Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Mini Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

Rating: 5/5 jaguar heads
Release date: 4 September 2012
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Goodreads | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home—and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia’s origin—a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost. This is a supremely compelling debut novel that blends the awakening romance of Matched with the mystery and jungle conspiracy of Lost.

The two books I read before this were thrilling YA romances - entertaining, but quickly forgotten - and I was sort of expecting more of the same. Origin completely exceeded my expectations, and I was surprised by the level of depth it achieved - at least for me. 

Origin deals with some pretty heavy themes, and because of this I think it'll be a love/hate kind of book. Some will find the approach heavy-handed or uncomfortable in its depiction of the 'natives' and scientists, but it worked for me (or I at least was able to forgive this) because I really connected with Pia on an emotional level. Some of the religious/spiritual issues explored are ones I've dealt with a lot growing up, and I've been wanting to read a book like this for a while. For me, at least, it was very thought-provoking and amazingly relevant to my life, and books like these are exactly why I love YA no matter how controversial: it's amazing to be able to read a book that captures, explores, and makes entertaining the challenges and angst of growing up.

Was this book perfect? Of course not, and many other reviewers have already pointed out some of its flaws. But as Khoury addresses in Origin, both in the book's opening line and repeatedly throughout, perfect is in the eye of the beholder, and Origin, at this point in my life, was absolutely perfect for me. I loved it, and unlike some of the other YA books I've read recently, I found myself still thinking about it a day later.

Check out the Origin book trailer:

Side note: This is not the most informative review, but these were my thoughts immediately after reading Origin last month and I didn't feel the need to expand! Also, I'm aware that postings/general blog interactions have been scarce for the past few weeks, so apologies for that, but I should be back on track starting next week. Happy reading!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Review: The Innocents by Lili Peloquin

Rating: 3/5 pigeon heads
Release date: 16 October 2012
Publisher: Penguin (Razorbill), 288 pgs
Goodreads | The Book Depository

Goodreads summary: 

Nothing ever came between sisters Alice and Charlie.
Friends didn't.
Boys couldn't.
Their family falling apart never would.
Until they got to Serenity Point. 
"The Innocents" is the first in a new series of young adult novels that weave a saga of nail-biting drama, breathless romance, and gothic mystery.

My brief summary: Alice and Charlie follow their mother and new step-father, Richard, to begin a new life in elite community Serenity Point, where the mystery behind Richard's daughter's recent death and its impact on their new friends begins to put a strain on their relationship.

I'm giving this 3 stars, which might be a little generous. At the very least it makes me acutely aware that I recently gave Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass a 3.5 when The Innocents is far from being in the same league. But it's a 3 stars for what it is (and I think we all know what kind of book this is): a pure guilty pleasure.

What would have made it stand out? This may be controversial, and probably says more about me than it does anything else, but if I'm going to read a fun, trashy novel, I hope for drama of epic proportions. I tend to expect tears, bloodshed, pregnancies, cat fights...the works. And yes, I tend to be hypocritical and complain about the very same thing. It's a bit unfair, seeing as The Innocents never explicitly sells itself as such, but I honestly hoped it would be a bit more dramatic; that the characters would be nastier, the rich kids meaner, the mystery just a bit more sinister. At times it feels like Peloquin is trying to hold back and build emotional complexity within the story, and while these things aren't mutually exclusive and it pains me to say it, she probably would have been more successful had she focused on sheer entertainment factor alone.

I know that's an awful thing to encourage, but really, kudos to Lili Peloquin for trying to balance depth with drama, because she succeeds in some areas. I love books about sisters, and I actually felt that Alice and Charlie were well-developed. I had a clear sense of their characters and felt like I really understood them, though the unravelling of their bond and the tensions that Serenity Point places on their relationship could have been highlighted more. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about their love interests or their community, which was all one big cliché. As for the mystery surrounding Richard, their new step-father, and Camilla, his recently deceased daughter, it was entertaining enough to keep me reading. There's a big twist at the end that's predictable, but overall I liked how Peloquin tied the ending back to the prologue.

