Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Series Wrap-Up : The Drake Chronicles by Alyxandra Harvey (Part 1)

*warning* - my reviews are spoiler-free, but reading the synopsises of the following books will reveal spoilers from the book before so please be wary if you haven't read these books before

Hearts at Stake
Title: Hearts at Stake (The Drake Chronicles #1)
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Published: December 22nd 2009
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Book Depository
On Solange’s sixteenth birthday, she is going to wake up dead. As if that’s not bad enough, she also has to outwit her seven overprotective older brothers, avoid the politics involved with being the only daughter born to an ancient vampire dynasty, and elude Kieran Black—agent of an anti-vampire league who is searching for his father’s killer and is intent on staking Solange and her entire family.

Luckily she has her own secret weapon—her human best friend Lucy—who is willing to defend Solange’s right to a normal life, whether she’s being smothered by her well-intentioned brothers or abducted by a power-hungry queen. Two unlikely alliances are formed in a race to save Solange’s eternal life—Lucy and Solange’s brother Nicholas, and Solange and Kieran Black—in a dual romance that is guaranteed to jump start any romance-lover’s heart. Goodreads Summary

I forgot how much fun this book was. Lucy is such a great character, witty and sharp, plus her inner monologue is hilarious. She's one of my favorite heroines to read about. She's sassy, quick-witted and hilarious. And she is a hell of a best friend to Solange, the other main character in this book. Of course, her banter and chemistry with Nicholas is wonderful as well and I loved those two together. It's always cute to see the bickering pairings who end up together.

Solange is a great girl, although I still prefer Lucy's POV. I like how despite her "princess" status, she's still a regular teenage girl, and the way she and Lucy have each others' backs is sweet. And I wholly empathized with her for the way she's swarmed by "suitors" who want her for her prophetic existence. Being a teen is work enough without throwing in a creepy vampire lord trying to court you and getting attacked at every turn. And I loved her bond with her brothers, overprotective as they may have been, and how grounded she is throughout the whole book.

Overall, entertaining and quick read. This book has action, romance, fun, sibling relationships (cute and hilarious), with an impressive world to fall into. The vampire community/hierarchy is fascinating and it's definitely a book to read to put yourself in a good mood.

My Rating: ★★★★ (4.5 stars)

Blood Feud
Title: Blood Feud (The Drake Chronicles #2)
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Published: June 22nd 2010
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Book Depository
It's been centuries since Isabeau St. Croix barely survived the French Revolution. Now she's made her way back to the living and she must face the ultimate test by confronting the evil British lord who left her for dead the day she turned into a vampire. That's if she can control her affection for Logan Drake, a vampire whose bite is as sweet as the revenge she seeks.

The clans are gathering for Helena's royal coronation as the next vampire queen, and new alliances are beginning to form now that the old rifts of Lady Natasha's reign have started to heal. But with a new common enemy, Leander Montmarte—a vicious leader who hopes to force Solange to marry him and usurp the power of the throne for himself—the clans must stand together to preserve the peace he threatens to destroy.

While I still hold Lucy and Nicholas to be my favorite pair in this series, I did really enjoy this one. It was interesting to see another aspect of the vampiric culture, the mysterious Hounds. I loved Isabeau and Logan (especially how he knew his eighteenth century etiquette which is pretty impressive), their chemistry and the plot  that was pretty fast-paced and kept things interesting.

I liked that we got a glimpse at both Lucy and Nicholas, in addition to Solange and Kieran, and while this series has a more impressive cast than most, everyone has little quirks and personality that add to the overall fun tone of this series.

My Rating: ★★★★ 

Out for Blood

Title: Out for Blood (The Drake Chronicles #3)
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Published: December 21st 2010
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Book Depository
Hunter Wild is the youngest in a long line of elite vampire hunters, a legacy that is both a blessing and a curse at the secret Helios-Ra Academy, where she excels at just about everything. Thanks to her friendship with Kieran Black, Hunter receives a special invitation to attend the coronation of Helena Drake, and for the first time, she sees the difference between vampires that must be hunted and vampires that can become friends-or even more. When students at the academy fall victim to a mysterious illness, Hunter suspects they are under attack from within. She will need someone she can trust to help her save the future of Helios-Ra . . . help that shockingly comes in the form of Quinn Drake, a drop-dead gorgeous vampire. Who said senior year would be easy?

