Mini Reviews: It's Not Me, It's You. 3 Star Reviews of Novels Read from Fall - Winter.

Saturday, January 31, 2015
Side note: I was going to name this post "Three For You, Glenn Coco. You Go, Glenn Coco," but the original quote is "Four For You, Glenn Coco. You go, Glenn Coco", and I need to be extremely accurate in my movie quotes. Also, this led to an hour of watching Mean Girl youtube videos. #timewellspent

I usually gives 3 stars to books when I like them enough to finish them, but I didn't love them (i.e. 4 or 5 stars) nor was I infuriated or offended by them (i.e. 1 or 2 stars). Getting 3 stars from me is like getting second place at the Olympics.

I'm also categorizing this in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The Ugly is just something random -  either a quote from the book or a random thought. Ugly is good.

Not a Drop to Drink (Not a Drop to Drink, #1)
Not A Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
The Good: Great, atmospheric writing that is gritty and perfect for the setting (a barren post-apocalyptic USA where water is in short supply.)
The Bad: A little slow in the middle, but overall a great read.
The  Ugly: First line of the novel -
Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond, the sweet smell of water luring the man to be picked off like the barn swallows that dared to swoop in for a drink.
The Taking (The Taking, #1)
The Taking by Kimberly Derting (Book #1 in The Taking series)
The Good: The wtf-beginning & first half of the novel when the main heroine, Kyra, is trying to figure out what happened to her (she fainted on the side of the road only to wake up behind a dumpster at a gas station. 5 years have passed....yet she hasn't aged a day).
The Bad: She falls in crush with her boyfriend's kid-brother who's now aged in the years since she's been missing (from 12 to 17). I actually got over this pretty quick, although some people on goodreads were creeped out. Also, this is a first book in a series, so there's the worst cliffhanger, ever.
The Ugly: There's a legit kissing in the rain scene. Like they're fighting...then it starts pouring...and then they start making out.
Neither of us moved, or flinched even, as we were drenched, drowned by the sudden downpour. I blinked the rain away so I could keep looking at his perfect, beautiful face. ‘If I hadn’t vanished that night, then I wouldn’t have come back, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to know you now. Not like this.’ And like that his lips found me. 
Throat by R. A. Nelson
The Good: That cover. Gorgeous. This novel is about a girl who's Grand Mal seizure saves her during a vampire attack. She becomes a half-vampire, able to live in daylight & existing without the thirst for blood. The book follows her as she runs from the vampire who attacked her, finding shelter on a NASA research center.
The Bad: The book is way too long for its story, clocking in at a total of 464 pages in small text, no less. Still, a very unique spin on the vampire tale.
The Ugly: I'm spamming this post with one of the best introductions to a villain EVER.

Hello,” a voice behind me said.
I have never been the skittish type, but I jumped about three feet and even let out a tiny bit of a shriek. It was a deep, deep man’s voice […].
I spun around, fist raised; there was no one there. But the door, the big wooden door with the pattern like a Z, was gone. There was nothing there but a tall black rectangle in front of me. It’s open […].
The voice was coming from the black rectangle inside the house. I pointed the flashlight. I could see at least twelve feet of empty space beyond the open door, the flashlight beam tacking a spot on the far wall with a nail of light […].
“What are you thinking?” the voice said. “I cannot read thoughts, but I would dearly love to know yours.” Now the voice was behind me. I whirled around in panic, saw nothing but the bones of more trees […].
“Here,” the deep voice said, “I am.”
I looked straight up. A towering black figure stood on narrow branches directly above me. His eyes were black. He dropped, and I felt the world come down on top of me.
Perfect Ruin (Internment Chronicles, #1)
Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano (Book #1 in The Interment Chronicles)
The Good: It's a utopia in the sky. Combined with DeStefano's beautiful writing.
The Bad: The characters themselves don't feel completely pieced together yet. This book was like an investment. I have to read the second to see if it was worth my time.
The Ugly: Beautiful.
The train speeds past the apartment, rattling the walls, and I dream that I'm riding it in my theater dress. I'm on my way to meet my betrothed waiting for me on the platform. I dream about the other passengers, and I wonder who's waiting for them. I wonder what keeps the conductor conscious as he navigates through the night. I dream about the murderer, out there somewhere, and wonder where he is when the train passes him by.
Dark Metropolis (Dark Metropolis, #1)
Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore (Book #1 in the Dark Metropolis series)
The Good: So very unique. Zombies. 1930's alt-Germany. War?
The Bad: Can something be too unique? No. But the world building in this book felt whole and real in some places (the introduction in the telephone club is phenomenal), and then strangely lacking in others. For example, towards the end, this girl forms "balls of light from thin air" and I was like...whaatt??? MAGIC?!
The Ugly: 
“It’s just—it makes me hungry all the time, the magic. Gerik says it eats away at people, and so sorcerers are always eating away at something else. Magic does things to a person. It turns hair silver, too” 