I really don't consider a guilty pleasure a bad thing. I enjoy a trashy read every once in a while. This was maybe not trashy enough for me to justify the label, and if it had focused solely on the bond between the two sisters or the suspense and mystery behind Camilla's death, it might have avoided the label altogether. Instead, it kind of awkwardly treads a fine line between being a guilty pleasure and being, to be blunt, not very good. The writing is awkward at times, and the first few chapters were distractingly unedited, but I'm confident that with only two months till its release these errors have been fixed.

All in all, this was definitely a quick read - I think I read it in about two and a half hours - and I was entertained, just not as much as I hoped. If you're a fan of books in the vein of Pretty Little Liars and/or Gossip Girl, you might enjoy this one. The Innocents combines the pervading sense of mystery of the former with the scandal and extravagance of the latter, resulting in a quick read that, while entertaining, never does quite reach the same level of addictiveness.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (7)

Waiting on Wednesday is a book meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we showcase books we're highly anticipating.

I missed Waiting on Wednesday last week, so I've chosen three books that I'm waiting on today! Titles go to Goodreads, names go to the author's website. 

Release date: 9 October 2012
Coming from: Hyperion Book CH (384 pgs)


Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?

Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?

Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.

He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a strange and luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakeable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them, but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer.

After Jepp and Lia perform a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe by a kidnapper in a horse-drawn carriage, Jepp is unsure where his unfortunate stars may lead him.

Before Jepp can become the master of his own destiny, he will need to prove himself to a brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—earn the love of a girl brave and true, and unearth the long-buried secrets of his parentage. And he will find that beneath the breathtaking cruelty of the world is something else: the persistence of human kindness.

Release date: 2013, from Delacorte Press

RED is set in a small town where the redness of your hair is directly tied to your social standing, until the coolest and reddest girl in school is blackmailed on the eve of the Miss Scarlet pageant.

Release date: 2013, from Dial 

... pitched as “Gone with the Nuclear Wind". It is supposed to be a cross between "Gone with the Wind" and "Mansfield Park", but set into the future 200 years from now. According to the author's blog the "crux of the plot centers around nuclear technology".

... is set in a world ruled by the lavish Gentry, who force a people called the Rootless to handle the nuclear material that powers their large estates. When a Gentry girl is attacked, sixteen-year-old Madeline Landry can't escape the rumors of revolution and retribution circulating through the ballrooms--and the city's new golden boy David is at the middle of them. Soon, she finds herself forced to choose between her duty and her desires, her ancestral destiny and her conscience.

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars sounds like it's going to be so fun and different! I've also never read a book from the perspective of a dwarf (I guess hobbits don't count?), and I really can't wait.

Red has me hooked from that sentence alone! I'm anxiously stalking this one! I have such high hopes for the cover, and I LOVE that the author's last name is Cherry. So much potential for awesomeness here!

While not the official summary (it was taken from Goodreads, as were the others), Landry Park's description has me really excited. It kind of reminds me of Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Show the Stars, which I loved, so I'll definitely be on the lookout for more information!

What are you waiting on this Wednesday? Link me because I'd love to see!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Rating: 4/5 dragon heads
Release date: 10 July 2012
Publisher: Random House, 467 pgs
Goodreads | The Book Depository
Amazon UK | Amazon US

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

A quick preliminary scan of Seraphina revealed words like quigutl and pygegyria and houppelande, words just intimidating enough to make me want to put off my reading and seek something lighter. And I did put it off. It admittedly took me a few tries to really get into this book, but once I plowed through the first few chapters, Seraphina's story unfolded as naturally and effortlessly as a saar taking flight.

Of course, no book is without its imperfections. For me, Seraphina is a book of contradictions. Take the writing. It's beautiful and surprisingly introspective, and has an addictive quality to it that made me stop to re-read and savor the words. Yet this also made the plot feel a tad slow, and left scenes which were supposed to be suspenseful and action-packed feeling a bit flat.

