Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays (2)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Ally's Teaser:
"Even in shadow, you can see the raised scars on my arms. My scars are my sunlight: I know the truth about the Fenris, while so much of the world still lives in the cave, in total, blissful ignorance."
p. 38, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
Lee's Teaser:
"The day had gone in her mind from hopeful to disastrous. She felt like a freak, like someone entirely different and out of step with the world."
p. 42, Immortal City by Scott Speer

Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched (Matched #1)
By Ally Condie
Dutton Books

To Sum It Up: The Society strives to make the lives of its citizens as perfect as possible. Cassia Reyes knows this firsthand. She has a loving family and a promising career path ahead of her. When the time comes for Cassia to be Matched to her ideal mate, he turns out to be her best friend, Xander Carrow. Everything seems to be going according to the Society’s plans until Cassia views the data on the microcard that is supposed to contain Xander’s information. His face appears but then is replaced by that of Ky Markham, whom Cassia has also known since childhood. This improbable error leads Cassia to do the unthinkable: she begins to question whether or not the Society always acts in the best interests of its people.

Review: Matched was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I thought that its strongest point was the love story between Cassia and Ky, which dominates the book. In fact, sometimes I felt like Matched could have stood on its own as a romance about two people wondering whether they’re destined to be together, without the dystopian elements.

The dystopian world of Matched was fairly disturbing. Because culture before the Society’s formation was “cluttered,” the Society has taken it upon itself to preserve only the hundred best songs, poems, paintings, etc. Dreams, food intake, and even what’s dumped down the garbage incinerator are all monitored. Then of course, there’s the Matching System. One aspect of this world that didn’t make sense to me was how Matched couples needed to be chaperoned on their dates by one of the Society’s Officials, yet at one point Cassia mentioned that teenagers were allowed to have crushes and flirt before being Matched. That seems odd to me in a society that even schedules its citizens’ recreation hours for them.

I couldn’t help but find myself comparing Cassia with Lena from Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. Like Lena, Cassia initially toes the line because that’s what she’s always been taught to do. Also like Lena, Cassia slowly realizes that there’s much more to life than doing exactly as she’s told. For me, though, the similarities between the two characters end there. I never felt a connection with Cassia. When she discovered the truth about the microcard incident, she was understandably angry, but I didn’t feel outraged on her behalf. I actually felt worse for Ky because his story was already so pass-me-the-entire-box-of-Kleenex-sad. Throughout the book, I felt like I was only skimming the surface of Cassia’s emotions, that there wasn’t enough depth to her feelings to elicit my sympathy or make me worry what would happen if the Officials knew how close she was growing to Ky. I did worry about Ky, though.

I felt a little sorry for Cassia’s Match, Xander. I didn’t think that he ever had a fair chance to win Cassia’s heart because once Ky entered the picture (almost literally), Xander disappeared for pages at a time. The book’s focus shifted mainly to Cassia and Ky.

I thought that Matched worked well as a love story, but its take on dystopia came up a little short for me. With all of its rules, the Society seemed intimidating, but I never got the sense of foreboding that I experienced while reading other dystopian novels. Nevertheless, I’ll be reading the sequel, Crossed, to find out what happens to Ky and to see if Xander plays a bigger role.

All in All: This was worth a library borrow but not the type of book that I’d read over and over again. I like my dystopians on the action-packed side, and this one didn’t quite fit the bill.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blackbrooke Blog Tour: Character Interview & Giveaway

Welcome to our stop on the blog tour for Emma Silver's Blackbrooke, hosted by Book Me! Today we'll be chatting with Denzil, Blackbrooke resident and owner of Tales from the Crits, your one-stop shopping center for all things Crits-related. You can read our reviews of the book here. There's also an awesome giveaway, so read on!

By Emma Silver
Crooked Cat Publishing
Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: I live in Blackbrooke and you would have had to be living under a rock to never have heard of it before now. This town is different to most others…Humans aren’t the only residents…”

The residents of Blackbrooke share their town with the Creatures, or Crits as they are known. Grotesque, roaming the streets at night looking for food, their presence means humans have to live by the Rules, keeping them indoors and forbidding them of basic desires.

The most important Rule?

Don’t be a ‘walk out’!

Straight-A student, Liberty Connor, hates the Crits and the endless Rules she and her tight knit group of friends have to live by.

Planning her new life on the Outside with her boyfriend, Gabriel, Liberty whiles away her days waiting to turn 18, so they can leave and be free. That is, until the world she thinks she knows begins to unravel…

Her friends start to walk out. So she’s told. However, something’s not right. Things don’t add up.

