Review: Fade by Lisa McMann

Review: Fade by Lisa McMannFade by Lisa McMann
Series: Dream Catcher #2
Published by Simon Pulse
Pages: 248
Genres: Contemporary YA, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Wake, Gone

SOME NIGHTMARES NEVER END.

For Janie and Cabel, real life is getting tougher than the dreams. They're just trying to carve out a little (secret) time together, but no such luck.

Disturbing things are happening at Fieldridge High, yet nobody's talking. When Janie taps into a classmate's violent nightmares, the case finally breaks open -- but nothing goes as planned. Not even close. Janie's in way over her head, and Cabe's shocking behavior has grave consequences for them both.

Worse yet, Janie learns the truth about herself and her ability -- and it's bleak. Seriously, brutally bleak. Not only is her fate as a dream catcher sealed, but what's to come is way darker than she'd feared....

Thoughts: To start with, I was slightly skeptical about the premise of this book. Janie and the police department are working off only the vaguest of hints… I just couldn’t imagine real-world police officers investigating so much effort following them up.

Of course, they turn out to be true, but hey – that’s just because it’s a book.

Anyhow, once I got over that aspect, Fade was quite enjoyable. Although it didn’t have quite the same magic as Wake, Lisa McMann’s writing is undeniably addictive. I read this whole book on-and-off during a single day. McMann is a concise, poetic and – well – rather brilliant writer.

McMann’s books may have a fantasy element to them, but they are undeniably “realistic fiction”. They are gritty and portray a far-too-real version of life. Relationships are hard. People are horrid. Men will rape you. Mothers will hate you. You aren’t safe. You’ll never be safe. Welcome to the real world.

Surprisingly, I rather enjoyed that aspect of Fade. I feel like a lot of YA tries to make the world a slightly shinier version of itself – which is certainly enjoyable for a bit of escapism – but every once and a while we need something to remind us of how terrible everything is. I mean, this isn’t quite Ellen Hopkins‘ level of misery, but it is a cousin of some sort. But while I like gritty realism, I also think a bit of mild optimism is in order. Wake had that; Fade does not. I missed that… I think Gone is going to be the darkest of the three books.

I was also not enraptured with the main characters (Janie and Cabe) in this installment of the Wake series. While I appreciated their role in the story and pitied the pain they were suffering, I didn’t actually care about them. Probably because they were so wrapped up in their problems… The only character I truly adored was Captain Fran Komisky. We saw very little of her in Wake, so Fade was her chance to shine. She’s a lovely mother figure and also a total badass. *draws hearts* Can’t wait to read more from her.

It’s also probably worth noting that Fade is starting to show its age: a few of the tech references – TiVo and tiny phones that *gasp* go online – stuck out. Unbelievable, but a lot has changed in the 4+ years since this was published.

Bottom line? A solid second novel by a wonderful author. If you are looking for a lyrical YA series to get sucked into, pick up these books!

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published by Penguin Random House
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Thoughts: Everything there is to say about John Green has already been said. He’s one of those authors that (almost) everyone adores. He makes writing and reading YA fiction something an adult can be proud of, while simultaneously appealing to every teenager ever. It’s kind of ridiculous.

So, yeah, The Fault in Our Stars was amazing. Brilliant. Gorgeous. And, well, every other adjective along those lines. But if I hadn’t been sent it for review, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. Because, honestly, it’s a teenage cancer book. As if life weren’t miserable enough already.

I thought I’d list a few reasons for you to read this book in spite of the scary, depressing cancer. Reasons I would have liked to have known, for those of you who haven’t wanted to pick it up:

  • It is a book about a book. This is one of those tropes usually seen in lit-fic, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it in The Fault in Our Stars. I love a good book about characters seeking out an author or obsessing about a sequel/ending that doesn’t exist. The Fault in Our Stars was rather like Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind… only, er, good. 
  • It’s funny. It probably shouldn’t be funny, but it is. The characters are snarky, witty and quick with their comebacks… I loved how their minds worked and highlighted every other line to add to my own repertoire of comments.
  • It is THE cancer book. It’s the only one you ever need to read. Once you’ve read it, the obligation to read anything similar is gone. And despite the cancerous misery, it is also rather life affirming. So… it’s probably as good as cancer books get.
  • You’ll finally understand all the friggin’ references. Alas, not reading this book has become like not reading The Hunger Games. Okay? Okay.

Bottom line? Yes, this book is emotionally manipulative. Yes, it will make you laugh. Yes, it will make you cry. So… just read it already so we can all stop talking about how much we loved it.

Review: World After by Susan Ee

Review: World After by Susan EeWorld After by Susan Ee
Series: Penryn & the End of Days #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Angelfall

SPOILER WARNING: I find this summary super-spoilery and would recommend skipping it!

When a group of people capture Penryn's sister Paige, thinking she's a monster, the situation ends in a massacre. Paige disappears. Humans are terrified. Mom is heartbroken.

Penryn drives through the streets of San Francisco looking for Paige. Why are the streets so empty? Where is everybody? Her search leads her into the heart of the angels' secret plans where she catches a glimpse of their motivations, and learns the horrifying extent to which the angels are willing to go.

