Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst Review

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Title: Conjured
Author: Sarah Beth Durst (Twitter)
Publisher: Walker Children's
Publish Date: September 3, 2013
Genre: YA, Paranormal, Fantasy
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher

Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she's in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.
I have an odd fascination with all things dark and twisted when it comes to books, so it was no surprise to me that Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst spoke to me on some sadistic little level. Paranormal is one of those genres that I doubt will ever grow truly old if authors commit to taking a new stance and sort of blur the lines between subgenres. This is one of those novels that actually convinced me of this fact, if only because the author manages to create this beautiful and sinister melting pot of paranormal, magic and horror, giving readers a thrilling whodunit mystery all the while. 

This is not the first book I've read by Ms. Durst, and I'm familiar with her whirlwind writing style, which interjects a sort of realism to an otherwise otherworldly novel. Conjured flows fairly seamlessly, never faltering in terms of plot points, and while I was concerned about how we would be introduced to Eve's memory loss, I have to say that it was done really well. Eve's frustration and confusion is palpable, and it's as jarring to the reader as I'm sure it was for her. The author plays into this lack of information well, stringing us along as Eve discovers things, as well. In this way, the lack of foreboding really amps up the drama because, like Eve, we have no idea what's coming, or where she's come from.

Conjured is the type of book that makes it difficult to formulate an accurate portrayal of what exactly happened in the novel because it is completely and utterly trippy. From start to finish, this novel is a whirlwind of dark and brooding circus imagery, a creepy, atmospheric air to the setting and characters and, at times, this oppressing and overwhelming sense of limbo. Ultimately though, it's this smothering atmosphere that makes the story really soar because it is the murky details that really let the drama and danger shine through.

I did struggle with Eve at times though because, while it was understandable that the Witness Protection Program defined who she was at the start of the novel, I feel as though she lacked the ultimate growth that I'd hoped for in the end. I didn't see her personality fully come into its own, and I felt that, at times, she was overshadowed by the incredible stage that Ms. Durst created for the plot of the novel. Furthermore, we're offered a handful of secondary characters including a love interest, Alex, who felt a bit like afterthoughts at times. I want to get invested in a relationship between characters, but if we don't have the appropriate time to grow with them together, it simply doesn't work for me.

Despite these hiccups though, I thought Conjured was a pretty good read that really does offer the dark magic that readers are promised through the synopsis and cover and, in the end, that's what I wanted. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, and I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy dark paranormal and fantasy 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.

Waiting on Wednesday: Silver

Wednesday, November 27, 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: Silver
Author: Chris Wooding 
Publisher: Scholastic
Publish Date: March 25, 2014
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Pages: 320

Paul is the new kid at Mortingham Boarding Academy, and he has a dark secret. Caitlyn admires Paul from afar and resents that he only has eyes for Erika. Erika thinks that she and Caitlyn are best friends, but she's wrong. Adam is a bully with a major chip on his shoulder. Mark is outgrowing his old friends but doesn't know how to make new ones.

In a few short hours, none of this will matter. Without warning, a horrifying infection will spread across the school grounds, and a group of students with little in common will find themselves barricaded in a classroom, fighting for their lives. Some will live. Some will die. And then it will get even worse.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of horror - when it's done well, that is, and it seems as though there's a new crop of authors marketing such materials to the YA audience. Colour me absolutely thrilled. Silver sounds like one of those novels that's going to create the perfect marriage of sci-fi and horror, machines and humanity and a race for survival. All those things speak to me, and I have to admit that I'm absolutely, completely smitten with the idea of this story. Does that make me a sadist? Masochist? Either way, I'm okay with it. What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

Contemporary Fiction: What Does & Does Not Work for Me

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's no secret on this blog that I have a love/hate relationship with contemporary fiction. Throughout my time book blogging though, I've come to learn that I don't actually hate the genre as a whole. I was simply reading the wrong type of contemporary fiction for me. In the past year, I can honestly say that one of my favourite books was a contemporary novel, and that really means something, considering I used to avoid it like the plague. The key, for me, was identifying the types of contemporary fiction that will and won't work for me. For example:

When I read Hate List, I was absolutely floored by the depth of despair that not just one, but many characters, faced in their lives after the impact of a true-to-life event. The shooting and the list set the stage for a powerhouse drama that makes you search deep within yourself, wondering how you might react in such a circumstance. Sometimes it Happens errs on the side of fluffier relationship dramas that, for me, don't work. In many ways though, it too explores the lives of the characters after a true-to-life event and chronicles the depth and magnitude of it all. But for me, I found that it was much more limited in scope, and the emotional connection just wasn't there.