Book Review: Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins + Dream Casting

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Rebel Belle (Rebel Belle, #1)
Title: Rebel Belle
Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal
Setting: Alabama, USA
Copyright: 2014
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Hardcover: 345 pages
Axie's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Cover Envy: This cover is perfect. Also, it goes really nicely with the colors of my blog.
Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper's destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can't get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she's charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper's least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David's own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.
Reasons WHY you should read this book:
**The heroine is a regular Cher from Clueless (or Emma from Emma, without the matchmaking). She's head cheerleader, president of her class, as well as the organizer for Cotillion.
**Did I mention this book takes place in the South? Alabama, to be exact. Which means it has all that southern culture flare, with strong-minded sassy women & old school traditions.
**The main boy calls the main girl, "Prez", cause she's Class President. How cute is that? It reminds me of this wonderful manga series: "The President is a Maid!"
**Oh, and it's a paranormal book! This book has one of the best opening two chapters in a novel, seriously. Just read the first two chapters and see if you don't like it.
**It has one of those "I've loved you long time" romances, where the boy and girl have known each other since childhood and openly hate each other (thought secretly love each other).
**& it's a series! But doesn't end on a cliffhanger, thank goodness. It's conclusive. Super excited for the next book, Miss Mayhem, coming out April 2015.

Plot: Harper Jane Price is a somewhat (I mean, she's Queen Beeordinary girl (think Buffy before she was a slayer), until she inherits the mysterious powers of a Paladin from the janitor in the girl's bathroom (this sounds worse than it is). Now, it is her sacred duty to protect the Oracle aka David Stark aka the enemy (he's a hipster) from dying at Cotillion, the grand coming out party for girls in their small town.
Main Character: Harper is funny. I said above that she's like Cher from Clueless. She thinks she's right all the time, but not in a snobby way. She honestly just thinks she knows what's best for people and wants them to act accordingly. 
Love Interest: David Stark (It's unfortunate that I can't not say his name and think of Tony Stark since he's nothing like that character) is our resident hipster boy who works on the school newspaper and writes mean articles about Harper, since they've been public enemies since kindergarten. Of course, David's a big softie...and is super cute & wears tight pants.
Favorite Secondary Character: I think one of the main aspects this book lacks is strong secondary characters (which might be remedied in later books) & strong villains; however, I did like Harper's aunts. Nosy, southern aunts need to be in every book that takes place in the South.
World Building: Pretty straightforward southern small-town setting. & then there's the whole history between the Paladins, Mages & Oracles, which is just like a video game come to life. 
Writing: Fun, readable.

Word I Learned From Reading this Book: What Cotillion is. I mean, I new it was a dance from regency romances & Cotillion by Georget Heyer, but I didn't know it was this whole southern debutante thing where girls are presented into society as women while wearing fancy dresses and walking in coordinated formations. It sounds super stressful. I'm glad I grew up on the East Coast.

Recommendations: I actually haven't read a lot of YA books that take place in the South, which is weird b/c I think southern culture is fascinating. Check out Texas Gothic for a fun paranormal book (witches & ghosts) set in Texas with a snarky heroine & a fun cowboy romance. I haven't read them, but I'm assuming Rachel Hawkin's Hex Hall series are like this book, fun & quick reads.

Overall Thoughts: I thought this book was fun & unique. The middling-rating is because I think it slowed down a lot in the middle to make room for some hefty info dumping on the whole Paladin-Oracle-Mage aspect, as well as the fact that the secondary characters weren't that interesting (I don't really count the love triangle as a love triangle b/c childhood love trumps everything in YA land). But, like I said, I think Harper is a strong character & am excited to see what happens in the second novel. Hopefully more of the humor that started off Rebel Belle with a bang makes a resurgence. 

