Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd

The Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd
Release Date - May 23, 2017
Publisher Website - Harper Collins
Publisher Social Media - Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader/Frenzy
Pages - 352 pages
My Rating - 4/5
**received for an honest review from publisher**


Here is the Goodreads synopsis
The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in the final novel in the gripping and romantic Cage series, about teens abducted from Earth by an otherworldly race.

Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.

With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.
The Cage series started out as a story of an alien species experimenting on humans and has evolved into one of survival and destiny. It has become deeper and more complex that I imagined when I picked up the first novel, and manged to surpass any expectations I had of it going in. The finale offers a thought provoking, satisfying conclusion to a series that always manged to surprise, and shock me.

I always forget how dark these novel are. Megan Shepherd is not afraid to let the darkest parts of humans (and other otherwordly species) be enough to send a chill through you. Everything from the initial premise of caging people for scientific experimentation, to allowing humans to be hunted for sport, to forcing people to be 'wives' is looked at and used to increase the feeling of unease. It is a thought provoking read because it challenges you to examine your own feelings about some complex issues and is used to highlight some of the very real issues that plague humans today (albeit just in very heightened, sci-fi lite way). This is all done using the 'less is more' approach which makes it even more impressive. It never gets too graphic but still manages to be unsettling. Your brain is more than capable of coming up with the worst possible scenarios with what is presented to you which, I find, is more effective.

I was afraid that Lucky would be a footnote in the story since his death in the second novel. I was much more curious about the potential between Cora and Lucky than I was about any possible romance between Cassian and Cora. I was pleasantly surprised to find he was still very much part of Cora's story. It was in a very bittersweet way, but he is on her mind and still gives her strength. I loved how the author managed to include him, even after his death, in such a vital way. Cora's journey this time is all about having a support system to see you through the tough times, and having him still be part of that was the perfect way to close out his story.

The biggest twists and surprises were saved for this finale installment of Cora's story. Plenty of them make you view the events of previous novels in a new light. One of the reveals, however, didn't quite work as it made the characters look less intelligent than they are presented as. Once a piece of information is revealed it takes far too long for the other characters to realize what is going on. Someone should have suspected something much earlier, even if they couldn't put the entire thing together. Funnily, this reveal also provides a twist I didn't see coming so they really end up canceling each other out. There are plenty of surprises left in this story and they show how well plotted this series actually was.

The ending Megan Shepherd offers fans is one that is a perfect mix of hope and sadness. This is an ending that had to be earned with its body count, and sacrifice. There was never going to be some perfect scenario where everyone lived happily ever after. There is so much hope at the end of this story that even just that little sliver is enough compared with the darkness that preceded it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday .... The Becoming Of Noah Shaw

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pick is The Becoming Of Noah Shaw by Michelle Hodkin

Here is the Goodreads synopsis 
Everyone thinks seventeen-year-old Noah Shaw has the world on a string.

They’re wrong.

Mara Dyer is the only one he trusts with his secrets and his future.

He shouldn’t.

And both are scared that uncovering the truth about themselves will force them apart.

They’re right. 
I loved the Mara Dyer trilogy so much. I loved everything about it, but mostly how much it went against what I was expecting it to be.

When Michelle announced that there would be a follow up trilogy from Noah's point of view, I pretty much freaked out. I am not going to lie, I am a little scare thanks to the synopsis and the end of the previous series. I can see this not going well for Mara and Noah as a couple, but I am going to love every single minute of it.

I am already counting down the days until I can have this in my hands! Why does November feel so far away?!

Expected release date - November 7, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dreamfall by Amy Plum

Dreamfall by Amy Plum
Release Date - May 2, 2017
Publisher Website - Harper Collins
Publisher Social Media - Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader/Frenzy
Pages - 288 pages
My Rating - 3.5/5
**received for an honest review from publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
Cata Cordova suffers from such debilitating insomnia that she agreed to take part in an experimental new procedure. She thought things couldn’t get any worse...but she was terribly wrong.

