Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Review: All Fall Down by Ally CarterAll Fall Down by Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row #1
Published by Orchard Books, Scholastic on 2015-01-20
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things: 1. She is not crazy. 2. Her mother was murdered. 3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her -- so there's no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands. Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts.

But they can't control Grace -- no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt.

Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

Thoughts: Remember that Pringles ad back in the 90s? “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!” Well – that’s how I feel about Ally Carter’s books. They are all such entertaining, clever novels – once I open one, I want to devour it all in a single go!

All Fall Down is the first completely new book Ally Carter has released in a few years. With no Kat or Cammie, there was a bit of nervousness  from fans about the book. They needn’t have worried. While very different, the Embassy Row series will feel at home on the shelf next to the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society novels. All the books have the same teenage Ocean’s Eleven meets James Bond feel to them (aka my perfect mix).

But while similar in feel, All Fall Down is a darker book. For starters, our main character – Grace – is extremely screwed up. She’s living on the edge of sanity, and you can never be certain if you can trust her or her judgement. Hell, she doesn’t trust her own judgement half of the time. I was reminded of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series (Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter), where the main mystery is the one going on inside our heroine’s head. Great stuff.

I also adored the political atmosphere on Embassy Row. It was like adding Homeland to the Ocean’s Eleven/James Bond mix. What happens when a half-Israeli kid wanders over onto the Iranian embassy during a party? What if the boy you like is being told to sever “diplomatic relations” with your country? How can you go about having a mental breakdown when you are stuck at a party with royalty? In short: all the regular teenage drama, but with added political goodness.

But one frustrating little thing… the ending. There is one hell of a reveal which left me going “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” and then…. nothing!! I mean, of course I want to read the next book to find out what happens next but… WHAT?

Bottom line? This is a 4/4.5 star book with an enormously frustrating ending. That being said, it is an absolute must for YA fans… though I recommend buying it now, but reading it once you have the second book in your hands… Just a thought!

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Series: Midnight Texas #1
Published by Gollancz on 2014-05-08
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale—populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...

Thoughts: Midnight Crossroad is a hard book to review. I can’t say I enjoyed it – I admit I was glad to finally turn the last page – but I cannot say it is a bad book. It isn’t. It’s a good book written by a skilled author… but it isn’t her best work by a long shot.

Charlaine’s writing has always been rather laid back. She takes a while to get to things, but you enjoy the ride so much that you forget nothing substantial has happened for 30 pages. Midnight Crossroad fits that same trend, it’s just that we don’t know the characters well enough to enjoy the ride. Perhaps that’s because this series stars characters from her Harper Connelly series, Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series? (I haven’t read these books, nor really plan to although, yes, I own most of them.)

But Midnight Crossroad is the start of a new separate series, they said! No need to keep up with her other books to enjoy, they said! Hmph… I don’t know about that. I, for one, did not enjoy 120 pages of watch-this-character-move-into-house. Maybe if I knew the guy… and then, only maybe. But as introductions go, lifting boxes and meeting the new neighbors do not make for a meet-cute.

That being said, once past the first third of the book, Midnight Crossroad does at last start to take off. There was mystery, intrigue, murder – all that good stuff. But it took an inexcusable amount of time to get to the substance of the novel and – to be frank – the mystery was not so intriguing as to overwrite the blandness that had preceded it.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend this book to a new Charlaine Harris reader – but if you are already a fan, you will probably enjoy it. New readers? Start with the Sookie series like the rest of us!

Review: Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Review: Hunting Ground by Patricia BriggsHunting Ground by Patricia Briggs
Series: Alpha & Omega #2
Published by Ace/Roc, Orbit
Pages: 286
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Cry Wolf

Anna Latham didn’t know how complicated life could be until she became a werewolf. And until she was mated to Charles Cornick, the son — and enforcer — of Bran, the leader of the North American werewolves, she didn’t know how dangerous it could be either...

Anna and Charles have just been enlisted to attend a summit to present Bran’s controversial proposition: that the wolves should finally reveal themselves to humans. But the most feared Alpha in Europe is dead set against the plan — and it seems like someone else might be too. When Anna is attacked by vampires using pack magic, the kind of power only werewolves should be able to draw on, Charles and Anna must combine their talents to hunt down whoever is behind it all — or risk losing everything...

Thoughts: How many ways can I say I love Patricia Briggs? No really, give me some suggestions, because I am running out of “I HEART BRIGGS” variations.

