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.

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.

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarryDare You To by Katie McGarry
Series: Pushing the Limits #2
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on May 28th 2013
Pages: 456
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Crash Into You

If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk's home life, they'd send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom's freedom and her own happiness. That's how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn't want her and going to a school that doesn't understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn't get her, but does....

Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can't tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn't be less interested in him.

But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won't let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all...

Thoughts: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dare You To. At first, I thought it would be too New Adult-y. 60 pages in, I thought it would be too misogynistic. But 100 pages in? I was completely sold. Dare You To pushed all my buttons and established – in a single book – a solid, believable relationship I could root for.

Simone Elkeles’ disastrous Chain Reaction (review) and her glorious Rules of Attraction (review) both lacked one thing: believability. They featured a heightened version of reality, in which even the worst scenarios were picture perfect. I bring this up because Dare You To was the exact opposite. It is gritty and dark and as close to reality as a romantic book can get. Thank goodness for that because the subjects it deals with – homophobia, parental abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual abuse – they are all deserving of a realistic setting. These aren’t subjects you can just brush off.

But while Dare You To is a coming of age novel and an issue novel, it still manages to remain a romance. Surprising, since most authors end up having to make a choice. Either you are Elizabeth Scott and Sarah Dessen, or you are Simone Elkeles and Stephanie Perkins. Katie McGarry somehow manages to merge both those worlds.

That’s not to say Dare You To is the perfect book: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the heroine Beth, though I did understand where she was coming from. To my surprise, I did grow rather attached to Ryan – and I could get 1000000% behind a book about his gay, jock brother – but I didn’t get those overwhelming I-am-thinking-about-them-on-the-bus feelings for him that I get for some characters.

Fortunately, this lack of extra connection didn’t stop me for adoring what Dare You To was: a romance that covers real teen issues without glossing over the harsh realities of life. I loved that and I loved it.

Bottom line? I was surprised by Dare You To, and I hope you will be to. Give it a go if you are looking to be swallowed into a world of well-handled teen angst.

My Goodreads updates for your amusement:

Dare You To Updates

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