Soon after the experiment begins, there’s a malfunction with the lab equipment, and Cata and six other teen patients are plunged into a shared dreamworld with no memory of how they got there. Even worse, they come to the chilling realization that they are trapped in a place where their worst nightmares have come to life. Hunted by creatures from their darkest imaginations and tormented by secrets they’d rather keep buried, Cata and the others will be forced to band together to face their biggest fears. And if they can’t find a way to defeat their dreams, they will never wake up.
The idea of being trapped inside a nightmare has always been terrifying to me. The thought of not being able to wake from one is blood curling. The fear it induces is exactly what caught my eye when the synopsis for Dreamfall was released. While this novel does provide plenty of chills, and atmosphere, but doesn't quite deliver in the character department.

The characters feel like they could be plucked from a horror movie. There isn't much growth or development to them. This works for this specific genre, especially when done via visual media (movies or television for example) but is much more noticeable when adapted into a novel. There isn't an attachment formed that makes the body count meaningful. There isn't that desire to root for the characters. Those who enjoy a more plot based read will delight in the minimal characterization, but those who need to connect with the characters may have a harder time doing so.

Each of the characters do have a little something of their background revealed. They are all dealing with insomnia for various reasons. All of them have issues of some form or another. These reveals offer a small taste of what these characters could be, it just wasn't followed through on to its fullest potential. The information we are given about a few of the characters towards the end are especially intriguing and I hope they are followed through on in the sequel.

Amy Plum is a natural at atmosphere and tone. All of her novels have such strong, vivid settings and this is no exception. Her ability to do this ensures that this premise works. It allows the reader to feel a connection to the world she has created, which anchors the reader to something. It also makes the novel incredibly readable as it has such a strong visual element to the writing. You can easily finish this novel in one sitting and that is also a testament to its fast pace.

The most vivid part of the story are the nightmares the characters find themselves trapped in. They easily get your pulse pounding, and are filled with crisp imagery that leaves them begging to be adapted into a movie. This is the most well crafted part of the story, and easily recognizable as the idea that drew the author to write this novel.

The ending packs a cliffhanger punch that will ensure you want to check out the sequel. It indicates that their dreams may not be the only danger these characters are facing, and seems to hint at a more character focused sequel. It is the type of cliffhanger that will cause much lamenting, simply because the reader will want to know what happens next.

A creepy, atmospheric read that I wish was just a little bit longer so that we could have gotten to know the characters more. I recommend this one for those looking for more than a few chills, and a book that reads like it is tailor made to be a movie or television series.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New To My Book Closet

It's that time of the week again. Time to show you what bookish goodies made their way into my home and book closet (to be saved from the evil book eating cat monster named Aria). This is inspired by the various "mailbox" posts out there (eg. In My Mailbox by The Story Siren, and Stacking the Shelves by Tynga's Reviews)

Some fun additions to my shelves this week (it still feels weird to have shelves).

First up is a book that I absolutely adore. Emery Lord is a must read and auto buy author for me and I am so happy to have a hardcover of her newest added to my shelves,

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord (goodreads)

Next up is the newest addition to my Funko Pop collection. I have only recently gotten introduced to Death Note but I love L (and his obsession with sweets). He is my favourite.

Anything exciting arrive in your mailbox this week? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Weekend and Happy Reading!

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
Release Date -  May 16, 2017
Publisher Website - Raincoast Books
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  384 pages
My Rating - 5/5
**received for an honest review**

**quotes take from an advance reader copy of this novel**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both. 
Early on in The Love Interest we're treated to this quote ...
"A particularly important young woman has shown signs that she’s ready to select a partner, so two of you have to be sent in right away. We’re looking for a boy-next-door Nice and a mysterious, tortured-soul Bad.”

