Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

I'm beginning to get a little wary of steampunk novels. While they definitely add a bit of spice and pizazz to the generic fantasy genre, I feel like they're always either a big hit or a big miss. Maybe it boils down to a working balance between effective world-building and over-the-top descriptions, or maybe it doesn't have anything to do with steampunk at all! Whatever the case, I found myself a little disappointed while I was reading Gail Carriger's "Etiquette & Espionage", which bums me out since I'd read a lot of great reviews on it.

When fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminick is enrolled in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, all she knows is that she'll be forced to endure endless critique on her lacking curtsies and how to sip tea properly. What she doesn't expect is that she, along with other young girls, will be learning how to finish...everything. Certainly, they will learn the fine arts of dance, dress and etiquette, but they'll also learn to deal out death, diversion and espionage. And this, Sophronia suspects, is precisely what she needed in her life all along.

One of the main reasons I couldn't get into "Etiquette & Espionage" was the extremely superfluous writing in the book. I understand that there's meant to be a certain humour and pizazz in the writing style, one that screams 'fun and bubbly in a British accent', but I felt like it was way, way overdone. There's a thin line between a quirky narrative voice and an overly purple narration, and Ms. Carriger's writing in this novel definitely leaned towards the latter. I don't think it would hurt to use simpler sentences and vocabulary sometimes, since it just felt like everything was just too forced and over-the-top. I found myself skimming over the bulk of the book simply because of the wordiness of the narrative. Things that could've been expressed in one word were often strung out into a whole sentence at times, and it's a shame because there's definitely a more fun element to the narration. Sometimes, less is more indeed!

Another obstacle I encountered while reading "Etiquette & Espionage" was the storyline, which unfortunately fell a little flat. There is, without a doubt, great potential with the whole concept of a school for future assassin ladies, especially when coupled with the mysterious steampunk world. However, there was little in the plot that actually grabbed my attention and hooked me in. Instead, it all seemed pretty trivial, like nothing of importance was happening. Sure, there are flywaymen attacking the school on their search for an enigmatic prototype, but I got the impression that the stakes weren't very high to begin with. Everything was resolved so quickly and cleanly and easily, and, to me, it just wasn't very interesting.

Having said this, I do think that Sophronia is a quirky, fun heroine who's a bundle of mischief and excitement. Her quirks and her disobedience in a society where pinkies must be lifted and noses lifted higher really set her apart, and her unquenchable thirst for adventure certainly made her exciting. There's a sort of naivete about her that lends itself well to the story as a whole, which is clearly seen in her interactions with other characters and in the very way she speaks. The down side to Sophronia as a protagonist is that I never really related to her--you don't really get much of her thoughts and inner emotions. Instead, it's more of a slapdash, shallow look at her actions and speech.

Overall, "Etiquette & Espionage" does have some great potential to be a fun, quirky book, but it ultimately failed to be truly engaging and exciting. In fact, I just felt that the book was a little juvenile, without any depth to the characters or to the storyline.

Rating: 1/5

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

One of the things I love about reading books is their ability to completely capture your imagination and whisk you away to another world without having to leave the comfort of your own bed. Seriously, it's like a movie, plane ride and simulator all in your hands! And when you have a particularly amazing book, it's like all of that amped up by a thousand times. I fell in love with Brandon Sanderson's writing after reading "The Final Empire", the first book of the "Mistborn Trilogy", and was thrilled when I found out that his first YA fantasy novel was being released last week! Being the desperate book gobbler I am, I decided that I just had to get my grubby hands on a copy of "The Rithmatist", and so I have!

Joel has pored over every book on Rithmatics, memorized every defense tactic possible, and can name the top Rithmatists from the top of his head. The only problem is, Joel isn't a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into drawings called Chalkings, and have been the main defense against the Wild Chalkings that leave destruction and death in their wake. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at the prestigious Armedius Academy, Joel can only slip into Rithmatic lectures and dream of chalk. But when students begin to disappear, kidnapped and leaving only blood splatters behind, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves swept up in an adventure of discovery, one that can change the world of Rithmatics forever.

