Monday, January 30, 2012

Spotted around my house...

Captain Rex reading Pippi Longstocking

More Captain Rex, a knight and a skeleton

Meanwhile, Sam was inside drawing ...

The Christmas School holidays are over with school going back today, I had such a lovely time with my kids. I'll be back tomorrow sharing about the books I read in January

x Nomes

Friday, January 27, 2012

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction. 

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions. 

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love - one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

The imagination and scope of Under the Never Sky is immense. Rossi’s debut is no small undertaking. It involves incredible world-building, weaving together two worlds (one super-tech-y and sci-fi, the other like an ancient/primitive civilisation but even within that there were hierarchies (blood lords), traditions, and sci-fi/paranormal elements (whew!). Add to this, the alternating of two POVs, and you have a vast, complex and unique YA novel. 

Under the Never Sky is often bandied about as a YA dystopian. It is not a dystopian, IMO. It is futuristic with sci-fi elements, most surely post-apocalyptic (but an apocalypse is never referred to in detail). Despite all the techno gadgetry, it read, to me, a little like a fantasy: two unlikely companions teamed up to help each other fulfill their personal missions. There’s a lot of travel and exploration and dangers along the way. They meet different characters, all crafted with their unique, lively personalities, and stay in different places: in caves, in fortified cities, trees, and in places with earthly relics of a time long past, etc. 

The world-building is nicely done in snatches, lots of specific lingo to grab a hold of. I felt the more interesting parts of the world Rossi has created were often sidelined by the plot always moving forward. (I would get intrigued by a concept/idea/revelation and then BAM, next scene, moving right along...) 

The prose is more descriptive than lyrical. Action sequences abound, and are well articulated yet I felt no emotion/adrenalin on behalf of the characters when they were fighting for their lives. 

On one hand, I am quite in awe of the fabulous premise and diverse world Rossi created. On the other, I mostly don’t care. I think this is just a case of this book is just not my thing. The only things I can critique are all pertinent to my personal reading taste. For whatever reason, I was not grabbed by this book, yet I loyally trudged my way through it, admiring it in places, yet never bonding to it. 

Before I close, I have to comment on the (romantic)relationship between Perry and Aria: it didn’t work for me. For the first half of the novel, they have an antagonistic/indifferent vibe, yet even in that I felt no tension, no anticipation, no undercurrent of sexytimes to come. They were just...there. Then, like the flip of a switch, at the magical 50% mark, she noticed his smile, he couldn’t stop waxing poetic about her violet smell and BAM = love. I felt like there was no groundwork for their attraction and friendship, despite not really beginning it until halfway through the book. Baffled. 

Overall: I thought it was okay. I tend to review based on how I feel about a book, not so much on the objective merit of the book > I’ll happily endorse the book as a creative and original YA read to those people who are intrigued by the premise. (I DO get those people who rave about this one, it could well be suited to you).

Under the Never Sky @ goodreads (Current rating: 4.28 stars out of 1, 183 ratings = impressive)

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for the e-arc

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Legend by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias' death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.

Legend was one of my most anticipated releases for 2011. I am not easily swayed or sucked in by hype (hype most often makes me wary, sometimes entirely disinterested). However, I am SO buzzing after reading Legend and adding to any hype you may have seen: Legend was my favourite dystopian read of 2011, for many reasons.

First and foremost: I had an awesome time reading Legend. Which is, after all, why I love to read (to bask in the awesomeness). It was unputdownable (I felt increasing anticipation throughout), immensely enjoyable, completely absorbing and just plain GOOD. 

I loved the blend of action with the dystopian society. I appreciated how there were dark and sinister things being hinted at, yet it was never melodramatic or crazily climatic.

