Review: Burning Kingdoms

Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefanoTitle: Burning Kingdoms
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: Internment Chronicles #2

About: After escaping through the bottom of Internment, Morgan and her fellow fugitives aboard the great mechanical bird land on the ground to finally learn what has lived beneath their floating island home all these eons.

The ground is a strange place where water falls from the sky as snow, and customers watch moving pictures and visit speakeasies. A place where families can have as many children as they want, their dead are buried in vast gardens of bodies, and Internment is the feature of an amusement park.

It is also a land at war.

Everyone who fled Internment had their own reasons to escape their corrupt haven. But caught under the watchful eye of another king that wants to dominate his world, they wonder if coming to the ground will drag Internment down with them.

My Thoughts: I have been looking forward to this book since having read Perfect Ruin, the first book in the Internment Chronicles series. I was so excited when the opportunity to read this ARC presented itself.

Let me start by saying that this book was worth the wait. It’s an easy read, meaning easy to get into, easy to stay in, and easy to finish. Don’t think that means it’s not well-written. It IS well-written. Lauren DeStefano has quickly become one of my favorite authors. The worlds she creates are imaginative and unique. Her characters are compelling and realistic. Her stories are a pleasure to read.

As with the first book, there really was nothing that I didn’t like. I did get frustrated with Pen on numerous occasions, she seems set on self-destruct mode. Although, as you read and things are revealed, it becomes evident why. Still, I found her quite selfish and not a very good friend to Morgan. Sure, she’s always there for Morgan, but on her own terms. She’s quick to throw verbal barbs at the one person who’s never been anything but a true friend to her.

All of that said, I still very, very much enjoyed this book. I highly recommend Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefano.

4.5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: Burning Kingdoms is scheduled for release around March 10, 2015. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine WargaTitle: My Heart and Other Black Holes
Author: Jasmine Warga
Series: n/a

About: Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution–Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.

My Thoughts: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga is a well-written story about a subject that might be difficult for some to read: teen suicide and depression. And it’s very well-written. I liked that there was really no wallowing. It wasn’t overly dark or bleak.

I really liked the characters, especially Aysel and Roman. Aysel is actually a great narrator. She is completely honest, and doesn’t tend to get overly dramatic. She paints a picture of the world as she sees it in a very matter-of-fact matter. And her description of the depression? Absolutely perfect. Aysel refers to it as the black slug living in her gut. It eats up everything — all emotions, good or bad — and just leaves her empty. As one who’s experienced such a thing, I could completely relate. Again, it’s right-on. Roman, while he’s struggling even more than Aysel, is an absolutely amazing character — book boyfriend? Definitely a contender! ;) Despite his obvious deep depression, he’s actually pretty sweet and clearly someone with a lot of potential. The two of them together are just perfect.

Watching Aysel open up to life, with the help of Roman (as mentioned in the synopsis, so I’m not spoiling anything ;) ), is something. She slowly, and quite naturally, sees that maybe life really isn’t all that bad. Maybe there is something worth holding onto. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a purpose and pushing forward to see what’s ahead would be a good thing.

What I like is that while this book deals with a heavy subject, it’s in no way overly dark negative. It’s a book filled with hope. I really like that. After the story, there is a list of resources — crisis lines and other such things — for anyone who might be in need of such. This book is written in such a way that it definitely has the potential of helping others.

4 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: My Heart and Other Black Holes is scheduled for release around February 10, 2015. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: Playlist for the Dead

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle FalkoffTitle: Playlist for the Dead
Author: Michelle Falkoff
Series: n/a

About: Here’s what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you’ll understand.

As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

My Thoughts: I’m not sure what to say about Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff. I finished it about a week ago. It was a fast read, but not one that I found all that remarkable. It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t call it good either. If I hadn’t agreed to read it for review, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. I just wasn’t all that compelling.

