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!

Guest Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Guest Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie StiefvaterThe Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #2
Published by Scholastic on 2013-09-17
Pages: 448
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take? Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things. Ronan is one of the raven boys — a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface — changing everything in its wake.

“Boys like him didn’t die; the got bronzed and installed outside public libraries…His voice was full of the honey baked accent of old Virginia money.”

In full disclosure, one of the reasons I’ve latched on to this series is because I just moved to a quiet, unexplored corner of Virginia. This story, which is full of so much crumbling grandeur, sad wildness and…well and magic…it lends my loneliness a romantic edge.

This book brought an unforgotten nostalgia for my own childhood and the wishful half-belief in the sorcery of deep woods and hidden creeks, which transforms moss and vines into bowers, thorns and mud into dark fey, power lines and clear cuts into the ravages of orks or – far worse – the inevitable encroachment of men into the holy places of the world.

“…Blue thrilled again and again with the knowledge that magic was real, magic was real, magic was real.”

In a way, my memories are a compliment to Maggie’s lovely book. Within her words I rediscovered the enchantment, and she doesn’t patronize those experiences by turning them into figments of a character’s imagination.

Isn’t that the most irritating thing? When the desires of your heart are made flesh, and then you’re supposed to wake up, grow up or die  – and learn something from it.

The Dream Thieves, like The Raven Boys, has buckshot of loss spattered through it. In the morning light, she somehow makes me feel like the day is already done – simultaneously experiencing a moment and mourning its passing. And the Kavinsky/Ronan Janus-dynamic illuminated the delicacy of the balance between creation and destruction.

The characters are so vivid – from golden boy Gansey and our girl Blue to the interesting supporting characters like Calla and Mr. Grey.

 “In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest.  Their awfulness and strangeness. Her Raven Boys.”

Me too, Blue.

Except maybe Noah.  Poor fellow. But that there’s unworked land. I’d like to be given the chance to fall in love with Noah. Right now he seems kind of pathetic. Smelly. Dead.

I’ve enjoyed witnessing Maggie Steifvater develop as an author.  The Wolves of Mercy Falls series was good, but I never really understood the hype. In my opinion, The Scorpio Races was much more interesting, and the Raven Boys series is top notch — Definitely one to curl up alongside the other keepers in your mind.

I can’t wait to see which character we get into next.

 Kelly IzlarKelly is a science communicator and writer. She recently completed an internship with the US science communication team for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and is currently freelancing in rural western Virginia. Kelly likes swimming, hiking, eating good cheese and reading young adult fiction. Visit or follow Kelly on twitter @KellyIzlar


Review: Sea Change by Aimee Friedman

Review: Sea Change by Aimee FriedmanSea Change by Aimee Friedman
Published by Scholastic on June 1st 2009
Pages: 292
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Sixteen-year-old Miranda Merchant is great at science... and not so great with boys. After major drama with her boyfriend and (now ex) best friend, she's happy to spend the summer on small, mysterious Selkie Island, helping her mother sort out her late grandmother's estate.

There, Miranda finds new friends and an island with a mysterious, mystical history, presenting her with facts her logical, scientific mind can't make sense of. She also meets Leo, who challenges everything she thought she knew about boys, friendship. . .and reality.

Is Leo hiding something? Or is he something that she never could have imagined?

Thoughts: Oh my, this book was so very very lovely. I realised the other day that I hadn’t reviewed it and – even though I read it months ago – I knew I had to post something about it. Because, like many standalone novels, I feel like Sea Change doesn’t quite get the press it ought to!

Let’s start off with the main character, Miranda, who I absolutely adored. She had a thirst for logical answers that I could completely relate to. And, on occasion, she wanted something completely out-of-the-box illogical… which I could also relate to! She is a scientist with an artistic heart. Unlike a lot of YA novels, Miranda’s mother plays a key role in this novel, and in Miranda’s overall development. While Miranda had a lovely but realistic relationship with her mother before the book – over the course of the novel, her mother begins to act most peculiarly. She begins to seem rather foreign to Miranda… and it is scary, having someone you love seem different. I loved how their whole plot line developed – realistic but beautiful.

While Sea Change is a paranormal novel with real romantic elements in it, it is a coming of age novel above all. That isn’t something that usually makes me pick up a book, but in Sea Change it was perfect. While there is a slight paranormal mystery, uncovering the answers to the island is not the most important part of the book. Miranda needed to find the answers to herself (does that sound deep, or what?). And when she does, the book ends.

