Friday, June 28, 2013

Feature and Follow #1

Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! The Feature & Follow is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee's View

This week's question: What is your preferred reading format? Hardcover, eBooks, paperback etc? 
I prefer to read paperback books, especially the kinds with the matte finish covers - not the glossy ones! I usually don't like hardcovers because they are large and hard to hold, and I never know what to do with the dust jacket. 
Although I prefer reading paper books to ebooks, lately I've been reading a lot more books on my phone during those awkward gaps between classes or when I'm waiting in line for something (which happens quite often. Oh the life of a college student...) 

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday 2 - Vortex

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, where bloggers pick a book that hasn't been published yet that they are excited to read.

This week's pick is Vortex by S.J. Kincaid, the second book in the Insignia trilogy. It's coming out next week!

Title: Vortex (Insignia, book 2)
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Genre: Science fiction, YA
Date published: July 2, 2013

Goodreads summary:

The impossible was just the beginning. Now in their second year as superhuman government weapons-in-training at the Pentagonal Spire, Tom Raines and his friends are mid-level cadets in the elite combat corps known as the Intrasolar Forces. But as training intensifies and a moment arrives that could make or break his entire career, Tom’s loyalties are again put to the test.

Encouraged to betray his ideals and friendships for the sake of his country, Tom is convinced there must be another way. And the more aware he becomes of the corruption surrounding him, the more determined he becomes to fight it, even if he sabotages his own future in the process.

Drawn into a power struggle more dramatic than he has ever faced before, Tom stays a hyperintelligent step ahead of everyone, like the exceptional gamer he is—or so he believes. But when he learns that he and his friends have unwittingly made the most grievous error imaginable, Tom must find a way to outwit an enemy so nefarious that victory seems hopeless. Will his idealism and bravado cost him everything—and everyone that matters to him?

Filled with action and intelligence, camaraderie and humor, the second book in S.J. Kincaid’s futuristic World War III Insignia trilogy continues to explore fascinating and timely questions about power, politics, technology, loyalty, and friendship.

Why I want to read it:

I got an ARC of the first book, Insignia, last summer. It was a really suspenseful and interesting book, and I liked the unique cast of characters. I also liked how it focused on friendship and fitting in. You can read my full review of Insignia on Goodreads here.

Vortex sounds just as suspenseful, and it seems like the friendships he made in the first book might be about to break. The stakes seem even higher, and I'm excited to see where this trilogy goes.

What books are you excited about reading?

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Dance of Shadows

Dance of Shadows (Dance of Shadows, #1)Title:Dance of Shadows
Author: Yelena Black
Genre: YA, paranormal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a haunting, fascinating book.

I haven't read many novels that center around dance, but after reading this book and The Cranes Dance, I think I will keep an eye out for more of these books. I'm a dancer too, so I can relate to how dance lets the characters both find themselves and lose themselves. It's so lovely to read about the grace and power that comes from dance.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this book. It started out with a contemporary feel, and seemed more like a coming-of-age story than a supernatural story. Yet despite the account of day-to-day life at the New York Ballet Academy and the friendly banter and rivalries between the dancers, there was a sense of something strange and dark hovering in the background. Vanessa arrives at the academy in search of her sister Margaret, who mysteriously disappeared a few years ago. In her search for her sister, Vanessa has to prove herself a dancer and navigate the politics of ballet. As people close to her begin to get hurt, Vanessa has to decide who she can trust to help her, and who is part of the sinister plot that caused her sister's disappearance.

The plot was very suspenseful, and I liked how the author balanced the girls' friendship with the rivalries and revenge of other dancers. The end of the novel had me flipping through the pages almost twice as fast as I usually read because the climax was just that intense. It was refreshing to read about a girl who loved and leaned on her friends as much as she did the same for her love interest.

Speaking of love interests, I was rather annoyed with how blind Vanessa was about Zep. Justin even told her that Zep was hiding something, but she refused to believe him. Then again, Justin was being a bit of a stalker himself. Although Vanessa held her own as a dancer, she was so dependent on Zep for everything else. She seemed so level-headed about everything else that I was disappointed in how feather-brained she was over a guy.