You can always count on a fantasy writer to conjure up an entrancing and exciting world, and Mr. Sanderson is most certainly not an exception. He takes us back in time to the American Isles in the mid-nineteenth century, speckled with 'gearpunk' technology with cogs galore. But what really takes center stage in the novel is the world of Rithmatics. The way Mr. Sanderson reveals to the reader what Rithmatics is and how each of the chalk lines that the Rithmatists draw behave is done in a way that is easy to understand and, at the same time, engages the reader into such a unique and enigmatic world, even if they're non-Rithmatists themselves! I especially loved the illustrations of the various defenses and binding points and so on that interspersed each of the chapters--it really brought the concept of Rithmatics to life and enhanced the already amazing world-building going on in the novel. It almost kind of makes me wish that I had Rithmatic powers... even if it means facing down some nasty, flesh-chewing Chalkings.

I'll admit that I was just a little bit unsure about having a relatively younger protagonist than I'm used to in most YA novels, but worry not! Simply put, Joel is a great hero who is clever, brave and likable. The way he deals with issues ranging from his lack of Rithmatic powers to the kidnapping case showcases his quick wit and his obvious devotion to Rithmatics, while at the same time showing a more compassionate side to him. I liked the relationship between him and his mother, who works at the academy as a cleaning lady--it's undeniably warm and leaves you with gushy feelings inside. The other characters were just as equally amazingly developed. Take, for example, Melody. At first, I found her a little annoying, with her constant overreactions and frizzy red hair (just kidding about the last part! I don't have anything against redheads). But as Joel began to see her as a friend, the more I saw her as a more complex character who deals with family pressures and problems with Rithmatics. Another character to note is Professor Fitch, a rather bumbling fellow who knows his stuff but is often diminished by his meek attitude.

The storyline of "The Rithmatist" was compelling throughout, even the parts where there wasn't much action. The main plot of the bloody kidnappings strung tensions high, and my heart literally leapt at places, especially towards the end when all was revealed! The minor subplots of Joel's lack of Rithmatic ability and the growth of his friendship with Melody just tied in so nicely together in a way that didn't overshadow the main plot, but at the same time didn't let the main plot overshadow them. There's just such an understated nuance in the storyline as a whole that few writers can pull off truly successfully, and all I can say without rambling on and on incoherently about it is that it's simply worth it!

All in all, "The Rithmatist" is a fun, thrilling and truly spectacular fantasy novel that is a must-read for all ages. Mr. Sanderson has definitely proved himself a versatile writer, and trust me when I say that I will gladly read anything that he writes. I highly recommend this to all fantasy lovers, or anyone looking for a great book to fully immerse themselves in!

Rating: 5/5

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

I've always found retellings of classic tales extremely clever. It's like the author takes an old boot, a little snip here and some embellishment there, and transforms it into a glass slipper (allegory intended). I stumbled across A.G. Howard's debut novel "Splintered" many times on my perusals on Amazon and Goodreads, but haven't gotten around to reading it until a few days ago. There's no doubt that it's a unique twist on "Alice in Wonderland", complete with grotesque creatures and a darkly tantalizing world. Unfortunately, I did have a little trouble falling down the rabbit hole with Alyssa, despite the many enchantments along the way.

Alyssa Gardner has always been that girl to everyone else, the girl whose ancestor was none other than the Alice Liddell from Lewis Carroll's whimsical tale of Wonderland. The freak. But what everyone doesn't know is that Alyssa hears the whispers of insects and flowers--precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. Alyssa might really be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now. When her mother's mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she'd dismissed as fiction is based on a terrifying reality, one that she has to face soon. The real Wonderland is far darker and more twisted than  Lewis Carroll made it out to be, and Alyssa has to pass a series of tests to fix Alice's mistakes and save her family. Or she may be stuck there, trapped, forever.

