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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Twins on Thursday: Advantage Erin by Kris Kreisman

"The Twins on Thursday" is reserved for the Twins' joint reviews. It is a special feature of our blog that discusses books that we either both like, dislike, or have mixed feelings about. This is also the day where we post reviews for books (and ARCs/Galleys) that have been sent to us by authors/galley sites/publishing houses. And because we don't believe much in uniformity, we'll be trying to mix things up a bit by adding random stuff in relation to our review (well, mostly for books we purchased anyway).

Title: Advantage Erin
Author: Kris Kreisman
Format Acquired: PDF
Publication Date: August 22, 2012
Publishing House: N/A
Source of Copy: Sent for review by author


Erin's mom is driving her crazy. Especially about tennis. Erin is good and enjoys the game. But it's not her fault she's not the megastar her mom claims to be when she was Erin's age. If only there was some way to get Mom to understand...

Spring break arrives, which means a visit to Grandma and Mom's old hometown. Grandma is eccentric, but she's also cool and understands Erin's frustrations. And she can help. By taking Erin on a visit to Mom's old high school. Not Mom's school today. But Mom's school as it was in 1970.

Erin experiences the trip of her lifetime. Back in time, where she struggles to fit in with a bunch of kids who never heard of the Internet or laptops or cell phones. Where she meets some very cool kids. And one not so cool kid named Catherine. Now known as Mom.

Talk turns to tennis, and inevitably the challenge is made and accepted. And they play the tennis match of the century. Erin had repeatedly heard how Mom was undefeated. Now was her time to do something about it. They battle hard until, in unexpected fashion, it's over. But when she returns to the present Erin learns the truth about her Mom. And Mom learns some lessons as well.

Enjoy Erin's thrill ride, her fun, her excitement, her anxiety. And discover how her trip to the past changed her present.

 (Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


Erin doesn't get along with her mom; they fight constantly over things like tennis, going to movies and even over a pair of boots. So when Spring break arrives and they're off to visit Grandma, Erin's obviously happy about it because Grandma's cool and helps her deal with her frustrations. But this Spring break is different because Grandma's solution to Erin's problems? A trip back to the 1970's, destination Mom's old school.

Erin is not a bad protagonist - maybe just slightly dim-witted. She is obviously someone who doesn't know how to prioritize and pays too much attention to being seen as cool and popular. She complained a lot about how busy she was and how she lacked a social life - understandable since she is a teenager - but she didn't have to get in a snit about it. We don't think that missing a trip to the cinema with friends this one time will ruin a reputation, and whining about it just seemed silly. Another thing about Erin is how she constantly says that she's merely tolerating Sunshine aka Sonny - an outcast in school - and being nice to him will ruin her social standing - which is obviously more important than common decency. We get that the adolescent period is the time to find yourself and establish who you are, but that isn't a good enough excuse for someone like Erin to get away with it. 

We were caught by surprise, however, when we found out that Kreisman turned out to be a male author (Yes, we stalked his website.). He actually did some justice in embodying a bratty teenage girl - and yes, we think that he did a good job on that front.

The most inconsistent in the book would be its logic, like how time travel supposedly had this magical power to morph your clothes into whatever generation you were in, or how Erin was transported back in time without even spazzing out. If it were us, you can bet we'd be freaking out like nobody's business because we wouldn't know how to get back home. Another thing is that her grandmother sent Erin back to her mother's high school days using a computer that she donated to the school library. How is it that nobody else has found it possible to time travel as well? And whatever happened to grandma's computer that Erin supposedly found in the house? What was its actual significance to the story?