I enjoyed this book, and with that killer ending, I will be looking out for the next book in the series.

View all my reviews

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

If you liked Shadow and Bone...

A Reading Nurse is hosting a giveaway of signed copies of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo, as well as Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. They're all great books, and who doesn't love shiny new books (especially signed ones!)?

You can find the giveaway here.

Here are my reviews of these books on Goodreads:
Grave Mercy
Shadow and Bone

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: YA, fantasy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty entertaining book! The cover captures the mood of it perfectly - a little dark and mysterious, a little exotic, a little magical. The story centers around Alina Starkov, an orphan girl who suddenly finds herself at the center of attention after an incident where she uses powers she didn't know she had. Whether she is the bringer of the world's salvation or destruction remains to be seen...

I really enjoyed the shadowy, mysterious atmosphere that Leigh Bardugo sustained throughout the book. Ravka is loosely based on Russia, so there are a few (pseudo-)Russian words thrown in. The mythology and hierarchy in Ravka, with its white stags and robed Grisha, was very intriguing. I thought it was interesting how the Grisha were color coded according to their power and their role, and how certain powers were considered superior to others. It was also interesting to see how non-magical people perceived the Grisha as terribly beautiful, powerful, people.

I thought the characters were very interesting as well. Alina herself wasn't such an amazing character, but I thought it was realistic that she had trouble coming to terms with and mastering her new powers and her new role. I wasn't completely rooting for her because she seemed a little flat, and was very reliant on other people. She didn't seem to know what she wanted. The Darkling is such an intense, frightening character, yet there are some moments where he seems so understanding that it makes it hard for Alina to judge whether she can trust him or not. Genya was my favorite character, and it was interesting that she faced such prejudice for using her talents to create more beautiful faces. She seems like a wonderful person, but there were so many hints at a darker past and secrets that Alina does not yet know. Mal was absent for much of the book, but he has such a powerful bond with Alina and it was endearing to see how much their friendship meant to one another.

I had a few minor complaints: first of all, the names of the Grisha were a little contrived. It seemed like they were just called "insert word here that summarizes my powers" with a -ki added to the end (corporealki, materialki, etc). It just seemed kind of silly to me, and I had a hard time taking them seriously at first. I also thought the pacing was a little strange - the beginning was captivating and action-packed; then Alina spent a painfully long time simply learning how to master her power. The end was also very fast-paced and intense, with a quite a few surprises along the way. I just wish the middle had lived up to the great beginning and end.

I will definitely be reading the second book of this trilogy.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday 1 - Rose Under Fire

I've decided to join in on the Waiting on Wednesday meme, hosted by Breaking the Spine, where bloggers pick a book that hasn't been published yet that they are excited to read!

My first pick is Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. It will be published September 10, 2013.

Goodreads Summary:
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

I absolutely loved Elizabeth Wein's debut novel, Code Name Verity (you can find my review here). I'm very excited to read her second book, also set during World War II and featuring women on the battlefront.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review: Red Rising

Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Genre: Science fiction, dystopia

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Everything that everyone else has said about Red Rising is true. It really is as gritty, dark, and horrifying as people say. It is quite accurate to describe it as a cross between The Hunger Games and Ender's Game; it has young people doing atrocious things in an attempt to not just survive but win. Although superficially more similar to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, I think Red Rising is more on par with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. People go through horrific situations, and some people are seen as less than others; this is a story about resilience and fighting for a voice and freedom.

Darrow is a Red, part of the lowest class of the hierarchy on Mars. As a helldiver, he risks his life every day to pave the way for the future grand cities of Mars. Or so he is told. When his wife, Eo, is executed, Darrow is recruited by a group that wants to give the Reds and lower classes of people the freedom they deserve. Darrow is shocked when he learns the truth of his existence as a Red, and even more shocked when he realizes what he will have to sacrifice in order to bring Eo's dream to life - he will have to sacrifice his body, mind, and identity as a Red in order to become one of the Golds and destroy them from the inside.