+ Dream Casting
Ella Purnell as Harper Jane Price. First off, I love that outfit. Secondly, she just looks like someone who could be Queen Bee but also kick some serious ass.

Jamie Blackley as David Stark
David is totally a hipster and Jamie Blackley looks real fashion savvy in this picture.

Waiting on Wednesday: Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that features upcoming novel releases.

Title: Monstress
Illustrator: Sana Takeda
Genre: Graphic Novel
Publisher: Image Comics
Hardcover: TBD
Release Date: June 2015. check out more images: here.
Monstress is about an outsider, a young woman who belongs nowhere; it is about young women who fight, who tame, who are consumed—and who become monsters in their own right,” said Liu. “I wanted to tell a story that encompasses all these things, and more. A story about women, young and old, picking up the pieces after surviving the horrors of war—and finding a home for themselves in a world that has otherwise exploited them. Set in an alternate history to our own, where immense Cloverfield-like monstrosities have conquered half the planet, and spanning the steppes of a shattered Asia, to the destroyed heart of a fallen Europe, Monstress is an epic adventure of frontiers and empires, and the rise of a young woman warrior, whose power may either doom or redeem the planet.
I saw this over on The Book Smugglers' On the Smugglers' Radar, which is one of my favorite features of theirs. THIS GRAPHIC NOVELS LOOKS AND SOUNDS AMAZING. Some standout phrases from the blurb: "about young women who fight, who tame, who are consumed," "who become monsters", "set in an alternate history", "immense Cloverfield-like monstrosities", "shattered Asia", "frontiers and empires", "rise of a young woman warrior". Ugh, give me now.

Does this book look like something you'd like to read? What are you waiting on this week?

Valentine's Giveaway: All Lined Up & All Broke Down by Cora Carmack (SIGNED) US ONLY

Monday, January 26, 2015
All Lined Up (Rusk University, #1)
Author: Cora Carmack
Genre: New Adult
Setting: Texas
Copyright: 2014
Publisher: William Morrow
Hardcover: 320 pages
In Texas, two things are cherished above all else—football and gossip. My life has always been ruled by both.

Dallas Cole loathes football. That's what happens when you spend your whole childhood coming in second to a sport. College is her time to step out of the bleachers, and put the playing field (and the players) in her past.

But life doesn't always go as planned. As if going to the same college as her football star ex wasn’t bad enough, her father, a Texas high school coaching phenom, has decided to make the jump to college ball… as the new head coach at Rusk University. Dallas finds herself in the shadows of her father and football all over again.

Carson McClain is determined to go from second-string quarterback to the starting line-up. He needs the scholarship and the future that football provides. But when a beautiful redhead literally falls into his life, his focus is more than tested. It's obliterated.

Dallas doesn't know Carson is on the team. Carson doesn't know that Dallas is his new coach's daughter.

And neither of them know how to walk away from the attraction they feel.
Cover Comments: Is it just me or does that guy on the cover look like Adam Levine?

All Broke Down (Rusk University, #2)
Title: All Broke Down (Rusk University #2)
Author: Cora Carmack
Genre: New Adult
Setting: Texas
Copyright: 2014
Publisher: William Morrow
Hardcover: 368 pages
Dylan fights for lost causes. Probably because she used to be one.

Environmental issues, civil rights, corrupt corporations, and politicians you name it, she's probably been involved in a protest. When her latest cause lands her in jail overnight, she meets Silas Moore. He's in for a different kind of fighting. And though he's arrogant and infuriating, she can't help being fascinated with him. Yet another lost cause.

Football and trouble are the only things that have ever come naturally to Silas. And it's trouble that lands him in a cell next to do-gooder Dylan. He s met girls like her before fixers, he calls them, desperate to heal the damage and make him into their ideal boyfriend. But he doesn t think he s broken, and he definitely doesn't need a girlfriend trying to change him. Until, that is, his anger issues and rash decisions threaten the only thing he really cares about: his spot on the Rusk University football team. Dylan might just be the perfect girl to help.