"Aren’t they always?" 
I feel this perfectly sets up what you can expect from this novel. It's filled with tropes. It exists because of tropes, but it also decimates them. It twists them, and makes a strong commentary about them at the same time. This satire-ish novel is smart, creative, and undeniably different.

The story may feel familiar. Two boys. One girl. An epic love triangle with the highest stakes possible. That is not all this novel is though. It read as both a love letter to the tropes we're so familiar with in young adult novels, and as something setting out to create its own path. Cale Dietrich has created something not just unique but fun to read. The humour and warmth within the pages are matched only by its cleverness and I was hooked right from the first chapter.

Our narrator, Caden, may feel like a trope at times, but that is because he should. He is meant to point out the class young adult love interest character and be an homage to them. He, however, does end up becoming a character all on his own. Great care is taken to ensure that Cale isn't just one thing. He's not simply a "Nice" and he 's not quite a "Bad" either. He's a complex character that are a mix of different wants, needs, and emotions. It may sound strange, but it makes you question what the love interests in plenty of young adult novels actually want. We often do not get their point of view so they remain mysterious, but this makes you want to scratch that surface and get to know those characters better.

The stakes are high in this novel, and the reader is never allowed to forget that. Death is the consequences of stepping out of line, and that remains true until the final pages of the novel. I appreciated that the danger felt real while I was reading. Actions are not without consequences and that is a relief. Often there isn't a price for freedom in these novels, and in this case there is which felt more authentic.

The romance in this novel is tentative and starts out as a sort of friendship. It is built a little more slowly, which actually contrasts the "instalove" type of narrative the guy are supposed to be having with Juliet. This is something that builds as they spend time together and get to know each other. I came to care about all of these characters, and much like Caden, found myself surprised by it. It sneaks up on you, much like Caden's feelings for Dyl sneak up on him.

There is a quote that stood out to me while I was reading. One that I feel sums up not only the theme of the novel but as feels like the entire point the story is striving to make
Even though I had been through hell, even though I've been told I'm worthless my whole life, even though I'm gay, even though the world wants me to bow down and accept that who I am makes me insignificant, the following is true:

"I'm the protagonist, fucker!"
It shows gay characters as something other than the sidekick. It allows them to see themselves as the protagonist of their own story. We all should be the protagonist in our own stories, and this novel loudly embraces that fact. It also announces a shift from Caden thinking he is just a part of Juliet's story. He considered his feelings unimportant because it was HER story. This is him claiming his narrative for himself. He is deeming his wants and needs as important and that is the heart of this story.

I recommend The Love Interest if you're looking for something thrilling, entirely unique, and something that both embraces and dismantles common young adult tropes. Cale Dietrich has marked himself as a new young adult voice to watch with this novel, and I cannot wait to read what he writes next.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han

PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han
Release Date -  May 26, 2015
Publisher Website - Simon and Schuster
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  337 pages
My Rating - 4/5


Here is the Goodreads synopsis
Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing
I loved Jenny Han's To All The Boys I Loved Before. I loved it so much that I was hesitant to pick up the sequel because I didn't want it to change how I felt about the series. After devouring PS I Still Love You, I am happy to say that I love the series even more. Jenny Han continues to make you smile, and swoon with her story of a young girl growing up and falling in love along the way.

The Lara Jean we leave at the end of this novel is not the Lara Jean we meet in To All The Boys I've Loved Before. She is still Lara Jean, but she's grown, or at least taken the first steps down that path. The events of the novels have shaped her, which is something I always appreciate when an author does. Your character should be marked by what they go through in some way, and for Lara Jean it means growing up. She's experiencing so many things for the first time, and that shifts something in you.

I appreciated the feminist slant to Lara Jean's storyline in this book. There is a particular double standard that gets called out when something embarrassing happens to Lara Jean that made me cheer. This novel addressed the fact that girls think about sex, and that they enjoy making out with people just as much as boys do. It also addressed that slut shaming them for it is gross. I love how Jenny Han handled this plot point as it really showed how differently boys and girls are treated for the same behaviour.