Once Darrow transforms into a Gold, he soon finds out that he has barely even begun. Survival in this delicately balanced political world takes manipulation and strength; lives can be destroyed in an instant. As a sample of the Gold leaders' view of the world, they decide that rape is not a damaging and traumatic enough experience to pull someone out of the game/simulation that all Golds go through to become part of the elite. It's a brutal world, and Darrow makes plenty of mistakes along the way, but that's what makes this world even more harrowing and fascinating.

I only had a few minor complaints (and these are minor). I thought the first half of the novel was very heavy on jargon, which might make it less accessible to people who don't usually read sci-fi. My annoyance was not so much the jargon but the confusion that arose from having a class system that used both colors and greek letters; it was hard to keep track of who was considered higher than whom. I also felt that some of the minor characters were introduced and then swept aside rapidly. The cast of characters that were important enough to keep track of was constantly in flux, which made the story confusing at times.

There were also a couple of spelling errors, but I'm sure those will be edited and fixed in the final copy.

If you enjoy dystopian fiction and aren't easily disturbed by violence and gore, I highly recommend this book. I myself can't handle violence very well but I still enjoyed it.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review*

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Some rearrangement...

I have decided to split up my writing and reading/reviewing blogs. This one will continue to be a reviewing blog - a place where we can swap opinions and recommendations about books we've read. If you would like to keep up with my writing, please follow this blog:

Thank you!

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: If You Find Me

Title: If You Find Me
Author: Emily Murdoch
Genre: YA, abuse

Rating: 4/5 stars

This is a very haunting book.

I read this a couple of weeks ago, but I can still hear Carey's voice in my head. That might be because whoever read the audiobook did a phenomenal job, but I felt like these were real people and I was getting to know their story.

The book opens with Carey and Jenessa in their little trailer in the woods, their bipolar and drug-addict mother AWOL as usual. They've been alone for a few months now, but Carey is very experienced at taking care of her little sister; after all, her mother is hardly ever around, and is drunk or stoned when she is. When Carey's father finds them in the woods, the two girls' lives turn upside down as they learn to deal with their traumatic past and adjust to their new home.

The characters in this novel were all so realistic. Emily Murdoch is a master at creating real people; not only where the characters very well fleshed-out, their bonds with one another and their growing relationships were beautiful and realistic as well. Carey has grown up way too fast because of her absentee mother, and a lot of what we take for granted is foreign to her. She softens and opens up considerably as the novel progresses, and the way she grows to love her new family was very touching. Jenessa is the sweetest child ever, but she has her own trauma - in order to keep her sister's secret safe, Nessa has decided to stop talking entirely. You're left wondering what exactly happened during the so-called "White star night" and why the repercussions have been so damaging. Delaney is Carey and Jenessa's step-sister, and while she comes off as annoying and rude sometimes, she has a heart and it was nice seeing their sisterly relationship develop. Melissa was an incredibly caring and wonderful step-mother, and the girls' father was very understanding and kind.

This book is very difficult to read in that these girls have been through some truly terrible times, and it's heartbreaking to watch them relive their pasts and deal with the trauma of what happened to them out in the woods. The backwoods dialect was a bit grating at first, especially since I was listening to an audiobook version of the story, but it grew on me eventually.

I highly recommend this book!

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: Skin

Title: Skin
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Genre: YA

Rating: 2/5 stars

This book is really hard for me to gather all my thoughts on, and I can't even really decide whether I like it or not. It had an interesting premise, and it wasn't what I expected it to be at all. When I say that it defied my expectations, there were some aspects I liked and some I really didn't.

 Sep is a very average teenager at an average high school. Then one day she wakes up and her lips are white. She has no idea why, and decides to cover it up with lipstick. But how long can she hide when the white begins to spread? The first part of the book made me think there was something supernatural or inexplicable going on with the white patches, and I was relieved that there was a perfectly good explanation for it. There were a lot of moments where Sep felt helpless and wretched because people would judge her for the white patches on her skin. At one point she asks her mother how she will ever get a job if people are repulsed by her during her interview. That one little moment was a startling because of the truth in what Sep says; although we like to pride ourselves on being appreciative of all people and giving everyone equal opportunity and respect, there are often unconscious prejudices and disgust against people who look different or act differently from the norm. I liked how the author subtly prompted a discussion about how much our physical appearances matter in our success both professionally and socially.