I've learned that I need my contemporary novels to be gritty, raw and real. I want them to evoke emotions and embrace the reality of life - good or bad. I don't read contemporary for escapism - I have fantasy and paranormal for that. I read contemporary novels to understand myself and the world around me better. This isn't a hard and fast rule though because there are softer stories that work for me, too. However, if you find yourself looking for more realistic contemporary fiction, here are a few of my favourites:

And, as one who doesn't love softer, more heavily romantic contemporary novels for the most part, there are exceptions to every rule! Here are some of my favourites that don't necessarily fit my own self-imposed ideal:

^^^ And yes, there are issues in these novels, too, but the relationships take center stage.

What are your thoughts on contemporary fiction? Is there a specific genre that you, too, struggle to read but have found the exceptions to the rule? I'd love to hear it! 

Allegiant by Veronica Roth Review

Monday, November 25, 2013

Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth (Twitter)
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publish Date: October 22, 2013
Genre: YA, Dystopian
Pages: 526
Source: Personal Copy

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
In my time as a book blogger, I've reviewed very few series in their entirety. This is for several reasons. First and foremost, it's daunting to have to schedule reviews for one series on a blog. Second and, perhaps, most importantly though, series tend to have some very high highs for me, and some very low points, as well. However, I've been invested in the Divergent trilogy from the start, and I'll admit that I fell prey to the hype as much as the next person. As such, in many ways, Allegiant proved to be what I consider to be a worthy end to a fantastic series.

Allegiant has a bit of dichotomy to its reviews. It seems as though readers either love it or hate it, and there really is no middle ground. Veronica Roth took a true risk with this novel, knowing full well that she had us waiting with baited breath and turning the tables on us. This book offers us what we've been waiting for, but at the same time, it rips away that facade of happiness we've had all the while, too. Book three is one of emotional turmoil from start to finish, and it's a roller coaster. Throughout books one and two, I felt as though I always had Four and Tris's solid companionship to fall back on, but everything about this novel threw me for a loop.

When I get to the heart of the matter though, Allegiant is about a war. Yes, we're taking a journey with some incredible characters, and we've witnessed Tris's growth into a force to be reckoned with. Yes, we've come to know and love Four's strength, his resilience, his defiance and his heart. Yes, we've always known that war comes with casualties, but I don't think any of us were truly prepared for how very high the stakes were in this novel. At the end of the day, war comes at a cost, and people will always pay the price. Sometimes, it is the ultimate price, and while we think we're prepared to take these things in stride, there is a feeling of emptiness when it actually comes to pass.

My feelings for Allegiant run very deep. I do believe that Ms. Roth gave us a fitting end - albeit perhaps not the one I might have wanted. She made it abundantly clear that there is no real glory, or romance, or beauty in war. It will only bring about death, and grief, and destruction. I enjoyed that Allegiant diverted me from what I expected. I learned more about this world outside of the factions than I ever thought I would and, though it didn't necessarily make me happy, it worked. I did, however, have issue at times with the dual narration, was well as a few very abrupt character changes that I struggled to reconcile with. I think that  so much time was spent leading up to the grand finale that we lost some of the meat that would have made important scenes and events clearer in the end.

Overall, I understand why some readers really disliked the ending, but I have to say that I can appreciate what we received with Allegiant. It's not what I wanted, but at the same time, I think it's everything that I needed for closure in this series. I highly recommend lots of tissues when reading this book, and I give it a 4 out of 5. This book will be great for all lovers of YA and dystopian novels.

Let's Talk: Bookish Things We're Thankful For

Friday, November 22, 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!
With Thanksgiving approaching, what are you most thankful about in the world of books (blogging, authors...anything) this year?

Thanksgiving is one my all-time favourite holidays - probably mostly because we get to spend this time with our loved ones, all of whom abstain judgment about our overeating for one day. Yes, I'm that gluttonous. However, truly, there are so many things to be thankful this year, and when I began to think about it in terms of my blog, I'm thankful for so many things. Here are just a few:

  • I've been blogging for almost four years now, and the fact that I managed to come back to some wonderful, sweet friends and follower after a nearly 8-month hiatus was something I'm really, truly thankful for. Who would have thought that I'd still have readers after that long - and some wonderful new ones, at that?
  • The book blogosphere has changed a lot over the past three(+) years and, while some of these changes might not have been my favourite, there seems to be a loyal core of friends, wonderful reviews, generous publisher and fantastic authors. 
  • I am so, so, so thankful to the amazing authors whom we get to interact with every day. This community has really united people around a true love of books and the written word, and the authors we interact with are the present and future of our literature. It's fantastic to watch people transition from bloggers, to literary interns and editorial assistants and, sometimes, authors themselves!
  • The publishers are pretty much a godsend for book bloggers out there. Their dedication and generosity fuels the fire and excitement for new books, inspires us to try new things and, at times, step outside of our comfort zone. Going to BEA and meeting some of the publicists I interact with on a daily basis is one of my all-time favourite memories.
  • My fantastic, amazing, wonderful friends and readers...I am thankful for all of YOU. Even if I didn't have a blog, I'd be reading every day, but the fact that you introduce me to books and vice versa multiple times a week is incomparable. The fact that you take my opinions to heart is so amazing and, basically, you all rock!

