The Fault in Our Stars by John Green Review

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green (Twitter)
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publish Date: January 10, 2012
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 318
Source: Personal Copy

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Hazel knows the outcome of her life. It's the same as everybody else, but she knows that her final conclusion and last hurrah will come a whole lot sooner than most. She lives her life on borrowed time, unsure of her place but sure of herself - unsure of why she should make connections if all she'll leave behind is a memory of pain, loss and sadness. But one person enters her life that could very well make her see everything differently. Augustus Waters is a ball of light in her support group, and his perspective might just be enough to take her breath away...but this time, in a good way.

I've read a couple of John Green's novels before, and I've never been disappointed, so I was fairly confident that The Fault in Our Stars would be no exception to the rule. I'm, say that I was right. This book is simply overflowing with love, life and existential meaning. Powerful characters, a truthful, honest and relatable voice and clever touches of transcendent humour merge to compound upon an already-soulful premise. The Fault in Our Stars will rightfully challenge you to consider whether you're truly living your life the way you should, or if you're simply biding your time.

I've always said that the books we love the most are the hardest to review, so I actually considered not reviewing The Fault in Our Stars. There's an inherent conundrum here. Guys, I will never be able to put into words how much this book made me feel and why, so no review will ever do it justice. All I can hope to do is simply articulate the power within the pages and the promise that this novel will, at the very least, give you something meaningful to think about. Hazel was the perfect protagonist to follow through this story. At the beginning, I had a hunch that she was rather self-deprecating, but I began to realize that she actually built a sort of cocoon around herself - not so much to protect herself, but to protect those around her from the inevitable outcome of her cancer. Despite her disease and diagnosis though, Hazel radiated hope, snark and a wisdom beyond her years, though she would be happy to dispel that theory. Augustus, too, had this aura about him, making him a character that felt less like a character and more like a friend. Despite his cancer and subsequent amputation, he managed to keep his wits about him, and there was such a beautiful, tangible soul to his character. He made it easy to fall in love with him...and to fall in love with his interactions with Hazel. There was a gentle romance that soared through the novel, but I'm happy to say that The Fault in Our Stars proves that teenage love, even in the most dire of circumstances, does not have to be insta-love or overdone. There is nothing cloying about the romance of this novel. It's sweet, it's subtle, it's heartbreaking, and I challenge you not to actually put yourselves in the characters' shoes throughout. Even the secondary characters soar through this novel. Isaac, though a bit of an enigma to start, ups the ante as the story leads on, and we begin to realize just how important he is to both Hazel and Augustus. Less plot-driven than character-driven, The Fault in Our Stars will nevertheless have you laughing, crying and smiling along the journey with Hazel, Gus and Isaac. 

I can't say enough good things about this book and, as I said, no review will ever measure up, so I'll simply stop there so I don't give spoilers. I give this book a 5 out of 5, and honestly, I'd recommend it to anyone - YA and up, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction. Trust's a must-read.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil Review

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Title: Ten
Author: Gretchen McNeil (Twitter)
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publish Date: September 18, 2012
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury. But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?
All Meg and Minnie really wanted was a little holiday to unwind and get the boy of their dreams to be interested in them. Plus, throw in all the extras, and the weekend has all the makings for a complete success. Or, it should. Ten friends arrived at the luxe party on Henry Island, but after stumbling across an odd video with an ominous message, one by one, they start getting picked off. They're stuck on the island with no real way off...but how exactly will they survive the weekend, and why are they even in these circumstances?

Guys, I have a secret. Okay, it's not really a secret, but here goes: I love mysteries. And horror. And slasher flicks even though I have to sit with my eyes closed and my ears plugged. Yes, I know that it defeats the purpose. Moving on. Because of this, I immediately knew that Ten would be my cup of tea. Gretchen McNeil has crafted an eerie, atmospheric tale that invites readers to what seems like an idyllic setting, then wreaks havoc on our psyches as the characters begin dropping like flies. Ten is an engaging twist on the classic whodunit tale, guaranteeing you a healthy dose of twisted fun throughout.

I put off reading Ten for a really long time. And, frankly, I'll say that the plethora of one and two-star reviews really deterred my interest in the book for a good long while. I was really worried that the story would be trite and horror-lite, and I suppose that it was in some ways, but the author spins the story in a way that this actually works in its favour. The strength of the novel lies within the details. From the minute our characters arrive on Henry Island, we are there with them. We experience the blistering, foreboding winds of the storm. The atmosphere and setup are tense and dramatic, engaging you from the get-go, and with vivid imagery and a picture-perfect backdrop for such a mysterious novel, Ten succeeds. Furthermore, I think that the characters were well portrayed. I was invested in the fates of Meg and Minnie, and I definitely knew who I wanted to survive, and who I was really hoping would meet a swift and decisive end. Perhaps this means that the characters were a bit too obvious, but it worked for me. However, I do feel that this book is a bit horror-lite, if that makes sense. It's mysterious, it's eerie - it's even a tad campy at times - but it's not really an intense horror story filled with gore, pleading for one's life or even a real, true scare. But, with such a visually appealing and engaging backdrop for a story that is still riddled with tension, I found myself almost forgiving the character stereotypes and lack of true horror. 

All in all, I can see why not everyone enjoyed Ten, but for me, it worked for the most part. If I look at it from the standpoint that it's YA, and therefore not true horror, it succeeds. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, and I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy a good mystery or light horror story.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Let's Talk: Books You've Read Because of Other Bloggers

Friday, June 28, 2013

Let's Talk is a weekly feature here at i swim for oceans. I think it's important that we all have our say, and there's something to be said for raising our voices. Simply put, here on the little old blog, I like to host some of my very own discussion posts because, well, I like to converse with you all.