Besides Nicholas, Quinn has been my favorite Drake boy. He's a flirt yes, but he's fun, and you have to admit, someone who can grin while he's fighting is impressive. And Hunter is kick-ass, well deserving of her family's reputation. I loved the banter between these two characters and I had so much fun when these two had scenes together, especially when they were fighting, either each other or other people. I liked seeing the Helios-Ra Academy and the mysterious illness plaguing the students was interesting. In addition, it revealed interesting layers among the vampire hunter community, which we didn't get to see in the previous books.

Of course, we see the other couples pop in and out as well, and what I love about this series is how connected the characters are to each other, how supportive and loving they are underneath the parrying of quips and remarks.

My Rating: ★★★★

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday #2: The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordan

*Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme that is hosted Breaking the Spine.

The Sword of Summer
Published:October 6th 2015
Publisher:Disney Hyperion Books

Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by a man he’s never met—a man his mother claimed was dangerous. The man tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . . - Goodreads Summary

I was a massive fan of Riordan's Percy Jackson series and so I was very excited when I heard about this series, which he had hinted about a year or two ago. I don't know too much about Norse mythology, but I'm sure this will be a fun and entertaining start to a brand new series.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Second Chance Summer
Published: May 6th 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Book Depository
It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um...

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

For some reason I never realized that Morgan wrote both Second Chance Summer and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, both which I really enjoyed reading, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that out before I got started.

This book was sweet and charming, with cute playlists within the story that only added to the overall summer read feeling it gave me. There was romance and friendship, both of which were well-developed and adorable.

Emily was a great protagonist, and I easily fell into her narrative since I saw parts of myself in her, especially how she acted when she felt uncomfortable. Falling back into someone else's shadow was something I knew all too well, from experience, and I felt her loss of Sloane keenly.

The introduction of her summer friends, from the ever-present Frank to endearing Collins and sweet Dawn, I loved them all, and the mysterious list that Sloane wrote that binded them all together. They were fun to read about and I can only hope that despite the spontaneous manner in which they fell into pals, they'll somehow be friends pages after this book ended. [highlight for spoiler] I know life isn't that perfect, but I am being the ever optimistic girl in saying that Dawn and Emily somehow make up and they go on double dates along with Frank and Collins. A girl can wish right? 

The romance was cute and I adored the events that tied it together, from the playlists to the running and everything. It's one of those things you can't help but want to happen even if you know it's not quite as simple as you two are cute together please kiss now. Or maybe it is hah.

Beckett, Emily's younger brother was alternatively lovable and immature, the way younger brothers will be and it gave me a nostalgic feel of my own brother when he was younger.

And of course the elusive Sloane, the reason this even began. At times I wanted to be mad at her and I was worried that the mystery behind her wouldn't be solved and we wouldn't get any closure, but I'm glad we did, and the ending was more than satisfying regarding her.

But in the end, this story is about Emily and her summer. The summer that was unexpected and all kinds of bittersweet with a sprinkle of whimsical. I throughly enjoyed it and its poignant touch.
I looked like someone who'd had a night, and had a story to tell about it. Which was, I realized as I collected my dress and heels in my arms and made my way, yawning, to the front door in the cool early light, exactly what happened.
My Rating: ★★★★

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gathering Darkness (Falling Kingdoms #3) by Morgan Rhodes

Published: December 9th 2014
Publisher: Razorbill
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Book Depository
Goodreads: Prince Magnus has just witnessed torture, death, and miracles during the bloody confrontation that decimated the rebel forces. Now he must choose between family and justice as his father, the cruel King Gaius, sets out to conquer all of Mytica. All Gaius needs now are the Kindred—the four elemental crystals that give godlike powers to their owner. But the King of Blood is not the only one hunting for this ancient, storied magic. . .

The Kraeshians join the hunt. Ashur and Amara, the royal siblings from the wealthy kingdom across the Silver Sea, charm and manipulate their way to the Kindred, proving to be more ruthless than perhaps even the King of Blood himself.

