Book Review: “Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy” by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls, #2)

Is it strange that I actually have this whole outfit in my closet? It's all in brown, but that's pretty much the only difference.

Check out my review of the first book, I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You, here or on Goodreads!

Title: Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy (Click to add to your Goodreads!)

Author: Ally Carter (needs to come to NY or Boston so I can meet her :D)

Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook for Nook, eBook for Kindle, Audiobook.

Maturity Level: YA. There’s definite appeal here, both for the young end of the YA spectrum (13-16) and the older (16+). Some mild violence and kissing, no real sexual content to speak of.

You May Like This Book if: you enjoyed the first book; if you’re a fan of the television shows Nikita, Buffy, or Veronica Mars; if you like well-crafted YA with strong and realistic female protagonists.

You May NOT Like This Book if: you expect a serious spy thriller; you don’t like YA.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Cammie Morgan is pretty tired of excitement. Her Stake-out/Obtain/Then Give Up Boyfriend Operation has left her pretty down, and all she wants is to settle down and continue studying CoveOps. Before she knows it, however, the prestigious “spy school” Gallagher Academy is welcoming a group of mysterious boys—BOYS!—codenamed Blackthorne. Throw in a security breach that Cammie appears to be at fault for, the unclear motives of the Blackthorne boys, and the aforementioned CoveOps training, and you’ve got one hell of a semester.

Oh, and the incredibly handsome, heart-pounding, ANNOYING boy known simply as Zach.

Previously On…: I have to admit, I wasn’t very stoked about this series at first. It looked like pretty typical YA fare—kick-butt girl meets boy, falls sappily in love with him, and slowly falls prey to a terrifying disease that I have termed Badass Disintegration Syndrome (BDS), pulling out her badassery only to save The Boy. I was pleasantly surprised by the first book, which had its fair share of sappy lovey-dovey moments, but also developed Cammie Morgan through her relationships with her friends, mother, and teachers. She also NEVER lost her Badass Mojo, and that definitely carries through into Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy.

Overall: I was very impressed by Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. This particular installment had more spy!plot, less romance, and as always I enjoyed the antics of Bex, Liz, and Macey just as much as Cammie’s. The “progress/case reports” are always fun to read, and I absolutely ADORED the ball!exam and all the scenes it produced. Cammie’s family/past—and her missing father—get a bit of an exploration in this one that I hope to see continued in future books. And I have to say, I like Zach more than I liked Josh—but maybe that’s just my love for snarky dudes showing.

Pros

  • The CoveOps reports.
  • Spies, guys. Girl!spies. At a school for girl spies. WIN.
  • Buffy/James Bond/Veronica Mars references.
  • The romance.
  • The spy!plot.
  • Annnnd the balance between the two. Superb.

Cons

  • Having it all be a test at the end was a bit predictable, but that’s just a nitpick.

Favorite Scene (s)

  • Pg 175: Cammie basically asking Zach out and the dynamic between them.
  • Pg 224: After Cammie has a BAMF moment. “Did you learn that in PE?”/”No. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
  • Pg 226: A forklift is once again used as a deadly weapon J

Favorite Line (s)

  • “Most little girls in England grow up wanting to marry a prince. Bex grew up wanting to kick James Bond’s butt and assume his double-0 ranking.”~ pg 13
  • “Real life in the clandestine services isn’t cat and mouse—it’s cat and cat.”~pg 184

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars.

Final Grade: A-. I will definitely be obtaining the next book very soon—this series is so very fun.

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Book Review: “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles, #1)

I have to say, this cover is definitely one of my faves of 2012. Love the juxtaposition of the red shoe and the cyborg leg. Another plus? My mom actually picked this one up for me BASED on the cover. Said it looked like "something you'd like". So congrats, cover people. You did a good job. 🙂

ETA: Macmillan Audio has kindly allowed me to post an excerpt from the Cinder audiobook to this blog! The link is here.

Title: Cinder (Click to add to your Goodreads!)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Available In: Hardcover, eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook, Audiobook. (If you just want to try out chapters 1-5, you can get those FREE for your Kindle/Nook here and here.)

Maturity Level: YA. Some disturbing imagery and mild language, along with the usual sci-fi trappings.

You May Like This Book if: you enjoy science fiction, Fullmetal Alchemist (there are definitely a few shoutouts in here), and fairy tales.