And so, Let's Talk will feature questions or prompts, which I will answer, too. Love it or hate it, weigh in or don't, it's my hope that Let's Talk will at least get you thinking...and maybe even get you discussing with the rest of us!
What books, if any, have you read only because a blogger's review convinced you to? Did they live up?

From day one of this blog, I professed my utter aversion to contemporary fiction, so to any blogger that has convinced me to read a contemporary book - major kudos to you! But seriously, before I started blogging, I would have read anything BUT contemps. I avoided them like the plague. Thus, my blog was definitely skewed towards the paranormal/fantasy realm (though it's been shifting lately, eh?) It took some coaxing, but some awesome bloggers definitely opened my eyes to what contemps have to offer.

This one simple book is what changed it all for me. Seriously. I'm being dead serious when I say this, and I'm pretty sure my review states as much. I was convinced to read this book by Linds, who used to blog over at Bibliophile Brouhaha. She and another great blogger, Nic, arranged an international tour of this one, and it absolutely blew my mind. The power, the raw, raging emotion, the subtle backdrop which almost serves as a character in its own right all work together to create a book that just exceeded all of my expectations. 

Kirsty Eagar rocketed to the top of my favourite author list simply because she managed to bottle human emotion and created a book that was neither trite nor cliche, but rather pulled me into the world with the characters and let me experience it through their eyes. Of all the books that bloggers have recommended to me over the past three years, this remains the most prominent standout. I tout the merits of this book every chance I get, and I say this...if you don't like contemps but you want to try to...start here. Start with Raw Blue. You won't regret it.

This isn't the only book that's been recommended and succeeded for me though either. I read the Summer series by Jenny Han thanks to the coaxing of Ginger from GReads. I actually finally read Anna & the French Kiss because I figured if Jenny from Supernatural Snark loved it, it had to be good. There were some letdowns, too, of course. For example, I read Incarceron by Catherine Fischer, and I was so lost that I had to set it aside and take notes. Those recs are definitely in the vast minority though.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown Review

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: October 5, 2010
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 432
Source: Personal Copy

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
Life as Val knew it ended in an explosion of gunfire...gunfire unleashed by her boyfriend, Nick. The two spent their high school lives together as self-professed outcasts, enduring bullying and relentless teasing and, together, developed a "hate list" which named those who plagued their daily lives. Val meant it. She hated these people. She didn't know that Nick hated these people enough to kill them all. Now, Val and the rest of Garvin High are still trying to come to terms with the heinous crime that rocked their town, their school and their lives. But first, Val needs to come to terms with her own part in it and heal, so that she can actually move forward.

For those of you who regularly follow my blog, you know that I'm a huge fan of issue-based contemporary novels. I believe that, when done well, these books have an enormous impact and the ability to make you think, feel and, in some cases, change. Hate List is the epitome of why I love issue books. Dark and brooding, it bores into the very roots of evil, bringing them to the surface and displaying our own darkest urges for all to see. Jennifer Brown has written a novel which encourages readers to feel and to embrace our own emotions so that, along with the characters of this book, we can heal. Raw, challenging and incredibly thought-provoking, Hate List is a book that I'm certain will stay with me for a very long time.

I've previously read Bitter End by Ms. Brown, so I knew that I was going to get quality storytelling with Hate List, but I can honestly say that I didn't know just how much I was going to feel for these characters. From the start, Val keeps us at arm's length. She's angry, she's hurt and she's extremely confused, and the beauty of the novel is that we, as readers, feel and live those exact same emotions as the story starts to unravel and we understand the events of that day. I though that Val would be a more challenging character to access because of the walls she'd put up, but I was pleased to find that, little by little, she starts to expose the vulnerable core that she's hidden for so long. As she does so, we get the chance to see this pain and this inability to come to terms with what Nick has done. Nick, in large part, I felt was almost an afterthought until the very end. We see his actions and we recognize just how irreparably he's damaged this school, this town and definitely his girlfriend. However, we don't really get to see him until the very end. I was quite certain this was a weakness until the final scene, in which I understood the true purpose of Nick's role in Hate List. The secondary characters are phenomenal in this book. Jessica, the epitome of the popular girl, transforms immeasurably through this novel and, in doing so, we watch as her interactions with Val transform, as well. I felt such distress for Ginny through the novel, and I felt such incredible anger towards Val's father, seeing his anger as rooted in selfishness, though I began to realize that it was actually masking his own discontent and confusion. Hate List ripped my heart out numerous times, but finally let all its emotion bleed onto the last few pages as we watch this town, this school and this girl do their very best to rise from the ashes.

I can't say enough good things about Hate List. If you want a book that will make you truly feel something, this is the book for you.'ll need a box of tissues. I give this book a 5 out of 5, without question, and I highly recommend it to all fans of YA and upper YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction and issue books.

Waiting on Wednesday: Avalon

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine, and specifically spotlights upcoming novels we can't wait to read. As always, there are some amazing upcoming books, but this week I'm particularly excited for...

Title: Avalon
Author: Mindee Arnett (Twitter)
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi
Pages: 432

Of the various star systems that make up the Confederation, most lie thousands of light years from First Earth—and out here, no one is free. The agencies that govern the Confederation are as corrupt as the crime bosses who patrol it, and power is held by anyone with enough greed and ruthlessness to claim it. That power is derived from one thing: metatech, the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light.