Sam has a chip on his shoulder the size of the state of Texas, and it’s painfully obvious pretty much right from the start. Because he and Hayden were social outcasts, he has a very us-versus-them outlook on life. He can’t see how anyone other than he could really be mourning his friend. He was overly confrontational at the funeral, at that from the start kinda made him a very unsympathetic character to me. He was so angry and negative, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read an entire book narrated by him. Thankfully, he does seem to become less difficult to read as the book progresses — either that or I just got used to it.

There was some element of surprise, but I felt most of the book was pretty predictable. The foreshadowing seemed a bit less foreshadowing — more hit-you-over-the-head hints. While a teenager reading this very well might not pick up on these things, more experienced readers likely will.

2.5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: Playlist for the Dead is scheduled for release around January 27, 2015. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless

Top Ten Clues You're Clueless by Liz CzukasTitle: Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless
Author: Liz Czukas
Series: n/a

About: Top Five Things That Are Ruining Chloe’s Day

5) Working the 6:30 a.m. shift at GoodFoods Market

4) Crashing a cart into a customer’s car right in front of her snarky coworker Sammi

3) Trying to rock the “drowned rat” look after being caught in a snowstorm

2) Making zero progress with her crush, Tyson (see #3)

1) Being accused—along with her fellow teenage employees—of stealing upwards of $10,000

Chloe would rather be anywhere than locked in work jail (aka the break room) with five of her coworkers . . . even if one of them is Tyson. But if they can band together to clear their names, what looks like a total disaster might just make Chloe’s list of Top Ten Best Moments.

My Thoughts: I found Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas to be a very fast read. If I’d had the chance to sit and just read, I probably could’ve finished this in a couple of hours easily. It goes by fast, and it’s a fun read that — despite its subject — is rather light. The whole novel takes place in a matter of a couple of hours. I think that helps with the pace.

In some ways, this reminded me of The Breakfast Club. Although, I can’t say too much about that — honestly, I’ve never seen the whole movie all the way through. (I know, I know!) But, I’ve seen enough to be able to see the similarity. (Interesting, as Ask Again Later, also by Liz Czukas, totally reminded me of the movie Sliding Doors. Perhaps this author is a film buff? Which is kinda cool! ;) )

Chloe is a pretty good narrator. She came across as likable and very natural. She’s a new kid, having somewhat recently moved, and having trouble fitting in. (I can relate.) What doesn’t help is that she has Type 1 Diabetes. And is a redhead. And wears glasses. And has this weird thing where she makes lists out of everything — I’m not kidding. Everything! But, she’s pretty cool, and I found myself pulling for her. Wanting her to get the guy, not get in trouble, etc. She doesn’t know much about her coworkers, but this “work jail” situation helps with that. Everyone bonds and forms a bit of a friendship through this experience. (That can happen when you’re stuck in the same room for several hours.)

I did kinda wonder about the legality of this whole situation. Especially since these kids are minors (mostly). And it’s Christmas Eve — I find it hard to believe these kids’ parents would just blindly accept that their child has to stay well past when the store closes. Especially not Chloe’s mom.

When it comes to the whodunnit part of the story, I found myself not quite figuring it out as quickly as I normally would. I think there’s some excellent diversion — I got so caught up in the moment, that except when Chloe was thinking about the missing money, I kinda forgot about it, too. I had a few different ideas in my head by the time the case is solved. And I’m happy to say I wasn’t right all along! ;)

Still, this was a fun, easy read. If you want some light, mildly holiday-inspired reading this December, consider givingTop Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas a try!

3.5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless is scheduled for release around December 9, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes by Sara RaaschTitle: Snow Like Ashes
Author: Sara Raasch
Series: Snow Like Ashes #1

About: Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

My Thoughts: One word: Awesome! I absolutely loved this book! I thought this sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot. I almost didn’t read it, but I am so very glad that I did! Meira is a strong, realistic female lead — yes, this is fantasy. Obviously those parts aren’t the realistic things, but her persona. Very real. She’s telling the story in first person, and you see her self-doubt, her insecurities, her fears. She’s a fighter and a smart girl, but she’s also real. She’s like everyone else with hopes and fears and shortcomings. Very real.

