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: Before I Wake by Rachel Vincent

Review: Before I Wake by Rachel VincentBefore I Wake by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #6
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 346
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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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, With All My Soul

Spoilers for previous books! Covering up her own murder was one thing, but faking life is much harder than Kaylee Cavanaugh expected. After weeks spent "recovering," she's back in school, fighting to stay visible to the human world, struggling to fit in with her friends and planning time alone with her new reaper boyfriend.

But to earn her keep in the human world, Kaylee must reclaim stolen souls, and when her first assignment brings her face-to-face with an old foe, she knows the game has changed. Her immortal status won't keep her safe. And this time Kaylee isn't just gambling with her own life….

Thoughts: Before I Wake was just an absolute treat. We’re six books into the Soul Screamers series now, and I can firmly state that none of the characters we met in the first book are the same – Kaylee most of all.

And thank God for that! Kaylee is one of those characters that has rather frustrated me over the years. She always feels pathologically responsible for the decisions of others – which leads to books and books of guilt, guilt, guilt. It’s been frustrating beyond belief.

But her death in If I Die and her break up with Nash have, well, made Kaylee grow up. This is rather sad, in a way. A lot of reviewers have commented on how they felt sorry for Kaylee in this book, that she was so depressed and that it was sad to see her that way. I understand where they are coming from. After all, she died. She can’t just “get over” that. But I happen to think that overcoming her death made her grow as a person – even if she’s not the same (happier?) girl we met in the first book. Bad things happen and they suck – but that’s part of growing up and sometimes people can come out the better because of them.

Gosh, that was maudlin.

Anyhow, I also loved what Vincent did with everyone else in this book. I very nearly felt sorry for Nash in this book (an absolute first for me, devoted anti-Nash fan that I am), and I certainly felt for Sabine (who I’ve always liked despite her insanity). Both Sabine and Nash have to deal with their own fallout from Kaylee getting together with Tod, not to mention Nash’s never-ending addiction problems. I am so glad I am not reading a book from their POV, because that would be epically woeful.

Vincent also went all out plot-wise. The ending of Before I Wake was an absolute shocker and all I could think was, “wow”. Love that this series can still surprise – considering all the bombs Vincent has dropped in this series, you’d think we’d see it all coming! But no… she’s still got us on tenterhooks.

Best for last: Tod. He remains one of my favourite characters ever and fortunately there is plenty of him in this book! I don’t want to give a single thing away, so all I will say is this: every word out of that boy’s mouth was a bloody gift.

Bottom line? While not quite as stellar as stellar as If I Die, but up there. I cannot wait for the seventh and final book in this series: With All My Soul.

Review: If I Die by Rachel Vincent

Review: If I Die by Rachel VincentIf I Die by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #5
Published by MIRA
Pages: 342
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, Before I Wake, With All My Soul

The entire school’s talking about the gorgeous new math teacher, Mr Beck. That is, everyone except Kaylee Cavanaugh. After all, Kaylee’s no ordinary high-school junior. She’s a banshee — she screams when someone dies.
But the next scream might be for Kaylee.

Yeah — it’s a shock to her, too. So to distract herself, Kaylee’s going to save every girl in school. Because that hot new teacher is really an incubus who feeds on the desire of unsuspecting students. The only girls immune to his lure are Kaylee and Sabine — her boyfriend’s needy ex-girlfriend. Now the unlikely allies have to get rid of Mr Beck…before he discovers they aren’t quite human, either.

But Kaylee’s borrowed lifeline is nearing its end. And those who care about her will do anything to save her life. Anything.

Thoughts: If I Die was my favourite Soul Screamers novel, hands down. Rachel Vincent resolved all my complaints, “beat my head against the wall” feelings, and shoot-Nash-in-the-face desires in one tidy little novel. How? Well, she gave Kaylee a gigantic wake-up call in the form of imminent death. *grins* Oh, the joy.

OK, I realise that makes me sound rather evil. But let me put it this way: when a character literally has no reason to hold herself back, she has the chance to let out her true self. And the “true” Kaylee? She’s rather brilliant. You see, finding out she is about to die frees Kaylee… it frees her from Nash, from her father, from her schoolmates, and – most importantly – from herself. So when I say “finding out she is about to die is the best thing that ever happened to Kaylee”, I really do mean it in the very best of ways.

Now, other than telling you that open-eyes!Kaylee is featured in If I Die, I can’t really say much more without spoiling the book for you. In short: the villain was horrifically genius, Tod was swoon-worthily brilliant, Nash was ludicrously screwed-up, Kaylee’s Dad was adorably protective, and Sabine was, well… Sabine. *sighs happily*

Bottom line? It is worth reading the first 4 books of the Soul Screamers series just to read If I Die. Seriously. Hell, just consider the first 4 books a very, very long prologue.

Finished the book already? Check out my interview with author Rachel Vincent for her thoughts on the series post-If I Die. She gave me some fantastic answers – read it if you are longing for something to tide you over until the next book!

Review: My Soul to Steal by Rachel Vincent

Review: My Soul to Steal by Rachel VincentMy Soul to Steal by Rachel Vincent
Series: Soul Screamers #4
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA
Pages: 368
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, If I Die, Before I Wake, With All My Soul

Trying to work things out with Nash—her maybe boyfriend—is hard enough for Kaylee Cavanaugh. She can't just pretend nothing happened. But "complicated" doesn't even begin to describe their relationship when his ex-girlfriend transfers to their school, determined to take Nash back.

See, Sabine isn't just an ordinary girl. She's a mara, the living personification of a nightmare. She can read people's fears—and craft them into nightmares while her victims sleep. Feeding from human fear is how she survives.

And Sabine isn't above scaring Kaylee and the entire school to death to get whatever—and whoever—she wants

Thoughts: My Soul to Steal made me want to punch things. Punch things repeatedly. And then it made me wish that Nash were real so that I might stab him in the eyes with a fork. These eyes would preferably be the automatically regrowing type so that I could continue the stabbing over and over and over and… yes. My Soul to Steal made me an angry, angry bunny. Angry on Kaylee’s behalf… hell, furious on her behalf.

I was never a big Nash fan, nor was I ever a big Nash/Kaylee fan. But this book just… gah. It really made me wish Nash dead. That said, I do think Nash is not inherently evil, he’s just madly screwed up. Rachel Vincent is an absolute genius in the sense that, yes, her characters are 100% realistic. She deals with the aftermath of drug abuse and betrayal in a heart-breakingly realistic way… but that realism? It leads to my aforementioned desire to kill her characters.

But even while I am busy plotting ways to dispose of the fictional bodies, I understand her characters. The new girl, Sabine, for example… let’s just say she’s pretty damn horrid to Kaylee. And yet, I really do get her – she’s completely open about her actions, be they good or terribly bad. Hell, half-way through this book I would have been happy if Kaylee had decided to switch sexual orientations and run off with her. And if I was choosing the main antagonist over the boyfriend? That really gives you an idea how much said boyfriend was wrong for Kaylee.

Moving away from all the interpersonal DR-A-MA, My Soul to Steal was a riot and a half. Vincent does plotty-but-serial extremely well, and this installment was just another demonstration of her ever-improving style. Had the book been more focussed on the plotty goodness, and not on all the Kaylee/Nash/Sabine business, I would be giving it 4 stars without a doubt.

Bottom line? Rachel Vincent writes the most extraordinary characters – some of them you’ll love, some you’ll want to kill, and others you’ll want to have committed. It’s great, but oh-so frustrating.

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