Jeth Seagrave and his crew of teenage mercenaries have survived in this world by stealing unsecured metatech, and they're damn good at it. Jeth doesn’t care about the politics or the law; all he cares about is earning enough money to buy back his parents' ship, Avalon, from his crime boss employer and getting himself and his sister, Lizzie, the heck out of Dodge. But when Jeth finds himself in possession of information that both the crime bosses and the government are willing to kill for, he is going to have to ask himself how far he'll go to get the freedom he's wanted for so long.
Did I ever admit to you lovelies that I'm a closet Trekkie? No? Well, consider me out of the closet. I'm a bit of a space junkie, and I guess you could say that I'm also an adrenaline-fueled sci-fi junkie so, naturally, Avalon is pretty much right up my alley. Plus, we've got a male MC that's written by an awesome female author, which is a feat in and of itself. Top it off with a hot-hot-hot premise and a killer cover, and I'm ready to order this one stat. What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

Top Ten Tuesday: The Best Books of 2013 So Far

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Each week they will post a new top ten list that one of our bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It's a great way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Top Ten Books I've Read in 2013 (Thus Far)

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I'm reviewing this one later this week (or next week), and let me just tell you that this book blew my mind. Blew. My. Mind.

2. The Raft by S. A. Bodeen - If you like dramatic thrillers and survival stories, this one is for you. If you haven't read it yet, trust me when I say that you're missing out.

3. Some Quiet Place by Kesley Sutton - This is one of those slow-burn books that kind of crept onto my radar and surprised me. You absolutely must read it.

4. Hate List by Jennifer Brown - I couldn't put this book down. My review will be up on Thursday, and this book made me happy, angry, sad, devastated...the whole lot. That's power.

5. Seige and Storm by Leigh Bardugo - I vented on Twitter the other day about how hard it is to write the perfect review for the perfect book. I really need to work on that because this book is amazing.

6. Black City by Elizabeth Richards - This one actually really surprised me. I've grown awfully tired of dystopians, yet this one still managed to surprise me in the best possible way. 

7. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally - I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. For a girl who has ardently stated that she hates fluffy contemps...that's saying something.

8. Rootless by Chris Howard - I was hoping I would love this one, and I really, really did. Even in a tired dystopian genre, this book totally soars.

9. When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney - This one has a subtle power to it, and the rich descriptiveness of the books cultural setting is one of the best I've ever read.

10. Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles - I can't post this review until closer till the release date in September, but let me just say that Ms. Elkeles does not disappoint. Not at all. You have a loyal Elkeles fan in me!

The Waiting Sky by Lara Zielin Review

Monday, June 24, 2013

Title: The Waiting Sky
Author: Lara Zielin (Twitter)
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publish Date: August 2, 2012
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 246
Source: Publisher

Seventeen-year-old Jane McAllister can't quite admit her mother's alcoholism is spiraling dangerously out of control until she drives drunk, nearly killing them and Jane's best friend. She has only one place to turn: her older brother Ethan, who left the problems at home years ago for college. A summer with him and his tornado-chasing buddies may just provide the time and space Jane needs to figure out her life and whether it still includes her mother.

But she struggles with her anger at Ethan for leaving home and feels guilty--is she also abandoning her mom just when she needs Jane most? The carefree trip turned journey of self-discovery quickly becomes more than Jane bargained for, especially when the devilishly handsome Max steps into the picture.
Jane's life at home is hardly picture-perfect. While most kids her age are trying on the latest fashions, driving new cars and looking forward to the next party, Jane spends her time babysitting and using her hard-earned money to pay the bills and care for her alcoholic mother. Convinced that if she leaves her mother alone to fend for herself, she'll die, Jane is trapped in a debilitating environment with nowhere to turn. But when a deadly car crash nearly kills both Jane and her best friend, Cat gives her an ultimatum: get away from your mother, or we can't be friends. And so Jane heads off for a summer with Ethan, but even then, her mother's disease is never far behind.

I can't tell you why I took so long to read The Waiting Sky. I was dying to read it, but there's always that fear that a book you're looking forward to won't live up, and I hate that. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go, and I'm so glad I did. Lara Zielin has created a heartwrenching character trapped in unfathomable circumstances and facing down the most difficult decision of her life. Tackling gripping drama head-on, the novel spins you into a whirlwind of drama, adventure, romance and self-realization, giving you a first-hand look at one girl's fight to find an even footing. With a fast-placed plot, relatable characters and plenty of drama to keep you invested, The Waiting Sky is riveting.

There was so much about The Waiting Sky that worked for me that it very nearly outweighs all the subtle flaws. First and foremost, I must say that the book is slim, and it's action-packed, so you'll never feel as though it lags, or you're stuck, or you need to put it down. From page one, we're thrust into Jane's life, which is messy, complicated and completely revolves around her alcoholic mother. Her mother is one of those characters that I longed to pity because I know she has a disease, but her selfishness made my blood run cold. Jane existed solely to keep her mother alive, and her mother manipulated Jane with promises, kindness and love whenever she needed anything. I had a difficult time accessing Jane's persona at first because her being is entirely wrapped up in her mother's existence. Separating the two was almost a struggle, but when Jane finally goes to chase tornadoes with her brother, we begin to see just how broken she is. Max was a fairly strong secondary character and love interest, but I really wanted more of him in the novel. I appreciate the fact that there was no insta-love, rather an insta-connection between these two fairly lost souls, but I think more insight into Max's struggles would have heightened that connection and amped up the conclusion a notch. I think that Ethan was a great character. His bitterness and resentment towards his mother, as well as his sadness and frustration about Jane's inability to escape as he had was tangible and heartfelt, and his emotions bled onto the pages. For the most part, the other secondary characters were quite strong, as well. Victor's own struggles resonated, and I could see Jane healing as she experience his healing, as well. I do wish there'd been a bit more tornado action and chasing, but hey, that's just me. The end wraps up nice and sweet, and it's a fitting conclusion with just enough holes to keep us wondering how it will all turn out for Jane and her family.

