Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: Send Me a Sign

Send Me a Sign
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Published: October 2, 2012
384 pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

Mia is always looking for signs. A sign that she should get serious with her soccer-captain boyfriend. A sign that she’ll get the grades to make it into an Ivy-league school. One sign she didn’t expect to look for was: “Will I survive cancer?” It’s a question her friends would never understand, prompting Mia to keep her illness a secret. The only one who knows is her lifelong best friend, Gyver, who is poised to be so much more. Mia is determined to survive, but when you have so much going your way, there is so much more to lose. From debut author Tiffany Schmidt comes a heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting story of one girl’s search for signs of life in the face of death.

I like to play a game with books that are hard to find. For some reason, my two bookstores up here in Timmins did not want to carry this perfect book, so I started my mission: whenever I went home to Toronto, I would search the bookstores for this book, knowing that when I find it, it would be a sign to read it. Now, I searched far and wide, but I wasn't having any luck. It slipped my mind for about a month, until I decided I was going to buy a novel writing book online. Now, non fiction has never been a game for me, so I was going to buy this book either way. Than I saw Send Me a Sign sitting in my online shopping cart and I knew that was my sign to finally buy it. The minute it arrived in the mail, I had an itch to read it, but I had to finish the book I was already reading. When the day came that I could finally dive into it, I didn't want to come up for air. If I didn't have to work, this book would have been done in one sitting. Ya, it's that good.

Mia captured me from the first page. A popular girl with everything she could dream of: good friends, a would be boyfriend, and a supportive family. High school parties fill her weekends and now that it's summer, she's ready to spend her days by the pool with her girls. This all changes the minute she finds out she has leukaemia and the second she decides to keep it a secret from her friends. The only person she lets in is her friend Gyver, after hearing a song on his iPod that she takes as a sign to tell him. As she lies to her friends all summer while getting chemo, she gets closer to Gyver as he helps her through this hard time. But when September comes and she's about to go back to school, knowing it will be a lot harder to keep everything secret, she relies more on Ryan's support, her maybe boyfriend who is in her crowd at school. It's not so easy to keep cancer a secret and Mia soon realizes how much work it is to be sick and try to pretend she's fine.

Everything felt so real in this book. While Mia was in the hospital for chemo, short paragraphs and fleeting scenes made it seem much too real. I felt for Mia as she tried to hide her sickness from her popular friends and hated when her live started to all apart. It's hard to say if I would react the same way she did, but her actions made sense for her character and I wanted her to get what she needed. The love triangle was one of the few that I actually understood. I'm usually against these, but in this case it made perfect sense. Lines are crossed and the signs that Mia may have seen if she weren't sick broke my heart. I was rooting for one, but the other had my heart as well since they both took such good care of her throughout her treatment. 

Each chapter struck me with a new emotion. I had a feeling I'd know how this book would end, but every new chapter made me rethink my logic. Gyver made me laugh and Mia's mom made me cringe. Mrs. Rosso made me smile and Hil made me want to strangle her. One second I was laughing, the next I was curled in a ball and crying my eyes out because I wanted Mia to be okay. It was the perfect mix for a book like this. Mia would be going through all the same emotions, happy one minute and then remembering she may die the next. She focused so hard on trying to live her life the way it was before she had cancer that it crashed down on her like she'd broken a leg off a table. Everything she goes through is the saddest metaphor for cancer. Things change, people change, you change. Some relationships may get better, but others will probably fail with the intensity of the situation. I hate that this book felt so real because it broke my heart to read about Mia's life as though she were my friend going through this horrible disease. Mind you, that is also why I loved this book desperately. 