I know he’s not mentioned in the synopsis, but absolute awesome book boyfriend material from this one is Theron. I liked him from the first time we meet him in the book, and just like him more and more as we get to know him. I sure hope we see lots and lots of him in the next book! ;-) Don’t get me wrong, Mather (mentioned above) is pretty cool, too. I just find Theron more to my liking. And while, yes, this sounds like the too-common love triangle, but it’s not. At least I don’t think it is.

This is awesome epic fantasy. There’s a quest, which — of course — ends up being so much more than originally thought. It takes them across the land — and back again. It leads to amazing discoveries and a chance for the heroine to shine. While I was able to see some of the “surprises” — or at least the gist of them — there were some that caught me by surprise. And they were delightful!

The ending is excellent. We have resolution. We have closure. We have a neat, tidy story. But we also have questions that beg for answers. We have unknowns that need discovering of their own. We have a thus-far-hinted overarching bigger issue coming. This story is one small bit of a much bigger picture. I look forward to seeing where this story is going next. I will be eagerly waiting on the as-of-yet-untitled sequel!

5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: Snow Like Ashes is scheduled for release around October 14, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: Talon

Talon by Julie KagawaTitle: Talon
Author: Julie Kagawa
Series: Talon #1

About: Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction by the Order of St. George, a legendary society of dragon slayers. Hiding in human form and growing their numbers in secret, the dragons of Talon have become strong and cunning, and they’re positioned to take over the world with humans none the wiser.

Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George.

Soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian has a mission to seek and destroy all dragons, and Talon’s newest recruits in particular. But he cannot kill unless he is certain he has found his prey; and nothing is certain about Ember Hill. Faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything that the Order has ingrained in him; and what he might be willing to give up to find the truth about dragons.

My Thoughts: By the time I finished reading, I so wanted to give Talon by Julie Kagawa five stars. I really wanted to, because it was very good — especially by the end. But, there were a few things I felt required a lower rating. Not that 4.5 stars is all that low … it was good enough that I could forgive most shortcomings.

So, what didn’t I like? Well, let me think on that …

1. HUGE cliffhanger ending — on two fronts. We all know it’ll be roughly a year of waiting until the next one. I hate that. For one, I don’t like when books leave me hanging like this — well, unless I can get my hands on the next one in the very near future. Plus, by the time the next one comes out, I’ll have read close to 100 other books. This one most likely won’t be remembered well enough for me to fully enjoy the next — at least that’s normally how that happens for me. That’s not such a big deal when it’s not such a cliffhanger ending! ;)

2. Very predictable. Fortunately, the action and excitement are enough to make me (mostly) forgive the highly predictable events — betrayal? Check! (And I’ll give you ONE guess by whom!) Surprising rescue(s)? Check! (Again, pretty easy to guess who’s involved.) — and really enjoy the book. Predictable love triangle, if one can call it that. Very few surprises, if any. I honestly can’t think of anything — except maybe the very last thing in the Epilogue — that was all that surprising.

3. Various characters at various points through the book. Most of them redeemed themselves at one point or another. Only a small handful worth remembering: Ember, Garrett, Riley/Cobalt, Dante, Scary Talon Lady. If I think hard, I can remember some of the friends, but not without focused effort on my part.

Now, with all of that laid out on the table, let’s make it clear that I did thoroughly enjoy this book. If I didn’t have a crazy schedule this past week, I would’ve finished this book in a matter of a day or two. I found myself sucked in pretty quickly and wanting to find out how everyone meets and ends up working together, as the synopsis I read talked about how one “teen dragon” comes together with a “young soldier” and a “rogue dragon” to start a revolution. I wanted to see how that all worked together.