Overall, I think that The Waiting Sky was a strong story in which I easily became invested. While I think there were a few lowlights, it was definitely one of those reads that stays in your mind. I give it a high 3.5 out of 5, and I recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Hidden by Marianne Curley Review

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Title: Hidden
Author: Marianne Curley (Twitter)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's
Publish Date: June 25, 2013
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher

For as long as Ebony can remember, she's been sheltered. Confined to her home in a secluded valley, home-schooled by her protective parents, and limited to a small circle of close friends. It's as if she's being hidden. But something is changing in Ebony. Something that can't be concealed. She's growing more beautiful by the day, she's freakishly strong, and then there's the fact that she's glowing.

On one fateful night, Ebony meets Jordan and she's intensely drawn to him. It's as if something explodes inside of her--something that can be seen from the heavens. Ebony still doesn't know that she's a stolen angel, but now that the heavens have found her, they want her back.
Ebony's life has never really been all that interesting, but she's always know that she's different. She doesn't get sick, she has incredible senses and she's always been sheltered and protected by her overly-careful parents. But Ebony wants to be a normal teenager, so she does what any rebellious teen will do; she sneaks out to a club, and it turns out to be the very action that sets her entire future in motion. Ebony learns that there is more to her past - and her future - than she could ever imagine. But there is a strong possibility that all these revelations will hardly lead to a happy ending. 

From veteran author, Marianne Curley, comes a brilliant new planned series about angels, starting with Hidden, the first installment. I've previously read the Guardians of Time series from the author, and her writing is exceptional. She's known for her incredible world-building, flawless character development and realistic voices. With a firm fan base and a proven track record of solid writing, Hidden is sure to find a favoured niche in the paranormal market. With a solid plot, a host of characters and an unlikely romance, we're given a novel that embraces the best aspects of the genre.

I have so many feelings about Hidden that I'm almost unsure where to start this review. Guys, I'm a huge fan of Marianne's writing. She's a fantastic author, and I've really loved her previous work, but I think that might actually have taken away from some of my enjoyment of this book. I had very high hopes for the book, and it was probably tricky to even measure up to those. Nevertheless, I had some issues with Hidden, and they really start with Ebony. She's a pretty formulaic YA character. For the most part, she exuded this melodramatic immaturity that detracted from the actual storyline. Yes, I understand her rebellion stems from her sheltered upbringing, but it made her rather unlikable and difficult to relate to. Furthermore, readers of my blog know that I'm really not a fan of insta-love, so when a love story enters at the speed of light twice, I lost my marbles a bit. I think that the relationships with Jordan and Thane could have been deeper and more empathetic, and I would have been able to reconcile with the insta-love, but both connections were, unfortunately, lacking in depth. I will say that Hidden has a stellar premise and a really solid plot in terms of angel books. I thought that the world the author built was solid and intriguing, plus the prose was fluid and engaging, so I really wished we'd had more of an opportunity to explore those aspects of the story, rather than being thrust into relationships, which superseded the true highlights of the novel.

Overall, I think that Hidden will find a strong base of fans within its genre, but I'm not sure if this series is for me. I love the author's work, and I remain an ardent fan, but I couldn't seem to get invested in Ebony's plight. I give it a 2.5 out of 5, and I'd still recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy paranormal and angel books

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

All About Bloglovin' (And My Undying Love for YOU)

Follow i swim for oceans via Bloglovin'

Most of you have heard by now that Google Reader is going the way of the dinosaurs in a few short weeks. This means just about nothing to me as I never ever use it, BUT rumour also has it that Google Friend Connect (GFC) aka how most of you lovelies follow my blog might just be heading out that very same door, as well. 

I've had Bloglovin' for a while now, but I never really used it until I started to pay a bit more attention to just how effective it is. Think - Google Reader x 10 - it's that good. It gives bloggers like us the chance to get a cool digest in our emails and scan through the posts to see what we might have missed on our rounds of the blogosphere, which is good if you're a slightly maniacal comment-whore like myself. 

In all seriousness though, I really love and appreciate every single one of you that has consistently followed my lil' old blog through thick and thin (really thin when I took a seriously long hiatus). It makes my day to know that awesome people such as yourselves give a crap what I have to say, and it seriously brightens my day to read all your sweet and thoughtful comments. YOU are the reason I can't stay away from blogging permanently, and it would break my heart if I lost you lovelies just because GFC drops off. If you don't have Bloglovin' yet and you're on Blogger, pretty please get an account so I can make sure to follow you all forever and ever....kisses and smooches and whatnot ;)

Follow on Bloglovin

Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock Review

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Title: Hemlock
Author: Kathleen Peacock (Twitter)
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publish Date: May 8, 2012
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher

Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered. Since then, Mac’s life has been turned upside down. She is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac’s hometown of Hemlock to hunt down Amy’s killer: A white werewolf. Lupine syndrome—also known as the werewolf virus—is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control.

