Sunday 22 June 2014

Blog Tour: Review & Giveaway: Boneseeker

Tour schedule can be found here.

Title: Boneseeker
Author: Brynn Chapman
Publisher: Month9Books
Released: 17th June 2014
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Arabella Holmes is more or less comfortable working at the Mutter Museum, where she works with bones and artefacts and carries out experiments - a far cry from the traditional role and expectations of a lady of her time.  Henry Watson is newly arrived there to undertake a position in antiquities, but the two are childhood friends who have not seen each other in years.  Upon the discovery of a hand that falls into a wider debate, they are sent as part of a team on an expedition to determine whether the hand belongs to a Neanderthal or Nephilim, a giant race who were the product of relations between fallen angels and humans.  They discover, however, that there was another team before them, all of whom are now dead.  It is no longer solely a matter of resolving scientific debate, but a fight for their lives in a quest to discover the full truth.

Chapman presents an intriguing world where history mixes with fantasy.  Arabella and Henry are our next-generation Holmes-and-Watson duo, and instead of battling straightforward human criminals, there is also a bit of Biblical background.  This contrasted nicely with the highly scientific side that the author developed from historical context; with Darwin's theories beginning to take hold, a tension is developed between science and the supernatural.  I think it would have been nice to see the fantasy element developed to a similar level, to give it solid foundation, but it was intriguing nevertheless.  The Mutter Museum itself was a curious place, a place of oddities and not necessarily pleasant artefacts and displays.  As it turns out there's actually a Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, so for those of you across the pond who also didn't know, if you find yourself curious, that might be something to do for a day out.

Arabella bears some of the traits of her brilliant father, these combined with strong attributes of her own.  Inquisitive, intelligent, hopelessly unable to be the quiet and tactful lady that convention requires, she makes for a vivid protagonist.  A nice context is built around in her in terms of the relationship Chapman has constructed between Arabella and Sherlock, making the reader both smile and sympathise.  We only see him directly for a brief moment, but his presence is constant.  John Watson, however, is a much more predominant figure; despite being a secondary figure, he makes a welcome addition to the cast.  Henry provides an alternate PoV, and I liked how he balanced Arabella.  As bright as she is, Henry helps her expand her view of the world and tempers her highly scientific outlook with the belief in the possibility that there might be more.

There were a couple of unresolved issues that I would have liked fixed, although they weren't massive.  Overall, though, in combining mystery with fantasy and presenting protagonists who were simultaneously familiar and new, Boneseeker turned out to be a decent read.

Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, Brynn Chapman is the daughter of two teachers. Her writing reflects her passions: science, history and love—not necessarily in that order. In real life, the geek gene runs strong in her family, as does the Asperger’s syndrome. Her writing reflects her experience as a pediatric therapist and her interactions with society’s downtrodden. In fiction, she’s a strong believer in underdogs and happily-ever-afters. She also writes non-fiction and lectures on the subjects of autism and sensory integration and is a medical contributor to online journal The Age of Autism.
Author Links:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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Tuesday 10 June 2014

Mini-Reviews: Speechless & Anthem for Jackson Dawes

Title: Speechless
Author: Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Released: 28th August 2012
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

As usual, I'm monstrously late to the bookish party, this one hosted by and for Hannah Harrington and fans.  However, since these parties usually go on for ages - say, years - let's just say the main thing was that I turned up.  Harrington's reputation, combined with a premise that is intriguing for all its apparent simplicity, had me both wary and curious.  Ultimately, it did not disappoint.

The concept of not speaking is a difficult one for me to comprehend.  Despite first appearances, where any number of scenarios may see me sitting/standing/walking/[insert verb here] silently, and for all that I do prefer silence on occasion, I still like to talk.  Many of us like offering our opinions, contributing to discussion, even just making general chitchat.  To actively choose to stop talking, then, as Chelsea does, would be an incredible decision.  My respect for her grew over the course of the book.  At the start, of course, she was a rather typical character, concerned only with maintaining her status within the popular crowd.  Her behaviour was cliché - and deliberately so.  When one fateful decision demonstrates how harmful speech can be, she takes a vow of silence, and this marks the start of some beautiful character progression.  Harrington takes an unlikeable figure and turns her into someone you can't help but sympathise with.  Chelsea grows very gradually, forcing herself to think about things before putting her words out in the open and learning to understand what's important and what isn't.  In watching her struggle to maintain her vow even as she was being bullied and trying to defend others made me root for her all the more.

