Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

Review: Ink by Amanda SunInk by Amanda Sun
Series: Paper Gods #1
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on July 5th 2013
Pages: 384
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Katie Greene is lost in the wake of her mum's death. Sent to Japan, she meets gorgeous but aloof artist Tomohiro, whose tough attitude intrigues and scares her. Then things get really strange. When they're near each other, Tomohiro's drawings start to come to life…

Soon the wrong people begin to ask questions, and Katie and Tomohiro must risk everything to protect the truth.

Thoughts: Ink delves into a culture I didn’t even know I wanted to know about. I am not particularly knowledgeable about Japan*, but after reading Ink I felt like I had taken a mini-course in Japanese culture. Somewhat to my surprise, I was rather intrigued!

Ink’s protagonist, Katie, provides the perfect outsider POV on Japan’s culture and mythology. She is the perfect guide into a world filled with kendo, bento boxes and cherry blossoms. Oh, and of course, she introduces us to some pretty brilliant Japanese mythology: the Kami. These “Paper Gods” can control ink, making it into creatures and objects that are completely under their command. It’s pretty awesome – and pretty original.

So, I certainly loved the Japanese setting and mythology of Ink. Katie and her love interest Tomo, however, I could go either way on. I found Katie rather confusing to be honest. At times she seemed really self-conscious… but her actions contradicted that to the point of being reckless. I mean, I love a girl who refuses to sit back and let “her man” protect her… but at the same time, I felt like she wasn’t always doing it for the right reasons. It irked me a bit.

And as for Tomo, I’ve got nothing too positive or negative to say about the guy… he didn’t make a big impression despite him supposedly being a bit of a badass. Also, his relationship with Katie kinda reminded me of that of Kaylee and Nash in the first Soul Screamers book by Rachel Vincent. It’s puppy love and seems rather idiotic from the outside: I only hope they both grow from it and then proceed to grow out of it.

With that said, I thought Amanda’s side-characters rather awesome. I was drawn to Jun (aka Mr. So-going-to-enter-this-love-triangle), Yuki (the obligatory BFF we need to hide things from) and Aunt Diane (whose backstory I would lurve). I’m looking forward to them all getting a heck of a lot of “air time” in the next book!

Bottom line: Ink is a genuinely original YA novel that still feels familiar. If you love your paranormal teen mysteries but you’re sick of their middle-America settings, pick it up.

* Except for their hideous whaling policies and their annual Taiji dolphin slaughter… that I unfortunately know far too much about. *returns to happy thoughts*

Review: With All My Soul by Rachel Vincent

Review: With All My Soul by Rachel VincentWith All My Soul by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #7
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 377
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save, My Soul to Keep, My Soul to Steal, If I Die, Before I Wake

After spending the last year undead, Kaylee Cavanaugh has had enough of the paranormal creatures who have plagued her ever since she came into her banshee powers. Now she's ready to take her school back from the evil hellions, once and forever.

To protect her friends, Kaylee will need to find a way to turn the living incarnations of Avarice, Envy and Vanity against one another.

Yet when one more person close to her is taken, Kaylee realises she can't save everyone she loves without making some powerful sacrifices...

And so ends the Soul Screamers series. A series that quite genuinely surprised the hell out of me, delivering character development and plot turns that were utterly realistic and yet so rarely seen in the YA genre. Thank you, Rachel Vincent, for giving me a series I didn’t even know I wanted until I had it.

Let me just confirm that With All My Soul wrapped up the Soul Screamers series rather perfectly. Kaylee has spent the past six books two steps behind her enemies, but when things go from terrible to so-much-worse, she knows just reacting to attacks is not going to work. But with hellion demons being pretty much impossible to beat, and with no power or leverage to think of, what’s a girl to do? Vincent set up the perfect storm, and with it delivered the perfect solution. Every bit of Kaylee’s growth as a character culminated into her choices in this book. Book 1 Kaylee, Book 4 Kaylee and even Book 6 Kaylee would not have preserved… I love it when an author actually knows where they want a character to go – and then takes them there flawlessly. So, kudos, Rachel.