Wanting desperately to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy’s murder herself. She discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock, secrets about Amy’s boyfriend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk.
Years after her best friends' murder, Mac is still haunted vivid nightmares and visions of a restless Amy. Fearing for her own sanity and desperate for answers, Mac decides to take matters into her own hands and find Amy's killer herself. But Mac's in over her head. In a time where the werewolves are out and the virus is real, Mac's life is most definitely in danger, but she doesn't know where exactly this danger is coming from, or just how close to her it's going to get.

If you've been looking to satiate your paranormal-loving appetite, look no further than Hemlock by debut author, Kathleen Peacock. This riveting tale combines classic paranormal elements with some of the most beloved and winning traits of YA novels - love, danger, mystery and self-discovery. With a fast-paced plot that has you reeling from the start, readers will be thrust into a world that masks a troubling conspiracy and a deadly clash of races and cultures. Hemlock features heartbreaking characters, strong storylines and a vivid, emotional voice that will have you invested in the outcome from the start. 

I've long since been tired of paranormal novels, and I think I've yet to read a werewolf series which I actually love. I'm in the minority here, as I know there's a certain series by Maggie Stiefvater that I simply did not appreciate. However, Hemlock really defied my expectations which, admittedly, were not very high. Mac was the type of heroine I look for in paranormal novels. Rather than being weak and allowing the trauma of Amy's death to consume her, she throws herself headfirst into the throes of this simmering war and tension. She is the type of heroine that young girls should look up to with a true purpose and passion for those she loves and what she believes in. There is a love triangle in Hemlock, but I was surprisingly not too disappointed. It's fairly well-crafted, and the author does a good job of developing the sides of the romance and creating these polar opposite love interests that both have redeeming qualities. Kyle is sweet and caring on the surface, by Jason's outward vitriol lends to a deeply caring and compassionate heart, which makes you invested in his plight, as well. The best part about the triangle is that it never actually circumvents the plot, itself. We're given fast-paced action throughout, and rather than simply being consumed and overridden by a cloying love story, we're given a subtle triangle that weaves its way into our hearts and gives us something more to believe in. The puzzling mystery, too, is done in a way that kept me guessing from the start. I love not knowing where a book is going, and Hemlock managed to keep me on my toes throughout. The only downfall to this book might be the fact that the setup is pretty formulaic in terms of paranormal novels, but the author puts her own touch on it, which definitely brands it as her own.

Overall, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this book, and I find myself invested in a paranormal series despite my ardent reservations. I give it a 4 out of 5, and I definitely recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy paranormal stories and werewolves.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Let's Talk: Underrated Books on the Market

Friday, June 21, 2013

Let's Talk is a weekly feature here at i swim for oceans. I think it's important that we all have our say, and there's something to be said for raising our voices. Simply put, here on the little old blog, I like to host some of my very own discussion posts because, well, I like to converse with you all.

And so, Let's Talk will feature questions or prompts, which I will answer, too. Love it or hate it, weigh in or don't, it's my hope that Let's Talk will at least get you thinking...and maybe even get you discussing with the rest of us!
What underrated books have you read that you wish more bloggers would highlight and review?

There are so many books on the market - in all genres - that it's an impossibility to even think about reading them all, but let's be honest. We've all read some of those books that absolutely blow us away, yet nobody else seems to read or review them. Why is this? I'll never really know, but the great thing about book blogging is that we have the chance to share some of our favourites with others and recommend what we think they might just be missing. Here's your chance, people! Tell me what I'm missing out on!

I don't read too many books from the male perspective simply because, well, I'm a girl. I find it pretty difficult to get in a guy's shoes unless the author manages to breach that divide and make the male MC's voice and characterization truly transparent and accessible to the female audience. E.C. Myers totally blew me away with this book for multiple reasons. First of all, the concept is both engaging and unnerving. A magic coin? Unforeseeable consequences? Losing yourself to an inanimate object? Yeah, Fair Coin has all of that and so much more. Above all else though, this book is adventurous and fun, taking a new twist on sci-fi and fantasy and becoming a pretty amazing setup to a new series. I find it pretty hard to get invested in series with the amount of books I read and review these days, but let me tell you...this is worth the investment. 

You guys have probably all heard me rave about Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar because - and let's be real here for a second - that book is pretty much perfection in terms of contemporary fiction. It seems as thought Night Beach has taken the back seat to her more famous title though and, while I get it, it's saddening. The great thing about this book is that the author isn't afraid to try (and do) something new that her readers don't know her for. It takes a risk, and it's certainly an eerie and off-kilter book. Best of all though, the characters of the book bare their souls - both dark and light - in this book, and it makes the prose haunting, terrifying and utterly captivating. No, it's not a contemporary read. And no, you probably won't find any great hidden meaning in this book, but you will find excellent characterization, a twisting plot and a story that will keep you guessing. 

I waited forever to read this book, and I actually wonder if others did so, as well, simply because they don't think it will stand out from the rest of their TBR pile. Let me tell you's worth the read. It's not a terribly long book, but it's riveting from start to finish. It takes true skill for an author to manage to successfully set up a book with a tiny cast of survivors characters with limited means, a fairly limited setting and their own mortality looming over their heads. The Raft does this flawlessly though. There is such a tangible tension in this book that I wasn't even sure I'd make it to the end - simply because it was that gripping. There is drama, yes, but even more so, there is an extreme struggle for survival that demands to be heard - and felt. This book is one of my absolute favourite reads of 2013, and I think more bloggers need to give it a go because, trust me, you'll be blown away.