Schmidt is a beautiful writer. I first discovered her online when I watched a short video of her reading an early scene from the book where Mia tells Gyver about her cancer. I knew from the five minutes she read from this book that I would fall in love with Mia and hope for someone like Gyver for support. When I finally read that chapter in person, and I discovered a Something Corporate reference, I knew there was no going back. This is one of the best "cancer" books I've read (though I really don't want to call it that because it was so much more) and it is heartbreaking, yes, but it is also so uplifting and encouraging that I knew I had to put more into my life because of it. I hope somewhere out there girls like Mia are getting there own good news and good support from their friends in a time where everything seems like the end. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: Endlessly

Author: Kiersten White
Published: July 24, 2012
385 pages
4 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

Evie's paranormal past keeps coming back to haunt her. A new director at the International Paranormal Containment Agency wants to drag her back to headquarters. The Dark Faerie Queen is torturing humans in her poisonous realm. And supernatural creatures keep insisting that Evie is the only one who can save them from a mysterious, perilous fate. The clock is ticking on the entire paranormal world. And its fate rests solely in Evie's hands. So much for normal.

Evie's voice has been what's keeping me interested in this series. She is one of a kind and everything she says makes me laugh. When I first met her and her love of pink, I knew I was going to like her. Sure enough, throughout Paranormalcy, she made me laugh and I loved how her story was playing out. In the sequel, Supernaturally, she was still funny, but her personality was disappearing behind all the madness happening around her. By this book, the final in the series, there was no more humour in her voice, for good reason, but I didn't feel any of her personality. She got stuck behind her feelings for Lend, her relationship with her sister, Vivian, and the fact that she is the only one who can send the paranormals back to their own worlds. Maybe it's because I waited too long between books, but for me, this last book lacked what I loved about the series. It quickly turned into a book about faeries that I've read before.

Still trying to live her normal life, Evie is planning out the winter formal when she's thrown right back into the life she's been trying so desperately to get out of. Someone new has taken over the IPCA and Evie is determined to find out what's happened to Raquel. On her way, she encounters the Unseelie Queen, a woman who knows what she wants and she wants Evie. If she has Evie, her sister, the Seelie Queen, can't open the gate to help the paranormals go back where they belong. Thus Evie is tossed between faeries, werewolves and trying to keep in touch with her only human friend. 

I wish the main characters stuck out more for me. Evie used to be charming, but this time I found her somewhat annoying. Lend didn't do much and I felt more for Reth this time, he was quite swoon-worthy in this book and he redeemed himself for everything he's done to Evie in the previous books. Jack was also hilarious, keeping me on my toes and wishing for more scenes with him. There were a lot of things that seemed strung together and didn't really get resolved. I liked the concept for the finale, having Evie need to open the gate, but it all seemed rushed and I feel like it could have made more of an impact if there was more detail about it. 

I'm glad everyone got their happily ever afters, a bittersweet ending for some, but it turned out how I thought it would. I wish I had been more into this one, as I was with the previous books, but I sort of just wanted it to be over with and I hated that feeling. It was predictable and cliche and I wish White had stayed away from the Seelie/Unseelie aspect. There are enough books about faeries out there already. I liked that this one was different from the rest. I'll remember Evie for her pink Taser and high heels and witty charm. 

“Sometimes it takes a little chaos for things to work themselves out. When we make it through the chaos, we can use it to shape the world around us into something better than it was before” 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: School Spirits

School Spirits
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Published: May 14, 2013
304 Pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break.

Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.

Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt? 

If you thought Sophie Mercer was a great heroine, there's no doubt you'll love Izzy Brannick. They are both loveable and snarky and the great thing is, there really have nothing in common except for the fact that they're related. A problem I've found with some authors is that they create new characters, but they are really just a regurgitation on their other ones. Hawkins took what we all love about Sophie and slipped it into Izzy's personality without making you think about Sophie. Izzy is in fact, quite the opposite of Sophie, she's not scared of anything and hunting prodigium is in her blood. That is until she's sent to high school, a fish out of water trying to figure out what it's like to be the average teenager. Like Sophie being sent to Hex Hall, Izzy must adapt if she wants to survive, only she's been sent there on assignment, in search of a ghost haunting the school, and she quickly discovers how hard it is to keep work separate from life. 