Other aspects that were unclear to us included our confusion as to why Erin had to beat her mom in tennis in the first place. Was she trying to prove something? If she beat her mom in a game, would it supposedly have changed the course of her life? We're kind of scratching our heads trying to figure that out. Another aspect we didn't like was how Erin, in the 70s, basically told Sonny's dad not to name his son Sunshine. Because of her meddling, Erin found a jerk named Aaron when she got back to the modern era. Whatever happened to embracing everyone's freak flag? Sonny liked old music, but does that mean that Erin had to go about telling his dad to change his future son's name just to be popular in high school? Sorry, Erin, but we're pretty sure that you can't go around telling people what not to name their kid. Now instead of a nice, harmless boy who has actually good taste in music, you get a meathead jock - nice job, Erin. The ending made us raise our eyebrows as well. Why would Erin's future kid bother to go back in time to challenge her to a game of tennis? Had she become a tennis freak in the future like her mom was?

Advantage Erin is far from perfect at this point, and may need some revisions. There were awkward sentences in the book, improper usage of punctuation marks, as well as discrepancies with the flow of logic. Nevertheless, this novel is easy to read and follow, and that's a good thing.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #5: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown and Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme first initiated by Jill from Breaking the Spine. However, we've added our own twist to it! Not only will we feature books that will be published in the following months, but we will also feature books that are not available yet locally, and are still unavailable to us.

Title: Born of Illusion
Author: Teri Brown
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Publishing House: Balzer & Bray


Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she's street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite an Housen, in her stage show and seances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920's New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain er ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be he illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?

Born of Illusion is the first book in a new series. Each book in the series will introduce a new historical figure, whose legend is shrouded in magic, along with the young woman whose fate is irrevocably tied to his. The through line in each of the books will be The Ghost Club, the real life secret society that was founded in 1862 by the likes of Charles Dickens, Sir Conan Doyle, and W.B. Yeats to advance mankind's knowledge of the paranormal. The first three books in the series will deal with Houdini, Aleister Crowley and Rasputin.

(Image, summary, and information courtesy of Goodreads)

Doesn't that premise sound interesting? It's a historical novel with magicians, illusions and secret societies! We've always been fascinated by secret societies and the mystery and intrigue that shrouds them. Not to mention that we're dealing with the likes of Houdini and other great illusionists - as stated in the premise. Although truthfully, we were drawn in by the pretty cover - which isn't exactly surprising.

Title: Belle Epoque
Author: Elizabeth Ross
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Publishing House: Delacorte


When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desparate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service - the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

(Image, summary, and information courtesy of Goodreads)

European historical fiction has always been a soft spot of ours. And the fact that there's treachery and deception involved? Yes please! In fact, if we had our way, we'd still be wearing all those elaborate gowns and whatnot. Based in a period bombarded with constricting societal rules, is it any wonder that we're out for any hint of deviance and defiance? No. 

What books are you guys waiting for?

Monday, January 28, 2013

NICOLE'S REVIEW: Black City by Elizabeth Richards

Title: Black City
Author: Elizabeth Richards
Format Acquired: Hardcover
Publication Date: November 13 2012
Publishing House: G.P. Putnam Son's BYR
ISBN: 9780399159435
Source of Copy: Purchased from Fully Booked


In the aftermath of a brutal and bloody war, in the still-smoldering Black City, sixteen-year-olds Natalie Buchanan and Ash Fisher do the unthinkable-they fall in love. Natalie, a human and the daughter of a government official, is still reeling from her father's murder by a crazed Darkling, upending her entire life. So how can she be falling for Ash, a brooding half-blood Darkling boy? Natalie's heart betrays everything she's ever believed with one magnetic beat, forcing her to choose between her family and the boy she loves.

Ash tries desperately to deny his feelings for Natalie. She is a Sentry brat, after all. The very Sentry who loves nothing more than to see all Darklings totally eradicated from the United Sentry States. For now, they've settled for banishing all Darklings to the wrong side of a ghetto wall. Despite being half-human and being allowed to live on the human side, Ash is still scorned everywhere he goes, always wondering what it would be like on the other side of the wall with his own kind. Then Natalie steps into his life, a calming force, and he, too, has to choose. But choosing Natalie could get them both killed.