You May NOT Like This Book if: you expect it to closely follow the format of the original fairy tale.

Linh Cinder lives in a pretty bleak world. As a cyborg in the predominantly human New Beijing, she is shunned and hated. A deadly disease is sweeping the land, wiping people out in droves, and Earth is on the brink of war with the ruthless, extremely powerful Lunars. Cinder’s only saving grace is her skill as a mechanic, and when she is contracted by the crown prince Kai himself, she falls into a terrifying political melee—and possibly, in love with the young prince.

My biggest issue with this book is that the balance between the fairy tale and the sci-fi aspect is kind of off. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi—but I went into this expecting a fairy-tale retelling with sci-fi elements, as opposed to a sci-fi with fairy tale elements. Also, the world-building could use some work. I counted at least three or four different cultures that Meyer seemed to be trying to meld into the unifying society of New Beijing, but for some reason they just kind of clashed.

Wow, reading that last paragraph, you would think I really didn’t like this book. The thing is, I really DID like it for many reasons: the plague aspect was handled really well, I really liked Cinder as an MC, etc, etc. The storytelling definitely has a cinematic edge to it—I would not be surprised to see this one made into a movie in the next five years. However, the issues I outlined above did seriously detract from the story, merely because I found them jarring and somewhat annoying.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty solid sci-fi book, though it did have some issues. I was a little nervous when I discovered that this is meant to be the first in a quartet— I thought that minus the cliffie ending it could have easily stood just fine on its own—but I will definitely pick up Scarlet when it hits shelves in 2013. J

Pros

  • The plague, obviously modeled off of the sweep of the Black Death through Europe. Very well done.
  • Cinder. I thought she was a badass, and who doesn’t love a cyborg?
  • Prince Kai
  • Dr. Erland as the fairy godmother.

Cons

  • The Lunars are weak conceptually.
  • Occasional unnecessary over-description.
  • I’m not sure if this should be a quartet.
  • Melding of cultures in New Beijing is kind of awkward and heavy-handed.

Favorite Scene (s)

  • pg 349-onward. Love this as a “ball scene”.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 3.5 stars, rounded up for GR.

Final Grade:  B. Nice read, but had some issues that I simply couldn’t ignore.

Book Review: “Clockwork Prince” by Cassandra Clare (The Infernal Devices, #2)

(In case you missed it, my review of Clockwork Angel is here.)

 

Title: Clockwork Prince (Click to add to your Goodreads!)

Author: Cassandra Clare

Available In: Hardcover, Audiobook, eBook for Nook, eBook for Kindle

Maturity Level: 14+. Lots of some makeout scenes, quite a lot of violence, and disturbing imagery. Magnus Bane still exists, and Jem has  a steamy side. :3

You May Like This Book if: you like gothic romance, steampunk, or YA; if you want to read a really good portrayal of an awesome love triangle; if you’re a fan of Cassie Clare’s other work.

You May NOT Like This Book if: you will not read a love triangle NO MATTER WHAT; if you’re averse to romance in general; IF YOU HAVEN’T READ BOOK ONE, CLOCKWORK ANGEL (I cannot stress this enough!). [Though I would like to include a shout-out to those who, like me, were not really impressed with The Mortal Instruments—THIS SERIES IS UMPTEEN TIMES BETTER. CC has really grown up as a writer and it shows.]

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND EXCESSIVE FANGIRLING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Clockwork Prince. Hmm. I have a hard time being eloquent about this book—usually I dissolve into meaningless sounds and massive amounts of hand-flailing—but I’m going to try.

Clockwork Prince picks up a little after the events of Clockwork Angel. Tessa has had some time to settle into her new life at the Institute, and indeed London, and she’s beginning to find some peace. However, that peace is abruptly shattered when a plot emerges within Shadowhunter society to unseat Charlotte as the head of the Institute. The Consul gives Charlotte and her followers an ultimatum—find Mortmain and bring him to justice in the prescribed amount of time, or lose her position, leaving Tessa and the others without protection.