There is also a very nice secondary cast, ranging from her new friends to the other people at her new job to her parents.  All of these characters are realistic and easy to relate to.  Each friendship is subtly different, progressing in a manner appropriate to the circumstances that surround that friendship.  The romance was slow and sweet and utterly genuine.  Perhaps one of the best relationships was that between Chelsea and her parents.  It was amazing to see how supportive and loving they were of her, despite everything she's put them through.  Even better, it was lovely to see her learn to truly appreciate them.  For a book that focuses on bullying, a topic I normally don't gravitate towards, Harrington has left me impressed with the way in which she deals with such issues, bringing to life a range of characters who themselves are an accurate reflection of life.

It didn't take me long at all to get through this book, and I'm glad I finally got around to it.  Speechless consists of an interesting premise that has been well-executed, and it leaves me feeling grateful that I also have Saving June in my possession.  In fact, this review almost makes me want to re-read this book, so perhaps I'll go and do that as well.

Title: Anthem for Jackson Dawes
Author: Celia Bryce
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Released: 1st January 2013
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'm not quite sure what to say about Anthem for Jackson Dawes.  Ordinarily it's not a book I would have picked up, and yet there was something about it that suggested I should perhaps read it anyway.  Certainly it turned out to be a fairly decent read.  The novel centres around Megan and Jackson, both in hospital for cancer treatment.  Despite this, Jackson somehow manages to be energetic and lively and gets along with everyone.  The two soon become close, but Megan in particular has to learn to come to terms with the future.  As protagonists go, she is not a bad one.  On the contrary, her character is likeable and undergoes a slow progression.  Unsurprisingly, it is easy to like Jackson.  His is a vibrant character, and you want to become his friend just as much as those people within the book.  The friendship between Megan and Jackson only intensifies the emotional impact of certain parts of the book.  Going into this you're aware there is the possibility of an ending not entirely happy; in this case it is neither happy nor unhappy, but bittersweet, leaving you holding on to those last few pages.
At the same time, however, this could have been so much more.  I don't know what to say precisely because there's not very much to talk about.  Anthem is a quick read that leaves room for more power and more meaning.   While I liked the characters, and while there was some emotion, it wasn't enough.  To say that the protagonists are likeable is not to say they stand out; Megan especially could have done with a bit more fleshing out.  I wanted to know more about their lives, more about how they were affected - in short, for the book to delve deeper.  In a way its short length does work.  We are afforded a brief glimpse into both their lives, similar to how Megan is afforded a brief glimpse into Jackson's, and for the right reader at the right time, this is enough.  Nor is it completely without power.  What I would venture to say is that this is more of an in-the-moment type read, rather than one that necessarily has a lasting impact.  Coming out of it, I found myself taking away very little.
In sum, then, I thought this book a relatively decent one, but with the possibility of more.  Megan and Jackson's relationship is sweet and does have emotional consequence.  For me personally, I could have done with an added layer that would help make this more memorable and more engaging.  As such, I would recommend it only to those who are looking for something short and (bitter)sweet.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Review: Nantucket Blue

