Book Review: Party Games

Party Games (Fear Street #52) by R.L. Stine
Release Date ~ September 30, 2014
St. Martin's Griffin ~ Macmillan
ISBN13:  9781250051615
ARC received from Raincoast Books

Goodreads Synopsis:
Her friends warn her not to go to Brendan Fear's birthday party at his family's estate on mysterious Fear Island. But Rachel Martin has a crush on Brendan and is excited to be invited. Brendan has a lot of party games planned. But one game no one planned intrudes on his party—the game of murder. As the guests start dying one by one, Rachel realizes to her horror that she and the other teenagers are trapped on the tiny island with someone who may want to kill them all. How to escape this deadly game? Rachel doesn't know whom she can trust. She should have realized that nothing is as it seems… on Fear Island.

R.L. Stine makes his triumphant return to Shadyside, a town of nightmares, shadows, and genuine terror, and to the bestselling series that began his career writing horror for the juvenile market, in the new Fear Street book Party Games.

I haven't read an R.L. Stine book since my Goosebumps days (I never actually read his Fear Street books!) so was a little bit anxious about how I would find Party Games. Would my sense of nostalgia take over? Or would I find myself disappointed and disillusioned?

  1. Surprising twists:

    As much as I thought I had predicted the story in Party Games, it turns out that I was wrong about a few things. This was a pleasant surprise to me, as I'm a firm believer that scary books should be surprising and they should be able to catch me off guard (or at least, they usually should). The surprise factor was good for me, and it was pleasantly surprising to find in Party Games.
However, the twists weren't enough to redeem the overall story for me. There wasn't enough to draw me in, and too much of it felt silly rather than scary. When a book doesn't take itself seriously, it's hard for me to take it seriously and with a book like this, that can really detract from the experience.

Party Games is a quick read which, partially due to its short length, lacks plot or character depth.
In one sense, though, this helps maintain a high level of suspense because it makes the characters more unpredictable. Without a good understanding of their character, it's harder to figure out how they might react or what they might do. But this certainly requires a certain level of suspended disbelief.

There's the nostalgic aspect to R.L. Stine's recent Fear Street release, and I think readers will fall into one of two groups: either they'll love it as they get to revisit old favourites, or they'll be disappointed by it since it lacks an engaging story.


Blog Tour: The Winner's Crime

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date ~ March 3, 2015
Farrar Straus Giroux ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9780374384708
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

The Winner's Curse was my favourite read in 2014, and so I had high hopes for its sequel. Never fear - The Winner's Crime was a perfect follow up, and it was just as stunning and intense as its predecessor.

  1. An emotional roller coaster:

    My heart could barely handle the events in The Winner's Curse, so you can imagine that I was already feeling a bit anxious reading The Winner's Crime. But it takes a very special story to make me feel this way, as I rarely feel as invested in the outcome of a book as I do with this one! I love these characters, and I desperately want things to turn out well for them!
  2. Extra world building:

    I'm a believer that a great fantasy book is built on a foundation of strong world building. In The Winner's Curse, this was well-done but we only saw the tip of the iceberg. The world is further developed in this story, as we see more of Valoria.
  3. Kestrel walks a fine line:

    Kestrel truly showcases her talents and intelligence as she delicately walks a fine line between two sides. She's so aware of the dilemma at hand, and how she refuses to let others control her. This puts her in a dangerous position, as she encounters other characters who may be able to outwit her careful plans. Kestrel risks so much, and for very little in return - so much of her character is revealed by her willingness to sacrifice. 

Now, every blogger on the blog tour is answering one key question - 
The ‘Winner’s Curse’ is an economics term that means you’ve gotten what you wanted – but at too high a price.  What would you pay too much for?

For me, I would pay too much for a peaceful life. Don't misunderstand me - I don't mean "boring". But I have put a lot of effort into trying to attain routine and consistency in my life. Maybe because I'm also a bit of a control freak? I'd pay way too much for the assurance of a peaceful future. 

To see what all the other bloggers had to say about this question, make sure to visit the other tour stops - view the schedule here!

You can also find out more about the series on The Winner's Trilogy website and even play the official Bite & Sting game!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Blog Tour: Shadow Scale

*I'm very excited today to be part of the Random House blog tour for Shadow Scale - keep reading for an exciting opportunity!

Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartman
Release Date ~ March 10, 2015
Random House Children's Books
ISBN13: 9780375866579
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Dragons and humans battle in this breathtaking sequel to the acclaimed Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, a part-girl, part-dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, it is she who must travel the lands to find those like herself--for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful new and magical ways. 

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying one chasing her, is another half dragon, who can creep into people's minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she's held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice. Cling to the safety of her old life or embrace a powerful new destiny?

Seraphina is a gorgeously written and innovative fantasy book, and it's no secret that I loved it. The opportunity that we get to read more of Rachel Hartman's work, and as a follow up to Seraphina, is a privilege for all readers. Few books are as thoughtful and creative as Shadow Scale, which perfectly compliments the beauty of Seraphina.

  1. A unique fantasy world:

    Logic and reason play a central role in the world of Shadow Scale, and it's very interesting how Rachel has worked these characteristics into the world. The mythology behind Shadow Scale's dragons is innovative and thought out carefully. The world building in Shadow Scale is some of the best I have read, and it plays a fundamental role in the story as Seraphina ventures outside of Goredd. I love how important politics are to this world, and how they move the story along and left me quickly turning the pages to discover more.
  2. Complex, developed characters:

    Shadow Scale features a large cast of characters, but it's important to notice how much attention is given to such a large number of characters. Each have distinctive personalities, and I had no problem remember little details about them. Despite the fact that they can't all be as well-developed as the main character, the secondary characters are treated as complex, dynamic beings.
  3. A truly charming story:

    Considering I read Seraphina about three years ago, I was impressed by how much of the story I recalled as I was reading Shadow Scale. I became heavily invested in the lives of these characters, and I genuinely cared about what happened to each and every one of them. That made this an incredibly emotional read for me as well, as the plot is exciting and the stakes are high. 
But it's for this last reason that I also had one little struggle with Shadow Scale. There is an epilogue, which did not sit as well with me as I had hoped. I cared about these characters, so I wanted to know what happens to them. I want to know about their lives and the outcomes. But the epilogue just didn't fit the rest of the story and its characters. It felt more like simply trying to wrap up all loose ends from the story, rather than following through on the events told in the previous pages; an ending that didn't feel like it fit the rest of the story. It's a small thing to point out, and the rest of Shadow Scale is breathtaking. But for this reason, Shadow Scale had just a tad less charm for me than Seraphina. 

For those of you who are less familiar with Seraphina, it is a book with a slower pace than some readers may be used to reading. Please don't let that deter you - these are wonderful books, but they need to be accepted for what they are. They tend to be slower readers, but they're the type of books which can be savoured and thought over for a long time to come. I'm still thinking about Seraphina, because it's the type of book that sticks with you and leaves a lasting impression. 

Good luck!


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.

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