fear of the unknown world, and so much of Perry's to her was based on...biology, and his preternatural sense of smell. The chemistry was literal chemistry. The attraction felt less than realistic and less significant to their development than their friendship.

The solid pacing took a break for the romance. The story evolved smoothly, until a day spent entirely confessing attraction and savouring each other at the height of the drama went on for what felt longer than their weeks of travel. Aria and Perry's relationship was not the most important part of the story, but the actual important part was forced to wait by for YA's token inconsequential romantic scenes.

Rossi's writing style was plain and simple, to-the-point but not without sufficient description to bring the setting to life. This prose served her well in crafting a fast-moving plot, but it left the story devoid of any memorable flair or voice. A story is in equal parts the idea and the words, and I felt like a great plot was let down by the plainness of the prose. 

Under The Never Sky is an engaging and imaginative novel featuring likable protagonists and a twisting, fast-paced plot. An entertaining read for fans of all speculative genres of YA, but readers who lean more towards contemporary tastes will be disappointed by the romance and the writing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Touch Of Power by Maria V. Snyder


Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Series: Healer (#1)
Pages: 394
Publisher: Harlequin Teen Australia
Published: January 2012
IBSN: 9781921796494

Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan assumes their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Territories, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life...

The healers were renowned for their ability to relieve injuries and illnesses, until the plague broke out and it was rumoured to have started with them. Now they're being hunted down and executed and healer apprentice Avry is on the run. Her attempts to flee after using her gift to cure a child are thwarted, though, but a team of men who need her help reviving the prince that could reunite the realms.

Avry is the token Snyder fantasy protagonist. She has a coveted gift and is preternaturally good at everything she tries (how quickly she picked up fighting skills to match people who'd trained their whole lives!). The predicament of being used and targeted for her gift combined with the character's familiar voice made me constantly forget that I wasn't rereading the Study series.

The Maria V. Snyder charm is wearing off for me, with the conclusion that she has just one character, and the one journey the one character takes -- to learn it's okay to need others. That one character has the same romantic interest in each new book, the belligerent male with whom she shares no chemistry and shows no interest in her until they're both under duress.

Maria's writing style is simple and straight-forward, unembellished. This serves her well through action sequences, but less so for world-building. Descriptions are plain and too uninteresting to discourage skimming in search of the next piece of dialogue. The world-building is weak and a vivid setting -- as important as plot and characters in fantasy -- was not created. Certain elements of the setting, such as the lilies, had so much potential to be fascinating if the imagery surrounding them was stronger.

To my dismay, I couldn't even get lost in an exciting plot. Touch Of Power was a slow beginning to the Healers series, the frustrating kind of travelling fantasy where half the time is spent walking. The banter between Avry and her companions on the journey, presumably intended to make the transition scenes more engaging, was again too familiar, like a scenes lifted from the Study series only with different character names. Subplots were constantly arising, distracting the characters from the actually intriguing main story line, and then proving to have little consequence after all.

I can see the appeal this generally well-received novel has, but it is ultimately too similar to the author's previous fantasy novels for me to be at all impressed.

So the beginning to Maria V. Snyder's new series should satisfy her devout and slightly biased fans (particularly of the Study series), but more involved fantasy readers will be unimpressed with the lack of depth in world-building and a story that isn't unique to Snyder's others.

Waiting On Wednesday (57)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, in which we highlight an upcoming book release we're eagerly awaiting.

This week I'm waiting on Lucid by Adrienne Stolz and Ron Bass. The amazing Only Ever Always got me hooked on this idea of alternate selves and dreamscapes, and though I don't feel like this one will be able to compare, I'm excited to explore that premise again. I'm also intrigued by the dual authorship.

What if you could dream your way into a different life? What if you could choose to live that life forever?

Sloane and Maggie have never met. Sloane is a straight-A student with a big and loving family. Maggie lives a glamorously independent life as an up-and-coming actress in New York. The two girls couldn't be more different - except for one thing. They share a secret that they can't tell a soul. At night, they dream that they're each other.