A page-turning and passionate romance set in a mesmerizing and perilous world, Black City is a rich atmospheric read not be missed.

(Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


When I cracked open Black City, I prepared myself for a Romeo and Juliet type of story - judging from the premise - and on that point, Black City did not disappoint. But I admit that there was more to the book than just the sappy romance and I was pleasantly surprised.

Black City is told in the dual POV's of Natalie - human, Sentry brat, daughter of the Emissary - and Ash, a Twin-blood. It starts with Natalie stumbling upon Ash feeding on a girl, their eyes meet and then Ash has a Warm Bodies moment - you know that scene where he looks at the girl and his supposedly not-beating heart suddenly starts up? Yeah, that scene. Then, as fate would have it, the two are thrown together - pawns in a deadly game of politics played by corrupt government officials plus true love to make things more dramatic.

What I like about Black City is how the author just drops readers into the middle of things and it took me a bit to figure out what everyone was talking about. While it was frustrating during the first few pages, it worked out for me in the end. What I also found quite interesting were the parallels that our society and Black City seemed to share - corruption, religious zealots, ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination, and persecution. Personally, I'm glad Richards decided to tackle all these instead of just sticking to the Romeo and Juliet theme, thus making things more intriguing. The world building was well done; I could easily picture the wall that separates the humans from the Darklings both literally - yes there's an actual wall - and figuratively - racial discrimination and the like. The tension between the two races was apparent and the city they live in rife with danger, violence and racial segregation. Admittedly I also liked the differences and similarities in the Darkling and human culture - both equally capable of such cruelty that it paints their actions in shades of grey and blurs the lines between right and wrong; both willing to do whatever they have to survive.

So what's keeping me from giving Black City a higher rating? The characters. Ash and Natalie start out hating each other, what with their differences in social standing, I think that much was expected. What I didn't really get behind was their romance and how quickly it seemed to progress. Ash started out hating Natalie - despite his Warm Bodies moment - and made it a point to avoid her. But obviously, the two are drawn together by their inexplicable yet unexplainable attraction to one another and soon find themselves in love. It happened so fast really - one minute he hated her then the next they were kissing and confessing their love for each other.   This romance took up around half of the story with Natalie going on and on about Ash and Ash rambling on about how bad he wanted Natalie.  Aside from that I think Natalie - who was such a spoiled brat at the beginning - and Ash - whom I liked better - are pretty decent characters but that's just about it. The secondary characters were a bit more interesting. Let's take Natalie's mother, for instance. I don't condone what she did but I believe that it was borne of desperation and a mother's need to protect her daughters. But overall, the characters were just characters and for the most part, I was indifferent to them.

Told in the alternating views of Natalie and Ash, Black City is a book filled with forbidden love, a myriad of social conditions, and deadly political manipulation where both sides will do whatever it takes to stay alive, and the blurring of lines between right and wrong.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Our Mailbox #2 + Stacking the Shelves #14

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme first initiated by Tynga. This weekly segment will showcase the books/galleys/ARCs we've acquired/purchased/borrowed within the week.

Purchased Books:


From left to right:

1. Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

2. Opal by Jennifer Armentrout
3. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
4. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
5. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
6. Sanctum by Sarah Fine (reviewed here)


Just One Day by Gayle Forman

From left to right:

1. Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

2. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (Yes, that is the correct link to her website.)
3. Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis


Fuse (Pure, #2)

Fuse by Julianna Baggott 
(Thanks to Hachette via NetGalley!)
(Image courtesy of GoodReads)

In Our Mailbox is a meme hosted by The Story Siren. This features all the things that we have received in our mailbox - literally.


A note + signed copies of:

White Time by Margo Lanagan 
Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan (to be republished in May 2013 by Knopf)

These were sent to Michelle all the way from Australia by the very nice Ms. Margo Lanagan (author of the recently republished The Brides of Rollrock Island; reviewed here). You can only imagine how taken aback she was that a two-time Printz-award winning author would even bother to respond to her Tweets, let alone take time to send her two of her books, along with a note, but Ms. Lanagan is apparently that patient and nice. Michelle's so ecstatic that she doesn't even have plans to dispose of the packaging envelope they came in - all because it had two of her signatures. (Yes, she's creepy that way.)