Because Silas Moore needs some fixing after all.
Blurb Comments: It says that Dylan fights for lost causes & then goes on to name "civil rights" as a lost cause. Yikes.

Okay, blurbs aside, these books are a ton of fun. Something about football culture really fascinates me, even though I'm like the opposite of someone who enjoys sports. (I enjoy reading, duh. I'm that girl in the stands at a football game reading. Who am I kidding? I would not be at a football game. Or, if I were to be at a football game, I would be on the marching band side.) Moving on. These books are steamy NA books with well-thought out romantic relationships and fun ensemble casts. Each book follows a new couple, all of whom are somehow associated with the Rusk University football team.

Valentine's Day is around the corner, so I thought I'd do a giveaway of the first two novels of the Rusk University series, which are SIGNED!

Also, do you know why I like Valentine's Day? Because it comes right before the day when all the stores sell chocolates for half-off. YES!

a SIGNED copy of ALL LINED UP by Cora Carmack
a SIGNED copy of ALL BROKE DOWN by Cora Carmack

  • This giveaway is US Only.
  • It will run from now (1/26) to 11:59 p.m. on Valentine's Day (2/14).
  • One entry per a household, please!
  • Winner(s) will be notified via email.

Series Review: Secrets of the Eternal Rose by Fiona Paul

Friday, January 23, 2015
Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose, #1)
Title: Venom
Author: Fiona Paul
Genre: YA Historical Fiction > Mystery Thriller, Romance
Setting: Venice, Italy (Renaissance)
Copyright: 2012
Publisher: Philomel (Penguin)
Hardcover: 435 pages
Axie's Rating: 3.5 out of 5 
Cover Envy: I liked the original cover better.
Plot: Cassandra Caravello is one of Renaissance Venice’s lucky elite: with elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, her own lady’s maid, and a wealthy fiancé, she has everything a girl could desire. Yet ever since her parents’ death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.

When Cass stumbles upon a murdered woman—practically in her own backyard—she’s drawn into a dangerous world of courtesans, killers, and secret societies. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a mysterious artist with a mischievous grin... and a spectacular skill for trouble. Can Cassandra find the murderer, before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiancé, or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?
Read this series if you like:
**Venice. The city is a character in this novel (not literally, but you get what I mean). It's one of the more immersive YA settings I've ever read--authentic & dreamlike--especially when they're on the...
**Gondolas. Did I mention there are gondolas in this book? I mean, I guess that's implied, seeing as they're in Venice.
**Historical Fiction. This is set during the Italian Renaissance.
**Mystery & Murder. The book's main plot surrounds the recent murders of women in Venice, from servants to courtesans.
**Secret Societies. The series' title, the Secrets of the Eternal Rose, refers to the series' main sect of villains--a secret society intent on finding an elixir for immortality.
**Romance. This book came of age in the Era of YA Romance, or what I like to call, the formative years after Twilight was published. The focus on romance is heavy in this first book...with Cass's own character development taking a backseat until later books.

Belladonna (Secrets of the Eternal Rose, #2)
Title: Belladonna
Author: Fiona Paul
Genre: YA Historical Fiction > Mystery Thriller, Romance
Setting: Florence, Italy (Renaissance)
Copyright: 2013
Publisher: Philomel (Penguin)
Hardcover: 352 pages
Axie's Rating: 3.5 out of 5 
Plot: In the second in the stunning Secrets of the Eternal Rose series, Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancé, Luca. But Luca seems to have his own secrets. When he’s arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass’s life is once again thrown into chaos. She must save Luca, and that means finding the Book of the Eternal Rose—the only evidence that will prove he’s innocent.

So begins her journey to Florence, a city haunted by whispers of vampirism, secret soirees and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose. And home to Falco, who is working for the Order’s eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself.

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time? Nothing is as it seems in this seductive thriller, where the truth may be the deadliest poison of all.
I always wonder, when the second book in the series has a significant page count reduction, if this means either A. the publisher cut pages due to the first book not buying out its advance or B. the author was tired of the series & just wanted to get the book over with OR (most optimistically) C. the story of the second book was just not as long as the first book...

This went from 435 pages --> 352 pages. That's a dramatic decrease.

