Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)

Story Synopsis

Kristin Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning fantasy Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.  (from

My Review

When it comes to books, there are few things I like more than a girl who kicks butt. Double bonus points if she's smart and/or funny as well. Arya from A Song of Ice and Fire. Katniss from The Hunger Games. Trillian from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, because butt-kicking doesn't have to be physical; intellectual prowess can whallop butts as well. So it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of Katsa, the butt-destroying heroine in Kristin Cashore's gripping book, Graceling.

At times it's predictable, and at times the troughs between the peaks are a bit too wide and deep, but this is one of those situations where I just don't care. I liked the characters far too much to bother with the book's minor weaknesses. I've already gushed about the awesomeness that is Katsa - watching her develop over the course of the book was, for me, the prime reason to read through 500 pages. Oh, and the romance. Did I mention the romance? This book has a really good romance. But it has balance between romance and action, and I like that. There's a lot more going on than smouldering eyes. It's got good world-building, too. I love it when a fantasy world is written with enough depth and detail that it feels like a possible reality.

Graceling has spawned a companion novel and a sequel, both of which have skyrocketed up my way-too-long, never-to-be-cleared reading list. Kristin Cashore is one of those authors where, as soon as I finish one book, my fingers start twitching to grab the next. I can't wait to see where she takes her characters and her world.

Rating: 4 stars

Rated by: Blair

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts

Story Synopsis:

Since the beginning of mankind, civilizations have fallen: the Romans, the Greeks, the Aztecs...and now us. Huge earthquakes rock the world. Cities are destroyed. But something even more awful is happening: An ancient evil has been unleashed, and it's turning everyday people into hunters, killers, and crazies. This is the world Mason, Aries, Clementine, and Michael are living in--or rather, trying to survive. Each is fleeing unspeakable horror, from murderous chaos to brutal natural disasters, and each is traveling the same road in a world gone mad. Amid the throes of the apocalypse and clinging to love and meaning wherever it can be found, these four teens are on a journey into the heart of darkness--and to find each other and a place of safety. (

My Review:

In the last few years, zombies have taken over pop culture like a bunch of, well, zombies. I love a good zombie romp, but they have gotten somewhat played out. Now along comes Jeyn Roberts’ apocalyptic novel, Dark Inside, breathing new life (or afterlife?) into the zombie genre. It turns out this book isn’t about zombies at all, at least, not in the classic you-bite-me-now-I-eat-braaaaaiiiinnnnnsssssss sort of way. Instead, Roberts alters the zombie mythos, using it to explore the not-quite-hidden malevolent side of human instinct and personality. The result is something far scarier than your standard zombie gore-fest. For that reason alone, you should read Dark Inside. As an added bonus, her writing is superb.

My only real problem with this book was that there were too many point-of-view characters – five. This works fine if you’re writing a 900+-page long book with densely packed prose (I’m thinking Game of Thrones here), but less well with a 300-page book with a YA typeset (bigger font and margins). The result is that none of the POV characters feels fully developed – there just isn’t enough space to develop in. I occasionally found myself confusing the two guys, they felt so similar. That said, with fewer POV characters, Roberts might have been unable to fully tell her story. So rather than cut characters, I would have liked a longer book, so each person could be more deeply explored. As long as I’m talking about characters, I have to point out a little personal bonus: Aries’ entire arc happens in a city where I lived for seven years. Fantastic. I’ve never read a book that had such a familiar setting. It added a whole extra level of awesome.

This book left me wanting more, and I love it when books do that. I wanted to know the characters better. I wanted to know what happened to the world. I wanted to understand what made people behave with such brutality. I wanted to sleep, because I read this book in a single, snack-filled night. Like most apocalyptic books, this one leaves more questions than it answers, and that’s okay. These questions, coupled with the fantastic writing, make it well worth the read.

Rating: 4 stars

Rated by: Blair

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Whispers of Murder by Cheryl Bradshaw


It was Isabelle Donnelly’s wedding day, a moment in time that should have been the happiest in her life…until it ended it murder.
Three women, three motives to kill:
--A jealous sister
--A company CFO
--A newfound friend
But which one is plotting against her? Which one wants her dead?

Think you know who did it? Think again.

(From Goodreads)

My Review
Oh this book was fun. It is a short read, just under a hundred pages. In it, a woman on the morning after her wedding awakens to find her new husband lying dead beside her. Everyone in Isabelle's family had a reason to hate him, could one of them be responsible for his death or could there be some other reason that he was murdered? 

I was completely engrossed in the novella and couldn't put it down until it was done. The ending was a complete surprise.

Cheryl Bradshaw has a knack for weaving a story that keeps you guessing and when you think you know who the murderer is, you are wrong. The book is filled with witticism's and great lines and was a pure pleasure to read. My absolute favourite line comes from Chapter 13; "Roland tilted back in his Laz-E-Boy recliner and watched his wife and daughters dote on him like lionesses tending to a newborn cub." I love that line and the book is just filled with fabulous lines like that. A truly good read.

Just on a side note, the book is available July 13 & 14th, 2012 on Amazon Kindle for free here: Whispers of Murder I would seriously consider giving it a read.

You can also follow Cheryl Bradshaw on Twitter @cherylbradshaw or check out her website

Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Reviewed by: Jessica

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Story Synopsis:

It starts with whispers.

Then someone picks up a stone.

Finally, the fires begin.

When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone—or something—is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root—before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.