Liberty faces a race against time to discover what’s going on with the Creatures of Blackbrooke.

Is it them she has to fear, or something much closer to home?

Blackbrooke is a Young Adult horror novel that has you on the edge of your seat.

Our Interview with Denzil

Welcome to Rally The Readers, Denzil! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us today. To start with, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Not a lot to tell. I’m a teenager trapped in an old, decaying body. Seriously, I caught myself letting out a sound when I bent over to pick something up yesterday. It’s depressing. Erm, what else? I own Tales from the Crits which is Blackbrooke’s one and only souvenir shop for the tourists. It’s a royal pain in the arse but it’s been in the family for years so I don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Bloody hell, I sound a bit grumpy, don’t I? I’m just a free spirit, an old soul that’s fallen between the cracks of Blackbrooke that no one remembers or notices. Suits me just fine.

If it’s not too personal of a question, can you tell us a little about your family? Have you ever wanted to walk out yourself?

Walking out is a mug’s game. Only the weak walk out and you’ll never, ever catch me doing it. I wouldn’t give those Crits the satisfaction, they already rob enough from us. I don’t have any family left. My parents walked out when I was in my teens and my grandmother died soon after so I was just left to it. I don’t know why my parents did it and I don’t really want to know.

We're really sorry about what happened to your family. Have you ever thought about just leaving Blackbrooke for the Outside?

Oh yeah definitely but . . . who’d look after the shop? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it drives me mad but I couldn’t just leave it. If I did get out of here though, I’d probably head to somewhere with a really laid back atmosphere. The Australian tourists are always a laugh so that would be a good place to start. I mean its a country that counts koala bears as one of their national animals and aren’t the little critters always high as a kite on eucalyptus? Gotta love that.

You seem to have quite a few connections on the Outside (very handy when you need, say, an axe or a machete in a hurry). Can you discuss your Outside contacts, or is that information confidential?

It’s confidential but you look like the type I can trust . . . . It works because I sometimes get advance orders from tourists before they get here, just in case they get all of the way here and I’ve ran out of precious ‘I heart Crits’ t-shirts or some other crap like that. If I can get online then I can strike up a bit of banter over email or I can call them. All of the emails are monitored for some reason so there’s a code I use in order to decipher whether they have some of the things I’m looking for. It’s easier over the phone. The bigger items get delivered at the border and border control just think its stock so don’t bat an eyelid. I’ve been making that trip everyday for the last twenty years so they’ve got no reason to suspect anything. It’s a well-oiled machine.

It certainly sounds like you have an effective system in place there. What do you think of Outsiders in general?

Ah, they’re alright. Some are really weird. Like Blackbrooke fanatics or something, but most are just curious and excited to be there. I do take advantage of them a bit. Promise them exclusive tours in exchange for various things but they love it. As long as I’m not hurting anyone and they leave with a smile on their face at the end of the day, then I don’t really care what I tell them. I once told one woman that I fought two Hunters and killed them with my bare hands. She was gorgeous and I couldn’t resist. If it wasn’t for Outsiders I wouldn’t have had any . . . ahem, action for the last twenty years so yeah, you could say I quite like them!

You're really too much, Denzil! We can only imagine the stories you could tell us. Here's a topic for you: Blackbrooke isn’t your average, ordinary town. What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?

It’s off the chart for weirdness. I don’t know, I did once see some Watchers ripping another Watcher to shreds in the middle of the street, outside the shop. That was disturbing. It was like they didn’t care it was one of their own. They pulled at it until it completely ripped in two. I shouldn’t be surprised, they’re disgusting, but it just left me feeling strange.

That must have been a horrible sight. We'd probably scream our heads off at the mere sight of a Crit, never mind witnessing them attacking each other like that. What is your least favorite Crit and why?

Hate the Watchers obviously but the Queens are the frightening ones. Only because no one really knows what they’re capable of or how they kill people. They’re apparently the worst of the lot.

Your employee, Liberty Connor, describes you as a hippie. Do you consider yourself one?

Does she now? What else has that little rat been saying? Yeah, I suppose I am. It’s not deliberate though, I just go with the flow. Ended up getting tattooed in an act of rebellion when I was in my late teens and early twenties. That’s another Outsider favour. I don’t think there’s anyone else in this town with a tattoo. I don’t do anything or dress in a certain way for anyone other than myself. It’s just the style I like. As for the dreadlocks, they started to happen naturally after years of not brushing or washing my hair. Sorry, that’s disgusting isn’t it? I don’t claim to be a catch though.