The deeper they're pulled into the promise of their own lives, the more their worlds begin to blur dangerously together. Before long, Sloane and Maggie can no longer tell which life is real and which is just a dream. They realize that eventually they will have to choose one life to wake up to, or risk spiraling into insanity. But that means giving up one world, one love, and one self, forever.

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

Lucid will be released by Razorbill on the 19th of July, 2012.

Feel free to leave a link to your own Waiting On Wednesday post in the comments, and I'll be sure to have a look.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: Sirensong by Jenna Black


Sirensong by Jenna Black

Series: Faeriewalker (#3)
Pages: 312
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Published: January, 2012
IBSN: 9780312575953

When Dana is invited to Faerie to be officially presented at the Seelie Court, it's no easy decision. After all, everyone knows Titania, the Seelie Queen, wants her dead. But Titania claims not to be the one behind the death threats; and her son, Prince Henry, makes the decision a whole lot easier when he suggests Dana might be arrested for (supposedly) conspiring with her aunt Grace to usurp the Seelie throne. So she and her father better do as they're told...

The journey through Faerie is long-and treacherous. Dana thought it would be a good idea to have friends along, but her sort-of-boyfriend, Ethan, and her bodyguard's son, Keane, just can't seem to get along, and Kimber's crush on Keane isn't making things any easier. When a violent attack separates Dana from their caravan, the sexy Erlking saves her just in the nick of time... and makes it clear that he hasn't given up on making her his own.

Arriving at Titania's beautiful palace should be a relief. But Dana is soon implicated in an assassination attempt against Titania's granddaughter, and is suddenly a fugitive, forced to leave her father behind as she and her friends flee for their lives. Will she be able to prove her innocence before the forces of the Seelie Court – or, worse, the Erlking – catch up with her? And will she save her father before he pays the ultimate price in her stead?

Dana is invited to be presented at Seelie court, and with danger foreseeable whether she attends or not, she decides to go. But upon arrival, she's framed for a crime punishable by death. And with no other known Faeriewalker capable of committing the crime, proving her innocence and saving not just herself, but her friends and family as well, seems impossible.

Jenna Black's Faeriewalker series was her YA debut after a career of writing adult urban fantasy. The genre switch seemed pointless, with this new story just an adult urban fantasy with a YA cover design and a character several years younger. A teenaged character does not a teen novel make.

The characters are unrealistically created, and given stock personalities and dynamics. Our protagonist is given a kind of hero complex and an unnatural sense of compassion for people she doesn't know, though for all this selflessness, she's a weak and whiny girl who couldn't save anyone on her own and without her inexplicably admiring friends. I don't mind an unlikable narrator as long they're a realistic and fleshed out one (and don't make constant, misandric sweeping statements about men). But Dana's voice wasn't one that at all helped getting through the story.

Black's prose was clumsy and inarticulate and often repetitive, constantly reminding us in melodramatic fashion of things we're well aware of. Dana takes care to remind everyone that people are after her at least three dozen times, each time become less and less reputable as the strong, selfless character the author tries to make her. A quote that stood out to me while reading to demonstrate this unrefined style, complete with heinous parenthetical:

"...I impressed myself myself by catching it one-handed. (I had to catch it one-handed because Ethan was squeezing me so tightly against him my arm was trapped.)"
Whether Sirensong is the end of the series or not, I'm not sure, but the distinct impression of a permanent conclusion was given by the rushed and deus ex machina denouement in which all of Dana's vaguely catch-22-esque problems were resolved by an very uncharacteristic concession.

Sirensong was an irrelevantly-titled story of standard Faerie mythology for people with an impressive ability to ignore frustrating characters and plot devices and lose themselves in a relatively fast-paced unfolding of events.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell


The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

Pages: 240
Publisher: Delacorte
Published: November 8th, 2011
IBSN: 9780385740487

Sandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her single mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, subject to the random vulnerability of everyday life. When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge.

Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at The Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds friendship and camaraderie with her coworker, a boy struggling with his own secrets.

Even as Sandinista sees the failures of those with power and authority, she's offered the chance to survive through the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose between faith and forgiveness or violence and vengeance.