I felt the same about the world-building. So much detail is given regarding Goredd and dragon (saar) culture, all of which I found fascinating and, quite frankly, impressive. Everything from saar history and politics to daily scale maintenance is touched upon. And it all made sense. The world Hartman has created is the perfect blend of reality and fantasy; drawing on so many cultures and time periods that I couldn't pin it on just one time or place. They meshed together to create a world totally unique and just the slightest bit off-kilter (in the best way).

Yet for all the amazing world-building, some of the important plotlines suffered from under-development. Seraphina's confusion and self-loathing as a half-breed is a huge part of the book. She connects mentally with others like her, all of whom exhibit supernatural gifts, through her mental 'garden'. Why half-breeds have these gifts, when there's no mention of dragons or humans possessing them, is barely touched upon, which was strange but easily forgiven given the sequel.

I realize I've focused on the negative in this review, but at this stage I'm really just nitpicking. Seraphina was a unique, refreshing, well-written read. If you're a fantasy lover, you owe it to yourself to experience the amazing world of dragons and humans and quigutl. I would add, though, that a part of me isn't sure whether I really liked this book in the sense that I was entertained or fell in love with the characters. A part of me feels that most of my good impression has more to do with being impressed or objectively appreciative of its artistic merit. I think a lack of true connection with the book prevents me from giving it a final star, but a re-reading might change that.

Pick this one up! The gorgeous cover alone should tempt you.

All in Ard,

The Headless Owl

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Stacking the Shelves (4)

From Tynga's Reviews

Stacking The Shelves is a book haul meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews where we share the books we've acquired each week! 

It's been a couple of weeks since my last STS, simply because I haven't been buying that many books lately and have way too many that I need to get to.

(Links go to Goodreads)


Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson - Reviewed
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (ebook) - Reviewed

I did get a few great books though! I absolutely loved Tiger Lily and despite being disappointed by Throne of Glass still found it a quick and entertaining read. I hope this streak continues with Seraphina!

That's it for me! What did you get this week? Link me because I'd love to see.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Rating: 3.5/5 very sad owl heads
Release date: 2 Aug 2012 (UK), 8 Aug 2012 (US)
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 404 pgs

Goodreads | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

(Summary from Goodreads)

This is a hard review to write. Let me start off by saying that Throne of Glass was one of my highly anticipated reads of 2012. I was hooked on the novellas before I even started blogging, and I made sure to make it my first Waiting on Wednesday. As you can imagine, I was positive I would love this. The last thing I expected was to have to write that, honestly? I was a bit disappointed. It's possible that over-hyping ruined the experience for me, as it has countless times, because a lot of what I loved about the novellas was here in abundance.

Celaena is such a complicated, aggravating, entertaining character. She's astoundingly arrogant in a way that comes from knowing you're the best, and being told so day after day, yet she's sensitive and girly and selfish in a way that only teenage girls can be. The love interests in ToG are worthy of such a complex character. It would have undermined Celaena's character to have her turn lovesick and obsessed, especially in the middle of what is supposed to be a cutthroat competition, and Maas clearly knew where to draw the line. She writes a romance (if you can even call it that) that is subtle and sweet. Both Chaol and Dorian are well-developed - a bit predictably, maybe, but it's there. Equally important, they represent two very different futures and relationships, presenting Celaena with exactly the kind of dilemma that I hope for in a love triangle.

And Rifthold, with its crowded streets and garish glass castle, is easy to imagine. There's a perfect balance between magic and technology; a blurring of our world and some other-world that feels completely natural. Like the glass castle itself; an architectural marvel built on a foundation of rock and stone, with magic in its roots. Like the contrast between the clock tower that sits in the courtyard and the mythical gargoyles that surround it.

I loved all these things. What I found lacking was the plot itself. The epic-sounding competition to become King's Champion was pretty underwhelming; consisting of a series of tasks that were about as thrilling as the tasks faced by Harry Potter and crew at the end of the Philosopher's Stone - except these are assassins, not 12-year-olds, and I didn't feel the suspense that I expected to feel. I began to hope the action was going to be psychological; surrounding the gruesome murders of the competitors and solving the mystery behind the killer, but this, too, wasn't as engaging as I thought it would be. A lot is solved through dreams and vague mythology, the workings of which I don't think I ever got a feel for. Even juicy court scandals and politics would have been enough to satisfy me, given that the novel takes place almost entirely in the castle, but that, too, felt weak. There was a dash of everything I wanted, but none of it felt developed enough to really hold my attention.