This season makes me sentimental, so you'll have to forgive me, but I'm truly thankful for so much that I've seen, done and accomplished through book blogging, and I've made so many wonderful friends through it all. It's quite the community we have, my friends!

Rags & Bones Anthology Review

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Title: Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales
Authors: Multiple
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: October 22, 2013
Genre: YA
Pages: 356
Source: Publisher

The best writers of our generation retell the classics.

Literature is filled with sexy, deadly, and downright twisted tales. In this collection, award-winning and bestselling authors reimagine their favorite classic stories, ones that have inspired, awed, and enraged them; ones that have become ingrained in modern culture; and ones that have been too long overlooked. They take these stories and boil them down to their bones, and then reassemble them for a new generation of readers.

Today's most acclaimed authors use their own unique styles to rebuild these twelve timeless stories.
Anthologies are often what what I like to think of as a mixed blessing. They give readers a little bit of everything they could ever want and, sometimes, a little more than they might have wanted. They give us a lot of amazing authors, but they don't always give us enough of our favourites. Nevertheless, anthologies are priceless, as I'm always amazed just how many authors there are with different mindsets, different voices, different narratives and, truly, different perspectives on storytelling. Rags & Bones was certainly no exception, offering readers retellings of stories such as "Sleeping Beauty," "Rumplestiltskin" and many more. 

It is difficult to review an anthology as a whole because often the anthology as a whole doesn't quite measure up to the sum of its parts. However, if you take each story as its own entity within this grand master package, you're certain to be mesmerized. Rags & Bones gives us 12 dazzling tales that are reimagined through some of the most incredible minds of our generation. Neil Gaiman, Kami Garcia, Holly Black and a host of other authors lend us their literary prowess and send us into a whirlwind of adventure as we leap from one story to the next with excitement.

A true standout for me would have to be Neil Gaiman's take on Sleeping Beauty or, re-named, "The Sleeper and the Spindle." This rich story blurs the lines between fairy tales, letting other known princesses like Snow White come to the aid of the damsel in distress. It's rich, it's vivid, it's oddly empowering and it offers us a glimpse into this world that is so different than we might have imagined, but so very plausible, too, if you think about it. Rick Yancey offers us "When First We Were Gods," a new take on Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic "The Birth-Mark." This disconcerting dystopian tale is unsettling and eerie in a world where the rich can download their souls and place it into a new body.

Carrie Ryan's version of "The Machine Stops" is equally disconcerting, playing largely upon man's dependence upon technology. Her unique and accessible voice brings the world alive though, inviting you in with tantalizing detail and luring us into a wonderful, technological trap. The list goes on. Each story is vivid with detail, and it was delightful to gain a new sort of insight into the authors' worlds and how they see such classics being told.

While anthologies usually don't work for me, Rags & Bones was really very enjoyable. Though, at times, I found the pace a bit frantic and the stories almost a bit too short for my liking, they whetted my literary appetite and kept me intrigued throughout. If you're looking for an anthology that will come alive for you, I highly recommend this. I give it a 4 out of 5, and this is suitable for both YA and NA audiences.

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.

Waiting on Wednesday: Torn Away

Wednesday, November 20, 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: Torn Away
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: May 6, 2014
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 288

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jersey Cameron knows all about tornadoes. Or so she thinks. When her town is devastated by a twister, Jersey survives -- but loses her mother, her young sister, and her home. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with her only surviving relatives: first her biological father, then her estranged grandparents.

In an unfamiliar place, Jersey faces a reality she's never considered before -- one in which her mother wasn't perfect, and neither were her grandparents, but they all loved her just the same. Together, they create a new definition of family. And that's something no tornado can touch.
There are few contemporary novels that have made it onto my all-time favourites list, and there are probably far fewer authors that have made it onto that same list for me. Jennifer Brown, however, is definitely up there on the top of my list, so you'd better believe I have my eye on all her new and upcoming releases. Torn Away strikes me as one of those books that's going to make you work to find happiness, and you guys know how I like my contemps dark, rich and real. Needless to say, I can't wait. What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

Mini Review: Exposed by Kimberly Marcus

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Title: Exposed
Author: Kimberly Marcus (Twitter)
Publisher: Random House BYR
Publish Date: February 22, 2011
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 255
Source: Personal Copy

Sixteen-year-old Liz is Photogirl—sharp, focused and confident in what she sees through her camera lens. Confident that she and Kate will be best friends forever.