I did not anticipate how much I would care for the characters. The dual POV was perfectly balanced and I never confused the voices. While I can appreciate fab plots, tension and twists, it is the characters that always resonate beyond the book for me, and I fell in love with June and Day*. I liked them separately, and also loved watching the tension between them ~ and for those who like to swoon, there's some swooning as well <3

NOW FOR EVEN MORE AWESOME: Did you know that Legend is loosely based on Les Miserables? Like a post-apocalyptic YA version. You can find snatches of themes running through the novel, subtly done. Of course, Day is like the notorious criminal Jean Valjean, and June is a female version of Javert... (anyone here a fan of Les Mis? Such a brilliant story) 

While the world building wasn't nonsensical/ridiculous (like some other YA dystopias I have attempted) I did feel rather vague on a lot of the political history, which was pertinent to the present plot. Yet that didn't detract from me having a fab time with this. 

Also, some of the way in which clues/mysteries are revealed > LOL. Always in movies and books are answers so perfectly coded and easily deduced (if it was left to me, I never would have found and interpreted the obscure/absurd clues on which crucial plot points relied on).

I have already happily, enthusiastically been shoving my copy of Legend into the hands of family members (teens and adults) for a guaranteed good read. I am not sure my review is shining enough for this book, which I so loved and crazily, completely recommend for fans of YA fiction, especially for all the dystopian nuts out there.

* Day was my fave. The little Robin Hood ninja genius that he is. 

Cannot wait for number two.

Legend @ goodreads
Legend @ Penguin Australia
Read the first chapter @ Penguin

Thanks to Penguin Australia for my review copy

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hanging out for: five 2012 YA debuts

Hanging out For is a feature of inkcrush where I chat about books that have snagged my attention. This is my numero uno post of the feature ~ and today I'm featuring: 

Five 2012 Contemporary YA Debuts that I'm hanging out for...
[check out these books on goodreads by clicking on the title link]

1. Trafficked by Kim Purcell

Feb 16

Hannah believes she's being brought from Moldova to Los Angeles to become a nanny for a Russian family. But her American dream quickly spirals into a nightmare. The Platonovs force Hannah to work sixteen-hour days, won't let her leave the house, and seem to have a lot of secrets - from Hannah and from each other. Stranded in a foreign land with false documents, no money, and nobody who can help her, Hannah must find a way to save herself from her new status as a modern-day slave or risk losing the one thing she has left: her life.

Oh ~ This sounds perfectly intense and moving and I am a HUGE advocate of the A21 Campaign  and am incrediby moved and incensed at the thousands of girls who are currently being trafficked (did you know human slavery is at an ALL TIME high, right now today, with more slaves in the world than throughout any time in history *steps off soap box* ;)

Anyways, very thrilled to see this premise and cannot wait to read it.

* also recommended: the movie, Taken, with Liam Neeson (LOVED it) and the captivating Tess Gerritson novel, Vanish if sexual trafficking interests you (you know what I mean)

2. This is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell

Beck McDowell’s young adult THIS IS NOT A DRILL, told from alternating viewpoints of two teens who must protect kindergarteners from a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who opens fire in the classroom,for publication in Fall 2012.

This also sounds intense and dramatic and compelling...

3. Fall To Pieces by Vahini Naidoo

Seventeen-year-old Ella Logan knows that Mark and Petal are lying about the night their friend, Amy killed herself. But Ella won’t let them bury the truth along with Amy’s body – she’ll do anything to unearth what they’re so desperate to keep secret. Even if it means a fake friendship with a new boy, who reeks of gunpowder and 
treachery. Even if it means throwing herself off bridges and into the face of deadly questions. Was Amy’s death really a suicide?

Cheating with this one as I read an early draft and Vahini Naidoo writes SO gorgeously. She is one debut author to watch out for (also, wrote the first draft while still in high school - WOW). Although I read an early version, I am still pumped to see the final product.

4. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

June 19

A powerful debut novel about a young Marine's return home from Afghanistan and the new life and love he finds while fending off the ghosts of war. 

When Travis Stephenson returns home from Afghanistan, his parents are on the brink of divorce, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car, and nightmares of his best friend getting killed keep him completely spooked. But when he runs into Harper Gray, a girl who despises him for trashing her reputation with a middle school lie, life actually starts looking up. As Travis and Harper see more of each other, he starts falling for her and a way through the family meltdown, the post-traumatic stress, and the possibility of an interesting future begins to emerge. 

His sense of humor, sense of his own strength, and incredible sense of honor make Travis an irresistible and eminently lovable hero in this fantastic and timely debut novel.