Obviously, there are a ton more books out there I wish more bloggers would read and review, but these are definitely my top three. What books do you think are underrated...or under-reviewed....give me something new to try!

The Well's End: Seth Fishman Interview & Giveaway

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mia Kish is afraid of the dark. And for good reason. When she was a toddler she fell deep into her backyard well only to be rescued to great fanfare and celebrity. In fact, she is small-town Fenton,Colorado’s walking claim to fame. Not like that helps her status at Westbrook Academy, the nearby uber-ritzy boarding school she attends. A townie is a townie. Being nationally ranked as a swimmer doesn’t matter a lick. But even the rarefied world of Westbrook is threated when emergency sirens start blaring and the school is put on lockdown, quarantined and surrounded by soldiers who seem to shoot first and ask questions later. Only when confronted by a frightening virus that ages its victims to death in a manner of hours does Mia realize she may only just be beginning to discover what makes Fenton special.

The answer is behind the walls of the Cave, aka Fenton Electronics. Mia’s dad, the director of Fenton Electronics, has always been secretive about his work. But unless Mia is willing to let her classmates succumb to the strange illness, she and her friends have got to break quarantine, escape the school grounds, and outsmart armed soldiers to uncover the truth about where the virus comes from and what happened down that well. The answers they find just might be more impossible than the virus they are fleeing.
Guys, I am so excited today to feature The Well's End, an upcoming novel by Seth Fishman from Putnam Juvenile! This awesome new addition to the world of YA is set to release on February 25, 2014 (one day apres my birthday, mind you), and it promises a whole lot of mystery, thrilling adventure and maybe just a touch of terror to make you think twice about those things that go bump in the night. Seth dropped by to answer a few of my questions today....and there's even a giveaway for all of you lovelies, so stick around to the end! 

1. What inspired you to set The Well's End in Fenton, Colorado?

Hi Melissa! First of all, thanks to you and your kind readers for their time. I hope this is something interesting to you, and that I provide some vague form of entertainment for your day! This is a good question, with a fairly nebulous answer. I'm from West Texas, which means that if we wanted to go skiing, we went to New Mexico and Colorado on these long trips, so I've been there a number of times in snow and in summer, and feel a sense of teenage familiarity with the area. I made up the town, of course, but I also needed mountains, snow, and the ritz of places like Aspen and Vail nearby. So, it all came together.

2. You have an MC that's a swimmer! This speaks to me (ie: the blog title)...of all the sports in all the world, why swimming?

I'm kinda terrified that you'll read the book and be like, 'no way, swimmers don't do that...' But I made Mia Kish a swimmer for a number of reasons. One is that she fell down this well, which means she was in the dark and in/around water. So she swims to conquer her fear. Another reason is that I wanted her to swim under the ice of a frozen lake, and she has to be good to be able to do that. I interviewed my friend, Matt Block, who used to be nationally ranked in college, about swimming and learned all sorts of things I never knew, like drag suits and how you sweat tons in a pool but never realize. I hope it all works realistically!

3. Mia is terrified of the dark, and it sounds as though The Well's End might be just creepy enough to terrify your readers. What do you think might be the scariest aspect of this book for us?

Great question. I think I made a number of scenes scary (at least, to write, ha), and I hope that comes through. But specific moments aside, I wanted to tackle the idea of trauma defining a person, and how everything they do will be seen through the lens of that trauma. Creepy death, icy cold water, these things, in the book, are more than just plot points, but efforts to make Mia confront herself and her past. Getting lost in the memory of her childhood fall feels so scary to me.

4. Kate Beaton, an incredible artist, has created some brilliant illustrations for The Well's End, including fantastic sketches of your main characters. Do you think she captured their likenesses and personalities in these images? Why, or why not?

She is amazing isn't she? Sadly, there will be no interior art in the book, so these are just one offs, but I think Kate did an awesome job capturing the feel of the characters. To do so, I sent her very long descriptors of each character and we went over them a few times, her asking really smart questions and working really hard to get it right (she went way above and beyond). The physical descriptors of these characters are all spot on, but I love how she has the mood too. Mia, standing at the edge of the icy lake, is just so inside herself. It's perfect!

5. The Well's End releases from Putnam Juvenile on February 25, 2014. What about this book do you think will capture readers and get them dying for a copy as the release date approaches?

Ooh, tough to answer this without sounding to self-congratulatory! But, I'd say that I read lots of YA and I tried to write something that's a bit different. The goal, for me, was to feel realistic, to have characters you recognize and connect with, but then, suddenly, pull you out of your comfort zone and into a new place, so that by the end, you're not sure how you got there. It's a book that's hard to define via genre/category, and I think this is something that's really appealing when I read books. So there's that. But it's also fast-paced and fun and mysterious, which I hope hits you for an entirely different reason!

Find Seth on:

And now, the giveaway! Thanks to the extreme generosity of Putnam Juvenile, one lucky winner will receive an advance e-galley of The Well's End, as well as a piece of original art from Kate Beaton. Be sure to check out more of her character work for the book HERE. This giveaway is open to US/Canada only...simply fill out the Rafflecopter to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Waiting on Wednesday: Loud Awake and Lost

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine, and specifically spotlights upcoming novels we can't wait to read. As always, there are some amazing upcoming books, but this week I'm particularly excited for...

Publisher: Knopf BYR
Publish Date: November 12, 2013
Genre: YA, Thriller
Pages: 304

LOUD. There was an accident. Ember knows at least that much. She was driving. The car was totaled. She suffered back injuries and brain trauma. But she is alive. That's the only thing left she can cling to.