But everything changes in one blurry night. Suddenly, Kate is avoiding her, and people are looking the other way when she passes in the halls. As the aftershocks from a startling accusation rip through Liz's world, everything she thought she knew about photography, family, friendship and herself shifts out of focus. What happens when the picture you see no longer makes sense? What do you do when you may lose everything you love most?
Verse novels are often difficult to read because they are sparse. It is in that sparseness, however, that we find the meaning and the power of a great verse novel, and I was thrilled to find that Exposed filled the void within those spaces with tension and raw grit. Kimberly Marcus embraced the true nature of the verse novel form and wrote between the lines, offering us the story of Liz, a smart, girl-next-door kind of teen, whose life is suddenly turned upside down. There is a beautiful, sad poetry to this book that offers us an aching tangible sort of empathy, but also winds us into a world alive in its descriptions.

I was surprised to find just how accessible Liz's emotions were in this novel, as I figured the poetic nature of Exposed would overshadow any sort of character development. Through her photography and the emotional turmoil of Liz's verses, we are able to truly understand and come to terms with the depth of her emotions. Furthermore, Kate and Liz's brother Mike were also standout characters, offering readers so much more than they might have hoped to gain from reading a quick-paced verse novel.

I've read several such novels now, but I can clearly say that Exposed wins the top prize for me thus far. There is drama, power and beauty to spare, and with each verse, I found myself more and more mesmerized by the skill it takes to weave a story in the blank spaces. There is a complexity to the simplicity of this novel, and it's something that really raised the bar for me. I give it a 4.5 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction and verse novels.

Fault Line by Christa Desir Review

Monday, November 18, 2013

Title: Fault Line
Author: Christa Desir (Twitter)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publish Date: October 15, 2013
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone. Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.
Contemporary fiction is a genre that seems to either hit very well with me, or simply miss me entirely. I know that many readers and reviewers read contemporary for escapism. I, however, read the genre when I'm looking for a hearty dose of reality that I cannot otherwise find in fantasy, paranormal, or dystopian books. Fault Line promises readers a dark, emotional journey and, as we're thrust into a tumultuous and emotional journey, Christa Desir exposes the underbelly of society that we do not like to see. 

Fault Line is one of those books that will have either extremely strong advocates for it, as well as those who are immensely opposed to it. Dealing with the messy, painful topic of rape, this book embraces the grittiness and rips us from our comfort zones. There is strength in this, as it isn't glossed over or muddled with unimportant romance. Rather, the aftermath of such a heinous act feels as though the book, the characters and, at times, the plot, have been broken and ravaged by such a vicious crime.

I, for one, can appreciate that Ms. Desir didn't turn this book into merely a cautionary tale in which we see the hurt, but we watch our main character simply bounce back after the fact. I think that would have defeated the purpose of Fault Line. Rather, as the title implies, we see where everything begins to crack, crumble and fall apart, causing this ripple effect of destruction to everyone and everything about Ani. When we meet Ben and Ani, their banter is endearing and hilarious. They are real, and it's a great draw into the story. However, the crime decimates Ani's character, shattering her reality and, essentially, ripping away Ben's identity, as well. 

Despite the strengths of the premise though, I felt that Fault Line became too obvious and too jumbled at times. There are so many gray areas and so very many emotions that can be played out throughout the story, but they truly got lost in the shock value of the novel. There is a meaning to the lighter on the cover, and there is certainly a meaning to the message "Who do you blame?" on the cover. My issue is that we're offered almost too much and from the wrong point of view. We bounce from one painful act to the next and, when I feel like I know Ben, he does something that makes me lose faith in his character entirely. I simply could not come to terms with his rationale. 

Overall, Fault Line has a ton of potential, but it isn't without its flaws. The author makes a bold choice when tackling such dark subject matter, but I think that any inherent meaning is a bit lost in the shock value we see.   I give it a  2.5 out of 5, and I recommend it to upper YA/NA readers, as the subject matter is heavy and, at times, a bit graphic. This is for fans of 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.

Let's Talk: Books That You Value the Most

Friday, November 15, 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 on your shelves do you value the most and why?

On any given day that someone asks me this, I reserve the right to change this answer. That said though, there are a few books on my shelf that mean the world to me and have for a long time now. These books have a little love in their pages. They hold heartaches and secrets and, at times, these books were my hideaway…my escape. For that reason, these books hold a pretty treasured spot on my shelf.

Many Waters is the first of Madeleine L'Engle's "Time" series that actually worked for me. Funnily enough, it's also the fourth book in a series of five, and it's the only one that focuses directly on Sandy and Dennis, the twin brothers. In this story, the boys are transported back to the time of Noah's Ark and discover that, while much of the world is as the Bible tells it, there's so much more to it, as well, including mammoths, Seraphs and the snide Nephilim. 