Can't wait to see what you guys got as well!

Friday, January 25, 2013

MICHELLE'S REVIEW: Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon

Title: Don't Turn Around
Author: Michelle Gagnon
Format Acquired: Hardcover
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Publishing House: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780062102904
Source of Copy: Purchased from Fully Booked


Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa's talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation called AMRF threatens his life in no uncertain terms.

But what Noa and Peter don't realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who'd stop at nothing to silence her for good.

Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will devour the story of Noa, a teen soul mate to Lisbeth Salander.

        (Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


Noa is always on the run. As a foster child, she knows how hard it is to trust someone, so imagine her horror when she wakes up strapped to a hospital bed with no recollection or whatsoever of how she ended up there. Peter Gregory may have the lifestyle of a carefree rich kid, but he's actually the founder of a hacker group that attacks cyber criminals. When he finds new company files in his father's laptop, Peter knows that the whole jig sounds exceptionally shady - especially when men in black come bursting into his life and threaten the lives of his family, and even his estranged college girlfriend. As Noa and Peter find themselves conspiring with each other to take the company down, they must move fast because the people they're attempting to bring down will only be too happy to make sure they are silenced as well.

I have never read The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, so you can color me clueless as how to gauge this book on that front. What I do know is that Noa is street smart and different in a good way (no witticisms, no snark that is totally uncalled for, some things that typical young adult heroines are just known for). I was pleasantly surprised that it's a gritty and edgy book - I didn't even expect something like this from the publisher at all! The best thing that I liked about this book was how raw these teens are portrayed as, and that they're more than their feelings, and actually think and act far more mature than their age. These characters are so lifelike that I wouldn't be surprised if I walk past either of the characters in the grocery or at the mall. Peter wasn't someone I'd picture as a usual YA male protagonist either. He was handsome, of course. Cocky, well that goes without saying. But there's something about him that's so tangible that I could just tell where his sense of such vigilantism stems from, which obviously still goes beyond his brother's demise. I think Gagnon's characters have this uncanny ability to jump out of the pages and should they attempt it, can actually blend in successfully in our world. 

Another thing that I like is that there are no forced romantic scenes with regards to the two main protagonists. I just don't like it when characters are forced to go out of their way just to include romance when it obviously does not suit the progression of events, so props must be given for making the situation on that front credible and appropriate.

However, where characterization is Gagnon's forte, I couldn't say the same about the plot. In all actuality, it is a very simple plot - two teenagers on the run from the bad guys, and what fuels this book, I believe, are all the action scenes. Noa's involvement in it all wasn't exactly the most exciting thing in the book. When I found out the reason for all this relentless pursual, I was kind of indifferent, and practically went, "Wait, what? That's it?" I found all this running and chasing after the two protagonists getting tedious and stale as I was turning pages. I get that they're supposed to be always on the run given that they're both wanted, but all the running and hiding has had me thinking that Don't Turn Around would be better suited for the movie screen, instead of being confined in the pages of a book.

Despite it all, I obviously can't fault Don't Turn Around for only delivering what it promised, which is an action-packed book starring two rebellious teens on the run for their lives. . If Gagnon had given the plot the same amount of depth she gave her characters, I'm guessing this could have worked out better for me.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Twins on Thursday: An Infidel in Paradise by S.J. Laidlaw

"The Twins on Thursday" is reserved for the Twins' joint reviews. It is a special feature of our blog that discusses books that we either both like, dislike, or have mixed feelings about. This is also the day where we post reviews for books (and ARCs/Galleys) that have been sent to us by authors/galley sites/publishing houses. And because we don't believe much in uniformity, we'll be trying to mix things up a bit by adding random stuff in relation to our review (well, mostly for books we purchased anyway).

