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Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. 
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. 
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

I never get tired of dragons, so I knew from the moment I read the description I wouldn't want to miss Rachel Hartman's Seraphina. I wouldn't necessarily call it a trend, but there have been a few successful YA titles dealing with humans that can shift into dragons, though I wouldn't group this particular novel in with those. While Seraphina is comparable to books like Firelight and The Sweetest Dark, Hartman's novel is most definitely fantasy, while the others are more paranormal romance.

While it might not seem like it'd make a huge difference, Seraphina features dragons shifting into humans. Which means that, at their core, these shifters are dragon, not human. And in this particular novel, dragons are very different than humans... in fact, they often have trouble blending in even when in human form. I found this element of the novel extremely interesting, especially since I wasn't expect that small detail to have such a large impact.

Unlike other popular books about dragon shapeshifters, Seraphina has political elements, which, in my mind, pushes it more towards the fantasy genre. These elements aren't overwhelming, but they're integral to the story in that they impact the attitude of the characters. 

Still, like the other novels mentioned, Seraphina does feature a romantic plot line as well... a good one I might add. It's complicated and difficult, but oh so worth it. Seraphina doesn't think much of herself, but her love interest truly sees her, even though she's hiding a rather big secret about herself.

I can't wait to read more about Seraphina, Kiggs, and the rest of the characters from Seraphina. This entire first installment was action packed, but, if the ending of this book was any indication, the next book is going to be intense. I think I've found a new set of favorite fantasy books to add to my recommendation list! 

Random House Children's Books, July 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780375866562, 467 pages.

Check out the book trailer for Seraphina below:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield + A Giveaway

An arresting un-coming-of-age story, from a breathtaking talent. 
Becca has always longed to break free from her small, backwater hometown. But the discovery of an unidentified dead girl on the side of a dirt road sends the town--and Becca--into a tailspin. Unable to make sense of the violence of the outside world creeping into her backyard, Becca finds herself retreating inward, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life. 
Short chapters detailing the last days of Amelia Anne Richardson's life are intercut with Becca's own summer as the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge twist the reader closer and closer to the truth about Amelia's death.

I really haven't a clue where to begin with this review... I suppose I could start by saying that I love this book with surprising depth. For years I've named Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road as my favorite novel because no other book has ever garnered near the emotional connection or caused me to sob near as hard... until Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

The novel is told in alternating points-of-view between Becca, a small town girl who's about to leave home for university, and Amelia Anne, the girl found dead and broken beside a road in the small town Becca yearns to leave behind. 

Part of my connection to this novel stems from my understanding of Becca. I've been the girl from a small town who couldn't wait to escape. I'd been in her position, wondering if I should leave my high school boyfriend behind, but terrified to do so. Becca and I share so many of the same fears and look at things in such similar ways. I like to think it's because Rosenfield successfully captured the mindset of someone who grew up in a small town, but always believed there was something more out there. 

While the high school me identified with Becca, the college me had a deeper understanding of Amelia Anne. This girl, who the reader glimpses through short chapters visiting moments in her life leading up to her untimely death, escaped to university like Becca longs to do. She did what was expected of her and finished her degree, but it wasn't in something she was passionate about. Amelia Anne finally decides to start living her life for herself only to have it tragically cut short... to become unknown on the side of a country road. While it might be dramatic, Amelia Anne, with her bravery to do what she loved, everyone else be damned, reminded me that I need to do the same... because you never know what tomorrow holds. 

I already feel like I've been a bit spoilery and writing more will guarantee spoilers, so I should probably stop while I'm ahead. 

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is a remarkably powerful novel filled with gorgeous writing, perfectly flawed characters, and a painfully real setting. Kat Rosenfield has blown me away with her debut novel. I can guarantee I'll be anxiously awaiting for her next offering.

Dutton Juvenile, July 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780525423898, 304 pages.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Love can never die. 
Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie? 
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses. 
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire. 
In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

Dearly, Departed is a novel about zombies in a post-apocalyptic world resembling Victorian London with steampunk tendencies. Which explains why I was disoriented when I first started reading. It was a bit like the novel was struggling to find it's identity and I worried that Habel wouldn't succeed in tying the multiple personalities of Dearly, Departed together. But then the characters grew on me, the Victorian manners, dress, and customs started to feel normal, and the sudden appearance of high-tech gadgets stopped being quite so surprising... then I started to feel at home in the curious world Habel had created.

I think it was Bram Griswold, one of the narrators and Nora's love interest, that kept me reading even when I was feeling overwhelmed at the start of the novel. I really enjoyed his character's personality and attitude. I actually felt like I had a better understanding of Bram than Nora at some points... and I definitely understood why Nora found herself falling for him. Despite being one of the living dead, Bram is a complete gentleman.

Along with Nora and Bram, Pamela, Nora's best friend, also narrates sections of Dearly, Beloved. I'll admit that I wasn't a huge fan of Pamela at first, but she quickly grew on me. At the beginning of the story, when the girls are leaving boarding school for home, Pamela seems a bit silly, but, as soon as things get tough, her claws come out. I'm very interested to see what Pamela accomplishes in the next novel, since information regarding "The Laz" is now public knowledge...  she definitely isn't one to lay around idly when so much change is occurring. 

It will be interesting to see how Habel decides to continue Nora's story... and whether Bram and Nora's story will have a happy ending. At this point, I'm not seeing how it would be possible, but I have to hope Habel has a few tricks up her sleeve!