One of the most obvious aspects of "Splintered" that I have to talk about is the world. At first, I was a little skeptical of a darker twist on the "Alice in Wonderland" story. I'm not exactly a punky/dark side kinda gal, but I will willingly admit that there is some incredible world building going on in the novel. I liked how Ms. Howard took the characters of the classic tale and warped them into strange and grotesque creatures, like how the fluffy White Rabbit became Rabid White, a skeletal being with antlers protruding from its skull. There's definitely a huge amount of imagination in this book, from the eerie speech patterns of the sprites who work at the cemetery to the tantalizingly dark and twisted Wonderland itself. The world that Ms. Howard brings to life is so full of magic and secrets, one that's sordid but at the same time beautiful in its own way.

Another thing I appreciated about "Splintered" was the lyrical writing style of Ms. Howard. The language used to describe the beautifully constructed Wonderland was magical in its own right. It was expressive and evocative, without being too purple. I felt like the descriptions didn't overshadow what was going on in the story too much, though I do think that things would've been a little more fast-paced had Ms. Howard cut down just a little on the words at times. I was pretty bored throughout the first 3/4 of the book, and things only picked up when the puzzle pieces started falling into place.

Having said all of this, I have to say that I didn't find "Splintered" as fun and compelling as it could've been, and I think the reason behind this lies in the characters of the novel. I'll start off with the main dame of the story: Alyssa. Alyssa is definitely not your typical YA heroine. She deals with potential mental issues, skateboards in a cool, neon skate park called Underworld, and wears tutu skirts with neon tights. I don't know whether it's because I'm anything but punk/alternative/I don't really know the proper word for it, but I couldn't really relate to Alyssa. Or maybe it was Jeb. Sure, he's protective and all, but in a way he was almost controlling. And he has a complete queen bee witch as a girlfriend back home, but he reveals that he doesn't really even like her and instead loves Alyssa? Not cool, dude. Even Morpheus, the twisted, complex, seems-to-be-evil guy is better than him.

Overall, "Splintered" by A.G. Howard has some amazing potential, with a lyrical writing style that really brings to life this macabre and grotesque version of Wonderland. But what really turned me off the book were the main characters, who weren't very relatable or particularly likable, even. I have, however, read many, many good reviews on the novel, so I'd give the first few chapters a go, just to see whether it's to your liking!

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Poison by Bridget Zinn

I've always had this little analogy in my head for what reading books is like. It's like stepping through a door into a new and exciting world, one where you can find thrills, indulge in emotion, or seek refuge in. Reading "Poison" by Bridget Zinn was like slipping down one of those huge, steep, twisty slides into a vast ball pit of multitudinous colours! Right off the bat, I found myself utterly sucked in to Kyra's world of adventure and mischief.

Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly skilled potions master, is on the run. She's the only one who knows that the Kingdom of Mohr is on the verge of destruction--which means she's the only one who can save it, even if it means killing the kingdom's heir to the throne. Who also happens to be her best friend. But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart...misses. Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king's army as she attempts to track the princess down and finish what she started.

When you've just started reading a book and have gotten a couple pages in, you have no idea what the storyline's going to be like, or the writing, even. But what you immediately get a taste of from page one is the protagonist, and when I began reading "Poison", I knew Kyra was going to be one kick-ass heroine! Kyra is quick-witted and independent, which makes her a strong and dependable character. What makes her awesome is her skills with potions--throwing needles dipped in poison and knotting her hair with a wooden hair stick, which just so happens to hide a knife inside. But what makes her lovable to the readers is that despite her badassery, she's still a teenaged girl with issues that we mundane humans deal with in our everyday lives. And that's where Fred, the charming adventurer Kyra can't stop thinking about, comes in. As Kyra struggles with her feelings for Fred and her survival instincts to distance herself away from people, we see a vulnerability in her that makes Kyra an incredibly likable and believable heroine to follow throughout the novel.