This book singularly sparked my desire to read all day every day. I read it in one sitting, and I've read my copy so many times that cover fell off. So, these days, I keep three copies on my shelf. My first is damaged but well-loved. My second is hard-cover for safety and the third is by my bedside…always.

When I started book blogging and discovered Goodreads, I learned that I'd actually been reading fantasy long before I ever knew that I was doing so. I was a pretentious little reader when I was younger, and I was of the school of thought that the bigger the book was, the smarter I was. So, while my friends were bringing their Babysitters Club books to school, I proudly hefted these to class every day.

I got so enmeshed in this incredible world that Brian Jacques created in Redwall that I've read every single book in this series. And, to be honest, I don't even know how many of these books there are now. This, however, was my first, and I treasure my copy along with the rest of its successors.

I've read a lot of books while book blogging, but few books have made such an impact on me that I verbally coerced an Australian friend to send me a copy before we actually found a way to buy it in the states. Raw Blue is such an intense, vivid read that not only tugs at your heartstrings, but it almost draws out your hidden pain and makes you confront it, as well. 

Kirsty Eagar has written what I largely consider to be one of the most underrated books ever outside of the blogosphere. There is a delicate, pulsing pain to this novel that radiates throughout, but we heal through it, as well, all the while doing so alongside our protagonist, Carly. This book is one that I share with everyone I meet…but they can only borrow the second copy.

Pawn by Aimee Carter Review

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Title: Pawn
Author: Aimee Carter (Twitter)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: November 26, 2013
Genre: YA, Dystopian
Pages: 346
Source: Publisher

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There's only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that's not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she's only beginning to understand.
These days, it seems as though dystopian novels are a dime a dozen and, for the most part, we don't complain because such stories offer us this incredible glimpse into a potential future society; albeit fictional. However, over time, we've watched as many dystopian novels have become watered down and mere shells of what the genre implies. Luckily for us, Pawn does no such thing. Offering readers a broken, fragmented society, a young heroine with the the entire world hanging in the balance and a shot at the ultimate redemption for all, this novel embraces what the dystopian genre us and clings to its shattered reality.

I've read The Goddess Test series by Aimee Carter before, so I was certain we would be given a world in which we could lose ourselves yet again, and I wasn't disappointed. While not altogether different than other different dystopian backstories, Pawn welcomes us into a world in which a test administered to teens determines their future in either poverty or the elite. There is a clever twist to this test though, giving readers a more snide and sadistic turn to this rather commonplace backdrop. There is a score in the novel which a person can get that transforms them into something else entirely. It means their past is erased, their future is pre-determined, and they are funneled down one path alone. 

Kitty, for the most part, is an incredibly likable and accessible protagonist. Throughout Pawn though, we watch as she's transformed into this new person and, in doing so, almost becomes another being entirely. While we can sense that she is the same person, as her moral compass remains intact, we watch as her disposition is slowly but surely altered to fit that of her new identity. Sometimes quiet and comfortably normal, it is a pleasure for us to watch as her status is elevated, and she has the opportunity - and power - to change the future of her people.

Pawn plays host to a whirlwind plot, as well. The pacing is superb, and we're never in one place or one time for too long. Just as we think we know enough, we're thrust into a new scenario, a new plot twist, or another carefully and strategically-revealed secret. Each element is planned out with precision and leads us to the next, but it does so without offering too much foreshadowing so as to give anything away. There is a sweet love interest in this story, but it was refreshing to find that, while it plays a significant role, it's not the end-all, be-all by any means. It was, however, established at the forefront of the story, which I found a bit out of place.

Overall, I was really quite impressed by the depth of Pawn. Ms. Carter has most definitely tightened up her writing style since her previous novels, and the prose itself is clear and fluid. Despite the minor hiccup with the relationship development, I enjoy the story. I give it a 4 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy dystopian novels.

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.

Waiting on Wednesday: House of Ivy & Sorrow

Wednesday, November 13, 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: HarperTeen
Publish Date: April 15, 2014
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Pages: 352

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline.

Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.
Curses?! Witches?! You shut the front door! For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I've been clamoring around looking for a new paranormal novel to darken (or brighten, depending how you look at it) my doorstep. House of Ivy & Sorrow sounds like it's all that and more. I'm a huge fan of dark and twisting novels that evoke powerful emotions for tangible characters in a fantasy-driven environment, and I can't wait to give this one a go. Plus, for the record, the cover art is just to die for. What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

Top Ten Tuesday: Covers I Wish I Could Redesign

Tuesday, November 12, 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.