Title: An Infidel in Paradise
Author: S. J. Laidlaw
Format Acquired: eARC
Publication Date: February 12 2013
Publishing House: Tundra Books (Random House)
ISBN: 9781770493049
Source of Copy: NetGalley


Set in Pakistan, this is the story of a teen girl living with her mother and siblings in a diplomatic compound. As if getting used to another new country and set of customs and friends isn't enough, she must cope with an increasingly tense political situation that becomes dangerous with alarming speed. Her life and those of her sister and brother depend on her resourcefulness and the unexpected help of an enigmatic Muslim classmate.

 (Image, summary, and other information courtesy of Goodreads)


Emma's life is in upheaval; after her father left them to live in Boracay with their maid, her mother uproots them from their cushy life in Manila and transplants them to Pakistan for a chance to start over. It's not easy for Emma to get used to her new surroundings; she has to deal with her parents' separation, the growing distance between her siblings and herself, and being the new girl in school.

Emma is your typical teenage girl. She's suffering from teenage angst, loneliness and the pressure of being a foreigner in a hostile country - she just feels so out of place. She misses her friends and her life back in Manila, and severs all contact with them. She's afraid to make new ones because she has this mindset that given her mother's occupation, there is no telling when and where they'll be the next day. We know how hard it is to have undergone something truly life-changing, only to be overwhelmed by a new environment; it's not pretty. But then Emma meets Mustapha, this handsome, charismatic boy whom she at first, got on the wrong foot with by blurting out racist comments about Pakistan. It doesn't take long, however, for Emma and Mustapha to patch up and end up liking each other. However, add to the fact that Emma and Mustapha share kisses and longing looks, Mustapha is betrothed to another - Aisha. She is initially snarky, snobbish, and basically a spoiled brat all around, but when Emma gets to know a different side of her, exudes generosity,  and kindness.  The secondary characters - a mix of local and foreign folk - provide us with interesting cultural differences and shows us how something as simple as a kiss is treated in societal norms. We enjoyed the multi-cultural setting and it was interesting seeing things from Emma's point of view. Seeing Emma learn to accept her circumstances and be swept away by the magic of the culture was truly endearing.

Another thing we personally enjoyed was Emma's viewpoint of Manila. Not a lot of books - especially young adult ones - feature Manila as a backdrop, so we have no idea how foreigners truly view Manila. Besides from being the place where her family was last complete, Emma sounds like she's actually very enamored with the city. Her perception of Manila is so different from our perception of our own city that at times, it doesn't seem to be the same Manila at all - and we like it. It's nice to know that both the author and Emma seem to transcend beyond the usual perception of Manila. It reminded us that Manila isn't just a violent city filled with drug lords and gang members, but an actual, breathing city that is capable of loving its own citizens.

Our only issue with this one was that what transgressed between Emma and Mustapha seemed to be insta-love. After exchanging a lot of heated looks, short conversations, and a kiss or two, Emma's worries about marriage, and Mustapha's declaration of the three words only seemed to confirm our suspicions. It would have been nicer if their relationship was fully fleshed out. But then, these are teenagers, and while we aren't saying that teenagers aren't capable of being truly in love, we just think that this is the time where a lot of adolescents are confused about their feelings as well. So while the author may have delved into what teenagers perceive as love, Laidlaw also somehow reminds us that not every relationship will work out, despite the chemistry and (dare we say it?) love.

The climax left us feeling a little short-changed, the pace towards the end a bit hurried, and the ending a bit abrupt. But despite its shortcomings, An Infidel in Paradise may charm you with its delightful cultural nuances.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MICHELLE'S REVIEW: Sanctum by Sarah Fine

Title: Sanctum
Author: Sarah Fine
Format Acquired: Hardcover
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Publishing House: Amazon Children's
ISBN: 9781612184425
Source of Copy: Purchased from Amazon


My plan:
Get into the city.
Get Nadia.
Find a way out.