The origin of your dreadlocks is definitely, um, unique. Speaking of Liberty Bell, as you call her, what was your first impression of her the day that she walked into your shop?

Jumped up little shit. Sorry, am I allowed to swear? Well, she was. Should have seen the state of her, trying to be all grown up. I do believe she threatened to have me closed down. She was witty for a twelve year old though, gave as good as she got. I think she liked that I wasn’t automatically nice to her and disagreed with most of the things she said. So, like any other bad smell, I couldn’t get rid of her. Nah, she’s a good kid. Good friend actually and she works bloody hard. Don’t print that bit though, if she reads it she’ll get a big head.

Don't worry. We won't say a thing to Liberty. *Wink* How is business going at Tales from the Crits, by the way? Are there any funny customer stories you’d like to share?

Business is alright. The winter is never as good as the summer because there’s only one coach party allowed in a day because of the limited daylight. They have to get the hell out of here at least an hour before it goes dark for obvious reasons. Probably the funniest story was when I was about 23 and a group of American college kids came over. More money than sense, hence being able to afford a ticket in the first place. Anyway, they were a laugh and turns out they brought some goodies with them so I let them stay overnight even though its against the Rules. We ended up playing strip poker and were high off the strongest weed I’ve ever had in my life, but then one of the girls started to get seriously paranoid. She must have been hallucinating or something because she became convinced I was a Crit who was going to eat her. I ran after her, downstairs onto the shop floor. There she was in her knickers and bra and I had to prise her fingers off the front door before she could run out into the night. She was at a ninety-degree angle to the door as a few of us tried to pull her back. That was a close call, imagine if she’d got out? Nightmare. They managed to sneak onto another coach the day after to get out.

You do lead an interesting life, Denzil. Is there anything else that you’d like people to know about you?

Yes, I make the best cup of tea in all the land. Seriously, I dare you to challenge me. I’m the master of the brew. Lib isn’t so bad either but she learned from the best . . . .

We don't doubt that for a second. And now for the obligatory random questions:

Favorite band?

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Favorite item you sell in the shop?

It has to be the Crit snow globes that clearly say ‘Made in China’ on the bottom.

Coffee or tea?

Are you seriously asking me that?

Biggest regret in life?

Not fighting harder for something I really wanted. But that was a long time ago and I’m over it.

Best thing that’s ever happened to you?

Erm, I’m not sure I can say . . . okay, you know when you really like someone and they notice you for the first time and you get that look, or that first smile? That’s the best thing. Yeah, that’s probably been my favourite moment in life and I doubt I’ll get it again.

Thank you again for chatting with us today, Denzil! We really appreciate your time!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (8)

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and
Alison Can Read. It's a great way to meet other book bloggers!

This week's question is:
Summer Reading. What was your favorite book that you were REQUIRED to read when you were in school?

Ally: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. It was very interesting to a 7th grader. I liked all of the action in it.

Lee: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. I had to read the abridged version for 12th grade, and I loved its theme of redemption. I love the musical adaptation, too, and I can't wait for the movie version of it in December.

Review: Croak by Gina Damico

Croak (Croak #1)
By Gina Damico

To Sum It Up: Teenage delinquent Lex Bartleby never thought her loving, understanding parents would crack, but they've had enough of their daughter's troubling behavior. They plan to send Lex to live and work with her Uncle Mort on his farm in upstate New York. Lex is not happy; she doesn't want to leave her twin sister, Cordy, milk cows, shovel manure, or live with her estranged, eccentric uncle for the entire summer. But Lex has no choice in the matter, and she soon finds herself in the small town of Croak. It's nothing like she expected. Uncle Mort is stranger than she ever thought; he's a Grim Reaper. Mort collects souls and sends them to the afterlife, and he intends to bring Lex in on the family business. Lex and Uncle Mort aren't the only Reapers in town, either; everybody in Croak is a Grim Reaper. Lex soon becomes a star pupil; she and her partner Driggs kill and cull souls faster than any other junior team. When Lex and Driggs come across bodies with no apparent signs of cause of death, they start to suspect that a vigilante Reaper is going around killing people he or she deems fit to die. Lex, having had thoughts of her own personal vengeance, must decide what to do when she does come across the killer: stop the murderer or join him or her.

Review: I've never really read a book about Grim Reapers before, so I guess you can say that Croak was the first. When you think about it, Reapers seem like a capital idea, but no one is really writing about them. After reading Croak, I can't help but wonder why Grim Reapers haven't taken the world by storm.