So while I loved that the series was tied up with a bow, I didn’t get the same emotional response to With All My Soul that I did from the other Soul Screamer books. Perhaps it was just me, but it felt like a lot of the “Big. Emotional. Scenes.” were ones we’d seen time and time again. Kaylee feels guilty and angsts! Nash lashes out at people who love him with unnecessarily cruel remarks! Tod and Kaylee profess their (literally) undying love! Adults randomly disappear and cause more angst! Sabine is Sabine! FEELS are meant to be HAD!

But not for me. I mean, intellectually, I understood that all of this was “Very. Important.” but it felt like a rehash of the last book, at least in terms of character interaction. Sure, the plot itself was solid, but the only real emotional development came from Kaylee – and even that was more “Oh look, Kaylee is finally stopping to think before blaming herself”. Perhaps that sounds unnecessarily harsh, but even when I enjoyed Kaylee, I could still admit her self-hatred was damn annoying.

Bottom line? This was an excellent wrap-up of a brilliant series. That said, it didn’t pack the emotional punch that I so loved in the other Soul Screamers books.

Want a copy? Click here to enter my giveaway of the book (open worldwide).

Review: The Rising by Kelley Armstrong

Review: The Rising by Kelley ArmstrongThe Rising by Kelley Armstrong
Series: Darkness Rising #3
Published by ATOM
Pages: 406
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: The Gathering

Things are getting desperate for Maya and her friends. Hunted by the powerful St. Clouds and now a rival Cabal as well, they're quickly running out of places to hide. And with the whole world thinking they died in a helicopter crash, it's not like they can just go to the authorities for help.

All they have is the name and number of someone who might be able to give them a few answers. Answers to why they're so valuable, and why their supernatural powers are getting more and more out of control.

But Maya is unprepared for the truths that await her. And now, like it or not, she'll have to face down some demons from her past if she ever hopes to move on with her life. Because Maya can't keep running forever.

Thoughts: I’d been looking forward to The Rising for 4 years; I kid you not. Back in 2009, when I met Kelley at one of her rare UK signings, she said she’d be bringing together the characters from the Darkest Powers series with those from her new trilogy. As the “Biggest. Fan. EVA.” of Darkest Powers, this was pretty much the best news I could have heard.

So, not meeting Chloe, Derek and the rest of the gang until the last 100 pages? That was a complete let down. I wanted to see how Maya and the gang interacted, but what we saw was minimal (I think there were about 30 pages of real dialogue) else only referenced to (“Chloe and I talked about X, and decided Y”). Those few interactions were brilliant, but there was nowhere near enough. Fail.

As for the rest of the book? Well, it felt a bit unfocussed. Unlike The Gathering – which introduced the characters and revealed that “All Is Not Well.” – and The Calling – which was the action-packed, we’re-on-the-run book – this final book had no real focus. I guess I could say The Rising was the “Let’s all be reasonable adults and be boring” book… so yeah, not much fun. This all culminated into a series ending which I found rather unsatisfying. It was logically the best way to wrap up the books, but at the same time it managed to undermine almost everything that the kids had fought for. So, logical? Yes. Satisfying? Nope.

Same went for the love triangle in this novel. First off, I felt like the triangle aspect pretty much came out of nowhere. Second, unlike the Derek/Chloe/Simon resolution, I had no die-hard favourites in the race. I would have been happy if she’d pulled a Lilith St.Crow and left us without a resolution.

On the plus side: it’s still Kelley Armstrong. The Rising is tightly written, and fits a mammoth amount of character development and plot into its 400 pages. Not to mention it has Chloe, Derek, Simon and Tori in it – which alone is enough to give the book a read!

Bottom line: Even when Kelley Armstrong is disappointing, she’s still rather brilliant. I finished The Rising in a day and was – on the whole – happy with how she decided to end her YA series.

