Book Review: The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door by Katie van Ark
Release Date ~ January 6, 2015
Swoon Reads ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9781250061461
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Maddy Spier has been in love with the boy next door forever. As his figure skating partner she spends time in his arms every day. But she’s also seen his arms around other girls—lots of other girls. 

Gabe can't imagine skating with anyone but Maddy, and together they have a real chance at winning some serious gold medals. So, he’s determined to keep thinking of her like a sister. After all, he’s never had a romantic relationship that lasted for more than two weeks.

But when their coach assigns a new romantic skating program, everything changes. Will this be the big break that Maddy’s been hoping for or the big breakup that Gabe has always feared?

There are some books that I need to think about for a while after I finish reading them. The Boy Next Door was one of them, because while I mostly enjoyed my experience reading the book, there were a couple areas where I was left with mixed feelings.

  1. Good alternating perspectives:

    The use of alternating perspectives in a book can either be quite effective or it can completely distract from the story. But Katie van Ark uses the alternating chapters very well, as it reveals the private thoughts of the two main characters and their relationship with each other. The different perspectives highlights how differently two people can perceive the same events.
  2. An insider's view on figure skating:

    I'm completely useless at ice skating (as in: I can't do it at all. Worst Canadian ever!) and it was utterly fascinating to me to read about the world of competitive figure skating. I know nothing about it, and yet I was impressed with Maddy and Gabe's commitment to the sport and how The Boy Next Door introduced me to a whole new world. I obviously can't speak to the accuracy of the details in the book, but I certainly felt like this was a very involved, knowledgeable perspective. 
This is actually going to be a reason that is hit-or-miss for some people. But I certainly felt the tension between Maddy and Gabe the entire time I was reading, and I just had to know what was going to happen with them. It was certainly convincing to read about these two characters try to find themselves on the same page with each other. 

That being said, I ended the book with mixed feelings on Maddy and Gabe. They struck me as realistic characters (flaws and all) which is important, but there were some responses and comments made by each that I found hard to appreciate in the book. (I don't want to spoil anything directly, but I'll just say that Maddy's reaction to her bruises from figure skating was not one of which I was a fan.) Overall, I felt that some of this detracted from my overall experience. 

This is a book which is heavy on the romance (obviously since it's from the Swoon Reads imprint), but much of it is a true teenaged romance. The characters are fairly immature and have to mature as the book goes on. That isn't a bad thing at all - I think it's a positive for the book, because that's reality. But to an extent, it can make it harder for certain readers to completely connect with the story. At the end of the day, not enough of the book stuck with me over time although I enjoyed reading it at the time. 


Book Review: All Fall Down

All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter
Release Date ~ January 20, 2015
Scholastic Press
ISBN13: 9780545654746
ARC received from Scholastic Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
This exciting new series from NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter focuses on Grace, who can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world, and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay--in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.

I've been reading Ally Carter well before I ever started blogging and her books have firmly stayed as some of my favourite books to read and recommend to others. I've mentioned before how much I adore her Gallagher Girls books so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to the new Embassy Row series!

And impressively, Ally Carter delivers an amazing read with All Fall Down (as usual). It's a humorous, thrilling read which can be enjoyed by all types of readers.

  1. Witty writing:

    The main character in All Fall Down is Grace and I love that Ally Carter wrote her with such a strong personality and tongue-in-cheek humour. Grace isn't quite like Cammie from Gallagher Girls nor is she like Kat from Heist Society - she's her own person and her own character. One of my favourite things about Ally's books is that she writes with a sense of humour. The books are clever and have me chuckling the whole way through. This is a rare find for me in books, so I treasure the authors that can do this well. Grace is fairly snarky and has a bit of an attitude and you can really see that come out on the pages as you read.
  2. A fast-paced, exciting story:

    One of the things that struck me while I was reading All Fall Down was how appealing this book would be to many readers because it's such a thrilling story. It's about a teenaged girl, yes - but regardless of gender or age, this is a book that can capture and hold a reader's attention. The mystery moves along at an excellent pace which neither too fast nor too slow.
  3. A well-balanced book:

    And yet the story isn't purely action - there's enough depth here to be thought-provoking and emotionally gripping. The characters are endearing, and I easily found myself invested in their stories. Grace's struggle to come to terms with the death of her mother is particularly heartbreaking. She's a strong character, perhaps too strong. She isolates herself from others and is desperate to find peace in her life. 

Since I've read so many of Ally Carter's other books, I started reading All Fall Down with some preconceived notions. I assumed romance would play a larger role (it doesn't - although there's potential for more). I didn't realize Grace would be as much of a tomboy and troublemaker as she turned out to be!