Once again, I adored another of Patricia Briggs’ novels. The Mercy Thompson world is such a glorious one, and this second Alpha & Omega book proves that the quality of her spin-off series wasn’t just a one off. Briggs has created something magical with the Alpha & Omega series.

On to the book itself: the first thing that struck me about Hunting Ground was its setting in the universe. It is set around book 3 or 4 of the Mercy Thompson series, and handles an issue mentioned in the Mercy books but not one I had considered requiring its own book. Of course, I was wrong! Because of Charles’ status in his father’s pack, this Alpha & Omega installment gave us a chance to see the wheeling and dealing behind the politics spotted in the Mercy books. I love a good bit of negotiating (especially when it includes bloodshed – see my review of Pride by Rachel Vincent for evidence to that effect).

Anna and Charles’ relationship development was as solid as ever. Considering how little they know each other AND how little we know them (this is only book 2, after all), it’s rather extraordinary how attached they are and how attached I am to them. Of course, this is because Patricia Briggs is excellent at writing real adult relationships, creating complex characters etc. etc. – you’ve heard the pro-Briggs spiel before.

But what truly surprised me about Hunting Ground was the quality of its background characters. Briggs had me in tears over a character I’d met only pages ago. This is horrid, of course, as all of her characters eventually end up going through hell! But still. Her beautiful, wonderful, horrible secondary characters were all deserving of their own spin-off.

Two minor “complaints” that were annoying but did not detract from the quality of the read. These could be considered somewhat spoilery, so tread with caution!:

  • The summary on the back of my edition had major spoilers for the novel. The death it describes takes place more than two-thirds the way through the book. I wrote a whole rant about it here: #PublisherFail Spoiler Summaries
  • I also worked out the identity of the villain rather early on. Since that NEVER happens to me, it must have been rather obvious to other people. That said, the aforementioned summary-from-hell did help rule out some suspects. So… it could have been that?

Bottom line? After reading Hunting Ground, I desperately want to read the next installments in the Mercy and Alpha & Omega series… but I am saving them for my next reading funk. Patricia Briggs can get me out of the most dreadful of reading slumps; she’s that good.

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: The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

Review: The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth GeorgeThe Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George
Series: Saratoga Woods #1
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, Viking Juvenile
Pages: 448
Genres: Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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The first young adult book by a #1 New York Times bestselling author

Whidbey Island may be only a ferry ride from Seattle, but it's a world apart. When Becca King arrives there, she doesn't suspect the island will become her home for the next four years. Put at risk by her ability to hear "whispers"--the thoughts of others--Becca is on the run from her stepfather, whose criminal activities she has discovered. Stranded and alone, Becca is soon befriended by Derric, a Ugandon orphan adopted by a local family; Seth, a kindhearted musician and high school dropout; Debbie, a recovering alcoholic who takes her in; and Diana, with whom Becca shares a mysterious psychic connection.

This compelling coming-of-age story, the first of an ongoing sequence of books set on Whidbey Island, has elements of mystery, the paranormal, and romance. Elizabeth George, bestselling author of the Inspector Lynley crime novels, brings her elegant style, intricate plotting, incisive characterization, and top-notch storytelling to her first book for teens.

 Spoilers for the lack of plot.

Thoughts: I’ve been putting off this review for months. Why? Because there really aren’t too many ways to say “boring as hell”.

Honest to God, I have no idea how I managed to finish this book. Maybe it was in the desperate hope that, in the end, the ”mystery” would have some sort of interesting conclusion? This was obviously delusional on my part, because there was barely a mystery.

Let me see if I can explain:

  1. girl with psychic powers arrives on an island.
  2. girl ignores the only real mystery in the book: the disappearance of her mother.
  3. girl falls in insta-love with The Perfect Guy™.
  4. The Perfect Guy™ is injured Tragically and Mysteriously™.
  5. girl kinda, sorta investigates!
  6. turns out The Perfect Guy™ just fell over.
  7. The Perfect Guy™ is fine!
  8. mother is still missing…. oh well.

That plot? Elizabeth George draws it out over 448 very long pages. Do you see what I mean about the lack of mystery? The lack of tension? Elizabeth George is not a bad writer, she’s just not writing about anything worth writing about.

I really, really, really have trouble understanding how a novelist as celebrated in the crime genre as Ms. George can have written this book. Although I have not read her other works, I can only assume that a seasoned crime fiction writers knows that a murder mystery needs a murder and a mystery in order to qualify.

*screams*

Bottom line? The Edge of Nowhere is dull, tedious and disappointing. Elizabeth George can write, but she can’t deliver a plot… or come up with one, for that matter. Maybe her adult books are better? I have no idea.

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