Del Rey, October 2011, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780345523310, 470 pages.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You've never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be. 
Debut author Christopher Healy takes us on a journey with four imperfect princes and their four improbable princesses, all of whom are trying to become perfect heroes--a fast-paced, funny, and fresh introduction to a world where everything, even our classic fairy tales, is not at all what it seems.

Unique, funny, and fresh are all appropriate words to describe Christopher Healy's The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. I seriously could not get enough of this fast-paced Middle Grade title!

Lots of little girls wish they could be princesses and plenty of girls and women wish for their Prince Charming to come riding to their rescue, shiny and dashing and heroic, but princesses and the perfect Prince Charming is no where to be found within these pages. Instead, the princesses are either spoiled or more heroic than the princes that are supposed to sweep them off their feet. Prince Charming is a generic name used to describe every prince in every tale... princes that are sometimes dashing and sometime heroic, but often flawed and more often terribly silly. In an endearing way of course.

I can't fully describe how much I adore this novel. The characters are vivid and each have a distinct voice. I'd much rather be a princess like the sort in The Hero's Guide... one who is happy to have a prince by her side, but is more than capable of taking matters into her own hands. 

The princes are a motley crew and never fail to entertain. I loved that each had a specific strength or skill so that when the four came together, usually in rather comedic circumstances, they achieved their goal. I have to say, Prince Duncan was my favorite of the princes, the Prince Charming of Snow White's tale.  Duncan refers to every animal he comes across by name... names he makes up on the spot. His oddities and personality never failed to make me laugh.

I highly recommend The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Yes, it's a MG title, but I can imagine readers of all age enjoying the characters and their quirks. And I hear the characters will be reunited in a second installment and they'll be joined by a few more interesting individuals... I, for one, can't wait!

Walden Pond Press, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780062117434, 419 pages.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Top Ten Books For People Who Like Stephanie Perkins!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

This week's topic: Top Ten Books For People Who Like X Author

X = Stephanie Perkins
Author of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door!

The 10 books below have either unforgettable love stories or unforgettable guys within their pages, much like Perkins' novels!


The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
I absolutely adore this book. It features one of those forever kind of love stories that you say you find cheesy, but secretly wish for! :)

Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker
I love the love interest in Walker's most recent release... he's adorable and funny and exactly what our heroine needs.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
This guy... He's just as amazing as St. Clair. He's the closest I've found so far...

Paradise by Jill S. Alexander
I completely fell in love with this love story. I was so emotionally attached to these characters... like whoa.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
ROAD TRIP LOVE. With amazing soundtracks. 'Nuff said.

The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson
I will always love this book. <3 It was the very first arc I was ever sent and ended up being an all time favorite book. It also encouraged my unhealthy love for redheaded boys in books.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Hilarious. This book makes me laugh every time... and is that another redheaded boy? I think it might be... must re-read to make sure!

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
This book is why I want to name one of my children (or at least a pet) Dexter... despite the annoying cartoon and serial killer.

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
I reread this whenever I'm really sad about my love life and need a reminder of the kind of boy I want. Johnafter is my favorite. Always.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
The guy in this book is such an fantastic person. He seriously makes my heart melt.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Transcendence by C.J. Omololu

When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider. 
As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. 
What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both. 
Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?

C.J. Omololu's sophomore novel, Transcendence, has very little in common with her debut Dirty Little Secrets... except for the fact that they're both captivating reads.

Omololu's debut is about a girl dealing with her mother's uncontrollable urge to hoard - think along the lines of the A&E's Hoarders - and is very much a contemporary YA titles. In comparison, Transcendence is, at times, a contemporary novel and, at others, historically set. Some of the novel deals with very real issues, like crushes and familial relationships, while other scenes deal with the idea of reincarnation and a collection of people that can remember the past lives they've lived. In short, Omololu's sophomore novel brings many different elements to the table.

Transcendence took awhile to fully capture my attention. It wasn't until Cole and Griffon started interacting more regularly and Cole finally understood the reason for her visions that I felt fully invested in the novel's events. Even then, there were times when I wasn't sure what direction the novel was taking. I found the Akhet and the idea of reincarnation really interesting, but I didn't really know what the novel was supposed to accomplish. Eventually, it was established that a villain was somewhere in the mix and things sped up. 

I sometimes took issue with Cole's behavior. I understand that she was expected to accept a pretty big idea in a relatively short amount of time, but I wanted more from her at times... There is a point in the book where Cole refuses to speak to Griffon and acts like a complete child. In the end, Cole's reaction is what set some other necessary events into motion, but I wish that Omololu could have achieved this another way. Griffon's maturity and Cole's immaturity just felt odd to me... Most of the time, I accepted that Griffon was falling for Cole, but, at times like this, it almost felt wrong... Like he was a man and she was just a child. Awkward...

Still, most of my issues with Transcendence took place near the middle of the novel and I was well-hooked by the end. In fact, after how this first book ended, I'm really looking forward to the next installment. I'm really interested to see what other things Cole will uncover about her past lives (has she ever been a parent or has she always died young??) and to see what other characters are Akhet... and if their lives have overlapped with Cole's in the past as well!

Bloomsbury, June 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780802723703, 336 pages.

This post is part of the Transcendence Blog Tour organized by Bloomsbury.