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta SepetysOut of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books, Puffin
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

Thoughts: I really thought I would love Out of the Easy. I thought it would be an eerie, atmospheric novel, filled with intrigue and southern charm. Let me tell you now: it was none of those things.

Everyone raved about Between Shades of Gray, Ruta’s first book, but it never appealed to me. Out of the Easy sounded like it would have everything I’d want in it – and that was one of its problems. All of the content for a great book was there – New Orleans, a girl fighting the system, murder and intrigue, even a used bookstore – but there was no life in any of them.

Let’s deal with the main source of that lack-of-life: our leading lady, Josie. Ignoring all the upstairs-downstairs crap that was supposed to make this book “insightful”, Out of the Easy is based on two basic premises:

  1. Josie is brilliant. She’s a genius who deserves All. Good. Things.
  2. Life is so hard for poor Josie. Woe is Josie.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? If only.

Let’s start with that first point. For someone who is supposed to be so smart, she makes many, many stupid decisions. She trusts the wrong people, lies to the wrong people, and rolls over passively when a simple phone call could get her out of a bad situation.

Namely, it’s Josie’s passivity when dealing with her mother that was one of my biggest problems. This is a woman who – at every available opportunity – treats her horrendously. She beats Josie, she lies to Josie, she steals from Josie, she treats Josie like she is beneath her contempt. And it’s not as if Josie even excuses those things… she just doesn’t do anything about it. It’s as if the plot required Josie to do things “because that’s her mother”, and no thought was given to thinking about how Josie should react to her mother’s actions. Not to mention that, though she hates the stigma of being a prostitute’s daughter, she doesn’t seem to connect that stigma with her mother. I don’t think that’s how a

Maybe she has book smarts, because she sure wasn’t gifted any emotional intelligence.

Then there’s the “Woe is Josie” premise. Huh?? So many people in this book treat Josie like an absolute star, like she is the best thing since sliced bread and could well be the second coming. Which is great and everything, but it makes the “Woe is Josie” core of the story virtually impossible to buy into. Yes, her life isn’t what she wants, but whose isn’t? In all honesty, the life of a madam in New Orleans actually didn’t look to bad from where I was, so why was it so terrible for Josie? Other than her mother, Out of the Easy‘s prostitutes and chauffeurs all seemed rather content with their lot in life. Why wasn’t Josie? I have no idea.

Actually, “talking” it out now, I can see what really irked me about this book: Out of the Easy is a book about getting out of New Orleans, but it should have been a book about learning to love the “New Orleans” you’re dealt.

As if that weren’t enough, all the intrigue promised by the summary was not at all delivered. The mystery took a back seat to Josie’s angst and its resolution was met with a shrug. And as for New Orleans? The book could have been set in Harlem for all the effect the city had. Not cool. Not cool.

Bottom line? If you aren’t a reader who spends far too much time nitpicking characters, you’ll probably enjoy Out of the Easy a hell of a lot more than I did.

Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Review: Sweetly by Jackson PearceSweetly by Jackson Pearce
Series: Fairytale Retellings #2
Published by Hodder Children's Books, Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 310
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.

Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.

Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.

Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.

Thoughts: About a billion years ago (read: 2010), Jenny from Wondrous Reads told me I absolutely had to read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. “No way,” I cried. “Wolves suffer from enough stigma already – I’m not supporting an author that villainizes them, even if they are the fairy-tale versions.” I was about to start my Masters dissertation on the non-scientific, fallacious beliefs society has of wolves – and how that has translated into our fairy-tales. “Wolves as bad guys? That’s so 1812.”

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to understand how skeptical I was about starting Sweetly. As companion-novel-of-sorts to Sisters Red, I went into it with my finger already hovering over the eject button. One sign of iffy wolf-ness and I was off.

There was none… OK, yes, the word “wolf” was used in connection with a few unsavoury characters but it was just slang (albeit, slang I would rather done without). So, in spite of myself, I really, really enjoyed Sweetly. In fact, I thought it was rather brilliant.