Overall, I really, really, REALLY loved this book. The romance/love triangle was wonderfully handled, and there were so many scenes that either made me laugh out loud or made my throat close with tears. Occasionally, Clare over-describes, but for the most part, she appears to have attained a certain degree of proficiency in her craft that she simply didn’t have when she started out. If you’re still on the fence about this series, please do read this book; it’s definitely worth your time. 😀

Pros

  • Jem/Tessa/Will. This is quite possibly the best love triangle that I’ve seen in YA for awhile—neither of the dudes are jerks*, they both appear to truly love Tessa, and Tessa kind of truly loves both of them. And also? All three of these people are sexy as hell. I can’t help but wonder if Clare intends to make this less of a triangle and more of a threesome**, which would be awesome but might make it less marketable as YA.

*Well, Will. But there’s a story behind that. I will try not to spoil too much.

**Quick scan of the GR reviews for this book shows me that I’m not the first person who thought of this. HMM. There’s also a tweet that I remember but cannot find, where Clare actually mentions threesomes. I AM SEARCHING.

  • the humor, particularly any scene with Henry :3
  • details on Ascension and parabatai. I’m guessing some of these topics are covered in TMI, but I’ve only read the first book in that series, so I appreciated the detail.
  • Sophie and Henry becoming badass.
  • DEMON POX 😀 If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then I am saying NOTHING. Find out for yourself 😀
  • Magnus! (with Camille. And Woolsey. Oh, Magnus. I love you.)

Cons

  • Occasional over-description.
  • Unwieldy exposition in places.

Favorite Scene (s)

  • Page 63, where Henry simply forgets what he was about to say. ❤
  • Page 202-205. No explanation required. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about.
  • Page 327. I’m pretty sure the everyone-thinks-Will-is-a-lunatic meeting is a thing 😀

Favorite Line: “If you will not help me, I swear I will change into you and I will lift him myself. And then everyone here will see what you look like in a dress.” Tessa to Jem, pg 193 of Clockwork Prince.

Star Rating on Goodreads/Final Grade:  4.5 stars. A+.

Book Review: “Paranormalcy” (Paranormalcy #1) by Kiersten White

Title: Paranormalcy

Author: Kiersten White

Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook.

Warnings: PG for mild sexual content, violence, and simulated profanity.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Do not make the mistake of judging this book by its cover.

If you were to do that, you might think that this is one of the many shallow paranormal teen romances that make their way out every year, with covers that emulate the Twilight series and heroines who spent the vast majority of their time being pretty for the boys. Evie is definitely a pretty girly-girl heroine… but more in the style of Buffy Summers than Bella Swan.

Evie’s a girl who really likes to think of herself as normal. She loves pink, glitter, and soft soap-operas about high school. Sure, she has a job neutralizing all sorts of paranormal nasties for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, or IPCA. And she might possibly be falling in love with a shape-shifter. And yeah, there’s some faerie prophecy that she just might be a huge part of, the consequences of which could result in the end of the world. But that’s not too out there, right?

Overall, this is an appealing book. It’s got a lot of humour and quirk, and it’s definitely “light reading”, but that should not be mistaken for shallowness, because this book actually has a lot of depth. The romance between Evie and Lend is adorably sweet (rather than sickeningly so) and there are actually some pretty complex morality conflicts tied up into the plot, especially towards the end. The conflict/relationship between Evie and Vivian evokes echoes of the Buffy/Faith days of BtVS, and towards the end, the bits with the souls bore an eerie resemblance to Castiel’s storyline in late season 6/early season 7 of SPN. This book should appeal to fans of BtVS/Angel/Whedonverse, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it MIGHT appeal to certain branches of SPN fandom, because despite her floofy exterior, Evie is one kick-ass chick.

Pros

  • Evie’s attitude. She’s just so quirky. The ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I love it.
  • IPCA. I like the concept, and it was executed nicely as well.
  • The irreverent treatment of paranormals.
  • Lish and her computer set-up.
  • Lend <3. Definitely one of my fav romantic heroes of the year, and a refreshing change from the overbearing Edward Cullen type commonly seen.
  • White’s research was actually very well done, and she weaves little bits of legend in like it’s nobody’s business.
  • Unseelie Vs. Seelie. FOREVER LOVE

Cons

  • Evie’s ditziness. The same thing that attracted me to Evie turned me off to her just a bit; sometimes when her inner monologues came up I’d just roll my eyes, because I knew she was about to go off on some super-bubbly tangent. It wasn’t enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it was noticeable.
  • Wandering, slightly frenetic plot. I felt like the Seelie Vs. Unseelie concept could have been introduced earlier in the book.