The Top Ten Covers I Wish I Could Redesign

For the record, I'm not a designer. I try my hand at it occasionally, but let's be honest. I'm never going to be a designer, and any sad attempts I did feign would probably fall remarkably short. All that aside, however, there are some covers that just don't work for me - whether aesthetically, or simply in context of the novel. Others, well, they had amazing predecessors and then simply settled for ordinary (cough…Return to Paradise and Fathomless). And, for the record, I've always thought the girl on the first Vampire Academy book was Angelina Jolie. I'm jussayin'.

Circle of Silence by Carol M. Tanzman. Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle. Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles. Fathomless by Jackson Pearce. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt. Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson. Need by Carrie Jones. Dark Song by Gail Giles.

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd Review

Monday, November 11, 2013

Title: The Madman's Daughter
Author: Megan Shepherd (Twitter)
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publish Date: January 29, 2013
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Personal Copy

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
There is an inherent beauty to gothic novels that lies within the dark and brooding madness; because it's in that twisted maze of darkness that lies a faint glimmer of hope - and truth - that leads the story and the reader in the right direction throughout. The Madman's Daughter stood out for me from the young adult crowd because it's a rarity in which we see an author truly commit to a rather gruesome idea and take a no-holds-barred approach to the nature of the genre. Megan Shepherd has crafted a stunning novel that's powerful in its darkness, vivid in its intensity and wholeheartedly, unsettlingly incredible.

The Madman's Daughter reads much like the title implies. The story is a maze of intrigue and mystery and, at times, the complexity of it seems rather mad. We're given the story of a daughter that is trying to understand the true nature of her father who, for all intents and purposes, is a mad scientist and, in doing so, we're unwittingly swept up into the same whirlwind that Juliet lives everyday. It's an eerie concept to live in a world in which your father is the sole nature of your ruin, and Juliet's quiet resolve to uncover the truth was heartening and truly believable. She was a source of light in an eerie and subtly bleak novel.

The way in which the settings were presented to the reader within The Madman's Daughter is arguably one of the foremost strengths of the novel. The island is a brooding and horrific place, plagued by deformed creatures borne of a brilliantly mad mind. Time seems to stand still on the island, setting it vastly apart from Juliet's life in London and leaving us feeling incredibly isolated and trapped in the lair of a madman. With each twist and turn, I was left with more questions and, inevitably, more shocked by each revelation. The plot was so incredibly layered that, at times, some of the relationships in the novel seemed rather irrelevant.

That, unfortunately, leads me to my one qualm with the novel. The Madman's Daughter errs on the edge of perfection. In fact, it is precariously close to it, but the subtle love triangle between Juliet, Montgomery and Edward felt a bit out of place in such a stellar example of a gothic novel. Overall, the triangle wasn't overbearing, but I felt that it was almost an afterthought in terms of complexity since the rest of the story was so rich and layered. The tension was tangible at times, but there were hints of an instant connection that left a bit of bitter taste in my mouth.

Despite that singular flaw though, I found The Madman's Daughter to be a rich and utterly engrossing read. I think it's safe to say that gothic novels like this might just be my cup of tea, and I can't wait to read what's next to come in this story. I give it a 4 out of 5, and I highly recommend it fans of YA, especially those who enjoy historical fiction and gothic novels.

One by Leigh Ann Kopans Review

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Title: One
Author: Leigh Ann Kopans (Twitter)
Publisher: Self-Published
Publish Date: June 11, 2013
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Paranormal
Pages: 374
Source: Personal Copy

When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak. It makes you a One. Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly – too bad all she can do is hover.

If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances. Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other.

Merrin's mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub's internship short list, but as she gets closer to the life she always wanted, she discovers that the Hub’s purpose is more sinister than it has always seemed. Now it’s up to her to decide if it's more important to fly solo, or to save everything - and everyone - she loves.
Science fiction novels always seem to broach ever-so-delicately upon perfection. So many novels lack that last bit of elegance though, which sets them apart. One by author, Leigh Ann Kopans, easily captures that missing piece of the puzzle, sliding into a state in which it sets itself apart from other sci-fi novels. Superpowers are not a new concept to the genre and, more often than not, they end up feeling trite and cliche, tired and utterly unoriginal. With careful precision though, One gives us a story about superheroes that inspires a bit of heroism within ourselves, as well.

It takes great strength for a novel to transcend the pages, and I often find the superhero tales leave me feeling more or less inadequate, simply because we are offered a tale of strength and force at face value. One of the most beautiful aspects of One that truly sets it apart from the rest of the young adult crowd is that, while it's a story of superpowers and, yes, strength, it's more about moral fiber and inner strength than anything else. Without these qualities, the heroine we're offered would most likely have felt lackluster and a bit flat.