The other characters in "Poison" are just as engaging and exciting as Kyra--needless to say, there's some amazing character development going on! Fred is undoubtedly charming and so funny. I chortled to myself many times at the banter between Fred and Kyra, which happened to include numerous mentions of ladies' underthings growing from bushes. Now do you see what I mean by quick-witted? I absolutely loved the humour and light-heartedness in the story, despite the darker side of things, like, you know, visions of a scarlet river of blood and such. Another character who is crucial in the story is Ariana, the princess of Mohr and Kyra's childhood best friend. While I didn't fall in love with her character as I did with Kyra's and Fred's, Ariana is still a rebellious, laidback and exciting character who is the perfect partner-in-crime for Kyra. The flashbacks in the storyline helped bring her character to life, even if she didn't show up in the flesh until later on in the novel. There are so many more characters to talk about, like Rosie the pink pig (yes, a pig who accompanies Kyra during her travels), the two other Master Potioners Hal and Ned, Arlo the evil bad guy, and so on, but let me assure you that Ms. Zinn has brought to life an incredible cast of characters that you'll wish you could meet!

The storyline of "Poison" is like a roller coaster adventure. I found myself finishing the book in less than a day! (And I don't think that had to do with the short length of the novel, either.) From the very first page, Ms. Zinn captures her readers' attention by dropping them right in the middle of some tension and action as Kyra is in the midst of some slippery-fingered theft, and it only gets better from there. I do have to admit that I got a little bit confused at times with the flashbacks, since the past tense was used continuously throughout when the past perfect tense (e.g. 'had done') would've clarified things a lot more. Nonetheless, the plot of "Poison" is consistently enthralling from cover to cover--I just wish that the climax had been drawn out a little longer! It ended a tad too quickly for my tastes.

Overall, Bridget Zinn's "Poison" is a wildly exciting adventure that is not to be missed, with a lovable, witty heroine and a dynamic cast of characters. I mean, there's a pig! How can you not love the book? I highly recommend the novel for anyone looking for a quick, fun read--trust me, it won't let you down!

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: Kiss of Fire by Rebecca Ethington

Sometimes, starting a new series is like taking a leap of faith. You pretty much have no idea what the book's going to be like, whether or not the characters are going to be likable, whether or not the storyline will reel you in in tremors of excitement and enthusiasm. I decided to try out Rebecca Ethington's "Kiss of Fire", the first book of the "Imdalind" series, after seeing a few great reviews. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical. I mean, the boy in the cover looks like a mugger/bouncer compared to the girl, who looks like she's thirteen instead of sixteen. But, hey, don't judge a book by its cover, right? (Or at least, not too much.)

Ever since she was bitten by a tiny creature on her fifth birthday, Joclyn Despain has had to deal with a strange mark on her neck. She doesn't know why it's there, but she doesn't want anyone to see it, especially her best friend Ryland, who's grown up alongside her. What she doesn't know is that the scar is the reason she's being hunted, even though she doesn't know it. When her estranged father sends her a strange birthstone for her sixteenth birthday, Joclyn finds that it triggers something inside of her, something that has a tall blonde stranger stalking her, and has her throwing a high school bully ten feet across the air. But before she can figure out what the mark really means, Joclyn is plunged into an unearthly adventure of magic and murder.

"Kiss of Fire" has a fairly unique take on magic which made the novel extra exciting. Sure, the characters can blast beams from their hands and call the wind to their bidding, but what was really interesting were the origins and history of the magic. For example, those born with latent powers are bitten by special little creatures who, lo and behold, leave behind a mark, and these people are called Chosen Children. On the other hand, people who knew from the moment they were born that they harnessed magical powers originate from Prague, the source of all ancient magic, and even within them they are separated into different 'races' based on their powers. Plus they speak Celtic or something. Nothing like some bizarre archaic language to make things more magical!

As for the characters of "Kiss of Fire", I think you have your archetypal YA fantasy cast of characters. There's the heroine who's never fit in but soon discovers that she's special; the human (but not really) love interest who's a smoldering hottie; the bubbly best friend who helps her realize who the heroine is; and the evil bad guy. That pretty much covers it. To me, the characters weren't anything truly special. Like, I wasn't jumping out of my seat wishing I were friends with them or anything. Sure, Joclyn, Ryland, Wyn, and all the other members of their group are likable, but they fell a little flat to me. Ryland seems a little too perfect, build like Adonis and ridiculously caring and all that, and Joclyn is a generally plain person. In short, the characters were alright, nothing too special, but not too boring either.