The rebels forge ahead. Princess Cleo and vengeful Jonas lead them, slaying with sweetness, skill, and a secret that can control Lucia’s overpowering magic—all so they can use the Kindred to win back their fallen kingdoms.

The Watchers follow Melenia out of the Sanctuary. They ally in the flesh with King Gaius, who vows to use Lucia’s powers to unveil the Kindred.

*Spoilers from Falling Kingdoms and Rebel Spring may follow, so proceed with caution.

I was admittedly a bit worried with this book going in. I loved the first book but was let down  a bit by the second book in this series, Rebel Spring, due to the fact that I did not really enjoy certain chapters because of the shifting povs. I loved the story itself, this was just a minor point.

Thankfully,the multi-pov aspect of this one was a vast improvement over the second, namely since I felt like it milked a lot more from the main cast of four characters, especially my favorites Magnus, Cleo, and Jonas. Like the second book, I disliked Lucia, but I do like the way her character plays the important role of creating conflict and moving the plot along, it's a shame that she's not very likable for me.

Back to my favorite characters; Cleo, the princess who lost her rightful throne and family, only to be engaged to the last person she wanted. Cleo is a great character, who has grown on me much from the first time I read about her as the spoiled princess in the first book. She is headstrong, clever, determined, and as I read about her, I could not help but cheer her on as she keeps her head high in the world of high stakes and danger. She is fearless and loyal, a pretty head with much more than a pretty brain and heart to suit.

Then there's Magnus Damora, the heir apparent to the cruel king with a seemingly ice-cold heart. He's complex, and has been my utter favorite character since the first book because despite the climate he's grown up in with his father being a ruthless king, he still has forged out his own destiny, or at least, he's in the process of doing so. Ambitious and fierce, driven by his own desires, he is a deadly guy if crossed, but underneath this armor is a young man who cannot stop his heart from feeling things all too well despite his best efforts.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of fiery emotion  between Magnus and Cleo, since they are married, which made up my favorite part of this book. It was a lot of fun reading the semi-antagonistic relationship that they have with each other.

And of course there is Jonas, the rebel with a lion's heart and a formidable sense of courage and determination. He is another who has lost his land to Gaius, the ruthless king and Magnus's father. He is a loyal and dedicated young man and the way he has matured since Falling Kingdoms makes me immensely proud of him and the crew he has collected.

Lucia is a different matter. Unlike the other three main characters, she isn't quite likable, but her immense gift of magic is the lifeblood of the events that connect these four characters. She's powerful yet a bit naive, and her powers are tied to a awe-inspiring destiny far bigger than any could imagine. So powerful, that it's quite possible even she cannot control them. Her character is interesting, and while I am invested in how she develops, she doesn't quite pull at my heartstrings as the others do.

Besides the main cast, there are other secondary characters who play important roles in the unfolding of events in this book, contributing to the gut-wrenching twists that Morgan writes and executes so well. In addition, she manages to capture my heart with these characters, making the emotional blows that much stronger if/when a character dies, which is quite unpredictable.

The plot itself is a tale of shifting politics, the power struggles between some key characters, and the ensuing consequences. It's engrossing and I was propelled to keep reading long after I'd told myself I would stop. There was bloodshed, violence, betrayal, romance (in quite unexpected places as well as the expected ones), good old political intrigue, and fantastic quotable material.
Believe in magic. Believe in the impossible.
This series is not one to miss: it's fabulously well-crafted and if the characters aren't all likable, they are certainly fascinating, and you will not regret reading it. I adored it and I can't quite believe there are still three more books to go because that is going to be a lot of waiting time sadly.

My Rating: ★★★★

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday #1 : Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

*Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme that is hosted Breaking the Spine.

Velvet Undercover
Published: October 20th 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Samantha Donaldson’s family has always done its duty for the British Crown. In the midst of World War I, seventeen-year-old Sam follows in their footsteps, serving her country from the homefront as a Girl Guide and messenger for the intelligence organization MI5. After her father disappears on a diplomatic mission, she continues their studies of languages, high-level mathematics, and complex puzzles and codes, hoping to make him proud.