AWAKE. Eight months later, Ember feels broken. The pieces of her former self no longer fit together. She can't even remember the six weeks of her life leading up to the accident. Where was she going? Who was she with? And what happened during those six weeks that her friends and family won't talk about?

LOST. One by one, Ember discovers the answers to these questions, like a twisted game of dominos. And little by little, the person she used to be slips further and further away.
There's a little something wrong with me. Of this, I am certain. I'm terrified of horror films and books, but I always have to watch them. Psychological thrillers creep me out for weeks, but I can't help but always, always experience them. It's a dirty, twisted little habit. I digress. The point is, I absolutely love Adele's writing, and I think that Loud Awake and Lost sounds like one heck of a dark journey with a super-appealing premise. So, naturally I'm sold. Also, in related news, I'll probably never sleep again. What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

Half Lives by Sara Grant Review

Monday, June 17, 2013

Title: Half Lives
Author: Sara Grant (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: July 9, 2013
Genre: YA, Dystopian
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher

Seventeen-year-old Icie's parents have given her $10,000 in cash, a map of a top-secret bunker, and instructions to get there by any means necessary. They have news of an imminent viral attack and know that the bunker is Icie's only hope for survival. Along with three other teens, she lives locked away for months, not knowing what's happening in the outside world or who has survived. And are they safe in the bunker after all?

Generations in the future, a mysterious cult worships the very mountain where Icie's secret bunker was built. They never leave the mountain, they're ruled by a teenager...and they have surprising ties to Icie.
Icie lives in a world that's confined to the hidden, underground shelter of a bunker, simply to stay alive. Icie and her unlikely group of friends struggle to survive in this shelter that's devoid of news of the outside world, and, hundreds of years in the future, Beckett's life races through a series of unfathomable events as he tries to understand the mysteries of the very mountain in which Icie and her friends hid so many years ago. These two teens live generations apart, but there is an inexplicable link that will eventually, ultimately be realized.

Half Lives presents a unique opportunity for readers, as well as a bit of a challenge, which is often lacking in the YA genre. Sara Grant has created an intriguing premise for two decidedly different storylines unravel and unfold, all the while winding back into a single connection, which brings the story full-circle. With clever and articulate details, a heroine with whom readers can relate and a surprising new twist on the dystopian genre, Half Lives promises readers two very different and exciting journeys.

There was a lot going on in Half Lives, and I'll be completely honest and say that not all of it worked for me. I'll start, however, with what really did succeed. Icie's storyline was brilliant. Written in first-person perspective, I was offered a unique twist into accessing a teen protagonist's mind. I was worried that viewing the world and events from Icie's eyes would limit my investment in her storyline, or would keep me from understand the secondary characters Chaske, Marissa and Tate, but I was surprised to find that I had more investment in their arcs because of this viewpoint. On the other hand though, Beckett's side of the story was written in third-person perspective, which usually really succeeds for me, but I felt as though his own storyline felt shallow and difficult to follow. Perhaps it was the vernacular, or the chants and prayers, but I felt like I couldn't really get into his side of the novel. I will say that it was a clever and appropriate differentiation between Icie and Beckett's journeys, but I almost feel like Half Lives could have succeeded far better if the first book was written from Icie's POV, while the second followed Beckett's journey. That said, there were aspects of Beckett's future generation that I did enjoy. I think it was really unique and fun that the place in which they lived was called "Forreal." I enjoyed some of the tense revelations, which often led me down the wrong path and surprised me. Unfortunately though, a lot of the depth I wanted from Beckett's end was lost, and secondary characters became mere stereotypes, while the gripping drama of Icie's storyline slowly slipped away and got lost.

In the end, I'm honestly not sure how I feel about Half Lives. I give the author a ton of credit for tackling a lot with this novel and really challenging her creative bounds. I'm just not sure how well some of the story will resonate with readers, as it left me wanting a bit more at times. I give it a 3 out of 5, and I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy dystopian and split perspectives.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon Review

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Title: Don't Turn Around
Author: Michelle Gagnon (Twitter)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: August 28, 2012
Genre: YA, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Pages: 309
Source: Publisher

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her hacking skills to stay anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in a warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa’s talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation threatens his life in no uncertain terms. But what Noa and Peter don’t realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who’d stop at nothing to silence her for good.
Noa's never had a single person to trust, and it's been this way since she lost her parents. But life in the system was a far cry from fear she has when she wakes up in an unknown place with no memory of how she arrived there. What Noa doesn't know is that she's an asset, and she holds powerful information that could irreparably change the course of events. Can Peter, Noa's newfound ally, and she discover what this faceless corporation wants from them before it's too late, or will they both lose everything?

I'm a bit of a sucker for thrillers. I always have been, and I always will be, which is odd because they make me fear sleeping for days. I know. I digress. The point is, the synopsis for Don't Turn Around was immediately intriguing to me, and I definitely bought into the idea of a dark and sinister operation and a creepy, mysterious vibe. Author, Michelle Gagnon, has created a powerful heroine with whom the reader is able to go on a spine-tingling journey full of twists, turns and plenty of corruption. With a fast pace and a strong voice, Don't Turn Around is sure to whisk you away in its dark embrace.