And, oh, what an ending! I love books that leave you wondering; books that leave you hopeful yet still thinking. Aimee Friedman doesn’t answer all the book’s questions – and trust me when I say that you will love her for that.

Bottom line? Sea Change is a beautiful, mystical, romantic YA novel that I can easily recommend. Get a copy!

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games #1
Published by Scholastic
Pages: 374
Genres: Dystopian YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Set in a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called The Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed. When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdee steps forward to take her younger sister's place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

I adored The Hunger Games. I consumed the novel in less than a day, and suffered from acute post-amazing book depression. But since everything that could possibly be said about this book has already been said, I’m doing something a bit different for this “review”. I’m giving you a few book-a-likes: novels that, if you loved, pretty much guarantee that you’ll love The Hunger Games (and vice-versa!).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Both Katniss and Graceling‘s Katsa have had lives that have made them extremely mistrusting, almost emotionally numb, and reliant only upon themselves.  And yet, despite their harshness and their talent for making things die, they’re easy to root for.  The only difference? Katsa manages to get through a lot of her issues in the one novel. It’s going to take Katniss a while longer.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre
Enclave deals with one of The Hunger Games‘ key issues: children killing out of necessity.  Enclave‘s Deuce also shares many of Katniss’ vulnerabilities: they would both sacrifice themselves for their families, and both are complete innocents when it comes to romance. Had Deuce been born in District 12, her name would have been Katniss (although Deuce does have much better control over her temper!).

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong
This one is bit of a stretch, since I can neither say it takes on any of the sociological issues that The Hunger Games addresses nor that it’s protagonists have anything in common.  However, both of Katniss and Maya are fierce, fierce, fierce leading ladies.  If you want another novel with a tough-but-sensitive star, read The Gathering.

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
All that react-before-thinking that Katniss has going on?  Grimspace‘s Jax has that in spades.  And I’m not quite sure what it is exactly, but there was a certain vibe in The Hunger Games which reminded me all too strongly of Grimspace.  If you’re willing to take my word for it, give this Adult Sci-Fi novel a shot.

Bottom line? All the above books I gave 4.5 stars or higher, and would 100% recommend them.  I hope by comparing them to The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins fans will add them to their wishlist.  But if you were like me, who emphatically resisted all the hype surrounding this novel, I hope this post gave you some incentive to start reading Collins’ fantastic trilogy!

Review: Dark Life by Kat Falls

Review: Dark Life by Kat FallsDark Life by Kat Falls
Series: Dark Life #1
Published by Scholastic
Pages: 304
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Ty has lived under the ocean for his entire life. Following global warming and the rise of the seas, his family joined an underwater community in hopes of living in the new frontier of the ocean floor. But When Ty meets Gemma, a girl from "topside", who is searching the seas for her brother, she quickly makes his life very complicated. Together Ty and Gemma face dangerous sea creatures and venture into the frontier town's rough underworld as they search for her missing brother. But the deeper they dig, the more attention they attract, and soon Ty and Gemma find themselves being hunted by a gang of outlaws who roam the underwater territories causing havoc, and who seem to have eerie abilities. But Ty has a secret of his own, living underwater for his entire life has meant he has also developed a "special" power. Can he keep it a secret from Gemma and his family or is it time for him to finally tell everyone the truth?

Thoughts: I adored Dark Life. Lately, I’ve been reading books that have been on my wishlist for eons and have turned out to be extremely disappointing. (The Body Finder is a fantastic example of a book I was in lust with – and like most superficial relationships, it fell apart upon actually reading it.) So, my high expectations for the Dark Life were worrying.

But Dark Life lived up to every expectation. It’s science fiction only, instead of space, we’ve colonised the ocean. The book follows some sort of apocalyptic disaster – the opening of the novel has Ty swimming around what seemed to be the ruins of New York City. But, society had moved on, and the apparent overthrow of the modern world is old news.

Dark Life has action, cool underwater gadgets, a couple of quasi-paranormal abilities and a dash of romance. All the perfect ingredients for a brilliant YA novel. But what made me love it were the things that you aren’t thrown at you. Dark Life deals with some pretty serious social, scientific and political issues without seeming preachy. In fact, they are so subtly handled, they can almost be overlooked in favour of the action.

I love, love, love that. Of course, books which wrap up with a take-away message can be great – but I adore the ones that make you stop and think, whilst gently nudging you in a particular direction. Dark Life is that kind of book.

Bottom line? Faaantastic! Read Dark Life if you are looking for something fun yet thought-provoking. Ooh, it also has a male narrator! Isn’t it sad that that is rare enough to warrent excitement?