 As Sep learns to deal with her white patches and their repercussions, she meets many new mentors. There are the pink tattoo girls, the lesbians who have tattooed their ankles in an act of pride and solidarity in who they are. There is Slinky, a woman at a makeup store who knows a lot about wanting to be beautiful and wanting to hide. There's also Sep's yoga/dance teacher, who teaches her to learn to love her body and be proud of who she is.

 I didn't like the other aspects of the novel so much. Basically Sep feels insecure that no one will love her if she has white patches on her skin and decides she needs to get a guy ASAP. She finds Jason Wining, her childhood friend whom she hasn't talked to in years, more than willing. The book was more explicit than I thought it would be, and it really didn't need to be. I thought Sep's behavior and her desperation for physical love was disgusting; having recently been educated about slut shaming, I will do my best to keep this as neutral as possible. My major problem wasn't so much that Sep wanted to sleep with a guy, but that she felt like she had to use someone to feel better about herself. It was a very selfish and irresponsible thing to do, and in the end Jason calls her out on it, but she doesn't seem to have much shame.

 One other thing that bothered me (and this will probably only bother me) is the treatment of Hinduism in the book. The yoga teacher brings up Hinduism a lot, and there were a lot of references to mythology. I don't mind when authors take artistic license and add their own spin to my mythology and religion, but I demand respect. At one point Sep makes a comment along the lines of "I'd like to punch Vishnu [a Hindu god] awake and yell that in his big flabby ear." I understood that Sep was angry, but I was offended by how much she belittled a culture (my culture). Again, this is a hard book to review because it makes some good points but it also has its low points. I am settling for a two star rating.

 *An ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review*

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Joined Bloglovin!

Now you can follow my blog on Bloglovin as well as Google Friend Connect :) Happy blogging!

Shiny New eGalleys :)

I finally got a couple of book requests approved on Netgalley, and I thought I'd share!

Right now I'm reading Skin by Donna Jo Napoli. I requested this book because I've read Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale by the same author; I enjoyed her spin on Irish legends and I was excited to see what she would do in a more contemporary novel. The basic storyline is that Sep wakes up one morning with white lips. Then white patches start appearing all over her body. She has to deal with the high school rumor mill and her own insecurities in order to learn to deal with her new body. At first I thought it was one of those books where everything is normal except for one unexplained supernatural/strange/quasi-magical occurence, but it turns out there is nothing supernatural or quasi-magical about it. I feel like it brings up interesting issues  about appearances and self-worth/identity, but I'll have to read the rest of the book before I can say more about it.

The other book I got approved is Red Rising by Pierce Brown. This book is a bit more down my alley (after all, I'm a sci-fi and dystopian nut), and I'm really excited to start reading. I have heard many good things about this book, namely that it is complex and dark, and that the characters and the world are very well fleshed-out. This one is about Darrow, a young man in the lowest (Red) caste, who becomes part of a revolution after his wife is executed by the oppressive and sinister government. I've heard comparisons to The Hunger Games, 1984, and Star Wars, all of which I like, so this should be fun!

Review: The Iron Knight

Title: The Iron Knight
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: YA, fantasy, paranormal

Rating: 3/5 stars

In the interview at the end of the book, Kagawa explains that while she likes mysterious redemptive endings, her editor likes Happily-Ever-Afters, which led to the creation of this book. I'm with Kagawa - I preferred the ending of The Iron Queen to the all-loose-ends-tied-up ending in this book; as I read, I kept feeling like I was reading a companion novella or something instead of the final book of a series.

 I think part of why I didn't like this book as much as the others was that it was in Ash's point of view. After a whole series written from Meghan's perspective, it's jarring to have the last book written from another point of view. This guy is angsty and tormented, and it took a little getting used to. It seemed like this book focused less on the Iron Fey and more on Ash and his personal problems; Meghan was hardly in it except for a dream sequence and a few pages at the very end.