One thing that really kind of turned me off a little from the book was the apparent lack of thorough proofreading. There's punctuation missing in quite a few places, and while "summersault" is the archaic term for "somersault", no one uses it anymore... hence archaic. The writing is a little bit awkward at places because of a reluctance to use contractions. The abundance of "you are" and "I am not"s in the writing and dialogue made everything sound a little forced and unnatural. They're in the modern world, where slang is abound, for goodness's sake! Contractions never hurt anyone.

All in all, "Kiss of Fire" is a decent YA fantasy novel with an interesting take on magic. However, the awkward writing and generic characters prevented me from really getting into the book and the heroine's plight, and I probably won't be reading any more of the "Imdalind" series. I took a leap of faith, and ended up skidding down the slope (but not plummeting, so that's something).

Rating: 2/5

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Nowadays, it's a little hard to find a really original dystopian novel. Sure, there are tons of ways that humankind can possibly die, but after a while, you find that a lot of books of the dystopian genre generally follow a trend: World about to end/has ended, protagonist has to survive, survives. But when you throw in some supernatural elements into it, it certainly does spice things up! Rick Yancey's "The 5th Wave" was released earlier this week, and, I, despite my growing jadedness with the typical dystopian book, decided to give it a go... and found myself thoroughly enjoying it!

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and Cassie, alone in the woods, runs from the Others. The beings who only look human, who roam the country to kill any survivors. Cassie's mantra, to stay alone is to stay alive, has kept her going, until she meets Evan Walker. Evan may be the only hope for rescuing her younger brother Sam, but Cassie faces the ultimate choice: between trust and despair, defiance and surrender, and life and death.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me after reading the first few pages was the incredible narrative voice. Cassie's first-person point of view is witty and conversational, and makes it such a refreshing voice to follow throughout the novel. How she can remain so wry and spunky even when she's facing evil aliens bent on destroying the world is so telling of her strength and character, but at the same time, you get clear hints of how vulnerable she really feels, and that's when you really bond with Cassie and remember that she's just a teenager too. Cassie is unfailingly honest with herself, and it's like you're in her head right there and then as she deals with the dangerous yet thrilling situation she's in. When she meets Evan for the first time and struggles with her warring emotions of attraction and distrust, for example, you actually see her thought process and feel those emotions, and that's what makes her such a real character. If I were stuck in an alien invasion, I'd want Cassie by my side.

Another great thing I liked about "The 5th Wave" was how Mr. Yancey wove together the different points of view of the various characters to create a story that's jam-packed with some intense dramatic irony and tension. The book is separated into several parts, each told from different perspectives. For instance, from Cassie's point of view in the first part, you're transported into the perspective of Ben Parish, aka Cassie's crush back in the normal high school days. I was a little bit confused at first--like, why was Cassie suddenly a 'he'?--until the puzzle pieces fell in place and I went, "oooh". As you follow the seemingly separate journeys of each of the characters, you realize that Mr. Yancey has woven in little discoveries and threads in them, and then when you put two and two together, it hits you all at once. You know that feeling you get when you suspect something about the plot or the characters earlier in the novel, and when it's revealed later on, you feel super accomplished and clever? It's such a gratifying feeling, and there's a lot of that as you read the novel.

The storyline itself of the book is intense from page one, compelling you through the novel in amazing speed. There's so much going on in "The 5th Wave", both physically and emotionally, and you find yourself hooked on what's happening to the characters. I did feel, however, that some parts dragged on a little too much, like things that could've been said in a paragraph were expressed in a couple of pages. I think that if these longer parts were tightened up a bit, it'd only up the tension and make things even more fast-paced, but either way, you're in for a high-speed adventure ride.