The death of her beloved mother and the constant failures and shortcomings of the world around her leaves Sandinista caught between constant defeatism and rage. On the weird and wonderful Thirty-Eighth street, plans for violent revenge take root and a redemptive friendship is formed.

Sandinista had one of the most capturing and passionate voices I've ever read. Everything she was feeling was laid out bare -- her pleas, her grief, the memory are you paying attention? on repeat. She was profoundly angry and profoundly melancholic, and it never even needed to be said, the mood was so effectively created. The writing had the feel of a stream of consciousness, so raw from the perspective of someone so haunted.

Beyond being so easily sympathetic, Sandinista was a relateable protagonist struggling with a relevant issue. Her loss of faith in authority figures and burgeoning desire for retribution articulated feelings the audience is very familiar with. 
So much about Sandinista's journey was deeply affecting.

The story demonstrated the potential for redemption and solace in the relationships in others; a touching thing for the profoundly lonely Sandinista to come to realise. Her relationship with Bradley had a realistic and gritty dynamic, and the way their bond strengthened through the comfort they eventually found in each other was warming.

On top of being teeming with the heavy, how-can-she-bear-to-carry-this emotion, the writing style is wonderfully clever. Articulate and poetic and wry and so, so clever. "...a squinting owlish lover wondering 'who, who, who are you?'" O'Connell's first novel demonstrated a talent for writing not bestowed upon many debut authors. She subtly creates feeling, such as the thick tension, and builds it gradually and carefully into something almost tangible.

The setting is brought to life with vivacity and stunning imagery. The alternative and surreal thirty-eighth street -- home to an erotic bakery, a monastery, and the vintage clothes store The Pale Circus that Sandinista finds peace working it -- is described evocatively and personified as this comforting maternal figure to Sandinista.

The Sharp Time was a gritty glimpse into the life of someone filled with an emotion YA doesn't often delve into. Grief is well-covered, ditto hopelessness, loneliness, longing. Sandinista's anger is well conveyed and sympathetic, her story detailed intimately, and the message proved touching and relevant.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel


Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Series: Gone With The Respiration (#1)
Pages: 451
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: December 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9780857530004

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

Nora's always been too rebellious for neo-Victorian etiquette, but her father also supported her insubordinate nature. At least, before he died. Left in the care of her overbearing aunt, she can't imagine life getting any worse, until she's abducted by a group of people with sickly skin and crooked gaits claiming to know things about her father she never did.

Dearly, Departed featured an initially daunting genre mashup: a steampunk/dystopia/paranormal/romance. The premise is of survivors of a detrimental ice age reverting to Victorian customs in an effort to resuscitate the beauty of the world. It felt rather haphazard, as though the author liked all of the genres but couldn't choose which one to write first.

The tangled mess of genres made the story much busier than it needed to be. For instance, the entire dystopia theme seemed of little consequence. Rather than just setting it in a steampunk Victorian era, it was set in a future modeled after the Victorian era. The former would have even been more believable and less of a stumbling stock for critical readers. Occam's Razor, the simplest way is usually the best way.

The language wasn't consistently setting-appropriate either. In this futuristic world, little memory of our current popular culture has survived. Nora has a vague idea of what vampires are, but none about zombies. But by the end of the story she's making self-aware jokes about the unexpected humanity of these zombies without the context of background knowledge. I remember a Spiderman reference, "my bull-senses are tingling", that she couldn't possibly know. Suspension of disbelief already needed to be high, and these inconsistencies certainly didn't help.

Otherwise, though, the Victorian language and customs seemed well-researched, although not as well portrayed in some places than others. I gathered from the author photo that Habel has a passion for the steampunk, and while it showed, I figured it would translate into a much more fleshed out element of it.

The story was told through the perspective of five different characters, to effectively give a thorough look at the many sides of the plot, though only our two leads were smoothly developed. The inclusion of the other three minor characters' narratives are vital to the plot, and as vital characters, I was disappointed by how unbalanced the effort fleshing them and the leads out was.

Aside, though, Dearly, Departed was very much enjoyable. The romance, if hasty and confusing (he's an animated corpse!), had believable chemistry and the pair were created likable and sympathetic enough to predispose the reader to support it. The plot had unexpected twists and was mostly fast-paced, making maintaining interest easy.