Title: Nantucket Blue (Nantucket #1)
Author: Leila Howland
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Released: 7th May 2013
Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Nantucket Blue has all the appearance of being a promising book, one in which exploration of relationships and identity is complemented by some summery overtones.  At the very least it looks as though it might work as a light summer read.  To find that it worked mostly as a source of irritation instead was not exactly welcome.  For any potential that was in here - and there certainly was some - it was eclipsed by too many other things that were going on.
The story centres around Cricket, who is looking forward to summer.  For once, things are going to be different.  Rather than stay at home babysitting she's going to be going to Nantucket, spending the holiday with her best friend, Jules, and Jules' family.  Inevitably, of course, things don't work out so happily: she's in Nantucket, but the family are suffering from a recent tragedy, leaving Cricket to support herself and pass the summer without doing any of the fun stuff she was supposed to be doing with Jules.
Almost immediately I could see that Cricket and I were not going to be friends.  For someone whose best friend has just suffered from a tremendous loss, she comes across as remarkably attention-seeking.  It was like she couldn't help herself.  There were a number of actions and decisions on her part that left me wishing I could reach into the book and shake her, forcing her to realise what she was doing, because I could see what was going to happen.  Sure enough, Jules pulls away from her increasingly more.  To be honest, though, for a lot of her behaviour there was no excuse.  Objectively I could sympathise - in reality I didn't - but Cricket was not the only one at fault for the way Jules treated her.  Her loss did not make up for that.  Really this was never meant to be a successful relationship.  The latter character was simply not nice, and Cricket astounded me with how whiny and selfish she could be.  There were moments when I had hope, when it seemed like there was some sort of improvement, both in character and writing, but always it deflated.  Everything became drama, and once again I resumed reading with rapidly devolving patience.
The drama was not constrained simply to this relationship.  It managed to float into the romance side of things and the family aspect.  Some of Cricket's behaviour involving boys was, again, simply not on.  Moreover, the love interest did not really arouse my interest very much.  He was sweet, certainly, but so what?  This sounds harsh, but there was nothing that made him special.  At least, not special in the sense that I could appreciate him in his role.  As for the circumstances surrounding this romantic intrigue, they were all very well, but it progressed predictably.  That just leaves the family angle.  This, I think, was where some of the real potential lay.  Cricket's family was neither happy nor united, and this part of the book gave rise to some interesting themes.  Had these been taken further, Cricket and her mother would have won some of my sympathy, her father I would be more kindly disposed towards and, I suspect, there would have been a nice amount of character growth on more than one account.  At one point Cricket and her mother especially genuinely seemed to be working towards some kind of strengthened relationship.  I felt true disappointment on seeing that things were left at such a flat level, either being added in for no seeming purpose or, possibly worse, gratuitous dramatic impact. 

In a word, this book made me tired.  There was a relatively decent basis here, but it all seemed to be weighed down by drama and sigh-inducing qualities.  Normally I would have gone on to the sequel, but I'm finding lately that I'm being more selective, identifying more than ever those that would just be best to let go of.  And in reading the synopsis for the second book, I don't think I could take any more.  So it is at this point that I'll say goodbye to the world of Nantucket Blue.

Monday 26 May 2014

Review: White Hot Kiss

Title: White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements #1)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Released: 25th February 2014
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm pretty sure that the initials JLA, together, and the person behind these initials, are synonymous with feels.  Because her writing just leaves me with all of them.  And yeah, maybe I knew this before, but I think it's worth saying again.  Gargoyles and demons - together - are like book dynamite.  Or triple chocolate cake.  And then JLA has her way with them and BAM.  You've got the bookish equivalent of some kind of cake that explodes in your mouth and is just the best thing ever (kind of like the sensation that Cam's cookies leave...).  Mind = blown.
Since the gargoyle-demon mix was what drew my attention in the first place, let's start with that.  The combination was as epic as promised.  I was especially curious about gargoyles - not that I don't love demons, because really.  Bad creatures who can also be good who are bad.  I get on exceptionally well with demons.  But this was the first time I'd entered a world with gargoyles and I was intrigued to see how they would be portrayed.  Their role as Wardens - hunters of demons and protectors of mankind - was one I could appreciate, objectively and conceptually speaking, and Armentrout did a very nice job with the world-building in this respect.  There is no such thing as standard mythology for her because clearly she knows how to give it her own, fresh twist.  Both sides share a complexity that goes beyond the standard good/evil preconceptions.  Even with the demons it seemed as though something had been added to it.  Learning about hell has never been so interesting.
Layla is our feisty half demon-half gargoyle heroine.  One of the consequences of this is having a kiss that takes souls.  This is a girl whose insecurities and strengths mesh together to form a thoroughly relatable character.  She's not afraid to take action and won't let anyone else get in the way of her doing something.  When she's on a mission, she'll see it through to its end.  At the same time, she struggles a lot.  Sure, she makes mistakes along the way, but I could always see where she was coming from.  I think what I most identified with was her struggle to accept and reconcile the two halves of her, to understand where it was exactly that she fitted in her world.  What pained me was seeing the interactions she had with certain members of her surrogate family of Wardens, the true level of pressure they placed on her whether they realised it or not, and the constant reminder that she was not one of them.  In the end, though, it only made her all the stronger when she went in the face of that by discovering the truth for and of herself, suffering a great deal more as a result, and finding some measure of happiness and belonging amongst all that.