I can say that to an extent, All Fall Down lacked the same charm I found in Gallagher Girls and Heist Society. It isn't something I can put my finger on. Although I think a large part of that may be that I've read more than the first book in those series. It may very well be that Embassy Row is a series I grow to love even more with time.


Blog Tour: Stone in the Sky

My review today is the first stop on the blog tour for Stone in the Sky hosted by Raincoast Books - make sure you read to the end to find out which other blogs are participating so you can read more about the book over the next few days!

Stone in the Sky (Tin Star #2) by Cecil Castellucci
Release Date ~ February 24, 2015
Roaring Brook Press ~ Macmillan
ISBN 13: 781596437760
Review copy received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
In this thrilling follow-up to Tin Star, Tula will need to rely on more than just her wits to save her only home in the sky.

After escaping death a second time, Tula Bane is now even thirstier for revenge. She spends much of her time in the Tin Star CafĂ© on the Yertina Feray—the space station she calls home. But when it's discovered that the desolate and abandoned planet near the station has high quantities of a precious resource, the once sleepy space station becomes a major player in intergalactic politics. In the spirit of the Gold Rush, aliens from all over the galaxy race to cash in—including Tula's worst enemy

As much as I enjoyed Tin Star last year, the ending left me feeling like I needed (and wanted) something more to the story. Fortunately for me, Stone in the Sky quickly followed and as a sequel it absolutely delivered in every way I hoped it would.

  1. Incredible world building:

    While Tin Star introduced us to a breathtaking sci fi world, Stone in the Sky fills us in on all the details. Tula ends up leaving the Yertina Feray and we get to explore the galaxy with her as she embarks on a continuation of her adventure. And this is where the story really shines, because it becomes clear that while there are only two relatively short books in the Tin Star series, Cecil has clearly put in a significant amount of time with creating and developing a world in which Tula's stories take place.
  2. Huge revelations for the plot:

    Tula had her own theories about Brother Blue and the Human colonies as set out in Tin Star, but I really appreciate a story that clearly follows up on those questions and provides some answers. We don't get to find out everything, but the story is certainly resolved and satisfying. I had so many questions while reading the first book and I was so pleased to see they were answered in Stone in the Sky. But more importantly, I loved how thoughtful and complex the story was.
  3. A thoughtful look at humanity:

    Tula often considers and compares Humans to the other aliens she encounters. She's a thoughtful character, and her responses and comments on other species are truly fascinating. This comparison also serves a purpose as it reveals more about humanity and Tula's own character. We can see how we take certain traits for granted, which are not shared by other alien species. And interestingly, this reveals more about why Tula has reacted in such a way to the events in her life. 
Cecil Castelluci writes brilliant sci fi books, and while these are not the most action-oriented books they are some of the most thought-provoking and complex YA books available. They are written beautifully and feature lovely prose and subtle ideas incorporated within the overarching story. 

I would advise readers that this is not a fast-paced series, so readers should not expect that nor turn to the Tin Star books for that type of read. These are books that can be read at a slower pace, in order to be truly appreciated and so as to not miss any of the fine details!


Book Review: Fairest

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5) by Marrisa Meyer
Release Date ~ January 27, 2015
Feiwel & Friends ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9781250060556
Review copy received from Raincoast Books for review

*Please note: there will be very small, minor spoilers for the previous books in The Lunar Chronicles. I will not include any details - but suffice to say, I will mention who the main antagonist for the series is. This review is nearly spoiler-free for the series.

Goodreads Synopsis:
In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. 

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

The Lunar Chronicles has been a delightful series so far, and news that a prequel was coming had me eagerly awaiting its arrival. In particular, the fact that Fairest focuses its attention on Queen Levana, the main antagonist in the first three books of The Lunar Chronicles and I'm assuming the last one as well.

Fairest is exactly what a prequel should be, as it narrates some of Levana's personal history and she came to be the Queen of Luna as we readers now know her.

As an aside, I would recommend reading this prequel after having read Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress - I also think it fits in well before Winter, but then again I haven't yet read Winter! Basically, I would suggest reading the books in the order in which they were released. I enjoyed Fairest because I was already familiar with many of the central characters in The Lunar Chronicles series, and if you haven't read the previous books I think you'll miss many of the little clues or truly appreciate some of the details.