To say that I highly enjoyed Croak is an understatement. I really, really, liked the book; it was just missing that special something that makes a five star book five stars. Damico is a genius. The idea was so fun and unique. She has the talent to really bring her characters and settings to life. Everyone in the book had a great sense of humor. I appreciate sarcasm and wit in my books; it just makes them more fun and entertaining to read.

I loved Lex; she was so mean and sarcastic, but she was also loyal and hard-working. I felt bad for her in the beginning; Lex had no idea why she was feeling so angry and destructive all the time. It turned out that lashing out and, well, being a delinquent are signs that you’re a Reaper, and once you start the “job,” the symptoms fade away. I also loved Lex and Driggs's relationship. Driggs was hilarious, hot, misunderstood, and strong. He was perfect! My favorite character overall though was Uncle Mort. He was beyond cool! Mort was so sketchy. You obviously know that he has some major history; you just don't know the specifics.

The whole town of Croak was pretty amazing. Everyone was laid back but serious, crudely sarcastic but loving. They were all quite endearing. The mystery element was great, too. I had my suspicions about the killer and about what might be going down, but I never saw the end coming. Talk about a cliffhanger! As soon as I finished I wanted, oh, so badly, to have the next book. To my frustration, it’s not out yet. :(

The only problem, if you can even call it that, that I had with Croak was the pacing. The whole book was quite captivating, but I felt that the plot didn't really kick into gear until I was about half way done with the book. Maybe that's why I don't feel comfortable giving this book five stars.

All in All: Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Croak is hilarious in its entirety, and the ending is killer. It was fun, entertaining, and left you wanting more. I can’t wait for the sequel, Scorch!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Blackbrooke by Emma Silver

By Emma Silver
Crooked Cat Publishing

* A copy was provided by the publisher for review.

To Sum It Up: Blackbrooke is not your average town. It is shared between two different species: the humans and the Crits. Humans have the day while the Crits reign over the night; any humans out after dark are free game for the hungry Crits. Everyone in town has to follow The Rules; those people who "walk out" at night face certain death. Seventeen-year-old Liberty Connor follows The Rules religiously. She plans to travel the world with her boyfriend, Gabriel, once they turn eighteen and are free to leave. Everything changes, however, when some of the people closest to Liberty begin walking out, and she suspects that something more sinister than the Crits themselves is going on. With the help of some devoted friends, Liberty attempts to uncover Blackbrooke’s dark secrets.

Lee's Review: Horror movies and books have never been my thing. I freely admit that I am a complete wimp; monsters, blood, and gore freak me out to no end. It was with a bit of trepidation, then, that I started reading Blackbrooke. The premise sounded intriguing, though, and I was in the mood to read something outside of my normal genres, so I figured, why not give it a try? This book completely took me by surprise; I never expected to find a novel about evil, human-hunting creatures so compulsively readable.

Blackbrooke is one of the most original stories that I’ve read in a while. It’s not every day that you come across a town surrounded by creatures that are on the prowl for their next human meal. Silver makes this world very believable, and that was a huge factor in my overall enjoyment of the novel. I get frustrated with books that ask me to stretch the suspension of my disbelief to extreme limits, but that was not the case with Blackbrooke. The town’s history is so fascinating and unique that it’s practically a character.

As for the human characters, the protagonist, Liberty, is a fairly standard mix of smarts, courage, and determination. While I admired her fiercely protective nature, especially towards her little brother, Oscar, and her friend, Cassius, I didn’t find her as compelling as some of the other characters, like Cassius. All his life, Cassius’s skin condition has made him stand out, often marking him as a target of ridicule. I loved how he transformed into an unlikely hero, looking out for Liberty the way that she tried to shield him when they were children. I always root for the underdog in books, and Cassius won my support easily with his kindness, loyalty, and bravery.

For me, the standout character in Blackbrooke was Denzil, the town’s resident outsider and owner of the cleverly named Tales from the Crits shop, which peddles Crits-themed merchandise to tourists. Denzil is hilariously sarcastic, which endeared him to me instantly. I’m serious—this guy is never at a loss for something witty to say. Colorful personality aside, Denzil also proves himself to be a dependable, trusted friend to his lone employee, Liberty. If you ever find yourself being pursued by Crits, Denzil is your go-to guy for 1) refuge and 2) weaponry to teach those things a lesson.

Although I thought that the pacing was a little uneven at times, overall Blackbrooke was a very entertaining read. Whenever the Crits reared their hideous heads, the ensuing action was gleefully thrilling. I never would have predicted looking forward to the scary parts, but I absolutely did because they were brilliantly written. Thank you, Emma Silver, for making my foray into horror so much fun.