Theme Song: “Everytime We Touch”~ Cascada

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

Final Grade: A-. Would reread, will definitely read other books in series.

Book Review: “Luck of the Devil” (Speak of the Devil, #1) by Patricia Eimer

Title: Luck of the Devil (Speak of the Devil, #1)

Author: Patricia Eimer

Available In: Paperback, eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook

Warnings: R for sexuality and explosions.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS, STRONG OPINIONS, AND FRANK DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL SCENES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

To be honest, my expectations for Luck of the Devil were not very high. I’m not really a fan of cozy romances, and that’s what it seemed like it was going to be. In the end, it still was—complete with a slightly tepid Happily Ever After ending—but I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would.

Our heroine, Faith Bettincourt, is the one of the multiple daughters of Satan—yes, that guy with the flaming pitchforks—and with that, there comes a certain amount of chaos, which she never misses a chance to duck. Unfortunately, it’s hard to act oblivious when your demon half-brother is courting your succubus roommate, your hippy-dippy Mom and Lucifer Morningstar are busy trying to salvage the pieces of their tumultuous romance, and the guy downstairs is not only hot in a nerdy kind of way, but also a Nephilim caught up in the strange politics of angels and humans. What’s a demoness to do?

This book had some laugh out loud moments, and I loved everything that had to do with Faith Bettincourt and the wacky family that she is surrounded by. The romance was pretty stereotypical but sweet, and  the pacing was neatly handled. Overall, it was a diverting PNR read with less of the noir tendency that the genre has borrowed from urban fantasy and more sunshine, and is certainly worth a look for those who like their romances sweet and funny.

Pros

  • I hated Tolliver, but at the same time, I found his ridiculous entitlement quite amusing. So I guess in the end I really didn’t hate everything about him. Hmph.
  • Malachi. Gotta love shape-shifting demons and their wryly humorous insights.
  • Matt/Faith. I liked them as individual characters, and I absolutely loved them as a couple, which leads me too…
  • Wing!lovin’. I honestly have never seen this trope outside of fanfiction, so I don’t really have any other scenes to pit it against for reference, but it was a nice, sensual scene to begin with and I felt like the wing/power aspects were very neatly handled, giving us a definite reminder that they aren’t humans.
  • The casual, irreverent tone. What’s not to love about two hugely powerful multidimensional beings determined to crush one another at Wii Mario Kart?
  • Faith’s family is quite possibly the most amusing group EVER.

Cons

  • Whereas many writers use too many dialogue tags, Eimer uses too few to identify who is speaking in some of the more rapid-fire conversations.
  • There were a few moments where instead of ACTING, a character would SAY what they were going to do, and I felt like this slowed things down a bit.
  • Some of the kitschy “chick-lit” elements were overly stereotypical.
  • I personally find Tolliver/Lisa kind of creepy as a pairing, and I don’t feel that them getting together was necessary. We have Matt and Faith for that, and I feel like they have a far healthier couple’s dynamic.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 3.5 stars, rounded up for the fun factor.

Final Grade: B. Might reread, will read other books in series.

BOOK REVIEW: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2)

Title: The Broken Kingdoms

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, Kindle, Nook.

Warnings: R for sexuality, violence, and gore.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

It takes me a long time to get through each new N.K. Jemisin book. This isn’t normal for me; generally I’m a speed-reader who can whip through a book in a week, no problem. However, Goodreads shows that I’ve been working on this one since October. Whew.

Our story opens with gods in garbage and introduces us to Oree, blind magic-artist from the city. Oree doesn’t know it, but the strange man that she takes in is far, far more than he seems, and she’s about to be thrown into the midst of a scramble for power that includes gods, demigods, and even certain humans.

As usual, Jemisin’s prose is worth the slow pace. She has such a distinctive, lyrical style, and while The Broken Kingdoms is not set in the grandeur of Sky as the first book was, she shows a distinct ability to bring that same lyricism to a grittier setting. The characters are lovely as well—I was particularly fond of Madding the godling—and Jemisin explores their interactions with the same deft sensitivity that she brought to the political push-and-pull of Yeine’s Sky.