Overall, "The 5th Wave" is a gripping dystopian novel with a unique take on an alien invasion, not to mention a refreshing narrative voice and a very cleverly woven storyline. I would definitely recommend this novel to any thrill seekers out there--it's an adventure not to be missed!

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter

There's nothing like a delicious YA novel to get you through an otherwise stressful time. So, while I was neck-high in exam revision, I clung desperately onto the lifeboat of C.C. Hunter's "Born at Midnight", the first book of the "Shadow Falls" series. This book was on my recommended books list on my Kindle, so I decided to give it a go after seeing the good reviews. Plus, the title itself sounds pretty juicy, doesn't it?

Sixteen-year-old Kylie Galen doesn't drink or do drugs. Heck, the farthest she's ever gone is kiss her now-ex-boyfriend Trey. When she's caught at the wrong party with the wrong people, Kylie finds herself whisked away to Shadow Falls Camp, a camp for troubled teens nestled deep in the woods of a town called Fallen. But within hours of arriving, Kylie becomes painfully aware that her campmates aren't just troubled. Instead, she's surrounded by vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies and shapeshifters who are trying to learn to control their magic and live in the human world. Kylie's never felt entirely normal, but she sure isn't a paranormal freak either. Or is she? As if that wasn't enough, Kylie finds herself drawn to both Derek and Lucas, a half-fae and a werewolf who couldn't be more different, but have a powerful hold on her heart. But with all her uncertainties, Kylie soon becomes certain of one thing: Shadow Falls is exactly where she belongs.

If you just read the synopsis, it becomes pretty darn obvious that there's one serious love triangle going on between Kylie, Derek and Lucas. Unfortunately, I felt like this time, it was one of those love triangles where you end up finding the girl stuck in the middle incredibly annoying. Sure, Derek and Lucas are both good lookin' and warm and mysterious in their own ways, but that doesn't mean she has to make out with both of them! Oh, and it gets worse. Instead of just having two boys like any normal YA heroine, Kyle has three! So she ends up kissing Derek, Lucas and Trey. Kylie sure gets around. And while she does (sort of) try to stop herself so that she can sort out her feelings, she just doesn't exactly seem to care whoever she ends up making out with. Now don't get me wrong, Kylie's a sweet girl who's a pretty realistic teenaged character, but sometimes you gotta draw the line with these boys! What I think especially emphasized the whole annoying-player vibe with Kylie was that there hadn't really been enough build-up between any of the potential couplings to make the development of their relationships really believable. Instead, it was the boys just flocking towards Kylie for some reason, and that was that!

Wow, that was a long rant. But it's not as bad as I may have made it out to be, trust me! She just kisses too many guys in a 400-page span. Other than that, "Born at Midnight" is a great book to read. I like the idea of a camp for paranormal teens. It kind of reminds me of Percy Jackson and Camp Halfblood, except with vampires and other things that go bump in the night. The characters are really fun to read about, especially the friendship between Kylie, Miranda and Della. The three seem to get into such amusing situations, like the perverted piano teacher who turns into a toad whenever he thinks inappropriate thoughts! The way their friendship developed was sweet and believable, and you can tell that they'll always have each others' backs, no matter how many times they bicker or tease each other.

The plot of "Born at Midnight" can best be described as introductory. There's a lot of Kylie getting used to the idea of paranormals and trying to figure out who and what she is, and establishment of different characters and their personalities. In terms of tension in the storyline, I feel like there wasn't much of a climax or real action-y plot to follow. Instead, we read about Kylie and her friends at Shadow Falls Camp. The ending, however, definitely suggests that there'll be more antics and possibly a bigger picture to things, and hopefully the next books in the series will have some thrilling adventures of sorts.

