Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Hunt, Andrew Fukuda

Title: The Hunt
Author: Andrew Fukuda (author website | blog)
Release Date: May 10th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal/Dystopian
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

Chilling, creepy, visceral and exciting, Andrew Fukuda's The Hunt is many things: Dystopian, paranormal, survivalist fantasy—but mainly, it's good.

From Goodreads:
Against all odds, 17-year-old Gene has survived in a world where humans have been eaten to near extinction by the general population. The only remaining humans, or hepers as they are known, are housed in domes on the savannah and studied at the nearby Heper Institute. Every decade there is a government sponsored hunt. When Gene is selected to be one of the combatants he must learn the art of the hunt but also elude his fellow competitors whose suspicions about his true nature are growing.

The Story:

In a world where 'people' are not at all like you and I lives a 17 year old boy named Gene. Gene is many things: A survivor, an expert at deception, but most of all a freak. Instead of fangs, he has unsharpened incisors. While the sun makes 'people' melt and disintegrate, Gene can withstand ceaseless daylight. Instead of a healthy diet of blood and raw meat, Gene needs water and fruit to survive. Gene is a freak. A heper. A human. And if people knew what he was, he would be something else entirely: dead in seconds.

For seventeen years Gene has evaded detection by following the rules: don’t blink, don't sneeze, don’t cough, laugh or smile, and he's done well. But then The Ruler announces something extraordinary: a Heper Hunt, the first in ten years. Chosen by lottery to be one of the 'lucky' hunters—one the last to ever taste extremely endangered heper flesh—Gene must use all his tricks to survive. Cut off from proper food, water and deodorant—all the things he needs to blend in—the other hunters are beginning to smell something... Well, not fishy. Something far, far more delicious...

My Thoughts:

Fukuda’s ‘People’—for people is what they are in this world, and you will not see them referred to otherwise—are not quite vampires. More like the unholy love child of a vampire/zombie/human union: they think, they reason, they can, in fact, reproduce, and live normal, healthy lives. They are, in many ways, just like you and me, yet in others they are so very alien it borders on bizarre.They crave human flesh with unbridled hunger. They possess no control, and they have no internal struggle or moral quandaries to romanticise. These people would like nothing less than to tear your arms from your sockets and slurp your brain up like soup. Yet they are not so different. They have families, schools, parties and children. Teens have boyfriends and girlfriends. Friends share jokes. It’s amongst these ‘people’ that we find Gene, and start to question what, exactly, ‘human’ means.

Gene is a fascinating character study, a walking, talking, dichotomy—a lesson in Doublethink. He lives by careful rules: don't be caught out by the monsters, remember who you are—human—different from the monsters, better, all while, in some dark, secret place, longing to be a 'real' person, himself.

Gene’s humanity is an interesting thing. More than desire, longing, desperation, one thing has been deeply ingrained into the fibre of his very being: survive. At any cost—any length—survive. This need to survive can manifest itself in very ugly ways. If a human is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone for his own survival, what does that say about his humanity? Has he lost what it means to be human, or is it that need to survive, that tenacity and determination to cling to life despite the most desperate of circumstance, what makes him—and us—human, instead?

So The Hunt poses an interesting question: what is ‘human’? People mercilessly hunt hepers. They are cold, calculating, cruel; but is this any different from shark and seal, or lion and antelope? Is it different from humans and the billions of cattle, chickens, and sheep slaughtered each year to feed ‘humans’? So Fukuda asks us this: are People as bad as they sound, or just the top of the food chain? Is Gene himself any better? He leaves it to the reader to decide, and therein lies his brilliance. Fukuda's characters—even his heroes and heroines—are not always likeable, or easy to connect with, but it seems to be the point. They are flawed, at times ugly, but always interesting.

A steady, calculated creepiness and menace hang over The Hunt, and every page is coloured with a heavy sense of desperation. There are bigger games at play, and while the players have yet to reveal themselves, it becomes very clear Gene is a pawn. But this is where the comparisons to Chess or Checkers must stop. The Hunt is not a book of black and white, or perhaps even varying shades of grey. It’s a thick, muddy quagmire filled with hidden traps and dangers.

When Fukuda writes action, he holds nothing back. In contrast to Gene's carefully practiced facade, and the lingering sense of dread and foreboding that shrouds every word of The Hunt, every moment of flight, every fight, every suspicious glance ratchets up the tension and flies along at breakneck pace. Sharp and vivid, Fukuda writes with an emotive brilliance. The kind that will leave your throat parched and aching with Gene’s thirst, longing for rest, and scratching your wrist in laughter—oh, wait... you don’t have a funny bone there, either?

The Verdict:

Dark, tense and brilliant, Fukuda’s debut is not to be missed. Flawlessly combining chilling creepiness with nail biting tension and action, The Hunt is The Hunger Games, with the focus on the game—the mind game that is: The manoeuvering, the politics, the conspiracy, unravelling alliances and secrets. While not quite as action-packed as the name might suggest, The Hunt moves at electrifying pace, and will deliver thrills and chills to boys and girls (grown up ones, too) alike.