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos's best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance - hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn't just anyone - she's determined to save her best friend's soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she's captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city's endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn't - the dark city isn't the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

             (Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


Lela, a foster teen who has been raped by a foster father, has attempted suicide in the past. Because of this near-death experience, she gets visions of the City - visions where she sees the souls of those who committed suicide and succeeded. She may have sleepless nights because of them, but then, it's nothing compared to what she has now. She has her best friend Nadia, a foster mother who seems to actually care about her, and a bright future ahead. But when Nadia overdoses on pills, Lela can only watch helplessly as Nadia is confronted by things that Lela can't protect her from. In a twist of fate, Lela accidentally slips off a cliff and ends up in a meadow where both happiness and satisfaction are overflowing. That doesn't deter her from formulating a plan as soon as she sees the Suicide Gates looming just outside though. Lela knows she must save her best friend and get her to the meadow. Lela, however, didn't expect to meet Malachi who might offer something more than just his help. And Malachi knows that the most important thing for him to do is keep Lela alive.

As soon as I read through a few pages, I knew I was going to be hooked. The world-building was very well-thought of. The segway from the modern world to the Suicide Gates was quite seamless, what with the normalcy of Lela's daily life (aside from the visions of course) to the eventual spurring of the plotline leading to the City, which just sounded very desolate and bleak. The whole thing just seemed so believable that I wouldn't be quite surprised if it were true. Fine also presents the possibility of the meadow (paradise) being located in the same dimension as one of the gates of hell/purgatory. I thought that this was particularly interesting as it deviated from the usual thinking that heaven and hell existed in different dimensions. The fact that the City also had a judicial system to decide whether or not one was to be permitted to the meadow was also fascinating to note, as the border between the meadow and the City was just the Suicide Gates. Who knows what other gates are linked to the meadow? For me, it further encourages the thinking that humans (or in the case of the unknown, souls) will always have a shot at redemption.

Fine does a good job of making her readers warm up to Lela, and making her an unconventional character. It's like she knows that we have had enough of stereotypical kickbutt, rebellious teens who - in their own opinion - know what they're doing, and instead, sticks to a different kind of heroine: a likable, but not insipid character who has turned her life around because she finds the prospect of having a future actually quite nice. Lela is awesome, because she isn't bothered by what other people think about her. All she cares for is her best friend, Nadia, who isn't living the perfect life everyone thinks she's living, and maybe even her foster mom, Diane, who actually seems to like her hanging around. Unlike many other protagonists, Lela seems perfectly able to fend for herself, but she has needs like love, friendship, and acceptance, that she can't just shrug off. Fine then has crafted a character that makes us realize her human capabilities, and I thought that this was a nice touch. 

Then there's the friendship dynamic between Lela and Nadia. I have never read anything that comes this close to portraying such a wonderful friendship. Lela may think that she's the lucky one for having such a nice and supportive friend, but I think it's Nadia who's luckier. Her best friend, Lela, died - sure, it was accidental, but it's just semantics- and waded through the City looking for her, and not only was Lela risking her neck, but other strangers who were willing to save Nadia as well. When Lela was on the meadow, all she could think of was Nadia, and there and then, I thought that their bond was truly amazing.

Malachi is a legend on the streets and an equally fierce Captain of the Guards, but to Lela, he's actually very kind and sweet. There's none of that stereotypical bad boy jerk that's trending nowadays, and I can only sigh in relief. The only turnoff I can sense from Malachi is that he is too self-sacrificial to the point that he is fighting for her cause without properly thinking of the repercussions. But then again, I guess he's bitten by the love bug a little too hard.