Sweetly is a play on the Hansel & Gretel tale – while the inspiration is clear, the plot is not. While there is a lot of “action” in this novel, Sweetly really felt more like a mystery. Instead of there being a clear good-guy/bad-guy plot, most of Sweetly is spent uncovering precisely who knows what, who is guilty of what and wondering just how much Pearce would stick to the original tale. It kept me on tenterhooks, to be perfectly honest.

Along with the fabulous mystery-vibe was the lovely, brilliant, fantastic protagonist, Gretchen. (I quite liked her, in case you couldn’t tell.) Having lost her sister years ago under circumstances so unreal even she doesn’t believe them, Gretchen is an appropriately scarred individual. But while she is full of fear, she doesn’t let that stop her. I absolutely loved how as soon as she got the chance to find out the truth behind what happened to her sister (and other girls) she grabbed it head on. She didn’t shy away or give up, and that’s something I think every YA heroine should have.

Bottom line? This is an utterly unique novel that pulls no punches. It’s got mystery, betrayal, romance, candy and good ol’ fashion shoot outs. Read it!

Review: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

Review: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally CarterPerfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter
Series: Heist Society #3
Published by Hachette Children's Books, Hyperion
Pages: 352
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals

Katarina Bishop and W.W. Hale the fifth were born to lead completely different lives: Kat comes from a long, proud line of loveable criminal masterminds, while Hale is the scion of one of the most seemingly perfect dynasties in the world. If their families have one thing in common, it's that they both know how to stay under the radar while getting-or stealing-whatever they want. No matter the risk, the Bishops can always be counted on, but in Hale's family, all bets are off when money is on the line. When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother's billion dollar corporation, he quickly learns that there's no place for Kat and their old heists in his new role. But Kat won't let him go that easily, especially after she gets tipped off that his grandmother's will might have been altered in an elaborate con to steal the company's fortune. So instead of being the heir-this time, Hale might be the mark. Forced to keep a level head as she and her crew fight for one of their own, Kat comes up with an ambitious and far-reaching plan that only the Bishop family would dare attempt. To pull it off, Kat is prepared to do the impossible, but first, she has to decide if she's willing to save her boyfriend's company if it means losing the boy.

Thoughts: Perfect Scoundrels is very nearly perfect – which is still ruddy brilliant.

One of my main issues with the Heist Society series (up till now) had been that there was not enough character development on the Hale side. To be honest, I still hadn’t quite forgiven him for getting Kat kicked out of boarding school in Chapter 1 of Heist Society (I hold a long grudge). But in Perfect Scoundrels we get Hale back story, front story and side story – it’s Hale-a-palooza. And finally I can say that not only do I forgive Hale for the aforementioned Chapter 1 incident, I also rather like him!

Now, along with the Hale-a-palooza, Perfect Scoundrels is still very much a Kat story. She doesn’t have Hale to rely on and every single decision she makes affects him somehow: not easy to choose what is right when it hurts someone you care about.

As for the cons, the heists and whatnot, some of my favourites yet were pulled in Perfect Scoundrels. Heirs returned from the dead, documents were hidden in secret drawers and honest-to-God death-defying stunts were pulled. There was one (which I don’t want to spoil you for) that was slightly obvious, but the rest were just as brilliant as I’ve come to expect from Ally. A-mazing.

On one last character note, I was surprised by how happy I was to see Marcus developed in Perfect Scoundrels. As Hale’s man-servant/butler/back-up, he’s been part of the team since the first book and yet we hardly ever heard a peep out of him. I didn’t know I wanted to know more until Ally Carter suddenly delivered it. Now? I would devour a novella from his POV (in case anyone is listening!).

Bottom line? I’ve loved every one of the Heist Society books – but if you put thought Uncommon Criminals wasn’t quite what you were hoping for, then Perfect Scoundrels will be your come-back book. Pick it up!  you’ll be wanting to pick it back up now. Ever

Note to those of you who think this is the last book in a trilogy: It’s not. Don’t believe me? Ally confirmed it when I interviewed her. Can anyone else say YAY?

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