Speaking of the characters. Garrett is my favorite. Love him — and, yes, total book boyfriend! ;) I felt his account the most real, the most intriguing, and the least obnoxious. Ember would be my second favorite. While at first she comes across as a petulant, pain-in-the-butt child, she grew on me quickly. By the end of the book, I was totally rooting for her (and wanting her paired with Garrett, despite the human/dragon thing). Riley/Cobalt … let me say he sounds so beautiful when his dragon (Cobalt) is described. I can picture him, and just love it. I wanted to like him from the start, but quickly just couldn’t. Especially not toward the end, when he all but pushes Ember to act on an obvious “animal” attraction — their dragons being drawn to each other. Dante is a tough one. I started out liking him, but it’s clear he’s going to be a problem pretty early. Everything to do with him is probably the most predictable parts of the book. Any observant reader could see his issues coming a mile away. And Ember’s insistence that he’s still on her side? Yeah, I wanted to shake some sense into her. I get that she didn’t want to believe the truth, but I still wanted to see her get wise.

So, will I read this again? I just might. I definitely will make sure to read the series (so far looking to be at least five books long) — or at least the next book, Rogue. Although, honestly, barring a just downright awful next book (which I just don’t think is possible), I fully expect to follow the series. I have not yet read The Iron Fey, but it might be moving higher up the TBR list now! I’m guessing fans of that will enjoy this, but I’ve no idea. I can say that dragons is what piqued my interest, and it’s what’ll keep me coming back for more!

4.5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: Talon is scheduled for release around October 28, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: The Fine Art of Pretending

The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel HarrisTitle: The Fine Art of Pretending
Author: Rachel Harris
Series: The Fine Art of Pretending #1

About: According to the guys at Fairfield Academy, there are two types of girls: the kind you hook up with and the kind you’re friends with. Seventeen-year-old Alyssa Reed is the second type. And she hates it. With just one year left to change her rank, she devises a plan to become the first type by homecoming, and she sets her sights on the perfect date — Justin Carter, Fairfield Academy’s biggest hottie and most notorious player.

With 57 days until the dance, Aly launches Operation Sex Appeal and sheds her tomboy image. The only thing left is for Justin actually to notice her. Enter best friend Brandon Taylor, the school’s second biggest hottie, and now Aly’s pretend boyfriend. With his help, elevating from “funny friend” to “tempting vixen” is only a matter of time.

But when everything goes according to plan, the inevitable “break up” leaves their friendship in shambles, and Aly and Brandon with feelings they can’t explain. And the fake couple discovers pretending can sometimes cost you the one thing you never expected to want.

My Thoughts: Cute, fun, and sweet. That was my first response upon finishing. My other thought? Brandon is so book boyfriend material. He might, just might, be the top contender this year.

So, I’ll be honest. The premise of this book, especially as I was reading, bothers me. It speaks to the innocence of teen girls, that they’d name a makeover project Operation Sex Appeal and want to be on the Casuals (as opposed to Commitments) list. As an adult well past her teen years, when Brandon told her about the lists and which one she was on … he tried to tell her it was a good thing to be a Commitment. And he’s so right. It implies some respect, and that the girls on that list are more than a conquest. But what she sees is that no one will date her because she’s not an easy target. What I see is that the Casuals are the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type. A conquest to be discarded once the objective has been obtained: you know, sex. Why any girl, teenager or not, would want that status is beyond me. Because of my issue with the whole idea of what this book is based on, I really didn’t want to like it. But ..

Despite my misgivings about the whole premise, the book was a great read. As I mentioned above, it’s cute, fun, and sweet. Despite his fear of commitment (which is explained), Brandon is a swoon-worthy guy. Despite his reputation, it’s clear to see there’s a sweet guy with a good heart.

Yes, the story was pretty par for the course for this type of tale: Boy and girl pretend to date. In doing so they discover their true feelings for each other. Both are afraid of ruining the friendship (or afraid of commitment in general), and try to get things back to the way they were — only to discover how futile that is. Everyone around them can see that they’re nuts for each other, and they’re the only ones who can’t see it. On down to the smile-on-your-face, warm-fuzzy ending. But, it was fun. The characters are great. Aly, despite her obvious immaturity and naiveté, is a sweet girl with a good heart. And perfect with Brandon. ;)

If you enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, as well as other similar stories, then this is a must-read. I will definitely be reading subsequent books in the series.

4.5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: The Fine Art of Pretending is scheduled for release around September 30, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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