While I am not a fan of insta-love, it works here.  Sure, sometimes it gets a little over-the-top but I'm honestly fine with it overall. I know what you guys are thinking, but hear me out first. The City is filled with dejected souls, and Malachi has spent enough time to judge for himself just how desolate and bleak the City and its inhabitants are. All the moping around, all the aimless wanting... it's just really depressing to witness how pathetic these souls are. So when he sees Lela, who is literally kicking and screaming the first time they meet, of course he's going to be interested. She's the first girl in decades he's seen that still seems to have her wits about her, aside from his partner Ana. Add to the fact that Lela doesn't seem to be so scared of him, and you've got Malachi who is immediately fascinated with her.

Sanctum keeps a good pace, and is really quite addicting to read. The ending was a bit expected, but I really didn't mind at all. Fine does a good job at keeping her readers interested and has a knack for delivering exactly what people want in carefully measured doses.

It then goes without saying that Sanctum is highly recommended. If you like reading about unconventional heroines, swoon-worthy romance, theories about the afterlife, and the extraordinary magic of friendship, you would want to pick this up. 


Monday, January 21, 2013

NICOLE'S REVIEW: Venom by Fiona Paul

Title: Venom
Author: Fiona Paul
Format Acquired: Hardcover
Publication Date: October 30 2012
Publishing House: Philomel
ISBN: 9780399257254
Source of Copy: Purchased from Fully Booked


Secrets can be as powerful and deadly - as poison

Cassandra Caravello has everything a girl could desire; elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, invitations to the best parties, and a handsome, wealthy fiance - yet she longs for something more. 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 the body of a murdered woman - with a bloody X carved across her heart - she's drawn into a dangerous world of secret societies, courtesans, and killers. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a poor artist with a mischievous grin...and a habit of getting into trouble. Will Cassandra find the murderer before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiance or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?

Beauty, romance, and mystery weave together in a novel that's as seductive and stunning as Renaissance Venice itself.

(Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


Upon reading the premise for Venom, I instantly imagined lavish masquerade balls, illicit trysts between lovers - not to mention swoon-worthy romance, dangerously seductive courtesans fluttering fans and batting eyelashes at gullible men and all the mystery and danger that shrouds a secret society. Did I get what I wanted? Not exactly.

The story starts of with our protagonist, Cass, attending the funeral of Liviana, one of her friends who just died of an illness. It is at this funeral where, while taking a breather, Cass finds herself getting body-slammed by none other than Falco and, not surprisingly, insta-love ensues. That night Cass, who is known to venture into the cemetery located beside her aunt's home to write, finds her friend's grave disturbed and her body gone only to be replaced by another corpse with a bloody X on her chest. Unluckily for Cass though, someone seems to have spotted her and she soon finds that her very own life is in danger. Cass must find out who the killer is before she becomes his next victim.

Let's start with the characters. Cassandra Caravello is a beautiful young woman who feels trapped, like a bird in a gilded cage. She says she's impulsive, she's different from the other girls but I truthfully could not see that. She was one of those typical damsel-in-distress type of heroine, and was totally bland and boring. When she talked about feeling trapped and needing to escape? It was nothing more but talk and no action at all. What irked me was how terribly dim she was at times. She stumbles upon a murdered girl and what does she do? She keeps it to herself and tells no one else but Falco who was conveniently there when she found the body. Don't tell anyone, he says, don't go to the guards. I didn't like how adults were so blatantly disregarded in this book and assumed to be useless - didn't Cass consider that she was ill-equipped to search for the killer? I also don't understand why she didn't reckon that there was something highly suspicious about Falco, didn't she think that it was strange that he was always appearing out of nowhere at the strangest and most inopportune moments? Maybe yes, at first she did harbor a few misgivings, but then she soon gets distracted by their clandestine outings and because Falco is oh-so-handsome and mysterious and dashing, she fancies herself infatuated with him. I could not comprehend her attraction to Falco, I mean yes, he's a talented artist and there's something to be said for men who are artistically inclined but seriously I could not see their connection. Maybe it was the thrill of all the sneaking around and secrecy and the prospect of disobeying her aunt and forbidden love and all that in addition to teenage hormones that made it such a rush.