I thought the idea was clever, but it felt too structured to me. There was Part A, where Ash and Puck band together to help Ash be with Meghan and protect her. Part A also features the gathering of other members of the motley crew that sets out to find a human soul for Ash. Part B involves the Journey to the End of the World. Part C is the Trials within the End of the World. Part D is the ultimate result of aforementioned trials, involving the usual Great Sacrifice. I put all those words in capitals because they seemed a bit too structured and contrived to me. This book just didn't flow as well or move in interesting directions like the previous ones did.

 Perhaps my favorite part of the book is also what I liked the least. Giant spoiler here, so beware:
Ariella. My biggest pet peeve is people coming back to life, and here she was, no explanation whatsoever. Yet I still liked that Ariella was present because she brought out the gentler side in both Puck and Ash and helped Ash unconditionally. Again with the mixed feelings - it was a bit too nice of her to be willing to sacrifice herself so Ash could be with Meghan despite her feelings for the guy. I mean, she comes back to life simply because she needs to sacrifice herself? Ridiculous
There was a lot of humor in this book, and I enjoyed seeing Puck and Ash go from sworn enemies to grudging friends to actual friends. I also liked the idea of the Big Bad Wolf thriving through stories. I wasn't so impressed by the trials Ash had to undergo. Perhaps the third one was the most meaningful, but in the end it didn't even matter because somehow Ash managed to escape that fate. (Can you tell I don't like very happy all-loose-ends-tied-up endings?)

 Overall, this isn't a bad read, but I think of it more as a supplemental novel than the conclusion to a series.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: MILA 2.0

Title: MILA 2.0
Author: Debra Driza
Genre: YA, science fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I was so excited for this - a girl android who thinks she's human? Think of all the possibilities! - but I didn't like it very much.

My main complaint is that the story seems very disjointed. The first bit is Mila being a normal human teenage girl going through high school drama. There's the super annoying "best friend" who has a crush on the same guy as Mila, and the guy just happens to be the super cute yet sensitive new kid at the school (I was trying very hard to restrain eyerolls. Very hard.). There's also the usual rumor mill going on about Mila and her family because her dad recently passed away in a fire. The next bit is where Mila discovers she is an android and freaks out as mysterious things keep happening to her. Much of this stage of the book involves Mila being in denial of the fact that she isn't human and being disgusted with her android capabilities. The next stage involves a series of tests and a sinister blackmailing man. This, I felt, was the most interesting part of the story. And finally, because we must go full circle, the super cute yet sensitive guy reappears at the end of the story after spending over 100 pages AWOL. Oh, and there's mother-daughter bonding thrown in there too.

Ok, that made the book sound a lot worse than it actually is, but it was very choppy and segmented. I felt like Mila took way too long to accept who she was; I understand that it can be disorienting and earth-shattering to find out that your memories are actually just random bits of code programmed into you and that your mom isn't actually your mom, but Mila's degree of disgust and the length of time she spent in self-loathing seemed too much.

I did like how a large part of the novel was about the relationship between Mila and her "mom." Her mom has a lot of secrets, but she always had Mila's best interest in mind. The way they grow closer after quite a bit of distrust and a bunch of hurdles was really nice.
I wasn't too upset when the mother died, but I thought it was sadly fitting that she sacrifice her life for her life's work. She truly believed Mila was more than her programming and gave all that she had to make Mila herself and the rest of the world see the same thing.

I also liked the comparison between Mila 2.0, the android with emotions, to the other characters.
Mila 3.0 was possibly my favorite character. She was pretty freaky, what with her lack of conscience or emotion. I thought she made a nice foil for Mila 2.0; without her, I don't think I would have considered Mila 2.0 to be as "human" as I did.

I don't think this is a particularly bad book, per say, but I can't say I enjoyed it. It brings up some interesting ideas, but I feel like there are other books out there that could make a much more interesting and compelling story out of similar ideas.
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