When Sam is asked to join the famed women’s spy group La Dame Blanche she’s torn—this could be the adventure she’s dreamed of, but how can she abandon her mother, who has already lost a husband to the war? But when her handlers reveal shocking news, Sam realizes there’s no way she can refuse the exciting and dangerous opportunity.

Her acceptance leads her straight into the heart of enemy territory on a mission to extract the most valuable British spy embedded in Germany, known to the members of LDB only as Velvet. Deep undercover within the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Samantha must navigate the labyrinthine palace and its many glamorous—and secretive—residents to complete her assignment. To make matters worse she finds herself forming a forbidden attraction to the enemy-a dangerously handsome German guard. In a place where personal politics are treacherously entangled in wartime policy, can Samantha discover the truth and find Velvet before it’s too late…for them both? - Goodreads Summary

I'm really excited for this book because spy books are a weakness of mine, and this one looks wonderful. Plus it has a lovely cover and the blurb that says to beat the enemy, she must become the enemy, is really intriguing.

What is your "waiting on" pick for this week?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Paperweight by Meg Haston

Published: July 7th 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Purchase: Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble
Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. In her body. And now in an eating-disorder treatment center on the dusty outskirts of the New Mexico desert.

Life in the center is regimented and intrusive, a nightmare come true. Nurses and therapists watch Stevie at mealtime, accompany her to the bathroom, and challenge her to eat the foods she’s worked so hard to avoid.

Her dad has signed her up for sixty days of treatment. But what no one knows is that Stevie doesn't plan to stay that long. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she too will end her life.

In this emotionally haunting and beautifully written young adult debut, Meg Haston delves into the devastating impact of trauma and loss, while posing the question: Why are some consumed by their illness while others embark on a path toward recovery?

This is a difficult book to review, because I cannot describe precisely whether I loved or hated it. It's sharp, a hard book to love, and the material makes it a difficult book to stomach. It covers some serious issues, including eating disorders, death, difficult and ambiguous relationships, and self-harm.

Stevie is a girl with only one goal in mind. To die, to pay for the death she caused: her brother.

At first, I was admittedly worried that I would not like this book. Stevie is an uncomfortable character, hard to connect to with, until you really see past the barriers and anger and self-hatred that she has which didn't happen until I was midway through the book. Once I became invested in the story, in the backstory of Stevie and her brother Josh's death, this book grew on me until I was outright tearing up as the end neared.

While seeing Stevie face her disorder, this book offered a glimpse at the other girls, in the various states and stages, especially Stevie's bunkmate Ashley. From the girls that are recovering to the ones who are desperately holding on, it felt all too real and haunting to me. The self-hatred and the shattered convictions that these girls hold broke my heart.

The focused look at Stevie's character and the carefully cultivated flashbacks to her childhood, to her relationship with her mother sheds a light on who she is and the way she thinks. It hurt to read but at the same time, it was an important part of the book.

The most illuminating point of this book is the tangled and toxic relationship between Stevie and her friend Eden. We never meet her, but Eden plays a vital role in Stevie's past, and in the ultimate tragedy of Josh's death. I can't say much more without spoiling the book, but the letter that Stevie writes to her was one of my favorite scenes in this book.

Finally, what shone in this book for me is the relationship she had with Josh. Her brother who loved her and was there for her, until the day he was gone. The small snippets of the daily interactions between them made me smile fondly in the beginning, and the guilt that weighs Stevie hurt. When the whole story behind how he died came out, I had to admit I cried because it was heartbreaking. And Stevie, caught in the shattering aftermath of it, I can understand why she became who she was at the beginning of the book.

This isn't an easy book to read, but from the start, Haston managed to give an unflinching and stark view of the mental and physical complications that come from eating disorders. They're not glamorized or glossed over, and it's not cheerfully optimistic or hopeful when it comes to the individuals.

This book is raw and vulnerable, wringing an emotional dishrag out of me, and I was truly touched by it. It was honest and I can say that it has made a lasting impact on me.

A quick note at the end: this book does have a scene involving self-harm that could prove triggering and thus should be read with caution.

Thank you to Epic Reads for the advance copy of this book.

My Rating: ★★★ (3.5 stars)