It was at this point that the feels truly started to kick in.  By which I mean, Zayne and Roth enter the scene.  By which I mean, Roth does.  I admit, I liked Zayne.  A lot.  Possibly even loved him?  For all his flaws, he is a genuinely good guy, and I was glad to see at the end some recognition on his part that the world is not the black and white image that has been painted for him.  And certainly he was swoonworthy.  I could definitely see his appeal, both as a friend and something more, although again, I had concerns.  But then...Roth made his grand entrance and oh, dear god.  On all fronts I was made to feel for him.  Beyond the basic charm and mischief - which still should not be underestimated in his case - is a quiet pain that comes of being borne of hell and also of his own personal history.  And then, as if I wasn't already feeling enough, Armentrout writes in an astonishing ending that not only picks up the pace and leaves you wide-eyed, but also leaves you wondering how it is that authors can be so cruel (although thank goodness for the hope that follows after that).
Needless to say, I was left impressed with White Hot Kiss.  My experience with this author has been extremely limited in comparison to many, and even within that I've had my ups and downs.  But this was a world that very quickly had my attention, with characters I couldn't help but take notice of, distinctive whatever their character traits.  Wardens kept company with Alphas, demons with zombies, and I really must take a moment to acknowledge Bambi, the concept of which I loved and as a character - for she is a character in her own right - who strangely I also loved.  This was a treat to read - cake, anyone? - and one I shall certainly be coming back to.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Review: Cracked

Title: Cracked (Soul Eater #1)
Author: Eliza Crewe
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Released: 5th November 2013
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cracked initially entered my life as a way of very briefly distracting me from my work, but whose deliciousness soon had me charmed and hooked.  And of course when I say this, I am freely admitting my delight with the blood, guts and general bodily destruction that goes on here.  You've been warned.
Meda is the one who brings all this to the forefront and, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, I loved her.  As a soul-eater, she immediately had my attention.  Her lack of knowledge about her kind added a layer of mystery, but Eliza Crewe had no trouble in making me happy simply by giving me such a character.  As a protagonist, she ensured that attention stayed.  I don't think I've ever come across a voice like hers.  When we meet her she is on the hunt for food, Meda-style, and she had me from there.  She is both biting and witty, giving this book a level of humour and plain entertainment that I just didn't expect.  Her character comes even more into focus in the presence of secondary characters, which meant there is not long to wait.  Her mental running commentary when Jo, Chi and Uri turn up had me laughing and, to be honest, agreeing with her.  Chi in particular warranted a raised eyebrow several times over; initially he seemed to be quite the idiot, but I think by the end he'd become something of a loveable one.  Meda was undoubtedly the star of the show, but the secondary characters were also nicely rounded.
If the characters are a delightful bunch, so, too, is the demon-Templar mix.  The society of crusaders is Meda's ticket to finding out more about her kind, but of course she can't reveal her true identity since their job is to kill those like her.  It was not a combination I was anticipating, yet it was one that worked nicely.  Crewe sets a reasonable pace, throwing in a couple of startling revelations for good measure.  I liked the focus Meda maintained, not getting overly distracted.  Part of the result of this, or perhaps it was the cause, was the lack of romance.  When I met Chi I thought I had it all figured out, but it turned out (thankfully, I think) that I was wrong.  Its absence was surprising, but welcome.  I know, I know.  Usually I'm all for bookish love, but here it was more true to Meda's personality.  Instead what we had were sweet secondary relationships - so, you know, it wasn't all blood and fighting and soul-eating craziness.  But mostly.