Lia Habel's debut, though a little ambitious and busy in setting, will appeal to older readers of YA. A fun and entertaining story, but intermittent with darker and more emotional moments than your average dystopia/paranormal.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Faves of TwentyEleven: The Random

For if you want to better understand this series: Nomes' post.

For if you missed them: Day One: The Books
                                Day Two: The Characters
                                Day Three: The Scenes

              Day Four: The Random:

1. Favourite first sentence
"I can be so, so quiet," from Shelby in Forever by Maggie Stiefvater. I flicked through a bunch of books on my shelf to pick one for this category, and this sentence stood out as one not attempting to shock you ("My mother thinks I'm dead", "I've been locked up for X days", etc.) into interest.

2. Favourite book title
Every You, Every Me by David Levithan.

3. Favourite reading experience
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, for the illustrations.

5. Book with the most sensual weather
The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip. The snow and water of the story's winter backdrop is a huge part of it. Even the title is a reference to the water.

6. Most embarrassing book cover
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I read it self-consciously on a crowded train, but the lady beside me was reading a Mills & Boon romance so comparatively, I guess I looked fine.

7. Can't believe you waited this long to read the book
Frozen by Robin Wasserman. It came out as Skinned in 2008, but I never picked it up until it was repackaged just recently.

8. Book you'd give your mum/sister to read
My sister likes adult crime, which is almost as far from what I read as you can get, but I think if she'd humour me by taking up one of my recommendations, she'd like Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake.

9. Book you'd give your dad/brother to read
Maybe The Scorpio Races, for my dad for its horse racing? But my family mostly doesn't read.

10. Book you'd like to give your past self to read
The Daughter Of Smoke And Bone by Laini Taylor, so I could skip over my old thing for crappy PNR and sooner realise my love of eerie contemporary fantasy.

11. Book that lived up to the hype
Saving June by Hannah Harrington.
My most trusted fellow reviewers were raving about this since its early Australian release, and I wasn't disappointed.

12. Book you stayed up the latest to finish
The Name Of The Star by Maureen Johnson.
I was up reading the galley on my laptop in bed way beyond the point at night where reading a horror story becomes a definite bad idea.

13. Book you were dying to get your hands on
Break by Hannah Moskowitz. It was on my wishlist for ages before a lucky gift card giveaway win had it on its way to me.

14. Fattest brick of a book you read
Definitely not the actual longest book I've read, at 450-odd pages, but The Unbecoming Of Mara Dyer certainly felt like it with its complete absence of plot.

15. Killer cliffhanger award
Maybe the only cliffhanger that worked how it was supposed to on me, the one from the end of A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young. But the blurb for the next book eased my worry anyway.

So how do your picks differ?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Faves of TwentyEleven: The Scenes

This is the third day of Nomes's Faves of TwentyEleven feature, and the theme this time is favourite scenes.

Also, if you missed them, check out Day One: The Books and Day Two: The Characters as well.

1. Best first chapter
The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip
Well, rather, prologue. But it set the eerie mood so quickly and was just written impeccably well. Sometimes you can tell the author put extra effort into the beginning, but in this case, the rest of the book lived up to it.

2. Best climax
Fury by Shirley Marr.
You were aware the whole time of the endgame, but the build-up to finding out why she did it was so suspenseful.

3. Best ending
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.
The ending with Sean & Corr was just the sweetest, most touching thing.

4. Best plot twist/relevation
The Daughter Of Smoke And Bone by Laini Taylor.
I'll not spoil it, but I think everyone who's read this knows the part I'm talking about.

5. Scariest/most disturbing scene
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma.
I'm going to cheat and count multiple scenes for this one. From first finding London dead in the lake with hair swimming around her face, to each reappearance from her. She was the creepiest character, made only worse (better?) by vividness the imagery.

6. Steamiest scene
The kiss at the end of All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin. Not exactly the steamiest, but the most memorable kiss I've ever read.

7. Best swoon-worthy moment
Davey riding his bike to meet Tiff at the end of A Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon.