Throne of Glass just didn't come together for me. As I mentioned, a part of this may be because of my own over-hyping, so keep in mind that this review is very circumstantial. Because I was totally engrossed in the novellas, I got a bit caught up in the comparisons game - even the love interests took me a few chapters to warm up to because I still felt loyal to Sam from the novellas. Having said all that, I don't consider a 3.5 a bad rating at all, and I would still absolutely recommend this. I've seen what Maas is capable of, I've loved her stories, and I've already fallen in love the world she's created, so I hope you do too. Will I be reading the sequel? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the excitement I've felt and enjoyed these past few months has dimmed.

Side note: UK or US cover (below)? I seem to be in the minority in that I prefer the US one, though the UK cover is definitely more badass.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Review: Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead + St. Vladimir's Summer School

From TheFakeSteph

It's week 6 of St. Vladimir's Summer School! The assigned reading this week is Last Sacrifice, the final book in the Vampire Academy series. 

St. Vladimir's Summer School is a Vampire Academy read-a-thon started by Steph @ The Fake Steph, Jen @ Jen Ryland/YA Romantics and Jenn @ Owl-Read-It! Be sure to check out their posts. Thanks for letting me join in, and thanks to Grad Student at YA Fiction & Whiskey Sours for bringing this to my attention.


Last Sacrifice wastes no time picking up where Spirit Bound left off, throwing the reader into the prison cell where Rose has been impatiently waiting news of her trial. After a daring and explosive (pun intended) escape initiated by Lissa and the rest of the usual suspects, they are split into two groups, both working against the clock to get answers. While Lissa and the others at court struggle to find Queen Tatiana's murderer and clear Rose's name, Rose and Dimitri chase down a rumor - a rumor of an illegitimate Dragomir child whose existence has the potential to change court life as they know it. 

Following these two plots is made easy by Rose's one-way bond with Lissa, which seemed to start off as a way to build their relationship but has become a pretty useful plot device that Mead has used throughout the series. While the suspense of finding the murderer and the Dragomir child was hampered a bit by the predictability of the plot (that the child would exist and that they would find her was obvious, though I hadn't guessed the identity), Last Sacrifice was just as engaging and easy to read as the previous novels, and I was thoroughly satisfied by its ending. 

And when I refer to 'the ending', I'm pretty much referring to the way things ended between Rose and Adrian. As you may recall, I was a little frustrated by Rose's denial of her feelings in Spirit Bound, and so it should be of no surprise that even though I knew where Rose was coming from, I LOVED seeing Adrian finally let her have it. Adrian seemed to progress as a character in those last few chapters than he did in the entire series, and for the first time I felt like I truly understood him - I understood Rose's comments about him being a 'victim', I understood what she meant by them not balancing each other out, and I understood his anger at her attitude and at himself. It felt like a real conversation between two people, especially because it was free of the excessive snark and banter that makes Rose both entertaining and annoying. 

I can confidently say that I'm glad to have jumped on the Vampire Academy bandwagon, even if I am several years late. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable ride that I feel ended at just the right time, unlike many Young Adult series that I know (Maximum Ride, I'm looking at you). I've grown to love these characters, and I'm SO glad that I've connected to Adrian just in time to start Bloodlines. :) Thanks to everyone who told me to give this a chance! 

I usually do 'lessons learned' as part of Summer School, but because this is the last book in the Vampire Academy series and I was in detention last week, I thought I would do art class instead!

My summary of the first three books (since I haven't reviewed them), in pictures:

Vampire Academy:


Shadow Kiss:

Recognize any scenes? Let me know if you do! (I seriously don't blame you if you don't.)
Though I joined late, I had so much fun doing Summer School and meeting more bloggers! Thanks for letting me join in. Be sure to check out their Summer School posts as well! 