The only complaint that I have about this book is the same as the first—at times, the slow pace of the plot really bogs the book down, and there are moments when I have no idea what’s going on, even after I reread several times. It’s not a huge annoyance, but given the vast strides Jemisin made as a writer between The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and the Broken Kingdoms, I hope to see her improve this aspect.

Pros

  • The magic. As usual, Jemisin’s magic system is beautifully realized and completely unique.
  • Great continuity between book 1 and book 2.
  • Jemisin’s gods. ❤ I love that she incorporates some elements from existing mythologies into them without sacrificing her personal vision.
  • Oree’s POV. She seems much more grounded than Yeine, and I love that she’s an artist despite her blindness, which is handled in a way that I personally thought was inventive and respectful.
  • The bond between Itempas/Shiny and Oree.
  • The sex/lovemaking scenes. This is one of my favorite things about Jemisin’s writing; she is very good at making her sex scenes complex and impactful, and at exploring the many different facets of human love and lust.
  • The end, which I thought was simply perfect.

Cons

  • The plot is somewhat wandering and vague, and is very slow to develop and come to fruition. At times, the slow pace is appreciable, because it’s nice to be able to savor Jemisin’s prose, but at others it is simply annoying. I did see a definite improvement between The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, however, so I hope to see this trend continue in the next book.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars out of 5.

Final Grade: A. Would reread, will definitely read next book in series.

Book Review: “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

Title: The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green

Available In: Hardcover, eBook for Kindle, eBook for Nook, Audiobook.

Warnings: R for sexual content, bodily fluids, and disturbing imagery.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I knew going into The Fault in Our Stars that this was going to be one of those books that had me completely raw and broken at the end. Even so, I was not prepared for how thoroughly John Green did this—and I loved every second of it.

Hazel Grace Lancaster has been terminal since she was thirteen years old. Whether she would die was never a question; now, with the “miracle drug” Phalanxifor shrinking her tumors and keeping her cancer under control, the question is when she will die. Hazel’s reaction to this is not unreasonable—she sinks into torpor, watches tons of America’s Next Top Model, reads her favorite book and waits.

Then, she meets Augustus Waters, gorgeous Survivor with a capital S, and slowly but surely, she begins to fall in love.

Overall, this story is a beautiful one—life affirming, even, despite the death which hangs over so many of the character’s heads throughout the course of the book. The characters are very real and very raw; they are not the stereotypical “brave” cancer patient that Hazel details at several points in the book. They are brave, for sure, but they are also broken, afraid, lonely, and angry. Not a single character in this book is spared from the harsh reality of the ending—even the non-sufferers are affected, just as is the case in real-life cancer cases. And at the very heart of the story, there is a romance between two doomed children who haven’t really had the chance to experience life, and who are determined to do so one way or another. Mixed in with all this bleakness are sparkling moments rather like the titular stars, the hilarious and heartwarming blended smoothly with the darkness and blood and Hazel Lancaster’s struggling breaths. John Green has definitely crafted a book for the ages here, and there is not a person in this world that would not benefit from reading it.

(NOTE: I usually have a Pros and Cons section to my reviews right about now—however, for the purposes of this book, I have had to retitle these sections Things That Made Me Laugh/Aww and Things That Made Me Cry, since a.) I couldn’t really find any cons and b.) when I tried to they all ended up falling into the latter category. )

Things That Made Me Laugh/Aww

  • Hazel’s voice. She’s funny in a dry sort of way, and the way she perceives the world is very interesting.
  • Hazel’s obsession with An Imperial Affliction. I think any reader can relate to this sort of love for a book.
  • Isaac.
  • The romance. There are so many wonderful moments between Hazel and Augustus throughout the book, with my very favorites being on the plane to/from and in Amsterdam.
  • The Anne Frank House. Best scene ever.
  • Hazel’s diagram for Augustus after their “night” together in Amsterdam.
  • Van Houten showing up to Augustus’ funeral.

Things That Made Me Cry

  • That Hazel blames herself for causing the people around her to suffer.
  • Van Houten being a douche.
  • Gus’ recurrence. I pretty much cried through the last 70 pages.
  • The scene on page 244 with the G-tube, when Hazel has to call 911. At this point I was literally bawling.
  • And then again, pg 247 when Hazel is reading him poetry and just starts adding words.
  • The ending. So perfect ❤

Star Rating on Goodreads: 5 out of 5.

Final Grade: A+. Will definitely reread at some point.

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