8. Biggest nail-biting moment
The moments before the Scorpio Races in, er, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Both characters had so much riding (no pun intended) on the race, and they couldn't both win (unless they, I don't know, threatened to kill themselves with poison berries)(wow, that's actually a really weird thing to do out of The Hunger Games context).

9. Most hilarious scene
In Past Perfect, after Chelsea's been 'kidnapped'. I'm not usually a reader of the cute, but I couldn't help smiling through that scene.

10. Most heart-breaking/tear-jerker moment
The scene towards the end of The Daughter Of Smoke And Bone after Akiva's realised. Karou still has no idea what's happened and is just standing confused while he's on his knees crying into her. I think I forgave him even before I found out what he did.

So how would you guys choose differently? If you made a list as well, I'd love to read it if you leave me a link!

Review: Break by Hannah Moskowitz


Break by Hannah Moskowitz

Pages: 262
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: August 25th, 2009
IBSN: 9781416982753

Jonah is on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. And Jonah wants to be stronger—needs to be stronger—because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is Jonah’s only way to cope with the stresses of home, girls, and the world on his shoulders.

When Jonah's self-destructive spiral accelerates and he hits rock bottom, will he find true strength or surrender to his breaking point?

Jonah believes that the family is the smallest unit of measurement. He and his brothers and his parents aren't components of a family, in that they can't be split apart from the family. With a brother deathly allergic to pretty much everything, including their newborn brother, and parents constantly at odds, Jonah decides he needs to be stronger in order for the family to be stronger.

So begins Jonah's mission to break his bones and have them heal stronger. No, it isn't as pointlessly self-destructive as it sounds. It started with a car accident that broke both femurs, and evolved to intentionally taking a few fingers, a wrist, a rib. "The first feeling is pain...the feeling that never comes in regret."

Break appeared on my radar after I read the wonderful Invincible Summer, Hannah Moskowitz's sophomore novel. Going back to her debut of two years prior, I was worried that IS set me up for disappointment, but while I could see how Hannah's writing developed between the two, Break was still an highly emotional and enjoyable read.

Hannah Moskowitz's style is raw and arresting, adopting a common family setting teeming with stress and worry and love and pulling it off with the believability of someone who's been there. The dynamics are so realistic and touching. The bond between Jonah and Jesse especially, both constructive and destructive at the same time, felt so real, and the exploration at their impact on each other's lives felt so deeply personal that remembering them as fictional characters came as a shock.

The characters' conflicts and motivations, the dynamics between them, their situations: everything is realistic and gritty. Hannah Moskowitz is skilled in bringing to life the most difficult and complicated of relationships and characters and making them relatable.

Break is a powerful and personal contemporary family drama I'd recommend to fans of Courtney Summers' novels. It's one lovers of Invincible Summer should check out to help pass the time until Gone, Gone, Gone's April release.

Waiting On Wednesday (56)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, in which we highlight an upcoming book release we're eagerly awaiting.

This week I'm waiting on Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler, the third in the Riders of the Apocalypse series. I thought the first two books, Hunger and Rage, were unique and fairly good. But what makes me so excited for Loss is a look into the enigmatic Pestilence, and the promise of eventually figuring out the character Death.

Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on, from the school bullies to the teachers. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors...and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider—who is lost in his memories.

In his search, Billy travels through White Rider’s life: from ancient Phrygia, where the man called King Mita agrees to wear the White Rider’s Crown, to Sherwood Forest, where Pestilence figures out how to cheat Death; from the docks of Alexandria, where cartons of infested grain are being packed onto a ship that will carry the plague, to the Children’s Crusade in France—all the way to what may be the end of the world. When Billy finally finds the White Rider, the teen convinces the man to return to the real world.

But now the insane White Rider plans to unleash something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Death look like a summer cold. Billy has a choice: he can live his life and pretend he doesn’t know what’s coming, or he can challenge the White Rider for his Crown. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

Loss is being released by Graphia on the 20th of March, 2012.