Overall, "Born at Midnight" is a fun start to the "Shadow Falls" series, with a nice cast of characters (despite the easy-lipped heroine) and build-up for some potential excitement and tension. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for an easy YA read, or anyone who is head-over-heels in love with paranormal creatures.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book Review: Sweet Peril by Wendy Higgins

You know a book is especially good when you finish it in less than a day. Either that, or it's a really short book. And I think that's all the more impressive when it's a sequel, since most of the 'hooking' (think fishing) happens in the first book. I practically devoured "Sweet Peril", the sequel of "Sweet Evil" by Wendy Higgins (see my review here!), in a couple of sittings, eagerly sucking in all the wickedly delicious romance and crazy action--and I want more!

Six months have passed since Anna was nearly killed at the Dukes' summit. Six months of trying to appease the demon whisperers who keep tabs on her by polluting souls--even if it means earning an unwanted reputation as the school's party girl. And all the while there's Kaiden, the son of the Duke of Lust, never straying from her mind. When an unexpected angel visits her with an age-old prophecy, Anna finds herself traveling the globe with Kopano, the son of Wrath, to seek Nephilim allies. Their goal: to win freedom, even if it means putting up a fight against the powerful Dukes.

Sequels are always great for character development. Sure, we get a picture of who the characters are in the first book, but it's in the sequel that we see them really grow and develop as people. Anna starts off in "Sweet Evil" as a naive, Southern girl who's nothing but a goody goody, but in "Sweet Peril", we see her as the strong yet reluctant daughter of the Duke of Substance Abuse (kind of a lame name, but okay). What I really like about Anna is that she's always honest with herself. Despite the fact that she hates the work that she has to do as a Nephilim, she knows her weakness for alcohol and drugs, and tries to resist those temptations. She's also honest about her feelings for Kai and Kope, which I think Ms. Higgins did a great job in developing throughout the novel. Instead of constantly second-guessing herself and ending up playing around with both boys' feelings, Anna remains pretty sure of what she wants, and thank goodness for that!

Speaking of Kai, holy moly, the heat of the romance in "Sweet Peril" would have shattered a thermometer. Kai himself is just such an amazing character--probably one of the more swoon-worthy guys in YA novels I've read about in a long while. His hidden vulnerability and his true feelings for Anna are so carefully (but quite obviously) masked under apathy, and I just loved the way we saw more of his true emotions and everything as the book progressed! I didn't exactly find myself falling for Kaiden in "Sweet Evil", but after what I read...count me in! Trust me, if you liked him in the first book, you'll be drooling and begging for him in the second. I just went back to my old review on "Sweet Evil", and saw that I'd written that the interaction between Kai and Anna wasn't believable. But after reading about how much he cares about Anna and a couple of steamy scenes (c'mon, you saw it coming), I was more than convinced!

The storyline of "Sweet Peril" was so full of exciting happenings that I couldn't put the book down. The tensions are definitely higher than they were in "Sweet Evil", I think, and it was especially exciting to follow Anna and Kope as they travelled to Damascus, Australia and London, and even more exciting to meet other Neph. Seeing the twins Marna and Ginger and the laidback and totally lovable Blake again was fun--I kind of want friends like them now! New characters like Zania and Flynn just added to the fun and spice of the already great cast of characters as well. So much happens in the book, even when, in a way, it's really just leading up to the final showdown in the next book!

"Sweet Peril" is a thrilling roller coaster of a ride, where you end up falling in love with the amazing cast of characters even more deeply, and just get caught up in the whirlwind romance and escalating tensions as Anna and her friends prepare for the imminent fight against the Dukes. I absolutely cannot wait for the final installment, "Sweet Reckoning". I'll just have to twiddle my thumbs and tear out my hair until next year.

Rating: 5/5

Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

Okay, so I know the whole vampire fad is a thing of the past now, but trust me when I say that this is one that you can't dismiss. I read "The Immortal Rules" when it first came out, eager to read anything by Julie Kagawa after practically devouring "The Iron Fey" series--in-between novellas included. At first, I was a little skeptical. I mean, vampires? Didn't that trend begin and end with "Twilight"? ... Five chapters in, and I was hooked. A kick-ass heroine, unique take on paranormal bloodsuckers and a seriously creepy bad guy? Yes, please. The second installment of the "Blood of Eden" series, "The Eternity Cure", was released earlier this week, which, of course, meant that I had to get my hands on it and finish it ASAP.