Cracked proved to be an exceptionally delightful read I didn't see coming.  If I could sum it up in a word, it would probably be entertaining.  It was ridiculously funny, and the characters - main and secondary alike - were certainly attention-grabbing figures.  Throw in demon hordes and a (surprisingly) secret society with a healthy dollop of carnage and this book ceased to be simply a distraction.  In fact, I'm pretty sure this one was made with me in mind.  And perhaps you as well, if these things also call to you.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Book Blitz & Giveaway: Of Breakable Things

Welcome to the Release Day Blitz for

Of Breakable Things by A. Lynden Rolland

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

A captivating debut about the fragility of life, love, and perspective. 
Alex Ash was born broken. Living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is like living on death row, but she is willing to fight for her frail life as long as it includes the boy next door. Chase has always held the pieces of her together, but when he dies tragically, Alex’s unfavorable fate becomes a blessing in disguise. 
Faced with a choice, she finds herself in a peculiar world where rooms can absorb emotions and secrets are buried six feet under. Among limitless minds, envious spirits, and soulless banshees, Alex hardly rests in peace.

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Title: Of Breakable Things
Author: A. Lynden Rolland
Publisher: Month9Books
Publication Date: April 29, 2014

Available for Purchase:
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A. Lynden RollandA. Lynden Rolland was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, a picturesque town obsessed with boats and blue crabs. She has always been intrigued by the dramatic and the broken, compiling her eccentric tales of tragic characters in a weathered notebook she began to carry in grade school. She is a sports fanatic, a coffee addict, and a lover of Sauvignon Blanc, thunderstorms and autumn leaves. When she isn’t hunched behind a laptop at her local bookstore, she can be found chasing her two vivacious children. She now resides just outside Annapolis with her husband and young sons.

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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Monday 21 April 2014

Review: A Breath of Frost

Title: A Breath of Frost (The Lovegrove Legacy #1)
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Released: 7th January 2013
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

1814 London sees Emma, Gretchen and Penelope discover that magic runs in the family and that the cousins are, in fact, witches.  This discovery, unfortunately, comes with something of a damper, as it seems they unwittingly opened up portals to the underworld.  Among the foul and dangerous things coming through these portals are the spirits of the Greymalkin Sisters, dark witches who are now murdering young witches in a quest for more power.  Somehow, it is Emma who stumbles upon each corpse.  The cousins need to locate and seal the gates as quickly as possible, but someone is working against them to help the Sisters.  It is only a matter of time before any hope or possibility of winning this fight becomes impossible.

This was a fairly solid read, although I admit this wasn't entirely what I'd hoped.  Having enjoyed Harvey's Drake Chronicles I came with certain expectations.  These were met in part and, with a little more work, it could have been even better.  The bones were definitely there, and very promising.  What seemed to be missing, however, were key points of explanation, parts of conversation; transitions were disjointed and causal points unclear.  This improved over the course of the book, with the second half being stronger than the opening, and this is where I started to get more involved in events.  The plot, such as it was, was not an overly complex one, but Harvey made it reasonably compelling nevertheless.  I quite liked the portrayal of the Graymalkin Sisters, each suitably villainous and distinct in their own way.  The worldbuilding in general, although in need of some improvement, was decent enough.
I'm not sure how attached I became to the characters.  Certainly I liked our three leads, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of them.  Amusing and feisty, they kept me entertained - Emma in particular, who took the forefront in this instalment.  But it's hard to detect any deeper sentiment.  Possibly part of the problem was the frequent jump between perspectives, which was split not only between the cousins but others as well.  Even beyond that, though, I think there was something elusive that just prevented me from fully connecting.  Still, there's sufficient time left for me to feel differently.  What was good, beyond a doubt, was to see a good connection between these three girls.  As family, as friends, they had a strong relationship.  Romance was present in the book, but it was this relationship that took the focus more, I think, which was a nice change.

While not as promising as I might have hoped, A Breath of Frost was still a decent start to a new series by a well-established author.  I have hopes that there will be improvements as the series goes on and, if so, this should turn out to be something truly enjoyable.