Feel free to leave a link to your own Waiting On Wednesday post in the comments, and I'll be sure to have a look.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith


The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Pages: 224
Publisher: Headline
Published: January 5th, 2012
IBSN: 9780755384020

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Imagine if she hadn't forgotten the book. Or if there hadn't been traffic on the expressway. Or if she hadn't fumbled the coins for the toll. What if she'd run just that little bit faster and caught the flight she was supposed to be on. Would it have been something else - the weather over the atlantic or a fault with the plane?

Hadley isn't sure if she believes in destiny or fate but, on what is potentially the worst day of each of their lives, it's the quirks of timing and chance events that mean Hadley meets Oliver...

Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it.

Say Hadley had gotten to the airport just four minutes earlier and made her flight. She wouldn't have met Oliver, and may have had the exact miserable experience at her father's wedding that she anticipated. She was lucky. But in another stroke of luck, the two of them are separated after their flight without so much as a last name.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight has built up a lot of early buzz as a breezy crossover romance. The quirky mood of the story is matched by its title, though while I love long titles as much as anyone else, the whole time I was bothered by how little correlation there is between statistics and probability and how it just didn't work. But onto points of the book that matter more.

The Statistical Probability is barely 200 pages long, short in a way that reflected the story's span of less than 24 hours. Plain prose suited the simple romantic premise and kept to the point, making for a very fast, one-sitting read -- apt for readers also on aeroplanes.

The characters were likable and with definite chemistry, though with voices that didn't distinguish themselves from hordes of other romantic leads. I guess that helped them, though, in a way, adding a familiarity to them that made investing in their story easier. Though without any real development from their either lead, the novel couldn't be called affecting.

The plot also follows the typical structure of romance closely: the couple meets and hits it off, something splits them up, and they reunite. In this case, the something that split them up was airport routine completely independent of them, so their reunion didn't involve any character development or personal demons conquered. Still, while there was little depth, Statistical Probability was very fun to just stop thinking and read.

The romance was sweet, unmushy, and a believable whirlwind that I'm a sucker for. The characters were likable, and occasionally funny, and the story progressed quickly. It's the classic feel-good rom-com translated to paper. It's the exact story you predict from the adorable edition cover. It's the quick cure to a miserable day.

Overall, The Statistical Probability was a cute and entertaining read, if a little generic. It should definitely appeal to fans of YA romance.

Faves of TwentyEleven: The Characters

You should check out yesterday's post for day one for an introduction, or Nomes' post here. And without further ado, Day Two: The Characters...
1. Favourite female main character
Anya from All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin.
I loved how she was loyal and a strong female lead in the actual definition of the term, not just a literally, physically strong character.

2. Favourite male main character
Jonah from Break by Hannah Moskowitz.

3. Best couple
Tiff and Davey from A Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon.

4. Who I so want to be best friends with
It feels like a cheat answer, but Corr from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I really want a water horse, but one slightly less malicious than the norm like Corr.

5. Who I fell completely in love with
Jerome from The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
I love Maureen's romantic leads, relatable before swoony, and so clever and funny.

6. Worst (best & baddest) villain
Warner from Shatter Me.
It's not that I ship him with Juliette, but that I just want him in the background of every scene, smirking and just having a general disregard for other people. Believable villains are so few and far between, but Tahereh Mafi pulled hers off wonderfully.

7. Best character twist
Not really that much of a twist, but the monster from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I liked the backwards nature of a good monster.

8. Best kick-arse female
June from Legend by Marie Lu.

9. Best kick-arse male
Day from Legend by Marie Lu.
Both June and Day were so much more admirable for being calculating as well as skilled.

10. Broke your heart the most
Mihai from Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor.
I can't simultaneously explain why and do the story justice, but wow, his story of redemption was just the saddest and most warming thing.

11. Favourite pet/animal character award
Griffin the eagle from Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart.

12. Best YA parents award
Lola's dads from Lola and The Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

13. Favourite sibling relationship
Of course this goes to brothers in one of Hannah Moskowitz's books. Either Invincible Summers's Noah and Chase, or Break's Jesse and Jonah.

14. Favourite best friends/friendship award
Olive and Ami from Shift by Em Bailey.
Not because they were uber-close and supportive or were a fleshed out pair, but because, well, I don't want to spoil it. They were different is all you'll get out of me.