All in All: If you’re experiencing paranormal romance burnout, I suggest reading Blackbrooke. It creatively blends mystery and horror, and the human teenagers don’t fall in love with the first supernatural being they see because the Crits would rather eat them. I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel, which I hope will include plenty of Denzil appearances.

Ally's Review: Blackbrooke is a heart-pumping, bloodcurdling horror story. I love being scared; I think it's the adrenaline rush. I find it hard to be truly scared by a book, though. There are no images or sounds to captivate your senses; all you have are the writing on the page and your imagination. But Silver does a fabulous job of making her readers scared and creating suspense. Is it sad, on my part, that I had nightmares about the Crits?!

The story was so original and refreshing. I loved the whole concept of the Crits. There are four types of Crits in the book: the Watchers, the Hunters, the Lurkers, and the Queens. All of them are pretty scary, but I find the Queens the most horrifying. The Queens are the sick ringleaders of the Crits. But the Crits weren't the only characters who had my attention.

Liberty was a take-charge heroine. She recognized something was wrong, and she put her all into trying to fix it. That being said, Liberty wasn't my favorite character; I sometimes felt that she made risky decisions that put her friends in danger. Cassius was a cool guy, but I didn't really connect with him, either. I related mostly to the secondary characters, Denzil and Noah. Denzil is incredible! He happens to be Liberty's boss and owner of Blackbrooke's very own souvenir shop, Tales from the Crits. Denzil is hilarious, and he is not afraid to take on the Crits or the town! Noah was just as great. Noah was pretty witty himself, and, to me, he ended up being the bravest character in the whole book.

My favorite things about Blackbrooke were all the action and gore! When things were happening, things were happening! I was all caught up in the excitement; I was screaming at the characters and even occasionally covering my eyes. The gore was weirdly fascinating to me. It made everything feel more real, and it showed that the characters were not invincible.

I did have a few minor issues with Blackbrooke. It took me a little while to really get into the book. Liberty's relationships also seemed unconvincing. Despite Libby going on and on about Gabriel, I did not buy it. I couldn't see Liberty and Cassius as a couple, either. I think the romance element needed a bit more work.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. Blackbrooke kept me on my toes and gave me a good scare. I'm dying to find out what happens next!

All in All: Blackbrooke is a thrilling, suspense-filled horror story that takes its readers on an entertaining ride.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays (1)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Ally's Teaser:
"That's always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they're pretty. It's like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste."
p. 37, Paper Towns by John Green
Lee's Teaser:
"But you must have known this the moment you set foot back on this island: If anyone finds out about what we're doing, we won't just have a riot. We'll have a revolution."
p. 247, Partials by Dan Wells

We're excited to participate in this meme for the first time! Be sure to leave the link to your TT posts so we can check them out!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #1)
By Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

To Sum It Up: Jacob's childhood was filled with magical stories told to him by his grandfather, whose own childhood inspired the tales. These magical stories center around a magical house filled with peculiar children hiding from grotesque monsters. Naturally, Jacob grows out of these stories, but when a terrible accident occurs that kills Jacob's grandfather, Jacob doesn't know what to believe. His grandfather's last words send Jacob on a trip to the island of his grandfather's childhood to get some well hidden answers.

Review: My expectations of this book included creepy children and a horror story that would keep me up all night. I was excited to read a scary book, so when I found my expectations squashed, I was surprisingly not disappointed. It goes to show that you really can't judge a book by its cover. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children turned out to be a thrilling adventure with charming characters and a unique twist.

This book was so fresh and original that it's hard not to fall in love with it. Not only does it have a super-interesting historical background, but it also features time loops, monsters, and kids with an extraordinary secret. The book was so well paced that there was never a time when I was bored. It's one of those books that starts off really good but keeps getting better as you continue reading. The creepy photographs also add to the overall greatness of the book. The photos give you something solid to connect the crazy plot with.

The characters are also easy to love. Each one has a distinct personality. It's easy to get annoyed with main characters, but I really liked Jacob. He is never annoying, and he is a true hero. Even though he doubted himself for quite some time, he never let his fears get in the way, and I really respect him for that.

I can honestly say that I cannot wait for the next book to come out. The ending was exciting, a little sad, and leaves the characters to embark on an even more dangerous and exciting adventure.