Only a few months have passed since Allison Sekemoto chose between death or a new life as a vampire. And only a few weeks ago, Allie turned away a chance at a peaceful life in Eden with the group of survivors she'd grown to care for, including Zeke, the strong and compassionate human she still can't get out of her head. But she has vowed to rescue her sire, Kanin, who is being tortured by the psychotic vampire Sarren. The call of his blood leads her back to her past--New Covington and the Fringe, as well as her brother vampire prince who may become her wary ally. Even as Allie faces shocking revelations and heartbreak like she's never known, a new strain of the Red Lung virus that decimated humanity is threatening humans and vampires alike.

I have, without fail, loved every single one of Ms. Kagawa's main characters, and Allie and her friends are no exception. Allie is an incredibly strong, determined heroine who is just so likable and believable, especially as she struggles with her thirst for blood and the humanity she's fought to keep. Plus, she fights with a katana. I've always wanted to learn how to fight with a sword of sorts, and being able to experience that vicariously through Allie as she slices her way through rabids and evil mole men is just plain thrilling (pathetic of me, I know). And I don't know whether it's because I'm Asian, but having an Asian main character just makes her extra unique, since it's not often that you see a lot of them in YA novels! Asian ramblings aside, I also loved reading about her romance with Zeke. Ms. Kagawa develops their relationship in a way that's not cliched or tiresome to read about, and that final chapter literally brought tears to my eyes! That's how invested I am in Zeke and Allie's relationship--I love the way he helps her keep her humanity in check, and how their romance isn't overbearing or sappy, and the main focus really remains on the plot at hand.

I don't think this review would be complete if I don't mention Jackal. My goodness, I completely fell in love with his character! Sure, Zeke's kind and strong and lovable, but Jackal is just as endearing in his own way. Despite the fact that he was a callous, cruel vampire raider king in "The Immortal Rules", Jackal is portrayed in the sequel as someone who's quick-witted, even funny, and does harbour emotions, albeit buried deep, deep down inside. I absolutely love his wit and dry humour, and his sarcasm had me laughing at some places. Not to mention, he's perfect for bantering with Allie. While he might not be an all together 'good' person, he's definitely more complex than a simply cold-hearted vampire. But really, his devil-may-care attitude was what really did it for me. I cannot wait to see more of him especially in the next book!

The storyline of "The Eternity Cure" was just as, if not more, exciting and compelling as that of its preceding novel. The tensions were up-there from page one, and escalated as the story progressed. I just couldn't put the book down; my heart was racing as I sped from one chapter to the next! There are a lot of twists and turns and revelations revealed throughout the novel, and learning more about the disease and the cure and the characters is so, unbelievably exciting. There's never a moment when I wanted to skim over parts of the book because it was boring. Needless to say, I was hooked. Especially by the way it ended! It's such a jaw-dropping, I-knew-it cliffhanger, and I just cannot wait for the next book... Cannot.

Overall, "The Eternity Cure" is a gripping, exciting second installment in the "Blood of Eden" series, with a wonderful cast of characters and a thrilling storyline. I highly, highly recommend this series, and any of Ms. Kagawa's novels, to anyone looking for compelling and well-written YA novels. Now only if the third book will be released in, tomorrow. But I know the wait will be well worth it!

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May '13 Releases!

Pinch, punch, first day of the month! Time is really whizzing by these days, and we're already nearing the glorious months of summer. And with the beginning of a new month comes a whole barrage of new releases--even more reason to get excited and geared up for May! As always, click on the book cover to be whisked away to its Goodreads page for more information.

"The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey
Release date: May 7

"Doll Bones" by Holly Black
Release date: May 7

"Coda" by Emma Trevayne
Release date: May 7

"The Rithmatist" by Brandon Sanderson
Release date: May 14

"Of Triton" (Of Poseidon #2) by Anna Banks
Release date: May 28

P.S. What do you think of the new background? Thought it was time for a change to something brighter!