Merrin is the ideal heroine for a tale within this genre. She's a girl with brilliant potential, but the society in which she lives has branded her less than the best. Rather than allow herself to be trapped by this societal constraint though, Mer continues to search within herself for her own hidden strengths which could propel her to new heights. It was refreshing to see a character empowered and emboldened enough to truly take matters into her own hands. 

Romance in young adult has been incredibly hit or miss for me lately, so I'll admit that I was wary of an insta-connection in One. Rather than offering us an insta-love though, the novel succeeds in balancing that rush of intensity of teenage romance; the need for immediacy and that all-consuming desire to find that connection. However, rather than fall into an instantaneous love, we watch as Mer and Elias's independent natures combine to create something completely magical. They never lose their own identities in their romance, but rather, their characters blossom when you add one to another. I truly hope more young adult novels take note in crafting romantic relationships, as One gives us a slow-burning, believable and, frankly, gorgeous love.

Overall, One was a fantastic read, and I have to say that it is a standout novel in the genre for me. While, at times, I felt that the world-building could have been fleshed out a bit further, I think that it was interspersed within the prose well, and it never felt overbearing or like an info-dump. I give this book a 4.5 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy science fiction and paranormal stories.

Let's Talk: 2013 Cover Trends

Friday, November 8, 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 cover trend would you like to see continued in the coming year? Is there anything you hope is discontinued in 2014?

It's no secret on this blog that I'm a cover slut. It's also no secret that I took a nearly 8 month hiatus from book blogging simply to regain my sanity and, to be honest, rediscover my love of this blog, the blogosphere and what we do. In that time, I read a lot of the books that have spent months unread on my shelves, and I missed a lot of the new cover trends for 2013. That said, I began to rediscover them in full force once I started up again, and here are a couple of the biggest trends that I noticed.

Words as the Focal Cover Art

Distorted Faces

Backs on the Cover

Movement on the Covers

Some of these actually fall into multiple categories, now that I look closer at them. Here's the thing. For the most part, I don't mind these trends. I really, really love that fonts and the titles of novels are becoming more prominent. That, specifically, is something I'd love to see more of. I'd still really like to see less of girls in pretty dress, and I think that the dystopian/broken city in the background is becoming tired. There are better ways to show a post-apocalyptic world. One trend I'd really like to see more of us underwater covers. They were big in 2012, and I loooooved them

Waterfell by Amalie Howard Review

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Title: Waterfell
Author: Amalie Howard (Twitter)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: October 29, 2013
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Pages: 360
Source: Publisher

Nerissa Marin hides among teens in her human form, waiting for the day she can claim her birthright—the undersea kingdom stolen from her the day her father was murdered. Blending in is her best weapon—until her father's betrayer confronts Nerissa and challenges her to a battle to the death on Nerissa's upcoming birthday—the day she comes of age.

Amid danger and the heartbreak of her missing mother, falling for a human boy is the last thing Nerissa should do. But Lo Seavon breaches her defenses and somehow becomes the only person she can count on to help her desperate search for her mother, a prisoner of Nerissa's mortal enemy. Is Lo the linchpin that might win Nerissa back her crown? Or will this mortal boy become the weakness that destroys her?
Mermaids are quite the rarity in young adult fiction, or so I've discovered in my 3+ years as a book blogger. And, when they are broached, so often we see the age-old tale of the Little Mermaid. Rarely do we see an author craft a story rich with mythology, backstory, danger and intrigue, but Amalie Howard has done exactly that with Waterfell. The novel gives us a new type of mer-creature; one that is so vastly different from the glimmering and beguiling sea folk we've come to expect from the few stories that present to us tales of mermaids. 

Nerissa, our heroine, is of the Aquarathi, a breed of underwater creatures that most might consider mermaids and men. However, her true form under the sea couldn't be further from the image that comes to mind. When Nerissa takes on her true form and claims her birthright, she becomes a sea serpent…and a massive one at that. The biggest strength of Waterfell was Ms. Howard's ability to paint such a vivid picture of this breed of paranormal creatures. Not only are we given the Aquarathi though, we're also given a distinct backstory that truly presents Nerissa's claim in the limelight for us.

Perhaps even better, when Waterfell describes the destruction that her kingdom endured, we see true evil. The author paints a world that's dark and menacing, but all the while haunting and alluring, all of which pulls us into this twisted underwater world. Written in a clear and distinct voice, there is a cold and articulated danger that we sense from page one, and it's easy to see why Nerissa has become so very self-sufficient, strong and independent.

Therein, however, lies my issue with the book. We are offered so very much with Waterfell. We are welcomed into a terrifyingly beautiful underwater world full of drama and strife. We have a fantastic heroine in whom to find hope and promise. And yet, we're offered a completely average love interest in Lo. While so much of the story is excels, and we're excited that this might just be the mermaid book to break the mold and make a strong case for this realm of the paranormal, Lo fell very flat. He was beautiful, and he somehow conquered Nerissa's steely exterior. Unfortunately, I felt that the romance was too much, and it overshadowed much of the positives of the novel, simply settling it to rest on its laurels.