An enormous thank you to the amazing Simon and Schuster Australia for providing a review copy of The Hunt!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blogspiration (20): Dream Libraries, Hermiones, and BFFs


Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.


And, as Lauren says, "but I'd want Hermione there, too."
Fabulously, BFF (the aforementioned Lauren) has also agreed to be my personal librarian. The perfect job: a library, only without other people.

More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6), Richelle Mead

Title: Last Sacrifice
Author: Richelle Mead (author website)
Release Date: December 7th 2010 by Penguin
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star5 star

Does the name 'Last Sacrifice' scare you? Good. Be afraid. What an emotional rollercoaster. The Vampire Academy series draws to a close in Last Sacrifice, and its stunning conclusion has left me exhilarated, exhausted, heartbroken, overjoyed, satisfied and strangely bereft.

From Goodreads:
Rose Hathaway has always played by her own rules. She broke the law when she ran away from St. Vladimir’s Academy with her best friend and last surviving Dragomir Princess, Lissa. She broke the law when she fell in love with her gorgeous, off-limits instructor, Dimitri. And she dared to defy Queen Tatiana, leader of the Moroi world, risking her life and reputation to protect generations of dhampir guardian to come.

Now the law has finally caught up with Rose - for a crime she didn’t even commit. She’s in prison for the highest offense imaginable: the assassination of a monarch. She’ll need help from both Dimitri and Adrian to find the one living person who can stall her execution and force the Moroi elite to acknowledge a shocking new candidate for the royal throne: Vasilisa Dragomir.

But the clock on Rose’s life is running out. Rose knows in her heart the world of the dead wants her back… and this time she is truly out of second chances. The big question is, when your life is about saving others, who will save you?

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the previous two books in the series.

Oh Boy. Where to Start? Where Else:

Rose and Dimitri have crept into my heart, taken roots, and grown to become my favourite YA couple. The Vampire Academy series—delicious distractions aside (here’s looking at you, Ivashkov)—is clearly Rose and Dimka’s story, but it’s been one hell of a tough journey. We’ve all been waiting a long time for this book (well, in my case, a week), and we finally get to see the two work together again. Vampire Academy is at its best when the two are a team, and it’s wonderful to see them like this... but it’s not easy. Baggage doesn’t even come close to describing the load these two are carrying, and that burden increases as the book progresses.

Its spoken about a lot in this book, but Rose and Dimitri share a profound synchronicity. They are—quite literally—made for each other. The two resonate perfectly with each other, in pitch-perfect harmony, and, though it’s not easy for them, we finally get to see the two confront their recent history and the obstacles facing them. That being said, we’re talking about Richelle Mead. Don’t expect this to go smoothly... Hell, just abandon all expectations. And take it from Dimitri: Never drop your guard when Rose is around.

Rose:

Boy has Rose grown. In the past I’ve commented on my admiration of Rose; her independence, spirit, bravery, determination and loyalty, and this has only grown. Rose still isn’t perfect—far from it—but she has grown into an extraordinary young woman. She is, without a doubt, my favourite YA heroine. Geez is Vampire Academy taking out a lot of favourites.

Lissa:

Wow oh wow. If we’re going to talking about character growth, we need to discuss Lissa. As key to this series as Rose or Dimitri, Lissa started out as fragile, unstable, and, well, weak. In Last Sacrifice, she’s unrecognisable. Confident, clever, calm and collected, Lissa has grown to carry herself with a regal grace befitting her status. It is she who masterminds Rose’s jailbreak, and the story has come full circle with Lissa now defending Rose.

Lissa finds herself deeply enmeshed in the politics so central to the Vampire Academy series, and through this intrigue... she shines.

Dimka:

Dimitri has a LOT to deal with in Last Sacrifice. He hasn’t forgiven himself for the terrible crimes he committed as Strigoi, and it’s heartbreaking watching him do so. But bit by bit we see the return of our favourite Zen Master, Baddass God. FINALLY. However—though this is the first time I’ve had an actual complaint in the entire series (other than: “I want more Dimitri! Now now now! FIX IT MS. MEAD! NOW!”)—I actually did have a complaint with Last Sacrifice (one in a whole series ain’t bad, though, right?).

After being returned to life by Lissa’s magic, Dimitri’s come to regard her with worshipful adoration... and it just grated with me. I get extreme gratitude, but it royally pissed me off that he could be so committed and adoring towards Lissa, yet treat Rose so coldly, regardless of the guilt or turmoil he was suffering. I expected this to be dealt with in Last Sacrifice, and while the topic is broached, it isn’t resolved. It’s even openly highlighted that his loyalties are torn, but not resolved in a way I found remotely satisfying. I don’t know why this was such a big deal for me, but I couldn’t get past it.

Happy Ending? Pfft:

There was never going to be a happy ending for some of our favourite characters. In Last Sacrifice, hearts are broken, lives destroyed and futures left uncertain. I don’t know that I really expected any differently. Last Sacrifice ends on an intensely bittersweet note. Yes, we get a happily ever after—for now—but there’ll never be smooth sailing where Rose and her friends are concerned.