There's really no comparing Izzy to Sophie, so I don't know why I'm doing it. Izzy stands on her own and she can lead this series without help. Being one of the last Brannicks and having lost her sister to a coven of witches a yea ago, Izzy is busy trying to hunt on her own to prove herself to her mother. But when a routine vampire hunt goes wrong, her mom thinks it best to keep it simple. A ghost hunt at a high school should be easy enough, but as soon as Izzy meets some cool people, like Romy and Dex, she finds it hard to remember that this is just a job. I loved Izzy. She is headstrong and determined, eager to prove herself to her mom even if it gets her into some sticky situations. Watching her try to learn teen life from a very unreal teen show and taking advice from the warlock in the mirror, kept me laughing and cringing at the same time. She quickly realizes that she can't use her full strength at school (lest it get someone killed) and that knowing too much information about how to kill ghosts can make her stand out of a crowd. Thankfully, she makes friends with the local ghost hunting group and outcasts. Dex is one of a kind and she can't quite put her finger on what it is about him that makes her tingle. She is so determined not to admit she's crushing on him that it made me smile, and not want to roll my eyes at her. 

The story kept me guessing. I'm glad for the twists and turns, leaving me on my toes and eager for more. While Izzy is trying to take her time killing this ghost so she can stay in high school longer, her mom is trying to locate her sister, a side storyline that I'm sure will play a bigger part in the later books in the series. Izzy's relationship with her mom isn't perfect, and I'm glad that was a side story as well. It's obvious that Finn, Izzy's older sister, was her mother's favourite, and now with her gone, there is a gaping hole in the family. Izzy is constantly trying to prove herself to her mom, which feels so real it made me want to cry. What teenage girl doesn't want her mom to be proud of her? 

I think I could talk about this book all day, but I'll finish with this. If you enjoyed Hex Hall, pick up this book. Izzy is cunning, insecure and feisty, and she is one of my new favourite heroines. Hawkins' writing flows perfectly, each chapter leaving you wanting to finish the book. I was done in two days, would have been done sooner if I didn't have to work. I didn't want to put this book down and I'm glad I've got a new series to look forward to. 

“You are my new hero. Seriously, I might actually be in love with you now. Would it be awkward if we made out?” 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Wedding Night

Wedding Night
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Published: April 23, 2013
368 pages
4 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.
Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.

I'm going to start this off by saying that Kinsella is one of my top authors. Ever since reading Confessions of a Shopaholic many many years ago, I've picked up and enjoyed all her books since then. I anticipate her books, waiting to see what other funny, charming characters she'll come up with. Yes, her females all have a lot in common, but they are witty and fun and the story lines will always make me smile. So when I'm looking for a nice, light read that I know will put me in a good mood, Kinsella is my number one choice.

I read a review on Goodreads that described her books perfectly. There are two types of Kinsella books: the ones you absolutely love and the ones you like. None of her books are bad, but there are those that stand out among the rest. I only have a few in my 'like' list, including Twenties Girl and Shopaholic and Sister, and now Wedding Night. The premise was good, the dialogue was funny, but something was missing. I still loved it, as I have all her books, but it's not among my favourites of hers.

After not getting the proposal she thought she'd get, Lottie dumps her boyfriend and ends up in a whirl wind engagement to her summer boyfriend from 15 years ago. Her sister, Fliss, tries to stop Lottie from making a mistake, having just gotten divorced, but can't stop her sister from getting married in city hall and flying off to Greece for a honeymoon. Eager to find a way to save her sister, Fliss realizes that if they don't consummate their marriage, it can be annulled. So she decides to fly to Greece and do whatever she can to stop them from making love. What ensues are shenanigans of epic proportions, a lot of close calls for Lottie and her new husband, Ben, and enough foreplay to leave anyone flushed and rearing to go.

Lottie's situation is realistic enough. She thought she had the perfect boyfriend, but when that went down the gutter, she found the first guy that made her heart flutter. We've all be in that situation after a breakup, but hopefully we don't all get married. I wanted Lottie to be happy and I also wanted her to get it on with Ben. The amount of times they almost did it even left me sort of flustered! When they got to Greece and Fliss's minions started to stop them, I had to burst out laughing. Everything that happened during their honeymoon was hilarious and I certainly enjoyed the ridiculousness of the situation. There's no way this would happen in real life, but it certainly made for a great read! Fliss probably didn't go about it the right way, but at no point did I want her to stop. She only had good intentions, she just didn't use them properly. 