Chilling drama combines with laugh-out-loud humor and searing insight as beloved and bestselling author Terry Pratchett tells the high-stakes story of a young witch who stands in the gap between good and evil. (

My Review:

I’ve long been a fan of Discworld, Terry Pratchett’s ginormous 39-volume series about a disc-shaped world hurtling through space on the back of four elephants which ride on the back of a turtle. Prachett has used this world to satire everything from rock music to fantasy canon to the postal service. But for as long as I’ve been a fan, I’ve thought the Tiffany Aching books, the series’ YA off-shoots, were a weakness. They lacked the hilariousness of the main series, and I found Tiffany to be an uninteresting character.

That changed with I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany Aching’s most recent installment. Tiffany’s (nearly) grown up, and she’s the head witch of her village. On top of being an authority figure in a town which still sees her as a child, she must confront growing suspicion and prejudice of witches. As always, she’s aided by a horde of Nac Mac Feegles – tiny blue humor-bombs who drink, steal, eat, fight, drink, steal and drink. With Tiffany now a full-fledged teenager, Pratchett tackles darker issues which were absent in her earlier books. He also ups the romance. The Cunning Man, the villain of the piece, is skin-crawlingly creepy. This darker, more adult tone results in what is, without question, the best Tiffany Aching story thus far.

Note to fans: The dial on the Discworld weird-o-meter is cranked way down in this one. You won’t see any man-eating luggage or Grim Squeekers. And the space turtle? What space turtle? Although each individual Discworld book can be read as a stand-alone, new readers may find the depth of detail to be a bit confusing – in 39 books Discworld has become a rich and complex place, and old characters show up by the ton. These are minor issues. Although I Shall Wear Midnight lacks the satirical awesomeness of the rest of Discworld, it more than compensates with creepy villains, infuriating villagers, great story, and a main character that has finally come into her own. I Shall Wear Midnight is an excellent book.


Rating: 4 stars

Rated by: Blair

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami


Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan--where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller--Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.


At first glance, Battle Royale looks like a Hunger Games rip-off, except that it pre-dates Hunger Games by about a decade. (I, for one, believe Suzanne Collins when she says she never heard of it until after The Hunger Games was being published.) Yes, both involve a dystopian government forcing teenagers to kill each other. But Battle Royale has key differences from The Hunger Games. It has twice the number of contestants, they all already know each other, and instead of seeing things only from the point of view of a single character, the story is told from multiple third person points of view. What does this add up to? Gore, gore, and more gore. We see it all. Every. Single. Kill. Almost nothing happens in the background. If The Hunger Games was a puppy, Battle Royale would be a slobbering fiery death dragon from the ninth circle of hell. That all the characters already know each other is key, for the pre-existing romances and friendships  save the book from being an endless bloodbath.

If you want campy fun and ridiculous amounts of blood, you won't be disappointed. But don't expect deep characterization. Many of the secondary characters feel like the same person but for minor differences – this one plays violin, that one has pimples. For most of the story, the main characters are either likable enough or scary enough to make up for this weakness. Even some bland secondaries are worth their pages. I like Takako Chigusa, who’s in love with her oblivious best friend and has a run-in with a would-be rapist. At times the writing is clunky and uninspiring, though it’s difficult to tell if this is Takami or the translation from Japanese.

If you’re looking for sweeping prose, deep character development, and heavy introspection, this book is not for you. But if you want the quick, suspenseful read of a gory guilty pleasure, this is one to pick. Battle Royale is nothing deep, but it is fun. And its got a good soul. Despite all the violence, it never once gives you the impression that this is okay. The frightened, machine-gun-toting teenagers aren't the bad guys; it's the government who gave them the guns. And, just like with The Hunger Games, you never stop asking yourself that one awful question: If it was me, what would I do?

Rating: 3.5 stars

Rated by: Blair

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

Story Synopsis: 

As the youngest and only female member of the Knights Templar, Bilquis SanGreal grew up knowing she wasn’t normal. Instead of hanging out at the mall or going on dates, she spends her time training as a soldier in her order’s ancient battle against the Unholy. Billi’s cloistered life is blasted apart when her childhood friend, Kay, returns from Jerusalem, gorgeous and with a dangerous chip on his shoulder. He’s ready to reclaim his place in Billi’s life, but she’s met someone new: amber-eyed Michael, who seems to understand her like no one else, effortlessly claiming a stake in her heart. But the Templars are called to duty before Billi can enjoy the pleasant new twist to her life. One of the order’s ancient enemies has resurfaced, searching for a treasure that the Templars have protected for hundreds of years -- a cursed mirror powerful enough to kill all of London’s firstborn. To save her city from catastrophe, Billi will have to put her heart aside and make sacrifices greater than any of the Templars could have imagined.

My Review:

I'm a fan of a great beginning and this book has one of the best beginnings I've read. The first chapter opens with action done well, and I found myself caring about Billi and curious about her life right away. It's well-written, action-packed, and the Templar angle adds a freshness to the story. As a warrior, Billi San Greal is kick ass, and I thought her fighting and action scenes were great. It was easy to become completely immersed in them.

However, I had difficulty bonding with Billi's character at times, especially around her relationships with Kay, her father, and Michael. This lack of bonding could be partly due to voice (it's written in third person), but I think it has more to do with this unconscious sense I get when I'm reading a young female protagonist written by a male author. Not to be gender-biased, because I believe some authors are able to cross genders well. I simply didn't feel her the way I normally feel a female character I'm reading about.

It could be because I found the love story lacked a certain chemistry, and I found myself wishing for more romance. This was my personal preference. However, overall, I found the novel to be very well-written and its pacing as a young adult novel was excellent. It's a great story, well executed.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Rated by: Lisa