I still really want to see the "They come first" Dhampir mantra addressed, as I do the indocrination and—let's face it—brainwashing of Dhampir children. Whether either race can see it, the Moroi treat Dhampir's as a subserveant slave-race. It's one of the most disturbing and intriguing aspects of the series. Regardless of what they've been taught, Dhampir's don't need Moroi. It's entirely the other way round—Dhampirs could go off and live with humans, and not raise an eyebrow. Additionally, the issue of Spirit-induced madness still stands. Eventually, Lissa and Adrian will face this, and, as far as we know yet, there are no solutions. It seems clear this will be a key point in the Bloodlines series.

It’s part of Richelle Mead’s mad genius that she can end a book on the note she does, and do it so well. The conclusion is satisfying, but she has clearly left open ends with deliberate intent. If I didn’t know Bloodlines was on the way, I’d still be happy, but there is a whole series worth of loose-ends lying around.

The Verdict:

Last Sacrifice was never going to be an easy ride. It isn’t. It’s thrilling, emotionally-intense as ever and action packed—perhaps the most action-oriented installment so far. Richelle Mead has created an extraordinarily vivid world, populated it with authentic, layered, nuanced characters, and instilled it with an emotional depth that renders it unforgettable. What Mead has accomplished in the Vampire Academy series is something unique and magic, and as the series draws to a close, I’m left feeling deeply satisfied, but bereft, as though I’m closing the page on a very dear friendship. I—as I’m sure all fans will—am eagerly anticipating the follow-up Bloodlines series.

Books in This Series:

  1. Vampire Academy
  2. Frostbite
  3. Shadow Kiss
  4. Blood Promise
  5. Spirit Bound
  6. Last Sacrifice

Friday, May 18, 2012

Of Poseidon, Anna Banks

Title: Of Poseidon
Author: Anna Banks (website)
Release Date: 1st June 2012 from Hardie Grant Egmont
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

Sweet, flirty, and unashamedly fun, Of Poseidon is bringing back mermaids. Angst? Nope. These teenage supernaturals eat fish, not blood, and no-one here is sprouting hair and claws. Fins, though? Well that’s a different story...

From Goodreads:
Galen is strong, protective and gorgeous, with striking violet eyes and a body to make you shiver - and that's just when he's in human form. He's from the House of Triton, god of the sea, and he's searching for a girl with the gift of Poseidon to save his brother from marrying a fraud. Emma is a human. Or so she thinks. When Emma meets Galen on the beach, they both sense a sizzling chemistry. But can Galen convince her that she holds the key to his kingdom - without letting on that he's falling for her?

The Story:

When Galen, a Syrena (read: merman) prince watches a human girl single-handedly fight off a shark, and win, he knows she’s not what she seems. Perhaps not human at all. After all, the Syrena themselves can pass as human—growing legs, breathing air, and walking on land. But this is news to Emma, who thinks she’s as human as you and I. As is why, the albeit gorgeous, Galen, suddenly turns up at her school and won’t leave her alone. As the two fight a growing attraction, they must work together to uncover the mystery of Emma’s heritage, because while Galen cannot have Emma for his own, her rather singular gifts may just be the key to saving his kingdom.

My Thoughts:

Though it may seem strange calling a book which opens with the bloody death of a girl 'light', it’s precisely what Of Poseidon is. Jumping from death-by-shark-mauling to fun and playful, Of Poseidon never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously, and it frees Banks up to tell precisely the right story: a fun, effervescent romp offering laughs and romance in generous, decadent serves.

Emma, Galen, and Of Poseidon's cast of friends and family are fun, quirky, and compulsively readable. Emma’s chatty, funny and slightly neurotic first-person is a delight, and there’s a certain amusing naivety to Galen’s third person. His unfamiliarity with the human world and occasional bewilderment at Emma offer countless comic opportunities, and despite Emma’s description of Galen’s classic ‘Type A’ personality, he is not without a sense of humour about himself, allowing for playful, teasing banter between the couple. The split point of views work to excellent effect, not only lending greater depth in the book’s two leads, but to the world, and its delightful array of supporting characters who, rather than simply being ‘supporting’ characters are fleshed out, and as charming and entertaining as its leads.

The mystery of Emma’s Syrena heritage—do not call them mermaids, folks, especially not the guys—plays out over the book, and is the plot’s driving force, but Of Poseidon is all about the romance. And it’s fun. The chemistry between Emma and Galen is electric, sexy and intense, and when they’re not sharing a sweet, heart stopping moment—we’re talking girl meets boy, boy takes girl on date... to the Titanic—they’re bickering, or needling each other with charming, hilarious intensity.

The Verdict:

In a world of vampires, werewolves, and things that go bump in the night, Of Poseidon brings something new, fun and funny to the table. Sharing a sensibility far more in common with Disney’s Ariel and Eric than Rose and Dimitri, it proves different doesn’t mean less. There’s a playful quality to Banks’ storytelling, giving Of Poseidon a refreshingly light, fun tone, while never lacking in substance. Banks doesn't miss the opportunity to make pointed barbs at overfishing and and environmental negligence, but she never comes across as preachy. Flirty, teasing, and enormously entertaining, Of Poseidon brings exactly what it promises: good, beachy fun, romance, and delicious deep-sea mysteries. But be prepared: this book will leave you screaming for more.

Books in This Series:

  1. Of Poseidon (June 2012)
  2. Of Triton (2013)
An huge thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for providing a review copy of Of Poseidon!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spirit Bound (Vampire Acaemy #5), Richelle Mead

Title: Spirit Bound
Author: Richelle Mead (author website)
Release Date: May 18th 2010 by Penguin/Razorbill   
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 starhalf star

I’m trying—with great difficulty—to collect my thoughts on Spirit Bound into something coherent. Exciting, heart wrenching and intense as ever, I turned the final page consumed with righteous indignation and roiling fury. But oh. my. word, was it amazing.

From Goodreads:
After a long and heartbreaking journey to Dimitri’s birthplace in Siberia, Rose Hathaway has finally returned to St. Vladimir’s—and to her best friend, Lissa Dragomir. It's graduation, and the girls can’t wait for their real lives outside of the Academy’s cold iron gates to finally begin. But even with the intrigue and excitement of court life looming, Rose’s heart still aches for Dimitri. He's out there, somewhere.

She failed to kill him when she had the chance, and now her worst fears are about to come true. Dimitri has tasted her blood, and she knows in her heart that he is hunting her. And if Rose won't join him, he won't rest until he's silenced her...forever.

But Rose can't forget what she learned on her journey—whispers of a magic too impossible and terrifying to comprehend. A magic inextricably tied to Lissa that could hold the answer to all of Rose's prayers, but not without devastating consequences. Now Rose will have to decide what—and who—matters most to her. In the end, is true love really worth the price? 

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the previous two books in the series.

Rose... Scares Me:

Rose is back at St Vladimir’s, after failing in her mission to kill Dimitri, and give the man she loved peace at last. We join her on the day of her graduation from the Academy, just as she receives another chilling note from the Strigoi Dimitri. Rose in Spirit Bound is different. She’s experienced incredible loss and heartache, and she’s grown as a result. With that growth has come some maturity, and she seems a little tougher and bleaker in her outlook; at the same time, she seems to have reached new levels of recklessness and drive.

Rose has become a woman posessed. Whilst on one hand, she’s convinced herself she’ll make the right decision when the inevitable final confrontation with Dimitri occurs, another part—and that part is not small—can’t let go, and will go to any lengths to save him. We see just how far those lengths are in Spirit Bound, and they’re scary. Rose’s actions go beyond reckless in Spirit Bound, to the extent even I questioned the value of one life, in exchange for so many others... and I’m rather attached to that one life.

BFF's!

Shadow Kiss and Blood Promise saw a rift develop between Rose and Lissa—one of the relationships and aspects of the Vampire Academy series I enjoyed and valued most. In Spirit Bound, this rift is repaired, and the two grow close again, but they seem to be equals for the first time. Rose isn’t the only person to have grown, and we see the fierce dedication Rose has always shown Lissa reciprocated through actions and words, as the last Dragomir really comes into her own... and kind of steals the limelight.

Heartbreaker

Meanwhile, Adrian has grown into one of the brightest stars of this series, and as his storyline develops, my heart breaks over and over. Adrian and Rose are in an actual relationship in Spirit Bound, and we get to see a lot more of the deliciously infamous Ivashkov. This is a real treat, as his Spirit-driven charisma leaps off the page, and delivers giggles by the bucket-load... but as much as I love Adrian, I don’t love him with Rose, and not only because my her heart belongs to Dimitri: Rose clearly isn’t right for Adrian, and—as his own mother observes—this can only end in heartbreak. His.

Here We Are Again... I Get Why Rose is Obsessed:

So here’s the thing: that righteous indignation and anger I mentioned? Uh... well, despite the very precarious situation Rose is left in as Spirit Bound draws to a close, a lot of it was directed at Dimitri, of all places. I’ve rarely been so angry at a character I love so, so much. As the book ties up, Dimitri is suffering. Given who he is, and what he’s been through, I honestly believe the way he behaves towards Rose in Spirit Bound is utterly authentic, and the only way he could and would do. But logic doesn’t make me any less angry (am I turning into Rose?). Rose and Dimitri fans will be both thrilled and frustrated with the turn of events in this instalment. And perhaps slightly impatient.

The Verdict

Spirit Bound delivers. All the action, intrigue, politics and heartbreak we’ve come to expect from the Vampire Academy series are present, and masochistic fans will delight in an epic of a cliffhanger ending. The political turmoil simmering throughout the series has come to a boil—and the fallout has huge consequences for the characters we've come to know and love, as well as the whole Dhampir race. The stakes are higher than ever—goodness only knows how Mead manages to keep raising them—and with only one more book to go, I’m clambering to discover how the loose ends and threads of stories will be woven into the finished tapestry I’m starting to see form. Hmm... I wonder if it’s possible to hold one’s breath through 600 pages... You guys? Spirit Bound is as badass as Rose. Be excited.

Books in This Series:

  1. Vampire Academy
  2. Frostbite
  3. Shadow Kiss
  4. Blood Promise
  5. Spirit Bound
  6. Last Sacrifice

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blogspiration (18): Happy Mother's Day


Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.


via pinterest
And you know what? I think my Mum's even more badass than that.
Happy Mother's Day, Mum. I love you.

More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!

Friday, May 11, 2012

When You Were Mine, Rebecca Serle

Title: When You Were Mine
Author: Rebecca Serle (author website | blog)
Release Date: April 2012 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

It's no secret the greatest love story ever told is no love story. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy—a tale of bigotry, and murder; a story about a thirteen year old girl and a fickle, capricious boy, ending in suicide and tragedy for all. But what if it was wrong? Or not the whole story? Turns out… it’s every inch as heartbreaking, and if Rebecca Serle does one thing magnificently, it’s laying on the heartbreak. Grab your tissues and your comfort food, and prepare to fall in love... You know what comes next.

From Goodreads:
What if the greatest love story ever told was the wrong one?
Rosaline has been best friends with Rob since they were little kids. Recently, something deeper and more electric has entered their friendship, and when Rob returns after the summer break and asks Rosaline on a sort-of date, it seems they are destined to become a couple, just as Rosaline always knew they would be. The next day at school, a mysterious, beautiful girl arrives: Rosaline's long-lost cousin, Juliet. And suddenly it looks as if Rosaline might be about to lose her best friend AND her new boyfriend...

The Story:

Rosaline Caplet's final year in school should be perfect. And it is, for a time. When her best friend and next door neighbor, Rob Monteg returns from Summer break, things start to change between them. Despite reluctance to damage a cherished friendship, Rose follows her heart, and, when the two kiss, the stars align. Or so Rose thought. The next day, Rose's more or less estranged cousin, Juliet Caplet returns to town, and the day after that, Rob's love, his lips, even his friendship aren't Rose's anymore, no. They belong to Juliet. Because for Rob and Juliet, it was love at first sight, and like those star-crossed lovers with such similar names, so many years ago, it can't end well. As Rose struggles with her shattered heart, people start whispering of Juliet's instability. Will she take Rob with her when she falls? And will Rose get her own happily ever after?

My Thoughts:

Going into an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is challenging. Knowing the story can only end poorly, it’s difficult to let go of a certain reticence to become fully engaged. Yet it quickly becomes difficult to keep When You Were Mine from getting under your skin. With a charm uniquely its own, warm, vivid characters and sweet first love, it all comes together, feeling so, so right... Before it all goes so, so wrong.

Here's where, enter, stage left, comes our heroine, Rosaline Caplet. Sweet, quiet, and, well, ordinary. Rose is the perfect girl next door to Rob Caplet's Romeo. She has a simple kind of strength of character that shines through ‘ordinary’, making her engaging and easy to like. It's from Rose's outside point of view we watch her first love and best friend fall for another girl, and it's Rose who brings the tragedy home. Because it's not just the pain of two young, promising lives derailing so swiftly and violently. It's what comes before and what's left behind, and Rose feels it all with heart-wrenching intensity.

As I followed fair Rosaline’s journey, I longed for it to change, for Rose to curse the inauspicious stars, to fight their pull, and to choose her own adventure; to make things right in the world and to prove that fate isn’t sealed in the cold, cruel lights in the sky, It’s hard to trust the very wise Ms Serle when she says “No love story ends or begins out of accordance with how it needs to go[1],” but it’s well worth the risk. This is a book designed to make you feel, and oh, does it succeed. From the depths of grief and despair, to the soaring heights of creeping, hateful hope, Serle plays the heart strings with graceful perfection.

From the sweet, giddy breathlessness of first kisses, to the depths of despair, Serle doles out heartache, heartbreak, and emotional intensity with a calm, measured efficiency. And it's the emotional impact of When You Were Mine that is its greatest strength. Even in its darkest moments, Serle reminds us there is always light in the darkness. Whether the incandescent warmth of true friendship, the love of family, or the pinpricks of light in the night sky, the sadness in When You Were Mine is always tempered with something more: with hope, with friendship, with the spark of something new and exciting, after the loss of something old and precious.

With the stage is set, the players enter, and events are set in motion. The show goes on. And it’s this relentless march towards the inevitable that lends When You Were Mine such poignant tragedy: the simple knowledge that a few small choices would provide such a vastly different fate for our star-crossed lovers. But this is the question: choice, or fate? Serle examines fate, destiny, and choice, and lets the reader have the final say, lets them choose. It is not a story of blacks and whites, but one of greys and shadow; of loss, of endings, and of new beginnings.

It’s worth noting When You Were Mine’s slow, steady start, but certainly not as a criticism. Though Serle does have a tendency to overload, at times, on what could seem insignificant details, it comes to feel measured, deliberate. Serle takes her time presenting her players. She lets them fall in love; lets the reader fall in love with them, all before tearing them apart and setting her tragedy in motion.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Romeo & Juliet, Act 5, Scene 3.

The Verdict:

When You Were Mine is not quite the love story, or the tragedy, you remember. Once again, in a cruel play of fate and synchronicity, the stars align in exactly the wrong way to cause catastrophe. A string of small coincidences, combined to cause something profound. Once again, politics come into play, and lives are destroyed, and ultimately, all are punished.

When You Were Mine isn’t quite Romeo and Juliet, but truly, it is not exactly aiming to be. It is not Romeo's, nor Juliet's story, it's Rosaline's. It's about the girl left behind, forgotten, and learning to live with heartbreak. It’s a retelling, and a reimagining: something slightly different, and, in its own way, something more. It's not entirely a tragedy, and despite its heavy subject, avoids being bleak. It's tempered with something more: hope. It’s not precisely the same love story you know, but if you have one, it will break your heart.

An enormous thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia  for providing a review copy of When You Were Mine.

If you could be in ANY Shakespeare play, which would you choose? Me? A Midsummer Night's Dream. I ADORE it. And, come on, Julie Kagawa fans. PUCK.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4), Richelle Mead

Title: Blood Promise
Author: Richelle Mead (author website)
Release Date: May 18th 2010 by Penguin/Razorbill   
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 starhalf star

I don’t know how Richelle Mead’s done it, but the post-Frostbite Vampire Academy books keep getting better. Blood Promise is gripping, dark, and within its pages, it feels like VA, along with its incredible protagonist, Rose Hathaway, is growing up... and growing up ain’t easy.

From Goodreads:
The recent attack on St. Vladimir's Academy devastated the entire Moroi world. Many are dead. And, for the few victims carried off by Strigoi, their fates are even worse. A rare tattoo now adorns Rose's neck, a mark that says she's killed far too many Strigoi to count. But only one victim matters ... Dimitri Belikov. Rose must now choose one of two very different paths: honoring her life's vow to protect Lissa—her best friend and the last surviving Dragomir princess—or, dropping out of the Academy to strike out on her own and hunt down the man she loves. She'll have to go to the ends of the earth to find Dimitri and keep the promise he begged her to make. But the question is, when the time comes, will he want to be saved?

Now, with everything at stake—and worlds away from St. Vladimir's and her unguarded, vulnerable, and newly rebellious best friend—can Rose find the strength to destroy Dimitri? Or, will she sacrifice herself for a chance at eternal love?

SPOILER WARNING:This review contains spoilers for the last book in the series.

Roza:

The further I read into the Vampire Academy series, the more I’m convinced Rose is one the finest examples of a young adult protagonist I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She’s strong, independent, confident, fiercely loyal, as well as straight-up fierce. She’s kind, innately good, and in possession of an inner core of blazing-hot strength. She’s never without a course of action, and certainly never lost for words, but, I mean, if she is? She’ll go down fighting.

In Blood Promise, we join Rose in a dark place. To say she’s been through a lot in the last few months would be an understatement. Mason's death, followed by Victor Dashkov's trial, followed by the Strigoi attack on St Vlad's would have enough... But then Dimitri. For the two to finally came together, only for him to be torn apart, is practically more than one person can handle (hell, it’s more than I can handle!). But Rose can't let the man she loved carry on as he is—he never would have wanted that—so she's travelling through Russia, searching for him, so she can drive a stake through his heart.

It's heartbreaking watching Rose carry out this final task for Dimitri. Not only is she grieving his loss with a crushing intensity, but she's missing Lissa, and dealing with an isolation she's never really experienced before. For me, Dimitri and Rose have come to complete each other and I, in turn, had come to see them as two halves of a whole. In another way, I've come to feel the same with Rose and Lissa. Rose feels off balance and incomplete without them, and it's deeply upsetting to see her this way.

Darker, Deeper:

Blood Promise has a different feel from previous instalments. It's darker, it's bleaker, and we leave behind the perceived safety net of St Vladimir's and it's small army of competent, knowing guardians and instructors. Rose is on her own, and back home at the academy, Lissa and the gang are alone and struggling with their own obstacles and difficulties..

Despite so much stuff happening—action, danger, intrigue! —a huge amount of what goes down in Blood Promise is on an emotional level: Rose dealing, grieving, and just trying to keep on keeping on. Nevertheless, we check back in on the crew at St V's through Rose and Lissa's bond—major props to Mead for an ingenious way of carrying on the Lissa/Political side of the story, and keeping us updated—and we meet a few very key new characters. Namely, Dimitri's family, who are warm, wonderful, and embrace Rose as one of their own, and someone far more mysterious from Rose and her mother's past.

Well, It Is Called 'Blood Promise':

The final showdown of Blood Promise is breathtaking. Heartbreaking, terrifying, edge-of-your-seat, hold your breath type stuff, and the book ends with a chilling promise that made my stomach flip with a mix of nausea and hopeful glee. I'm holding my breath and wishing and hoping on a fairy tale with Rose on this one.

The Verdict:

Possibly the most emotional charged, heartbreaking and key instalment for Rose yet, Blood Promise is another exceptionally good offering from Mead. Seeing characters I've come to love suffer so much in Blood Promise made it difficult to read, but that bittersweet edge made it that extra bit more rewarding. The last week I've been asking myself over and over why I waited so long to read this series... I still don’t have an answer. Thrilling and utterly riveting, Blood Promise is not to be missed.

Books in This Series:

  1. Vampire Academy
  2. Frostbite
  3. Shadow Kiss
  4. Blood Promise
  5. Spirit Bound
  6. Last Sacrifice

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1), Julie Kagawa

Title: The Immortal Rules
Author: Julie Kagawa (author website | blog)
Release Date: May 1st 2012 by Harlequin Teen Australia
Age Group: Young Adult/Adult
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopia/Paranormal
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 starhalf star

Someone call the IUCN—Vampires are swiftly becoming an endangered species in young adult literature. After all, there are only so many times a teenage vampire can chill out in high school before raising a few eyebrows, and readers and publishers alike demand something different. Well, in Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules, readers will get what they are craving, and bloodsuckers are most definitely in no danger of extinction…

From Goodreads:
In a future world, Vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

The Story:

In New Covington, a city ruled by vampires, humans can choose to be 'registered', well fed blood cattle, or starve. Allison Sekemoto lives on the fringes, unregistered, and scrapes by a meager existence scavenging for food.

That is until she's attacked by 'rabids'-- mindless vampires, who share more in common with zombies than the Salvatores--and offered a choice by an unlikely savior: die, or become a vampire, the thing she hates most. Well, it's really not a question. Allie is a survivor, and if she has to survive as a vampire, so be it. She stays with her vampire mentor, Kanin, learning her new way of 'life', and to fight, until she is forced to flee.

Joining a group of humans searching for an almost mythical vampire-free city, Allie must try pass as human, and learn for herself what kind of monster she will become... which is made even harder as she finds herself breaking one of the first rules she learned in her undeath: never get attached to humans...

Thoughts:

Believe it or not, Vampire dystopians are nothing new. Take Daybreakers, with Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill. Flash back to I Am Legend, and its unfortunate adaptations. More recently, we have Priest. Yet Kagawa takes a supernatural creature that's been done to death all over again, and gives it, well, a third life—a life after afterlife, perhaps. Kagawa builds a world of crumbling cities, deadly darkness, and to quote another reviewer, one “full of people whose humanity is slipping in favour of a harsh survivalist mentality." A world of monsters both supernatural, and very much flesh-and-beating-heart humanity, stripped to a cold, dark core.

It’s in this world we find Allison Sekemoto: street-rat human, blood-hungry ‘monster’, and in both incarnations, still just a lost girl struggling to find her place in the world. While a long, hard physical journey consumes many of the book’s hefty 451 pages, the real focus of the story is a journey far more insular: Allie’s journey towards not just accepting, but embracing herself. Learning she has a choice in the monster she chooses to be.

Allie is tough, callous, and she makes no apologies. She is a survivor, and survival really is of the fittest in her world. Yet she grows over the course of The Immortal Rules, not only becoming a tougher, more ‘badass’ girl, but a kinder, more selfless one. In a world where selflessness can see you dead, or starved, Allie is an oddity, and perhaps doesn’t even realise it herself. In the change from human to vampire, she struggles to cling to her humanity—the essential goodness, and innate compassion we define as ‘human,’ for the Immortal Rules is nothing if not a fascinating study in ‘human’ nature—but it is interesting to note she is perhaps more ‘human’ as a monster, than she ever was with a pulse, and a warm, beating heart.

While certainly there, and indeed a key, beautifully done part of the plot, the romance in The Immortal Rules is subtle. It's an organic thing, slowly growing throughout the book, but it's not its focus. This is Allie's story. Her growth. Her choices. Her monster. But her relationships, whether romantic, warm, cold, or the fascinating dynamic she shares with her mentor, are crucial and compelling.

The Verdict:

The Immortal Rules is many, very exciting, things. It's action packed, it's cinematic, it's romantic and exhilarating, but it is also something more: A quality of storytelling and strength of narrative that lift it above 'just another' vampire book, or indeed, as trends lean more and more in the direction, another dystopian. Kagawa's storytelling has a depth, and her world building scope, that lend The Immortal Rules a decidedly grown-up feel. Not in the sense that it has only adult allure—though it is certainly a novel that has the cross market appeal of the likes of The Hunger Games—but it is a story with a depth and maturity; one that is fleshed out and fully grown, and is the work of a writer comfortable and confident in her ability—and rightly so. Kagawa tells her story with the easy grace and unflinching honesty of a master, and it would not be so hard to compare it to the likes of Suzanne Collins, or an early-era-Obernewtyn Isobelle Carmody.

Bleak, cinematic, utterly compelling and—most excitingly—new, The Immortal Rules brings some fresh blood to the YA scene… exactly what those lurky vampires were waiting for. If you thought vampires were safely buried in their crypts, staked, or put out in the sun, think again. The Immortal Rules is a very different take on the parasitic creatures of the night, and it's not a romanticized, sanitized version, either. Sharing something more akin with zombie horror and Mad Max than a teen romance, The Immortal Rules is a dark, gritty study in human nature. After all, what separates us from monsters, from the things that go bump in the night? You're about to find out.

Books in This Series:

  1. The Immortal Rules (May 2012)
  2. As Yet Untitled (expected 2013)
An enormous thank you to HarlequinTEEN Australia for providing a review copy of The Immortal Rules!

Gotta ask: given the choice, would you be a 'fringer', a human surviving on the fringes of society, or a vampire... hands down I know what I'd choose *bares fangs* >:D

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1), Marissa Meyer

Title: Cinder
Author: Marissa Meyer (author website)
Release Date: January 5th 2012 by Puffin
Age Group: Young Adult/Adult
Genre: Sci-fi
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 starhalf star

Cinder is not the fairy tale you remember. Dark and strange—as all proper fairy tales are—it seamlessly blends old and new with a future so bizarre it would not seem out of place alongside the twisted stories of the brothers Grimm.

From Goodreads:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, the ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future

The Story

Linh Cinder is New Beijing’s most talented mechanic. Broken androids, hovers, ports, she’s your girl. Yet despite her reputation and skill, Cinder is a cyborg—a human ‘repaired’ with robot parts following a horrific accident—for all intents and purposes, a slave. Reviled and subjugated by her stepmother and stepsister, her closest friend is an android with a faulty personality chip. But Cinder’s problems are about to get worse. The world is being torn apart by a devastating plague, and the Empire lives in constant threat of war with the strange race of—wait for it—moon people, called Lunars. When Crown Prince Kai turns up at Cinder’s shop with a broken android she finds herself thrust into political intrigue, betrayals and secrets that could change not only Cinder’s fate, but that of two worlds.

Once Upon A Time, There Was a Girl…

She was fair and kind, but she had a wicked stepmother who… hmmm…
Let’s start again.

Cinder is not Cinderella. Resigned to a life of injustice and hard labour, Cinder is no damsel in distress. She longs for something more, certainly, but she harbours no expectations or dreams of a knight in shining armour, or a happily ever after. The life of a cyborg is hard and cruel in Cinder’s world, and they’re treated as second-class citizens or tools at best, and reviled and used as test subjects at worse. But Cinder isn’t a tool, and she isn’t an object. She’s a very real teenage girl trapped in a shell of flesh and fabrication, one who feels with the intensity of any other, holds the capacity to love, dream and learn. Cinder isn’t the sobbing scullery maid of folk tales gone by—in fact, she’s physically incapable of tears—she’s something more. Something stronger, tougher. Pieces of her are forged steel, and they’re not her prosthetic limbs. This steel is tempered with fragility, and an aching longing for something more that makes her sympathetic, while never pathetic, or pitiful. Perhaps best of all, Cinder is smart. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and she has real skills and a trade. She’s an admirable and genuinely likeable character. Her humanity makes her relatable, and Cinder is, for all intents and purposes, as human as you and me.

Humans and Cyborgs and Androids, Oh My!

It’s the question of Cinder’s humanity that drives a crucial part of the book’s plot. Alongside the prince charmings, wicked stepmothers and extravagant balls is a completely different moral story. The legal standing and recognition of cyborgs in Meyer’s world mirrors our own world’s civil rights shame, but in this world, there is no Martin Luther King Jr, no Ghandi, no Dalai Lama. There is no champion of equality, of the downtrodden. The towering sense of injustice is crushing and infuriating, and it lends Cinder a gravity completely separate from its classic roots. There is hope in this world, though. In one Prince Kai. While it would not be hard to wax poetic on the young prince’s many positive attributes, it’s sufficient to say that yes, he is a perfect Prince Charming, but more so, he’s the face of hope. He’s more than a happily ever after, if he is that at all, he’s the face of change, or a better future for his people.

The Verdict:

Cinder (the book, not the character) is like the classic Cinderella you know and love in many ways. Except it’s not. Meyer’s writing has a dreamy, faery tale-like quality which perfectly complements Cinder’s faery tale premise. An odd, quirky world perpetuates the folk story feel, and it’s dark and twisty in a way stories like Cinderella traditionally were, pre-Disney. Yet it’s gritty in a manner these stories weren’t. Meyer’s taken Blade Runner, stuck it in a blender with Ever After—hell, why not add some Sailor Moon, too—to create something different, and wholly unexpected.

Cinder is tantalisingly familiar, but filled with archetypes, not clich├ęs. Loathsome characters are tempered with touches of humanity, and the ‘good guys’ have faults that go beyond mere foibles. While one character in particular could go down as being all bad, it is diabolically well done.

Sci-fi for people who don’t ‘do’ sci-fi, Cinder has something to offer everyone: action, romance, politics, pending interplanetary war and cyborgs. Compelling and gripping from start to finish, Meyer has cut a rare and sparkling gem. Shining and multi-faceted, Cinder is rich and colourful. It’s not the faery-tale you know. It’s something more.

Books in This Series:

  1. Cinder
  2. Scarlet (expected 2013)
  3. Cress (expected 2014)
  4. Winter (expected 2015)

Hmmm... If Cinder's a retelling of the much-loved Cinderella, do YOU have a favorite fairytale? Can I say the Princess Bride is mine, or Stardust, by Neil Gaiman? They're both kind of fairytales... is that cheating? :D

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