Meanwhile, Raffe hunts for his wings. Without them, he can't rejoin the angels, can't take his rightful place as one of their leaders. When faced with recapturing his wings or helping Penryn survive, which will he choose?

Thoughts: I devoured World After in a single day. Susan Ee has a style that lends itself to fast reading; her writing is engaging and set with quick chapters that make you feel like speeding ahead.

World After had a lot to live up to. Angelfall was such a knock-out success, I am sure there were worries that Ms. Ee may have been a one-hit-wonder. I am happy to say she is not. Although there is a two-year gap between the books, World After felt as though it was written just seconds after Angelfall. The style, characterisations, everything was exactly as she had last left it. That’s something I feel like most authors fail to achieve: even when you love a sequel, it won’t feel like the same book you read before.

So, in a way, I feel rather weird reviewing World After after reviewing Angelfall… because my comments are the same. World After is a fantastic continuation to an already brilliant series. Ms. Ee doesn’t mess around with my favourite characters and she doesn’t go around randomly adding in a romantic triangle. World After answered many of my “And now what?!” questions without introducing any “How could she do that?!” feelings. Thank friggin’ GOD.

That said, there were a few new additions to this book that I adored. For one, Raffe’s sword played a major role. In fact, it was rather a starring role! When I met Ms. Ee at an event hosted by her UK publishers, I told her that I’d be happy to read an entire spin-off narrated by this sword… and I really do still mean that. I probably sound crazy if you haven’t read the book, but just trust me. This sword is amazing.

I also appreciated how World After gave us a brand-new insight into Raffe’s character. Ms. Ee takes you into his head without resorting to any cliché POV switches (something I find a total cop-out). Raffe lovers are going to really, really happy with this book!

Bottom line? A fantastic sequel to a brilliant novel. There’s a reason Susan Ee is so popular!

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerThese Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound #1
Published by Hyperion
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: This Shattered World

It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

Thoughts: I adored this book. I savoured every page, every word, every scene. It has almost single-handedly changed my view of Science Fiction YA (just a week after I proclaimed my distrust of the genre – though I am not quite a convert yet).

These Broken Stars was not what I expected. In the spirit of the best science fiction, the novel incorporates socially-resonate themes elements into a classic tale. It is a story about social classes, corporate cover-ups and exploitation – but all in the context of a star-crossed, enemies-to-lovers romance. In short: it is my definition of a good sci-fi book.

While reading this book, I posted on goodreads that I had found my YA version of Grimspace (Ann Aguirre). I stick to that assessment. While the plots are nothing alike, both books have a certain je ne sais qoui to them that makes me feel like they are in similar verses or perhaps have the same author (Spooner and Kaufman could be Aguirre’s long-lost cousins? Well… it’s a theory). Either way, I really can think of no higher compliment than this comparison. It’s just as fierce, but with more party dresses.

On to a few specifics: These Broken Stars is a duo-narrative book, so the romance vibe is pretty apparent from the beginning. But I wouldn’t say the relationship is the sole focus of this book. The characters are fighting to survive, fighting to stay sane… it’s not until the end that they are fighting for each other. Not only did this focus make the  relationship more realistic, it gave the authors a lot more page-time to focus on the plot… something I really appreciated.

Besides the realistic romance, I loved the culture in These Broken Stars. It felt almost like the monarchical, Victorian age – where fancy dress and poetry made headline news. But instead of a monarchy, this universe is run by corporations and militaries. I loved how both characters never really challenged this establishment, but both actively hated it. They don’t start a Katniss-style revolution (and hey, their lives really aren’t as bad), but they do stir the pot. I am hoping for a bit more “fight the system” spirit in the next book.

These Broken Stars is the first book in a trilogy, but the next books do not centre around these same characters. In a similar vein to Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, each book is set in the same universe but focusses on different characters. I think I kind of love this trend for series, as I think it gives the author a wee bit more focus. Always a good thing!

Bottom line? These Broken Stars is a unique novel in the YA section. Romantic, political and with a side of high-tech science fiction goodness. I can’t recommend it enough.

Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarryCrash Into You by Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #3
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 474
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Dare You To

From acclaimed author Katie McGarry comes an explosive new tale of a good girl with a reckless streak, a street-smart guy with nothing to lose, and a romance forged in the fast lane

The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life-that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers...and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind.

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look.

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.

Thoughts: Despite my adoration of Dare You To (review), I was once again skeptical about Crash Into You. I hadn’t been much of a fan of Isaiah’s based off of his (what seemed to me) possessive, bordering-on-stalker behaviour in Dare You To. I just really couldn’t imagine liking any story he had to tell.

Of course, as seems to be the case with Katie McGarry’s books, I was to be proved wrong.

Crash Into You tipped this series from 4.5 star arena into the 5 star Hall of Fame. I don’t give out too many 5 stars (I gave out exactly zero last year), as a book not only needs to be brilliant while I am reading it, it also needs to be a book I think about once I’ve put it down. Looking back on my other 5 star books, that’s what really sets them apart: emotion. Crash Into You had me dreaming about its characters; it had me savoring every word for fear the book might end; it had me wanting to shout and swear through the pages. It isn’t just intellectually good; it’s emotionally satisfying as well.