On to Bloodlines! :)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Review: Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead + St. Vladimir's Summer School

From TheFakeSteph

It's Week 5 of St. Vladimir's Summer School, a.k.a Spirit Bound week, and I am definitely in some serious detention because this post is very, very late! Sorry for the delay and general lack of posts; I've been traveling and internet access and reading time have been limited. I'm excited to get back on track and catch up with all the great posts and reviews I've missed!

St. Vladimir's Summer School is a Vampire Academy read-a-thon started by Steph @ The Fake Steph, Jen @ Jen Ryland/YA Romantics and Jenn @ Owl-Read-It! Be sure to check out their posts. Thanks for letting me join in, and thanks to Grad Student at YA Fiction & Whiskey Sours for bringing this to my attention.


Goodreads | Amazon

I've been vacillating between 3 and 4 stars for Spirit Bound. Strictly speaking, I enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed the others - this series is totally the book equivalent of an episode of Buffy: fast-paced, entertaining and featuring a tough, snarky heroine. 

Yet something about Spirit Bound just rubbed me the wrong way. Book 5 begins just as we expect it to - Rose is continuing her quest to free Dimitri and return him to his dhampir form - but it's her newfound relationship with Adrian that I found a bit frustrating. 

Her obsession with saving Dimitri, while understandable, is pretty awkward given the fact that she's agreed to be with Adrian, and this isn't really addressed until the final chapters of the book. While I didn't mind the dilemma itself, the way Rose handled it - or rather, didn't handle it - got a little annoying. The few times she stops to consider Adrian's feelings, she manages to convince herself that she'll somehow be able to keep their relationship alive if Dimitri were to return, when really - who is she kidding? Adrian didn't stand a chance. This wasn't a huge deal for me, and I can see how it fits with Rose's reckless, teenage side, but it did come across as the easy way out to have her be so naïve, and it made her just a tad annoying. 

Having said that, Spirit Bound was just as entertaining as the first four books in the series, and I love that Mead brings back a lot of the secondary characters from the previous books and continues to flesh them out. Rose and the gang have all graduated, and I could definitely feel Mead upping the intensity. The battles are more dangerous and wide-spread, and the petty high school pranks and rivalries of the first few books have given way to political court drama. We get a lot of insight into Moroi court life and its conventions, and get to see the sensitive political dynamics between the royal families. 

Overall, the Vampire Academy series is one of the few I've read that has been consistently entertaining while developing the world and characters, and I can't believe there's only one more book! I'm already halfway through Last Sacrifice because the Spirit Bound cliffhanger was awful, so here's hoping it's a great ending to the series! 

And because this is Summer School, I'm following Steph's lead and imparting some of the lessons I've learned (all in good fun, because I do love VA):

What I learned: Never think that a tiny face mask is enough to hide you at a masked ball, because it NEVER IS.

What I also learned: Stabbing through a cushion is about the same as stabbing through a vampire's chest.

That's it from me this week! Let me know if you have any ideas for detention, because I am unforgivably late! Will try to do something special next week to make up for it, especially since it's the last book.

What have you learned from Vampire Academy? Would love to hear!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (6)

Waiting on Wednesday is a book meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we showcase some of our hotly anticipated releases!


Release date: 9 October 2012
Poppy (Little Brown Books for Young Readers), 320 pgs
How can you talk about something you can’t remember?

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still...), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect... or so she thinks.


Release date: 16 April 2013
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 288 pgs

Seventeen-year-old Meg Fellowes is a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of female spies in Queen Elizabeth’s Court. There she must solve a murder, save the Crown, and resist the one thing that will become her greatest freedom–and her deadliest peril. 

For Meg and her fellow spies are not alone in their pursuit of the murderer who stalks Windsor Castle.

A young, mysterious Spanish courtier, Count Rafe de Martine, appears at every turn in the dark and scandal-filled corridors of the Queen’s summer palace. And though secrets and danger are Meg’s stock-in-trade, she’s never bargained on falling in love…

I'm so excited for these two! Despite the cheesy title MAID OF SECRETS sounds like a really fun read and I love books set in court (any court, any place)! I can't wait to see the cover.

What are you waiting on this week? Link me because I'd love to see!

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