All in All: I really, really, really liked Miss Peregrine's. It's the best book I've read since Vampire Academy. I will recommend this to anyone who will listen (I made my grandma read it, and she liked it just as much as I did.). This is the kind of book that everyone loves. I can't wait to buy my own copy!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (9)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's an opportunity for everyone to share the books which we've added to our shelves.

Ally's been working on her summer reading project all week, so I'm the only one who got some books this week:

Immortal City by Scott Speer
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I finally broke down and bought Obsidian. I think it was a good decision. :)

What did you add to your shelves this week?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (7)

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and
Alison Can Read. It's a great way to meet other book bloggers!

This week's question is:
Christmas in July! Someone gives you a gift card for two books (whatever that costs). What two books will you buy?

We decided to share our virtual gift card and each pick a book:

Ally would buy: Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout because everyone seems to be reading it lately, and I feel like I should read it, too. Plus, I love the cover!

Lee would buy: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta because I love her books, and this is the only one that I don't own yet.

Review: Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

By Janet Lee Carey
Dial Books

To Sum It Up: Tess is a frequent visitor to Dragonswood, the territory sanctioned to the mythical creatures of Wilde Island. Wanting to escape her father's rage, Tess seeks refuge in the forested depths, finding comfort in the beauty of the woods and watching the dragons and fairies from afar. The only problem is that Dragonswood is forbidden; people found in the woods are labeled as demons or witches. This doesn't stop Tess, though. She has an undeniable connection to Dragonswood, and she can't help being drawn there. When a bloodthirsty witch hunter comes to Tess's village, word of Tess's illicit travels to Dragonswood begins to spread. Condemned, Tess is forced to go on the run with her two closest friends. The hunt is on, and only with the help of the mysterious Garth Huntsman, a warden of Dragonswood, do Tess and her friends escape. Even now, after all the trouble Dragonswood has caused her, Tess can't help but be lured deeper within it.

Review: Just like Tess, I, too, was lured to Dragonswood because of its charming beauty. I fell in love with the pretty, mystical cover at once. I hate to say it, but the cover and the title heavily influenced me to pick up the book, and looking back now, I wish I would have read the synopsis before I blindly snatched up the book. Dragonswood was a decent read; I guess I just had a hard time getting into it.

A few different things bothered me about this book, the first being the setup of the story. I was completely lost going into the book and was still confused by the time I finished it. I really wish that there would have been an explanation of the world in the first couple of chapters. From what I've gathered, Dragonswood was a mix of fantasy and history. The Holy Wars, Europe, and Prince John are mentioned more than once throughout the book. Then, on the other hand, you have Wilde Island just off the cost of Great Britain, home of dragons, fairies, and humans, held by the legendary royal Pendragons. It just felt really bizarre. The book felt like it was being pulled in two very different directions, and it just wasn't working for me. If the fantasy and history had been more neatly stitched together, this would have been an imaginative idea.

Another problem I had with Dragonswood was relating to the characters. I could not for the life of me connect with any of them. I associated more with the dragons, whom I adored, than with Tess or Garth. Tess, to me, was not a strong protagonist. She ratted out her friends as being witches just after a few minutes of torture. I know, you must be shaking your head and saying, “Ally, come on, she was tortured, can you really blame her?” And I say yes! Yes, I can blame her! She ruined her friends’ lives, forcing them to leave behind their families for a life on the run! And even when Tess did look like she was finally going to be strong and armor herself in my high expectations, she went ahead and made a silly mistake, making things ten times worse.

Garth Huntsman was no better. This mysterious “huntsman” was a major letdown in the story. Garth is supposed to be uber sketchy, but, obviously, Tess is bonkers for him and cannot see him doing any wrong. I, being a hopeless romantic myself, had no problems with this; my problem was with the mystery part. There was no mystery! I felt like I figured things out way too easily. Garth's mysterious side was the backbone of the story! It seemed as though little, secretive Garth was hiding in this little shallow puddle. All I had to do was reach in, pluck mysterious Garth out, shake him dry, and voilĂ , I figured the whole thing out!

Yet another thing that bugged me about Dragonswood was the storyline. There could have been a beautifully simple storyline, which would have been perfect, but instead there were whiplash turns and unnecessary drops. The first half of the book was all right. I got it without too much confusion, but by the second half of the book I was feeling extremely dizzy and lost. I think it was the fairies that did it in for me. I felt like they were shoved into the story with a lame excuse. The fairies annoyed me to no end. But, hey, that's just me and how I felt.