Overall, Waterfell was a good book. It gives us a great premise and a vivid world, but it fell prey to the same fate that befalls so many books within the genre today. It could have done with less romance and more mystery, in my humble opinion. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, and I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy paranormal romance.

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.

Waiting on Wednesday: Wickedpedia

Wednesday, November 6, 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: Wickedpedia
Publisher: Scholastic
Publish Date: June 24, 2014
Genre: YA, Horror
Pages: 224

It's the return of Point Horror for the Internet generation! Don't open the door. Don't answer your phone. And whatever you do, DON'T turn on your computer.

Cole and Greg love playing practical jokes through Wikipedia. They edit key articles and watch their classmates crash and burn giving oral reports on historical figures like Genghis Khan, the first female astronaut on Jupiter. So after the star soccer player steals Cole's girlfriend, the boys take their revenge by creating a Wikipedia page for him, an entry full of outlandish information including details about his bizarre death on the soccer field.

It's all in good fun, until the soccer player is killed in a freak accident...just as Cole and Greg predicted. The uneasy boys vow to leave Wikipedia alone but someone continues to edit articles about classmates dying in gruesome ways...and those entries start to come true as well. To his horror, Cole soon discovers that someone has created a Wikipedia page for him, and included a date of death. He has one week to figure out who's behind the murders, or else he's set to meet a pretty grisly end.
Holy horror. I always pretend I'm a hero and I can stomach brutality and horror, but let's be honest. I'm not. There's something about the genre though that keeps me on my toes. Wickedpedia seems like it is going to embody its title…full of wicked, terrible, horrifying delights. I'll probably be too scared to turn on my computer for a week or ten, but you know, I just can't resist. It's like some sort of twisted sadistic pleasure. I can't help it, and I certainly can't wait for this book (and this sick cover). What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan Review

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Title: I'll Be There
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: May 17, 2011
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 392
Source: Personal Copy

Emily Bell believes in destiny. To her, being forced to sing a solo in the church choir--despite her average voice--is fate: because it's while she's singing that she first sees Sam. At first sight, they are connected.

Sam Border wishes he could escape, but there's nowhere for him to run. He and his little brother, Riddle, have spent their entire lives constantly uprooted by their unstable father. That is, until Sam sees Emily. That's when everything changes.

As Sam and Riddle are welcomed into the Bells' lives, they witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they're left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they'll ever find a place where they can belong.
The beauty of contemporary fiction, regardless of the age range for which it's written, is that when it's done well, it has the innate power to evoke true, raw emotion from readers. It's a power that, in the vast scheme of literature, very few novels possess, but it's a true gem when we find one that does. I'll Be There is a novel that speaks volumes to readers but does so in sweet, melodic tones that resonate, gently prompting to look within ourselves and challenge the depths of our own humanity and compassion.

Underrated in so many ways, I'll Be There soars because of this, and the emotion leaps from the pages from the start. Sam embodies loneliness. If loneliness had a face, it would be his, and the aching sadness of it would grip you in its vice-like hooks because of its depths. Sam is a genuine character in whom I could see shades of myself; vestiges of a lost youth, though his circumstances were undeniably more difficult. Emily, on the other hand, wanted for nothing. At the same time though, she didn't fall prey to the stereotypes of young adult good girls. There was a sweetness about her - almost a achingly so - and a trust that makes her truly accessible.

The connection between Emily and Sam surpassed much of what romance presents to the genre today. Rather than offering us lust, I'll Be There offers us a connection. Rather than playing to a hyper-sexualized society, we're offered sweet, powerful and pure friendship and compassion, which makes the plot and events within the novel all the more powerful. The novel embraces pain and hardship throughout, making it a difficult read at times, but in the best possible way. I found that it challenged me to feel everything I didn't necessarily want to feel and, in the end, put me in the characters' exact shoes at exactly the right place and time.

Holly Goldberg Sloan spun a masterpiece with I'll Be There. Equal parts character-driven and plot driven, there is a delicate and precarious balance throughout - the art of which simply cannot be ignored. The writing is melodic and heartfelt, but it never felt cloying or overtly so. Instead, it simply felt as though I was watching two lives intersect, blossom and evolve into something different entirely. It was beautiful, heart-wrenching and completely surprising from start to finish.

Overall, I'm unable to fully express just how poignant and powerful this novel is. The manner in which characters and relationships are explored is absolutely impeccable, and if you're looking for a book that embraces humanity in its truest potential, this is it. I give I'll Be There a 5 out of 5, and I highly recommend to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.


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