In any case, this book was fun. It introduces Luca forcefully into a love triangle with Falco & Cass. It introduces a new villainess who is the titular character, Belladonna. & it features Florence as a setting, which means less gondolas, but still lots of pretty buildings & back alleys.

Title: Starling
Author: Fiona Paul
Genre: YA Historical Fiction > Mystery Thriller, Romance
Setting: Venice, Italy (Renaissance)
Copyright: 2014
Publisher: Philomel (Penguin)
Hardcover: 326 pages
Axie's Rating: 4 out of 5 
Cover Envy: She's legit wearing a homecoming dress, not a dress from the Renaissance.
Plot: In the final book in the trilogy, Cass and Luca are back in Venice trying to find the Book of the Eternal Rose to clear Luca's name and keep them both out of prison. But the hunters become the hunted when the Order of the Eternal Rose figures out their plan. Filled with twists and turns, danger and torrid romances, this novel brings the Secrets of the Eternal Rose novels to a thrilling, heart-pounding, sexy conclusion.
There's some fascinating thematic elements thrown about in this last novel. Namely what you want versus what you need, two dichotomous "futures/resolutions" set up in the shapes of literal boys. If Venom, the first book in the series, is about what you want, your fantasies & desires, then Starling is about what you need, safety and comfort. Falco represents Fantasy & Fairy Tale while Luca represents Solid & Base. Cass, the heroine, says this, literally, in the book. This is actually really interesting, especially when you consider that the first book, Venom, came of age in the Twilight-era/hysteria. That book highly romanticizes dangerous love, with Cass (an upper class Venetian girl) throwing propriety to the wind and traveling the dark Venetian waterways with her artist lover. Starling was published in 2014, when Twilight-esque books were past their prime, and this final book adamantly admonishes it's first book's romanticism in favor of something more realistic--leaving the bad boy behind in Adolescence and embracing the good boy in Adulthood. 

One thing worth mentioning is that, though it sometimes seems one of the main plot points is whether Cass chooses Falco (Boy 1) or Luca (Boy 2), Cass is actually a very strong-minded heroine. Sure, she gets herself into scrapes, but she's also the one who gets herself out of them. She is the sole plot-pusher of the entire series; nothing would get done without her deciding to do something and then just doing it, damn the consequences! The boys don't even know half the things she does without them. She completely exists outside them, and really does't need them at all. The series should have just ended with her joining an all-girl crime fighting league & vanquishing evil around Italy. 

Main Character: Oh, Cass. I can't say I like you all the time, but you're pretty okay in my book. You're super stubborn and get yourself into crazy messes, but you damn well get yourself out of them, with intelligence & bravery. I think you've literally broken both of your boys from jail....yes, you have. You hang with the upper elite & courtesans alike. And even at your lowest, you never gave up. 
Love Interests: Falco & Luca. I mean, it's a love triangle, except the two boys never speak to each it's more of a love upside-down table. |_| .  In any case, they're both actually human-acting boys (neither of them is perfect). Falco's backstory in Starling is one of the best backstories a boy love interest character has ever gotten. It sort of elevates him from "love interest" to "boy who exists outside of heroine", if that makes any sense. Luca climbs mountains and says things like this:
"Reasons to live are different from reasons to die". 
Favorite Secondary Character: Maximus. Mostly b/c he has the same name as this guy and this guy.
Villain: The entire member list of The Eternal Rose. They want to find the elixir for immortality (seriously, they should just ask Nicholas Flamel), and will stop at nothing to get it! Like kill lots of innocents. Belladonna, one of the leaders in the society bathes in the blood of virgins. So, there's that.
World Building: It's an actual place. Venice. This isn't paranormal; it's historical fiction. The descriptions are lush & evocative.
Writing: Really good. Nothing fancy, but still filled with great imagery. The actual production of the hardcovers for these books is fabulous, by the way. It has serrated edges, which makes it feel like you're reading off parchment paper & turning a page is seriously the best feeling in the world.
Recommendation(s): For gothic YA Historical Fiction, check out Megan Shepard's Madman's Daughter series. 
Overall Series Rating:  3.5 out of 5. I really enjoyed this series. It's lesser-known, I think; yet published by Philomel (Penguin) & therefore the production of these books is phenomenal. Overall, I really enjoyed it & recommend this series to anyone who wants to read a fun Historical Mystery with a great setting.
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