Of course, this book played out exactly how I expected it would. It was very predictable, though not from the start, but about halfway through. I still enjoyed it as I love Kinsella's writing. She gives all her characters such different backgrounds that even if they sound the same, they are all so different. I've seen how her writing has improved since Shopaholic and I'm eager to see what she has in store next. I wouldn't mind another series from her with a character as loveable as Becky Bloomwood. These are chick-lit to a tee and her books could be adapted to film with a snap of your fingers. She is the queen of her genre and I love that she took a risk with this book, even if it didn't stand out among her rest, I still enjoy her writing and will continue to read whatever she's willing to write! 

“Youth is still where you left it, and that's where it should stay. Anything that was worth taking on life's journey, you'll already have taken with you.” 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Oath Bound

Oath Bound
Author: Rachel Vincent
Published: April 30, 2013
432 pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

The secret daughter of the head of an infamous Skilled crime family, Sera Brandt has hidden her past, her potential and especially her powers. But when a tragedy strikes her other family, Sera needs justice. And the only way to get it is to reveal her heritage–including a rare Skill–and take the reins of the Tower Syndicate from her cunning and malicious aunt. Kristopher Daniels might have the answer. He's fought the syndicate to protect his sisters, but he'd never realized just how close to the new heir he needed to get.... But there's something between them that can't be ignored. And so Sera is on the run with a man she can't figure out, a target on her back and the new knowledge of just how powerful she really is....

There are some adult series that make you step away from YA because they need to be read right away. The Unbound series by Rachel Vincent is definitely one of those. I've been a fan of Vincent's since I first picked up My Soul to Take and it's been a great journey since then. Though I still need to sink my teeth into her Shifters series, I've thoroughly enjoyed her new adult series about a world where crime families rule and those with Skills (special abilities) must do whatever they can to survive. The first book, Blood Bound, followed two characters from opposite sides beating the odds and coming out alive (and in love). Shadow Bound follows a Tower syndicate member falling for the guy she's supposed to be bringing in and thus both escaping. Now, in the final chapter of the series, we find Sera, the illegitimate daughter of Jake Tower trying to figure out her loyalties after being "kidnapped" by Kris, a man part of a group trying to take down the syndicates. 

What I loved about this book was that we got to see our old favourite characters helping out Sera and Kris. Blissfully happy (thank God) and ready to see the fall of some empires, the group joins together with Sera to see the end once and for all. The usual formula works like magic: Sera hates Kris at first, thinking he'd kidnapped her, but gradually realizes that he's a good person. Told from alternating perspectives, the tension is high and I just couldn't wait for them to get together. Vincent knows exactly how to get you excited about characters and anticipating the next chapter. If I didn't have to sleep and work, and well, live, I'd have read this book in one sitting. From the first page of this series, I've been drawn in, and I certainly wasn't ready to say goodbye.

The world building in these books is spectacular. Right away, we're thrown into this city atmosphere, futuristic yet vintage, where the mob rules and one can be free. Careful to clean up all your spilled blood. Careful not to tell anyone your full name. Trust no one and try not to get yourself into an oath you're not willing to live through. The relationships are twisted, entwined and realistic. People are brutalized, killed, forced into oaths they do not want in order to save those they love. Relationships are tested, found, lost, and found again. Each book sits on its own, but as a whole the story is compelling and doesn't let you go until the last page. Even then, I gripped the book and prayed for pages to pop up out of nowhere so that I could see our group of misfits get all the revenge they deserve.

From the outside, this may seem like a confusing series to start. A lot of perspectives, a lot of characters, and a lot of back story. But it sucks you in and before you know it, these characters are real, they are your friends, and you're rooting for them the whole way. Each book shows a new set of crazy characters to fall in love with (and watch as they fall in love with each other) and trust me when I say this, but you will not want to let them go when it's over. Vincent writes characters, relationships and friendships that will stay with you and leave you eager for more. I know I want to see more of these guys, but knowing that I won't, I can't wait to read Shifters (sitting on my bookshelf too long) and her new series to come. She is still one of my top authors, and I'm forever impressed with her words and stories. 

“I liked that about her. I liked how laid back she was, when she wasn’t trying to stab me.” 

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