Don't Turn Around is one of those novels that had a whole heck of a lot going for it. The writing style is fresh and clean, and we're offered a fast-paced introduction into what promises to be an exciting and tension-filled new series. The strongest suit of this book is simply that the action is non-stop. It's the type of book that I literally felt the need to read in one sitting because each page had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out exactly what would happen next. Even better, Don't Turn Around provided just enough mystery and little enough foreshadowing to keep me on my toes, so I never felt as though I was getting too much of the story too soon. Rather, I was riveted from the get-go. Unfortunately, there's a flip-side to this, as well. Because the book was so heavily plot-driven, some of the other aspects of the novel sacrificed their time in the limelight. For one, I never felt as though I could really access Noa or Peter throughout the book. While I felt as though I got their framework, and it was definitely solid, I didn't really get to see these two otherwise powerful characters transform much from start to finish. In addition, a lot of key elements to this series were introduced but not really elaborated upon, such as the virus, PEMA. I would have loved to learn more about it in the first book, but I can only assume that this was not an oversight on the author, but rather a calculated risk in furthering the series. 

All in all, Don't Turn Around might be a book you're tempted to overlook on the shelves, but it's one of those action-packed books that I'm sure I'll pick up again to see if I missed something in my haste to eat it up. I give it a really high 3.5 out of 5, simply because I would have loved more detail on the characters, and I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy YA, sci-fi and mysteries.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Black City by Elizabeth Richards Review

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Title: Black City
Author: Elizabeth Richards (Twitter)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR
Publish Date: November 13, 2012
Genre: YA, Dystopian
Pages: 374
Source: Publisher

In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.

When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.
The world has long since been broken. Natalie has lived a privileged life, in terms of the quality of life afforded most people since the wars. Ash, quite simply, has not. When Natalie's picture-perfect bubble is broken and she's forced to move with her family to Black City and endure public school and the realities of life that most people face, she's thrust headlong into a world that is completely unfamiliar. Ash, however, only knows this world, and their kinds should never, ever fall in love. But the feelings are there, the attraction is undeniable and things can only get worse from here.

I've mentioned a lot recently that I think that dystopian novels are fairly outplayed. I think that this happens for most genres, and it really just goes in cycles. Nevertheless, I was excited to read Black City and learn about this dark, bleak world in which danger, war and strife come standard. Elizabeth Richards truly succeeds in crafting a world ruled by corruption and fear and, in terms of dystopian settings, Black City ranks among the craftiest, most twisted around. Merging a powerful and tumultuous love story, an incredibly atmospheric backdrop and a clever mix of genres, Black City leads the pack.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that this book was actually a bit more cross-genre than straight dystopian. Whereas so many novels rely solely on pushing a love story into a darker world, Black City embraces the complexities of racial tension and a broken society, weaving complexities in to what could have easily become a very flat story. I found Natalie to be pretty unlikable from the start, if I'm being honest. She's a brat, and she's never had to work for anything, so seeing her complain about her situation made me resent her. However, we do get to see a good bit of character growth as the novel progresses, and she did begin to grow on me. Ash was a complex character, and I found it easier to empathize with him from the start, simply because he has never been dealt the easiest hand in life. He always made the best of it though, and his internal struggles bleed onto the pages, making him extremely relatable to the reader. Their love was quite well-defined, albeit a bit rushed. I think the tension could have been played up a bit more, but I was definitely intrigued by the time-tested concept of girl and boy from opposite sides of the tracks (or, in this case, the wall). The writing is fluid, and the pace is easy, thrusting us into the Black City from the very start. I'll admit that the lack of background on the backdrop of this foreign world left me confused at first, but I began to enjoy how it was peppered throughout. One thing, however, that continues to bug me is that there seems to be a lot of extremes when we take the actions and reactions of the Darklings into context. I'm not sure it painted them, or Ash, in a very good light, and it made it hard to get invested in their plight.

All in all, I really enjoyed the concept of Black City. While there were some plot holes, and the ending left me grasping at straws, it was definitely a solid and engaging read. I give it a 4 out of 5, and I recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy paranormal, dystopian and sci-fi stories. 

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Let's Talk: Dark Books on the YA Market

Friday, June 14, 2013

Let's Talk is a new weekly feature here at i swim for oceans. I think it's important that we all have our say, and there's something to be said for raising our voices. Simply put, here on the little old blog, I like to host some of my very own discussion posts because, well, I like to converse with you all.

And so, Let's Talk will feature questions or prompts, which I will answer, too. Love it or hate it, weigh in or don't, it's my hope that Let's Talk will at least get you thinking...and maybe even get you discussing with the rest of us!
What do you think about darker books on the YA market?

Most of you know that I'm a huge fan of issue books. I think there's a brilliant, understated skill to darker novels that have the ability to bare the very essence of brute human nature. I, personally, think these books are incredibly important for the younger generations because it encourages dialogue and discussions. It brings otherwise forbidden issues out into the open and creates a discourse. 

However, there are definitely those people that feel that darker issue books have no place on the YA market. Some people believe these books should be catered towards a mature audience, as younger readers might be damaged or scarred by reading these books. I don't discount that darker issue books are challenging to read. In fact, I believe the should be hard to read. If they weren't the subject matter wouldn't have such a hard-hitting impact upon reading audiences. 

Some of my favourite books are those that are the most painful to read. They make me think. They challenge me to explore some of the most painful and degrading human emotions and conditions. Most of all though, they make me feel. I also believe that if these books are done well, they are vital to the YA market because they challenge readers to step outside their comfort zones, empathize for others and, in some cases, come to terms with issues of their own. The most successful darker YA books on the market today for me include, but certainly aren't limited to:

What do you think about darker books in the YA market? Do you think they're important? Do you have a list of darker issue books that have done more for you than others? I think these books are important, but I'd love to hear what others thinks, as well! 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover