Sunday, March 25, 2012

Starters by Lissa Price

Starters by Lissa Price
Random House, 352 pages
ARC courtesy of Random Buzzers

"In the future, teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. One girl discovers her renter plans to do more than party - her body will commit murder, if her mind can't stop it. Sixteen-year-old Callie lost her parents when the genocide spore wiped out everyone except those who were vaccinated first - the very young and very old. With no grandparents to claim Callie and her little brother, they go on the run, living as squatters, and fighting off unclaimed renegades who would kill for a cookie. Hope comes via Prime Destinations, run by a mysterious figure known only as The Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to seniors, known as enders, who get to be young again. Callie's neurochip malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her rich renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, even dating Blake, the grandson of a senator. It's a fairy-tale new life... until she uncovers the Body Bank's horrible plan...."

I was totally preparing myself to be blown out of the water with Starters, but... I wasn't. Maybe it was because there was so much hype for this book that I expected much more, but it just didn't happen. Although I did really enjoy the book, it simply wasn't a five-star book for me.

I thought the world building was fantastically executed. I believe that is a key component when making a dystopian book. If the world isn't believable, I am sorry, I just won't believe or care about your book. All of the technology was great to hear about, whether it was the chip in Callie's head, Helena's awesome cars, or Madison's awesome version of a T.V. Everything seemed fresh and believable.

The action in this book was certainly there in abundance. It really was what made the book intriguing for me. If there wasn't as much as there was, I am not so sure I would have enjoyed the book as much as I did. But, there was always some new twist that you had to wrap your head around, and the entire time something doesn't feel quite right. Appropriately, it was like an itch in the back of your brain... something was rotten about the story, but you couldn't quite put your finger on it until things are finally revealed a bit in the end. In other words, Lissa Price does a great job with making you try and guess what was going to come next, but instead she takes a completely different turn than what you saw coming.

Where the story fell flat with me was with the characters. Michael, Callie's friend, seemed to be a sort of love interest... at least, that is the vibe I got from Price. But, I simply could not picture Callie and Michael having anything other than sibling-like love. It didn't help that Michael wasn't really in the book that much. From what I understand, Michael should be more prominent in the next and final book Enders. I did enjoy Callie as a main character. Of course, only being a teenager, she made some mistakes throughout the novel and learned from them. It was very enjoyable to watch her grow into a strong character. Tyler, Callie's little brother, bothered me as a character. I actually feel horrible saying it as he was sickly and such, but it really irked me that he couldn't be a bit more understanding of what Callie had to do. I know he was young and all, but you would think living on the streets would toughen up his mentality.

Starters was all in all a very enjoyable book, even though there were some things that bothered me. I am VERY excited that this is going to only be a two book series, not because it was bad, but because it is a new and refreshing way of writing. Better yet, the sequel, Enders, will be released at the end of this year. And after the heck of cliff-hanger of an ending in Starters, you be able to rest assured that you will know what happens to Callie by the end of 2012!

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

The Queen's Lady by Eve Edwards

The Queen's Lady by Eve Edwards
Random House, 313 pages
ARC courtesy of Random Buzzers

"1584 – Surrey, England; When Lady Jane Rievaulx begins service to the Queen at Richmond Palace, she is thrilled at the court’s newest arrival... Master James Lacey. Despite her previous courtship with his older brother, James is the man she truly loves. And for his part, he cannot deny his fascination with her. However, James is setting sail on a treacherous journey to the Americas, seeking absolution for what he sees as past sins. But when Lady Jane is forced into a terrible situation by her own family, there is only one man to save her. Will Master James return to his lady ­- before it’s too late?"

Eve Edwards has done it again. She has managed to create a sequel just as riveting as her first book, The Other Countess. Eve Edwards is easily now at the top of the list of my favorite historical fiction authors. Matter of fact, she may be my absolute favorite. Her attention to detail and the amazing historical accuracy in her books absolutely blows me away. Everything is simply so well-written that it compliments the heart-touching storyline perfectly. As well as being well-written, the books are paced perfectly. They aren't too long, the romance keeps chugging along, and the right amount of conflicts emerge at the right time.

I was so very pleased that we got an insight to what happened to Ellie and Will after the ending of the previous book. It just made my heart melt when I can read about characters living their happily ever after. I also love that we already knew a bit about James and Jane before going into this book. This is something that I love about Eve Edwards... the next main characters are side characters in her previous books. Thus, even at the very beginning of the book, you already have a connection with the main characters. As you can guess, the next main character for Edward's third book, The Rogue's Princess, makes his debut in The Queen's Lady.

The Lacey Chronicles simply are just feel good, melt your heart type of books. I adore them! They remind me of some of my favorite historical romance novels by Kat Martin, minus the clearly very adult content. Even so, the romance is intense and incredibly romantic that the extra stuff is very unnecessary and would only ruin the essence of the book. Edward's does a fantastic job with knowing when things will get too far.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or simply romance novels, I highly suggest you pick up both The Other Countess and The Queen's Lady! I can promise you that you will not be disappointed, and you may discover a new favorite historical fiction author like I have! Also, don't forget to check out The Rogue's Princess when it will be released in the US in January 2013!

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
375 pages, HarperCollins
Borrowed From Library

"Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse. Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive. A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky."

I first and foremost heard about Under the Never Sky because it was a dystopian book and dystopian is one of my favorite genres, so of course I had to get my hands on this novel! I greatly enjoyed reading Under the Never Sky, but it did fall flat in a few areas.

The story begins with Aria, a girl who is being exiled from her city called Reverie. Upon being exiled, she is left to survive in a place called The Death Shop where cannibals lurk. She then meets Perry and this is where the plot really starts to get interesting. Perry recently lost his nephew Talon and is willing to do anything to find him and return him to home. Aria was a character I both liked and disliked. She was incredibly vulnerable and didn't think before she acted, so that was the part that bothered me. The part I did like was learning more about her past life with her mother, Lumina. Aria is a very caring person. Which brings me to Perry or Peregrine, whichever name you prefer. I adored Perry! He is one of those guys with a rough exterior, but deep down, he's all soft on the inside. Especially when introduced to Aria, his more sensitive side is revealed. Aria and Perry's relationship developed throughout the book which was nice. At the beginning Aria cannot keep her mouth shut, but Perry is extremely reserved, which is realistic with a person you don't know or haven't a clue what their intentions are. But as the story progressed, so did their relationship and I enjoyed the fact that they didn't fall in love at first sight. I guess the only aspect I did not like about the romance was that it felt pushed front in center as the importance of the story. As much as I love romance, the plot felt like it lacked definition.

This brings me to the plot and where Rossi fell a little flat for me. I came into this novel expecting a dystopian book, but was a little confused when the main focus seemed more fantasy/sci-fi oriented. Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy/sci-fi, but I sort of wanted there to be more of a distinction within the genre. Another area that fell a little flat was the world building. World building is key when creating a fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi novel because it's important to the reader that they understand how this world came to be and for it to be entirely believable even though it's fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi. There is all this talk about the Aether and the sky, but I feel as if I never fully understood exactly what the Aether even was. Maybe I didn't follow along well enough, but I wanted to read more background on the Aether, why it came to be and how the Reverie also came to be.

Rossi's writing style was great. She was descriptive without focusing too much on the details and her characters developed throughout the plot.

Overall, I wasn't thoroughly impressed with Under the Never Sky, but that's not to say it's a terrible book. I'm just becoming disappointed with the dystopian genre focusing more on the love interest rather than the world building.

Rating: 3 stars - I liked it. Worth borrowing.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Fever by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster, 368 pages

"Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but they’re still in danger. Outside, they find a world even more disquieting than the one they left behind. Determined to get to Manhattan and to find Rhine’s twin brother Rowan, the two press forward, amidst threats of being captured again... or worse. The road they are on is long and perilous - and in a world where young women only live to age 20 and men die at age 25, time is precious. In this sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price - now that she has more to lose than ever."

Addicting. I honestly can't find a better word to describe this series. Before Fever, I was absolutely blown away with Wither. I must agree with Carrie Ryan, author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth Trilogy, when she said that Wither is "exactly the kind of book I've been craving to read." Amen, sister. Fever is just as intoxicating as its predecessor.

I seriously am enchanted by these books... the concept of the books is executed phenomenally. I actually felt like DeStefano sat down and pondered her world for awhile before writing it. It is original. It is new. It is fresh. And most importantly, it is shockingly realistic. Nothing in the book appears to be too outrageous to the point where you can scoff and say, "Psh! Clearly sci-fi mojo right there! That will never happen!" The world is frighteningly real. It sucks you in, and makes you wonder what it would be like to know exactly when you were going to die. I truly am empathetic for both Rhine and Gabriel... I couldn't imagine being given a death sentence the moment I was born into the world.

Honestly, DeStefano's writing in these books is really what makes them come alive. It really is lovely, and contrasts perfectly with the dark themes of the series. It really is amazing how DeStefano can make something so sinister into something that is beautiful. The covers even do the same thing! (Speaking of which... Oh. My. Lord. Can we say cover crush?!!)

Some say that the themes in this book (prostitution, drugs, polygamous marriages) may not be appropriate for young adults, but I beg to differ. First off, those themes are present in real life. Young adults will be exposed to them eventually. Secondly, I have read SEVERAL young adult books with more controversial content than this (Go Ask Alice anyone?). Thirdly, this book is by no means an advocate for any of those previously mentioned themes! Rhine is a character disgusted with prostitution, polygamous marriages, and drugs, and this story is about her escape from it. So, needless to say, this book isn't for everyone. If you are sensitive to those topics, then you obviously might want to think twice about reading this series. But, you would certainly be missing out if you choose not to read them!

So, if you are debating whether or not to give this series a shot, GO FOR IT! I really believe that it is one of the gems in Dystopian fiction. You will not be disappointed!

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Sphinx's Queen by Esther Friesner

Sphinx's Queen by Esther Friesner
Random House, 347 pages

"Ancient Egypt springs to life in this enthralling sequel to Sphinx’s Princess. As she did in Nobody’s Princess and Nobody’s Prize, author Esther Friesner offers readers a fresh look at an iconic figure, blending historical fiction and mythology in a heady concoction. Hunted... Overnight, every aspect of Nefertiti’s life has changed. She is no longer living at the royal palace as the intended bride of the crown prince. Instead, she is being chased by the prince and his soldiers for a crime she did not commit. Hidden... Traveling with two of her dearest friends, including the crown prince’s brother, who helped her escape, Nefertiti takes shelter in the wild hills along the Nile’s west bank. She must rely on her own resourcefulness and skills (all those secret archery lessons prove very useful) as the fugitives fight to survive. Haunted... But the need for justice gnaws at Nefertiti. She is determined to plead her case to the Pharaoh and set things right. As she begins to question long-held sacred beliefs - a questioning that could alter the fabric of Egyptian society - her extraordinary journey from commoner to royalty brings adventure, intrigue, and romance."

Sphinx's Queen is by far Esther Friesner's best work to date, in my opinion. I was blown away by how fabulous this book was. Friesner effortlessly made Nefertiti, ancient Egyptian royalty, a woman with modern ideas that made her a strong woman. I absolutely loved reading her story, and I couldn't wait to see how admirably and honorably Nefertiti would handle a situation that was clearly far out of her control.

Even though I enjoyed Helen of Troy's story in Friesner's Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize, Nefertiti clearly surpassed Helen. Even the Nefertiti of Sphinx's Princess is trumped by her older self in Sphinx's Queen. I loved watching Nefertiti transition into becoming a strong independent woman that knows when to take the high road and simply forgive people of their actions. Although this can be perceived as weakness, I think it really shows a person's strength if they are able to move on through forgiveness. But, it must be made clear that Nefertiti is not a push over by any means.

I loved reading a book that focused on ancient royalty that wasn't euro-centric. It simply was a breath of fresh air to read about something new. I personally haven't read many, if any, books with an ancient Egyptian setting. It was very fascinating to read about descriptions of Egyptian lifestyles and to hear all about the different Egyptian gods and goddesses (Speaking of, I now realize I should get a move on with Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles! :D)

Of course, we have of the court intrigue that comes with palace life in any culture! Backstabbing, plots, and rumors are abound in the Pharoah's court, and a majority of the plots stem from Nefertiti's Aunt Tiye. What makes everything so fascinating is that all of the characters are incredibly complex. While Pharoah Amenhotep, Tiye, Thutmose, and Amenophis appear to be one happy family to the outsiders, it couldn't be further from the truth. By the end of the book, all of the characters eventually show their true colors.

Esther Friesner's last line in the author's note resonates through the entire book and is inspiration for all women: "Above all, we can remember that she [Nefertiti] was much more than just another pretty face."

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.