  1. Evilness: nature versus nurture?

    At this point in the series, many of us have been horrified by the rumours surrounding Queen Levana and the actions she has taken. And I was deeply interested to read Fairest so I could learn more about Levana's mind and her personal life. I like that Marissa Meyer didn't just leave Levana as a villain - she gave her a back story and made her feel more like a real character than a ghost. But we aren't given any easy answers in Fairest - it wasn't clear to me at all whether Levana's character worsened over time because of events in her life, or if that was just the way she had always been. It's an interesting question though, and I appreciate that Marissa did make it as clear cut.
  2. A character-driven story, but also some world building:

    Up until this point, we haven't had much information in the series about Luna in general. None of our characters have spent much time there, so this is our first through glimpse into the world of Luna. Even better, we have a historical perspective on it - the events in Fairest take place in the past from the point of the other books in the series. So yes, we have the gift of hindsight but it also makes it much easier to understand why the events in the previous books have taken place. While the story is really about Levana, it can't help but explore some of Luna as well.
  3. The best villains in a story are still characters:

    I'm never enchanted with books that make a character a villain simply because the plot demanded it. I suppose I view life as shades of gray that I can't make that black and white distinction - a villain is still a person, or they should be at least. There needs to be that depth of the character, and it's a true sign of a writer's strength if they can flesh out the dimensions of their antagonist. 
Fairest is as heartbreaking story, and one that needs to be read. When we see people do horrible things, it's natural for us to wonder "why?" This book is the answer to that question in The Lunar Chronicles.


Book Review: The Financially Confident Woman

The Financially Confident Woman by Mary Hunt
Release Date ~ December 2014 (Reprint)
Baker Publishing Group
ISBN13:  9780800721466
Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 
Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

Goodreads Synopsis:
Too many women feel like they lack the know-how to take control of their financial lives. But it's not the level of their knowledge that's the problem, says personal financial expert Mary Hunt; it's their lack of confidence. Being in debt isn't a money problem--it's an attitude problem. And Hunt is here to help women develop a confident, capable attitude toward money so that they can take control of their finances. 
Using the lessons she's learned from her own hard-fought battle with debt, Hunt empowers women to develop nine essential money habits, including giving, saving, investing, rejecting unsecured debt, preparing for emergencies, getting what you pay for, and more. She also includes a six-week action plan to help women get started right away.

Happy New Year! I'm back in 2015 with a brand new book review, featuring a book that's a little bit different from what I typically review here.

Like many others, I like to use the ending of one year and the beginning of a new year as a time to reflect and focus on my goals. As I've gotten older, one of those goals has involved finances. The Financially Confident Woman appealed to me for that reason.

  1. Pragmatic advice for women:

    One of my favourite aspects of this book is that Mary Hunt writes to women to provide her readers with some basic financial knowledge and tips. Her advice is practical and clear, which is particularly important when finances can be confusing for some people. I appreciated that Mary Hunt dealt with more than simple budgeting or healthy attitudes towards money (which are important), but she delves further into the topic. She also approaches important topics like investing and retirement savings.
  2. An important read for her target audience:

    There is clearly a target audience for that book, and if you don't fall within that category, then this isn't the right book for you. But for everyone else, this is a worthwhile read. It's concise and I liked the attention placed on long-term finances (which many people don't consider early enough on in life). Mary Hunt writes from a Christian perspective so she places a heavier emphasis on giving via tithing and donations, for example. But she's also writing to women who do not have much experience with managing finances - whether it's because of youth or the fact that they've had their husband manage finances.
  3. Clear writing:

    Mary Hunt writes in a very straightforward, engaging manner. She tells stories from her own life, including her past mistakes and what she learned from them. I liked that she was upfront about her shortcomings, because it shows that she doesn't have a self-righteous attitude. 
This is a reprint of Mary Hunt's book that was written years ago, and the one thing I would have liked to have seen was a more intensive update to the book. Finances and banking has changed rather dramatically in recent years, particularly when it comes to common payment methods and banking. As an example, she focuses a fair amount of timing on cheques which just aren't as common as they used to be. Regardless, it's helpful information for the few times I'm likely to run into using cheques. 

This is a book that I think has something to offer for just about anyone; the attitudes towards money which are identified in this book are still relevant and important today for many people. In particular, this is a book that I think would be great for young women/teenagers just starting to learn how to manage their money while in post-secondary or in some of their first full-time jobs. 


Blog Tour: This Shattered World

I'm really looking forward to sharing my review of This Shattered World with you today as part of the blog tour hosted by The Midnight Garden! Keep an eye out for some special news (and a giveaway) at the end of this post!

Make sure you visit the kickoff post over at The Midnight Garden for other special features and links to other posts on the tour!

This Shattered World (Starbound #2) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Release Date ~ December 23, 2014
ISBN13: 9781423171034
e-galley received from publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads Synopsis:
The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

After reading (and adoring) These Broken Stars earlier this year, I've basically been sitting around and twiddling my thumbs while waiting for This Shattered World. The second book in the Starbound trilogy features two new protagonists and takes place on a different planet, but it's also different from TBS with slightly different pacing and a distinct storyline. Where TBS was a lonely survival story, TSW is a war story. But Amie and Meagan thoughtfully weave the two books together to create a much larger story.