Well, I feel as though I've ranted and raved like a lunatic, and I don't want to come off that way. I certainly don't want to put anybody off of reading Dragonswood. It was an okay book in the end, and I really did enjoy some things in the book. I love, loved the dragons. I loved their story and history. Carey describes the dragons beautifully, masterly bringing them to life. They were really wise and brave; they were the glue that held this book together. The dragons could talk and often put their two cents in where they were much needed.

In the end, Dragonswood had so much potential! A few things did bug me throughout the book, while other aspects were highly entertaining and easily loveable. I guess you can say I have mixed feelings about this book.

All in All: Although Dragonswood wasn't really my cup of tea, those who have an appetite for dragons, fairies, or plain old heartbreaking romance should definitely check this book out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

The Shakespeare Stealer (The Shakespeare Stealer #1)
By Gary Blackwood
Dutton Children's Books

To Sum It Up: Meek orphan Widge has never received much notice from anyone, even when he finally leaves the orphanage to begin an apprenticeship. Under his master, Dr. Bright, Widge learns a form of shorthand that Dr. Bright has developed himself. One day, a mysterious stranger who has heard about Dr. Bright’s system shows up to buy Widge’s apprenticeship. Widge’s new master, Simon Bass, wants Widge to go to London to attend a performance of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and transcribe it using shorthand so that Bass’s own acting company will be able to perform the play. Accompanied by Bass’s menacing right-hand man, Falconer, Widge is about to embark on the adventure of his life in Elizabethan London.

Review: I was pleasantly surprised by The Shakespeare Stealer. While it’s probably more of a middle-grade read than a young adult one, I found the story to be very charming, as well as a nice introduction to Shakespeare and his times for younger readers.

As soon as I read that the main character’s name, Widge, was short for Pigwidgeon, I couldn’t help but think of Pigwidgeon the owl from Harry Potter. Widge is a young orphan who’s never really belonged anywhere. Even when he becomes an apprentice to Dr. Bright, a man with suspect morals who trains Widge in shorthand so that Widge can transcribe sermons from neighboring parishes that Dr. Bright can then pass off as his own, Widge is given little more than the necessities of food and shelter. It’s not until Widge sets out to transcribe a performance of Hamlet for his new master, Simon Bass, that he begins to learn what it’s like to be part of a family.

I became engrossed in Widge’s journey from lowly apprentice to aspiring actor with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. When he first arrives in London, his sole focus is on copying down the play and being released from the scrutiny of the intimidating Falconer. Widge loses his notebook, though, and while trying to retrieve it from the Globe Theatre, he gets caught by some of Shakespeare’s players. Widge concocts the cover story that he wants to be a player, and he’s welcomed into the fold by most of the actors. This brings some unexpected changes to Widge’s life. For the first time ever, he has friends and a sense of belonging. He also actually enjoys the work, even when his jobs are behind the scenes. Widge’s increasing comfort in his new surroundings makes it all the more difficult for him to carry out his original task; it means stealing from those who have taken him under their wing. As you watch Widge struggle with this dilemma, you realize how attached he’s grown to his new family. The Shakespeare Stealer is truly a coming-of-age story, and I couldn’t help but silently urge Widge to make the right decision as I read along.

Although I’m certainly not an expert on Elizabethan times, I found this portrayal of the era and the characters’ dialogue very believable. The book is quite humorous, with the characters frequently exchanging witty remarks. The Bard himself makes an appearance or two, but this is Widge’s story all the way, and I really enjoyed it.

All in All: I love historical fiction, and Hamlet is my favorite Shakespearean play, so this book was an ideal combination for me. I’ll definitely continue reading about Widge’s adventures.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat (The Curse Workers #1)
By Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Books

To Sum It Up: Cassel Sharpe doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of his family. Unlike them, he’s not a curse worker; he can’t influence emotions or luck simply by touching someone with his hand. Cassel’s life is anything but ordinary, though. He killed his best friend, Lila Zacharov, the daughter of a powerful crime boss, and can’t recall any of the details. Lately Cassel finds himself sleepwalking and dreaming of a white cat. As he tries to discover why these things are happening to him, Cassel must confront the possibility that his memories have been tampered with, giving him yet another mystery to solve.

Review: White Cat puts a novel spin on magic, or curse work, as it’s called in the book. Curse work is illegal, so those who perform it, including Cassel’s mother, brothers, and grandfather, are criminals. A lack of magical ability doesn’t mean that Cassel is the angel in the family, though; he’s got a little betting operation going on at his tony boarding school and is quite skilled at conning people in general. Watching Cassel wing his way out of a sticky situation can be pretty amusing. I really liked his narrative voice; it was my favorite aspect of the book.