On to the specifics: as it turns out, Isaiah isn’t the controlling jerkface I thought he was. OK, so maybe he’s a wee bit controlling… but only in that “I am trying not to get you killed” sort of way. Fortunately, Rachel was there to tell him when enough was enough. While she’s not the in-your-face badass that Beth was, she has a quiet strength to her and she hates having people push her around. In short: she’s exactly what that boy needs.

But while she is strong in a way, Rachel is suffocating. Under the thumb of a stifling family and victim of a crippling panic disorder, she can’t be herself. Isaiah provides support that allows Rachel to flourish – in a healthy, not-co-dependent, “this is exactly what a relationship is supposed to be” sort of way.

Crash into You also featured some fantastic background characters. Namely: drug-dealer/best-BFF-ever Abby, Rachel’s twin brother Ethan, and I-have-a-need-for-speed Logan. I’d read any of their books in a heartbeat (hence my disappointment upon finding out that the next in the series will be about Rachel’s asshole brother West… though I am sure I’ll learn to love him by the end).

I also have to raise my hat to this book’s plot. While novels that require the characters to deal with “inner demons” are great reads (Dare You To was one of them), I love it when there’s a real Big Bad in play. Perhaps that’s my genre fiction side showing, but I think it makes for a better novel. Crash Into You’s Big Bad was deliciously menacing; his threats added a lovely extra dimension of tension to the book.

In my Dare You To review, I went on for quite a while about it being an “issue” book. Let me just confirm: Crash Into You is just as much of an “issue” book as its predecessor. It addresses child abandonment, panic disorders, the effect of sibling death on a family, the psychosis of rich people, etc. etc. Just as in Dare You To, this book is a flawless combination of romance and issues. Only this time, the characterization is even stronger.

Bottom line? I am in love with this series. Completely and utterly in love. This book just goes to show that reading outside of your comfort zone can be a very, very good thing.

Review: Rush by Eve Silver

Review: Rush by Eve SilverRush by Eve Silver
Series: The Game #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on June 11th 2013
Pages: 361
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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So what’s the game now? This, or the life I used to know?

When Miki Jones is pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game—her carefully controlled life spirals into chaos. In the game, she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader Jackson Tate, who says the game isn’t really a game, that what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival, and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn’t. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.

Thoughts: Rush is a tough book to review. It had potential and I certainly want to read the next book in the series – unlike, say, Breathe by Sarah Crossan or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which were mediocre reads I will never revisit. However, Rush also had some serious problems.

Let’s start off with the good.  For starters, it was the first Sci-Fi YA novel I have EVER finished. I just don’t think YA Sci-Fi has been all that good… and, at its very worst, Rush was readable science fiction.

Its premise reminded me of the Animorphs books: teenagers fighting off aliens in a secret war to save the planet. The modern twist to Rush was the incorporation of a gaming universe – one that existed but certainly wasn’t prevalent when the Animorphs books came out. I did rather like this concept. It dehumanised their fight, making it entertainment of a sort.

So, I liked the concept. The execution, on the other hand, was far from perfect.

For an action novel, Rush featured an awful lot of chatter. The main character, Miki, was constantly asking questions… which I applaud as a human being but loathe as a reader. It was such an obvious narrative tool and it felt extremely forced. As part of this, Silver made the other characters (no, actually, only Love Interest #1, Jackson) give purposefully cagey responses. There was no reason for Jackson to avoid Miki’s questions (he sure as hell didn’t towards the end of the book) other than to keep the “suspense” up. I wanted to scream through the pages, “Don’t ask him now! He won’t answer your simple question until the penultimate chapter!”

Rush’s “romantic” element was also rather tiresome. For starters, a romantic triangle is established right from the first chapter. Although Love Interest #2 doesn’t get much screen time in this instalment, I have no doubt that he’ll be in play in the next book. The pairing we do get page after page of details on was… rather blah. There was no chemistry, just a case of insta-love. God, kill me now. If I have to read about one more girl falling for a mysterious guy in sunglasses, I may just gauge my eyes out.

*sighs*

If you can’t tell: Rush was a frustrating read. It was as if Eve Silver felt “forced” to include a central romantic pairing, when she might have usually let them play out their relationship over a few books. She also could have easily cut Rush in half if she’d only let the key characters divulge more information earlier on. Very, very frustrating.

I am interested, however, in seeing how this universe evolves. As I mentioned, the concept is an interesting one that hits all of my Animorphs-nostalgia buttons and the writing is certainly readable. I will probably be picking up Push when it comes out next year.

Bottom line? Rush is the best YA Science Fiction I’ve read (though that isn’t saying all that much).

Note on the rating: While reading Rush, it felt like a 3.5 star-verging-on-4-star book. But the last few chapters dragged it down to 3 stars. Not bad, but not overwhelmingly great.

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