Lara Jean's love of fashion, and baking are once again on full display in this novel. You'll immediately want a few of her cookie recipes and crave sugary sweetness as you are reading. These two elements are so ingrained in Lara Jean's character that the novel would feel strange without them. They add a charm to both Lara Jean and the book that almost gives it a classic, old time feel. There are a few nods to the throw back nature of both Lara Jean and the book within these pages while still making this feel entirely modern. It is a skill that Jenny Han masters within this novel, and will provide you with a warm, nostalgic feeling even though the book is not set in the past.

Love triangles are always a tricky thing. I hesitate to call this a full triangle, but there is definite
potential for romance with both boys in the synopsis. I was prepared to hate John, the boy who returns (and the recipient of letter Lara Jean never got back). I was, in fact, so hesitant that it took me forever to pick up this book. It turns out that I shouldn't have worried. I adore John. He's perfectly swoony and an excellent match for Lara Jean. I actually found myself wanting Lara Jean to end up with him instead of Peter (unpopular opinion, I know) and found that Jenny Han handled the feelings Lara Jean was having perfectly and realistically. Neither boy is a bad choice for Lara Jean, and those tend to be my favourite triangles. If I am able to see either couple as a viable option, it makes the agony of the choice have even more of an impact.

The sister bond in this novel is, once again, the heart of the series. It captured the reality of loving your sister, but sometimes being exasperated with her too. It showed that fierce loyalty and yet addressed that you can hurt each other. These relationships, combined with the father-daughter bond, ensured that family was the centre of the story in a way that complimented the romance. Lara Jean needs those anchors as she navigates her journey and it made her story feel more authentic to have them all be such  big parts of her story.

This review would not be complete without a special mention of Lara Jean's sister Kitty. I think she could star in her own series in a couple years if Jenny Han wanted to return to the Song sisters. She's spunky, and wise for her age. She'd be the perfect heroine and it would be nice to check in on them again. For now though, I will content myself with continuing Lara Jean's story and picking up the third (and final) chapter much sooner than I picked up this one.

This book is the perfect blend of romance, character growth, and family bonds. Jenny Han captures that time of becoming a young adult versus being a child in Lara Jean perfectly, and offers up a lot of swoons along the way. If you haven't already picked up this series I highly recommend doing so.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday ... Indecent

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pick is Indecent by Corinne Sullivan

Here is the Goodreads synopsis 
Shy, introverted Imogene Abney has always been fascinated by the elite world of prep schools, having secretly longed to attend one since she was a girl in Buffalo, New York. So, shortly after her college graduation, when she’s offered a teaching position at the Vandenberg School for Boys, an all-boys prep school in Westchester, New York, she immediately accepts, despite having little teaching experience—and very little experience with boys. 

When Imogene meets handsome, popular Adam Kipling a few weeks into her tenure there, a student who exudes charm and status and ease, she's immediately drawn to him. Who is this boy who flirts with her without fear of being caught? Who is this boy who seems immune to consequences and worry; a boy for whom the world will always provide?

As an obsessive, illicit affair begins between them, Imogene is so lost in the haze of first love that she's unable to recognize the danger she's in. The danger of losing her job. The danger of losing herself in the wrong person. The danger of being caught doing something possibly illegal and so indecent. 

Exploring issues of class, sex, and gender, this smart, sexy debut by Corinne Sullivan shatters the black-and- white nature of victimhood, taking a close look at blame and moral ambiguity. 
I was sold on this novel when I read the deal announcement and am so excited it has an official release date now! I am so curious about it because I think it will spark much debate, and be thought provoking. I am excited to maybe suggest it for one of my book clubs as I anticipate the discussion will be as intense as this book sounds.

The wait for this one is going to be excruciating as it does not come out until Spring 2018.

Expected release date - March 6, 2018

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