Cassel also has a vulnerable side. At heart, he struggles with being the anomaly in his family. He’s always sought the approval of his older brothers, Philip and Barron, but he’s never really been a part of their little club. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Cassel, especially as the book went on.

I loved Cassel’s grandfather, Desi. He doesn’t mince words, so his comments are often hilarious. He’s the only family member who appears to genuinely care about Cassel, and Cassel really needs someone in his corner. Cassel’s friend, Sam, also seems to be one of the few people whom Cassel can trust. I liked Sam, too; I thought that he and Cassel made a pretty good team.

The world of this book confused me a little. For a while I couldn’t figure out if curse workers were common among the population or not. I also wasn’t sure if Cassel’s school was for non-magical students who knew nothing about the existence of magic. At first I thought that he was at Wallingford to try to fit in with the “regular” kids. There were a few references to characters at the school wearing gloves, though, so I assumed that curse work wasn’t a secret. I felt like I had to work a bit too hard to piece this world together, and it took away from my enjoyment of the story somewhat.

White Cat is notable for its fresh twist on magical abilities and its strong male protagonist. Although he’s not exactly your archetypal hero, Cassel possesses a certain charm that makes you root for him. Shady characters abound, making this a fun, entertaining read.

All in All: This is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in seeing magic crossed with the world of organized crime. I’ve already borrowed the second and third books from the library; they’re just waiting to be read.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (8)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's an opportunity for everyone to share the books which we've added to our shelves.

Ally's Books:

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Lee's Books:

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Partials by Dan Wells
Starters by Lissa Price
Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

What did you add to your shelves this week?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books

To Sum It Up: The year is 1941, and fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas’s most pressing concerns are writing back to her beloved cousin and applying to famed art programs. This all changes when the Soviet secret police storm into her home in Lithuania, evicting Lina and her family. The Soviets are deporting Lithuanians to Siberia, Lina’s family included, except for her father. He is separated from his family and is to be sent to a horrible Soviet prison. Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, Jonas, are left at the mercy of the Soviet soldiers. They are treated like animals: starved, overworked, and abused. Using her art, Lina strives to hold onto hope; she sends secret messages to her father in prison, uses her happy memories to keep herself sane, and does her best to keep her family and friends alive. Lina’s struggle for survival is not just for herself but for her family and friends as well.

Review: Sadness. Beautiful, mesmerizing sadness. Between Shades of Gray is one of the saddest books I have ever read. And when I say sad, I mean it in the good, depressing-but-captivating sort of way. The book, I felt, was very deep. In history class, you learn about the Soviets during the WWII era, and you learn about the monstrous Joseph Stalin, but I don’t think people really understand the extent of his atrocities. Between Shades of Gray sheds some much needed light on this subject.

I’m finding it very difficult to capture my feelings for this book. The book itself was really, really good. It’s one of those books where you can easily read the entire thing in a single day. The story is told from the perspective of a teenage girl named Lina. Lina and her family are so strong that you can’t help but admire them. Throughout the book, you are left with the question, “Why them?” Only certain Lithuanians were targeted, and the Vilkas family, for some unknown reason, was one of them. They seemed like a normal, happy, law-abiding family. They didn’t want any trouble, but they got it all the same. But then again, all the Lithuanians “deported” didn’t deserve the wrath they got from the Soviets. So for the entirety of the novel, readers are left with the simple question: “Why?”

When Lina, her mother, and younger brother are deported, they come across a small group of trusted friends. These people stick together for as long as they can and try to lighten each others’ suffering. This really touched me, and I relied on those friends as a constant in this emotional book. I was surprised to see a romantic aspect in the book. For me, it seemed to lighten the gloomy subject just a tad and gave me something to root for.

Before this review comes to an end, I feel like I should mention Nikolai Kretzsky. Kretzsky is a Soviet soldier in the book, and I can’t say that I like him, but I can’t say that I dislike him either. He’s truly one of those gray characters. Out of all the characters in the book, Kretzsky seemed to stick with me the most. I won’t tell you why; you’ll just have to go and read the book.

Overall, I absolutely enjoyed this book. I feel that I’m not conveying the greatness of Between Shades of Gray in my words. I urge everyone to pick up this book and read it. It’s understandable if you don’t like tearjerkers. I know I don’t, but this book is different. It just feels so real that I think that more people should know the story of Lina and her friends and family.

All in All: I don’t really know what to say. Between Shades of Gray leaves me at a loss for words. And that, my friends, is no easy task. This book was just that good. I can wholeheartedly say that I loved it!