  1. A rare set of protagonists: 

    Jubilee is a capable, hard-working soldier who's always ready to take the lead and get the job done. In contrast, Flynn is a gracious and brave pacifist. And together they make quite the interesting pair. You can see how well they balance each other out and truly bring out the best qualities in one another. In particular, they're both so conscientious when it comes to their personal roles on Avon, that they regularly think through the consequences of their actions and show incredible maturity. They're such rare types of characters to find in books, that it sets the tone of TSW apart from many others I read.
  2. Fast-paced action:

    Avon is a hostile world with an ongoing battle between the rebels and the military. This is evident from the very first chapter and it sets the stage for the rest of the book. Jubilee and Flynn barely have time to stop and catch their breath, as the secrets on Avon begin to unravel and the discovery of a conspiracy larger than they could have imagined is found. The pacing is even and quick, and it doesn't really end until the book does.
  3. Political science fiction:

    One of the things I've really loved about the Starbound trilogy so far is how well it combines my love for political intrigue and science fiction in books. I love that these books are set on distant, mysterious planets that are both familiar yet strange to me. I love the rippling excitement that comes with the political upheaval taking place on Avon. And the really nice thing about the combination of the two is that it keeps either one from becoming dull - the two merge seamlessly to create a more complex story. 
I like that TSW has light-romance, in the sense that it doesn't take over the rest of the story. Both Flynn and Jubilee are very focused on what they feel they need to accomplish, and they let very little interfere with that purpose. Because of how well this fits in with their characters, the romance feels natural and well-developed. 

I also love the little hints and nods that we find in TSW which will be familiar to those who have read TBS. While I wouldn't say it's necessary to read TBS first, I think readers will better enjoy TSW with the background of TBS. 

My only small issue is that I feel like at some point in the Starbound trilogy, we need some greater reveals as to the overall plot and more knowledge with respect to the world. In TBS, it was less of an issue that the world-building was rather minimal (although it was there to an extent), but in TSW I was more aware at how little development there was in this sense. I still have so many questions about what's going in with LaRoux and how the situation on Avon began. There are small hints, but it seemed like there were a few questions that could have been answered but were swept aside. 

But to be honest, this felt like such a minor issue to me I really don't feel like it majorly detracted from my reading experience in any way! These are great, exciting books that I highly recommend and I love that the newest release didn't disappoint me.

Visit the These Broken Stars website for the latest news on the series and follow the authors on Twitter at @AmieKaufman and @MeaganSpoonerThis Shattered World is available for pre-order (with fun swag!) and will be released in North America on December 23, 2014. 

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DVD Review: Burning Questions

I'm a person who wrestles with a number of philosophical (or religious) questions in real life, and in the interest of full disclosure I'm also an open Chrisitan.

I was thrilled when I was offered a chance to review a new DVD documentary entitled "Burning Questions" which wrestles with a number of common, difficult questions about the deeper meaning of life.

With all of that being said, I also consider myself to be somewhat of an intellectual. I'm about to complete my second university degree, and I can appreciate both an intellectual and faith-filled response to these questions.

That is precisely where "Burning Questions" fits in for me. I appreciate the fact that the documentary makes use of a number of different thinkers in this area: it isn't merely restricted to Christian apologists despite being a Christian-focused documentary.

The first video session, entitled "Is there a god?" includes well-known thinkers such as Dr. Peter Atkins (an atheist), Dr. Chrisitan Sinkinson (Christian), Professor Richard Swinburne (Christian), Dr. Anna Robbins (Christian), Rabbi Mendel Kaplan (Jew), Dr. Stephen Law (atheist), Sensei Taigen Henderson (Buddhist), Pandit Roopnauth Sharma (Hindu), and Shabir Ally (Mulsim - who I'm previously famliar with, as he's spoken on The Agenda with Steve Paikan a few times), Dr. Stan Fowler (Christian), and Professor Alister McGrath (Christian).

While "Burning Questions" will have a greater appeal to Christians, it still has a place for those who may be seeking to hear from different perspectives. Even from within a religious perspective, this is an important documentary to hear from because of how it includes a number of different perspectives. It clearly focuses in on the Judeo-Christian God, and offers an explanation as to why they choose to focus on this one interpretation.

Some viewers may benefit from further explanation by way of a primer to explain some of the basic ideas being discussed here; the first session launches into a fairly involves discussion on philosophy about the existence (or lack) of god. Much of it focuses on the identity of god, as perceived by the guest speakers.

DVD set has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  All of my thoughts and opinions here are my own.
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