Another thing that irked me was when Cass received a mysterious letter containing a threat to her life, she started jumping at her own shadow and became paranoid of everything around her. But Cass, instead of proceeding with care and taking precautions continues to put herself at risk by sneaking out in the middle of the night with nothing more but a lantern and sometimes a knife. I was quite surprised at how lucky Cass was - not once during any of her midnight excursions was she hurt or injured.

Falco is the love interest. He is, in typical YA male romantic interest fashion, the bad boy. The rebel who takes you places you've never been, who flashes you a devastating smile and expects you to fall at his feet, who makes you feel things you've never felt before. Falco is all that and an artist to boot, but might I add that he is undeniably, irritatingly cheesy. And I quote, "Your beauty lights up the darkest night, I could paint an entire chapel just for you. Maybe I will someday." I did not find that a particularly swoon-worthy declaration of love. Falco might think himself smooth and all but I certainly didn't.

This book also contains the dreaded love triangle. As stated in the premise, Cass has a fiance named Luca who is surprisingly absent for most of the book and is introduced to readers in the latter part of the story - I thought he would have a bigger role in the book. He, I suppose, is what Falco is not - a gentleman, refined, charming (or so you think) - and has been studying in France for the past three years. When he returns though, he is not the bookish, gangly boy that Cass remembers and has grown, unsurprisingly, into a handsome young man, with - you guessed it - bulgy muscles and has some secrets of his own. Cass is obviously torn between her fiance and the artist she claims to have feelings for.

Initially - meaning the first quarter of the book - I was fine with the boring characters because the prospect of a mysterious killer on the loose and gruesome deaths spurred me on. Imagine my irritation when I was around more than half of the book and still nothing was happening, all I got was scene after scene of Cass sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet with Falco, going here and there to look for clues when in actuality it was just an excuse to spend time together. In short, the threat to Cass's life and the search for the killer gave way to romance, romance and more romance. Shouldn't she have been afraid that someone was out to get her? Wasn't she scared that her own life was in danger? With the way she seemed to dangle herself out as bait, plus her flagrant disregard for own life, apparently not. The plot was sadly underdeveloped; the clues that would supposedly lead to the killer and the false trail that pointed to Falco - which were obviously a farce - were painful to read. And when the killer was finally revealed? I had to resist doing a facepalm because of how Cass found out the killer's identity. The events leading up to it were, frankly, quite random and the explanation for it all was vague at best and after finishing the book all I could think was, "What in the world just happened?". The ending was rushed and the events leading up to it were way too convenient to be believable - randomly stumbling across men carting bodies; randomly entering an art gallery with suspicious paintings - and I felt like nothing ever did get resolved. It was nothing more but a jumbled mess of identities revealed, secrets uncovered and the obvious realization that underneath beautiful, picturesque Venice danger and secrets abound.

If you pick this one up expecting a thrilling murder-mystery set in historical Venice you will sadly be disappointed. Venom is a book filled with insta-love, an underdeveloped plot overshadowed by romance, boring characters, an insipid damsel in distress type of heroine and a premise that promises more than it can deliver. Secret societies? Sadly, I found none.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

In Our Mailbox #1 + Stacking the Shelves #13

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme first initiated by Tynga. This weekly segment will showcase the books/galleys/ARCs we've acquired/purchased/borrowed within the week.

Purchased Books:


Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Just One Day - Gayle Forman


(from top to bottom, left to right)

1. Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery
2. Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
3. Lucid by Adrienne Stoltz, Ron Bass
4. The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron


The Nightmare Affair

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
(Thanks to Tor/Forge via Netgalley!)

In Our Mailbox is a meme hosted by The Story Siren. This features all the things that we have received in our literal mailbox.

Touching the Surface swag + signed hardcover for review sent to us by the sweet Ms. Kimberly Sabatini.

Here's a close up of the lovely note and the personalized bookmarks we got.
It's nice to know that all our efforts are appreciated. :')

What awesome things did you guys get during the week? We'd love to know!