This one already seems to be high on people's radar. The first chapter is on Trish Doller's site (very compelling male POV) and early reviewers have confirmed this is something to genuinely be excited for. I'm thinking I'll break out the saving ans indulge in a hard cover for this one :)

5. Butter by Erin Lange

A boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make Scottsdale High history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch. 

He announces his deadly plan to an army of peers and expects pity, insults or even indifference. Instead, he finds morbid encouragement. When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live. But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

Wow ~ this is different and the stakes sound high and I am anticipating some great emotional moments. Really excited that Butter is finally nearly here :)

What about you?
Are any of these books on your radar?

Comind up next in my 'Hanging Out For' is a bunch of Aussie YA 2012 releases (and once I started the post, I realised just how mucb Aussie goodness we are in for this year. It's going to be a fab reading year)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances… a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been. 

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life…and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done. 

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last….

Sarah Ockler has secured herself a place on my must-buy author list. I really enjoyed her previous two novels Twenty Boy Summer and Fixing Delilah but I think her third release, Bittersweet, is my favourite. 

On the surface, there is not big drama or conflict in the book: it is a coming of age book involving ice skating, friendship, cupcakes, hockey boys and family. Yet, Ockler masterfully builds tension, in a quiet and compelling way the whole way through (with an achey mess of a climax, poor Hudson). It's not just the tension that kept me reading all night long (I finished at 4am), it is the way Ockler writes: her prose is gorgeous, rich but never overbearing, her sentiments so beautifully expressed it is easy for me as a reader to get swept up in the characters lives. 

But for me, my favourite part of this book is, by far, the characters. Each character, whether major or minor, was so nuanced, so lovingly crafted, that the whole book springs to life. The relationship between Hudson and her mum and her brother so perfectly depicted. The friendships, their good times and bads, so real and achey and fun and true. 

The whole book feels incredibly vivid ~ from the people to the winter-y setting, to Hudson's emotions ~ all of it, just truly wonderful. 

For those who know my reading taste ~ this book completely delivered for me. Compelling characters, vivid setting, engaging drama (without being melodramatic) and gorgeous, envy-inducing prose. 

And I saved the best until last (because loving a book is not just about falling for the boy...): Ockler knows how to create her love interests. There's plentyof swooning and aching between Hudson and Josh, co-captain of the ice hockey team. Josh has made it securely onto my swoon-y hall of fame - loved all of Josh's scenes ;)

Oh, how I love this book ~ this is one for all fans of contemporary YA at its finest. 

Bittersweet @ goodreads

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E Smith

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. She's stuck at JFK, late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's in seat 18C. Hadley's in 18A. 
Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a story that takes place entirely over a 24 hour period. Hadley is flying to London to attend her fathers wedding and misses her original flight by 4 minutes ~ which means she meets cute British boy, Oliver, instead (and spends the red-eye with him). 

Despite the cover and title of the book, the main tension driving the story is not the (fall in love in one day) love story, but the story of Hadley and her father, presented through flashbacks and Hadley's constant glowering about it, and her difficulty in forgiving him and letting him move on after he had an affair, leaving her and her mother behind. 

The love story was cute enough, although I found Hadley and Oliver's interactions rather bland ~ sweet dialogue with no real tension or mystery. Oliver has all the right things a male lead needs to be swoony, yet I thought there was a lack of chemistry and everything was so predictable (cliche, even). 

The adult characters were, to me, either unlikeable or just plain one dimensional (making it hard for me to connect or even care). The resolution was too tidy, the family conflict built up and then nearly disregarded in favour or giving readers a happy (unrealistic, easy) ending. 

I think this is a case of this book just not being my thing: too cute, too shallow, too convenient ~ my preference is for more a story that has an emotional undercurrent with a lingering vibe. However, it is light and fluffy and entertaining enough and would probably make a cute transition to the big screen (it does read rather like watching a movie). 

It was a bit disappointing seeing all the hype around this one had me convinced I would love it. It is a short 200 page breeze of a read which could appeal to readers of younger contemporary YA looking for something light and easy. 

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: @ goodreads