15. Best/worst character names
Best: Sandinista Jones, of The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell. I've admittedly never heard her namesake song by The Clash, but it's the perfect name for such an angry and scorned character.
Honourable mention to the background character Skye in Saving June. A+ name.
Worst: I'm going to go with the James that features in around every second book I read. I hate boring names, in books and real life.

How would you have chosen your favourite characters differently?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Faves of TwentyEleven: The Books

The lovely Nomes at inkcrush is doing this again (maybe you remember the midyear 'Faves of 2011 (so far)'?), setting categories and having us rack our brains for our favourite reads of the year. You can check out the five days' themes and their categories at her original post here and join in! It begins with Day One: The Books.

1. Favourite book read in 2011
Tough one! I'll leave the overall category blank because I can't pick just one from my pool of favourites.

2. Most powerful book
Break by Hannah Moskowitz
It really packed a punch, and I was kind of touched by what it had to say about optimism/pessimism towards the end.

3. Brilliantly funny
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.
Not of my usual brand of humour, but still very fun to read.

4. Best ache-y, heart-breaking, tear-jerker read
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

5. Most beautiful story
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The characters worked so hard for a life they so wanted, and the way even that shitty compromise they got out of completely hopelessness made them so happy kind of punched you in the face and then put ice on the bruise.

6. Delicious rainy day comfort read
Past Perfect by Leila Sales.
Just so adorable and fun. Cute without feeling too 'young'.

7. Adrenalin-fuelled, unputdownable award
Legend by Marie Lu

8. The most beautiful prose award
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

9. Most atmospheric and vivid setting
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus was just so fleshed out, it was in many respects a character itself.

10. I-so-want-to-go-there award
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I loved the island of Thisby, so famously different and isolated. It was fleshed out so well by characters who both hated and loved living there.
Plus an honourable mention for This Is Shyness and the peculiar perpetual night of Shyness.

11. Most original and imaginative
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
The idea behind each story was just unbelievably creative. With a mind like Laini Taylor's, I don't think you could ever be bored.

12. Best under-appreciated, hidden gem book
The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip

13. I-had-no-idea-I-would-love-this-so award
Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
I went in expected some kind of breezy Sarah Dessen-esque book, but it turned out more Courtney Summers-esque and man I loved it.

14. Most haunting story
Tighter by Adele Griffin
There was a sinister undertone to the most un-sinister events; wholy creepy. Another that suits this category very well is...

15. Outside my comfort zone but gosh how I loved it
Fury by Shirley Marr
Revealing the conclusion at the very beginning and slowly explaining how it came to that isn't usually my thing, but Fury just amazed me. I read it way back in July and sometimes I still remember it and get choked up about Neil all over again.

16. Series that I'm loving
Cold Awakening by Robin Wasserman
So I've only read the first, Frozen, so far, but I own the rest and it feels like the tone will go in whole other direction now and I'm excited by having no idea where it will go.

17. Always recommending this book award
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

18. Completely awesome premise award
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
A girl who runs errands between worlds suddenly cut off from one of them. Yeah, there's nothing to not like.

19. Would make the best movie
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
It was so visual and I feel like the psychological themes would fit in with current movie trends.

20. Want to re-read alreadyLips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
I usually can't stand rereading, but these are short stories and I feel like I'll just find more aspects of the story to get choked up over on further inspection.

Plus a couple of books I'll be reading before the end of the year that I have really good feelings about: I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg-Sloan, Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando, and This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas.

Do you agree with me in any categories? Or disagree? What would you have chosen instead?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday (55)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine, in which we highlight an upcoming book release we're eagerly awaiting.

This week I'm waiting on The Book Of Blood And Shadow by Robin Wasserman. I read one of her books recently -- Frozen, or as it was originally titled, Skinned -- and from the intense style and themes I feel like she could pull off this premise very well.

  It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

The Book Of Blood And Shadow is being released in America by Knopf in April 2012, and in Australia (and presumably the UK) by Atom in January.

Feel free to leave a link to your own Waiting On Wednesday post in the comments, and I'll be sure to have a look.