Friday, 29 April 2016

All Fall Down and See How They Run by Ally Carter

All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter
Published February 2015 by Scholastic
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three certain things:1. She is not crazy2. Her mother was murdered3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him payThe thing is, nobody else believes her and there's no-one she can trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.Grace's past has come back to haunt her... and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

I'd never read anything by Ally Carter before, but I'd heard good things about her previous books, so I decided to give her latest series a go, starting with All Fall Down, which I received for review a year ago. It's a book that I probably would have given up on, if the sequel hadn't also arrived for review, and I was a little surprised at what I found by finishing the book.

Grace Blakely is sixteen years old. Her mother died three years ago in what was deemed an accident, but Gracie was there and swears a man with a scarred face shot her. She's received some treatment for this as no one believed her and eventually she was hospitalised. Her father is in the army and her older brother is in training. Grace gets sent to the fictional European country of Adria, and joins her grandfather there where he is the US Ambassador, in the city of Valencia.

I wanted to stop reading because of Grace, I judged her for being irrational, erratic, and for putting herself in danger time and time again. But eventually I softened towards her as she really had been through a lot. There's quite a lot of detail about her PTSD and I think this was well done. Her panic attacks and flashbacks are traumatic and it can't help when everyone thinks she's lying or trying to get attention.

I also loved the friendships that were slowly formed. Grace is slow to trust and she's not good at communicating, but Noah, Megan, and Rosie were wonderful additions to her life. I like that the story poked fun at the spy genre, with Noah reminding them that they're only capable of so much as they're just teens, but also found it realistic that these children, who have spent a lot of time around their important parents, would have picked up some of their talents when it comes to spying and hacking.

While this is not a book I would have chosen to read, I'm glad I finished it and discovered what I would have missed out on if I'd quit when I originally wanted to. It's an interesting exploration of PTSD and how that effects an entire family, as well as the person suffering from it.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy.

See How They Run (Embassy Row #2) by Ally Carter
Published February 2016 by Scholastic Press
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: Some secrets are better left unfound . . . For the past three years, Grace Blakely has been desperate to find out the truth about her mother's murder. She thought it would bring her peace. She thought it would lead her to answers. She thought she could put the past to rest. But the truth has only made her a target. And the past? The only way to put the past to rest is for Grace to kill it once and for all. On Embassy Row, power can make you a victor or a victim, love can turn you into a fool or a fugitive, and family can lead you forward or bury you deep. Trust is a luxury. Death is a very real threat. And a girl like Grace must be very careful about which secrets she brings to light. 

See How They Run is the second book in the Embassy Row trilogy by Ally Carter. Grace is still reeling from discovering the truth about her mother's death, and the attempt on her own life. Her brother, Jamie, arrives to check in on her, and brings along his friend, Spence. When another murder occurs, putting her friends in danger, Grace sets out to find the truth.

As I mentioned in my review of All Fall Down, I find Grace to be a trying character. Despite all the danger and the attempted murder, Grace still manages to act recklessly and continues to keep secrets from those that love her. Part of me can't blame her, she is a teenager, but often in the story Grace's thoughts will show that she knows what she is doing is wrong, but she goes ahead and does it anyway. At least this is realistic, I know people often do things we know we shouldn't, and that's frustrating. But also the people looking after her, her grandfather (mostly absent during the sequel), and Ms Chancellor, don't seem too concerned about her safety, often encouraging her to go outside the embassy, despite the angry protesters and rowdy festival-goers.

I feel like with both books, there's a lot of moving about but not a lot really happens, or is revealed, until the very end. There are some clues planted along the way that had me guessing in sort of the right direction, but the final reveal was a surprise.

Thank you to Scholastic for my review copy.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

To celebrate the release of The Raven King, I'm celebrating with a series of manicures to match The Raven Cycle series. You can see the previous posts here: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue.

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater
Published April 26, 2016
Source: purchased
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love's death. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.

“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”

The Raven King, the final instalment in The Raven Cycle series, is finally here. I can remember finishing The Raven Boys, which I absolutely loved, and wondering where on this series would go, and what would happen when Gansey woke the sleeping Welsh king, Owen Glendower. Despite not feeling as much love for The Dream Thieves or Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I was keen to see how this series would end.

It’s been a week since the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and Gansey, his merry men, and Blue, are still searching for Glendower. But all is not well in Cabeswater, and the group must act quickly if they are to protect it.

I am always happy to return to Henrietta. The small town, and the surrounding rural area, is always such a vivid setting, and it’s always a joy revisiting 300 Fox Way, a location that is just as much a part of the story as the characters.

I missed Blue, her family, and the boys, too. As readers, we’ve been with them for almost a year while on their quest, and time is now speeding up for them. The future weighs heavily on them all, for different reasons; Gansey is facing his predicted death, Ronan wants to quit school, Adam is still contemplating graduating and going far away, and Blue also wants to leave, but her guilt at leaving her family is crushing her need to travel the world.

As well as the regular group, there are other characters playing bigger roles: Gwenllian, Artemus, and my favourite newer addition, Henry Cheng.

Even though The Raven King is the final book, the story never felt rushed, though the momentum did start to pick up towards the end, and I found my heart starting to race. There was a lot trying to happen in this story, and I feel like some of it was left unresolved. There were also two aspects to the ending that felt very anti-climatic after everything the group has been through, one was a surprise, the other more predictable. Despite this, it was, for the most part, a satisfying end to the series.

The Raven Cycle series is clever, imaginative, and magical. It’s a story you’ll want to be a part of because you’ll get to hang out with a great set of characters, join them on their journey, and experience their loyal and true friendship.

I think this is my favourite cover, after The Raven Boys cover, and I enjoyed painting it, too. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Sunkissed and Star Struck by Jenny McLachlan

Sunkissed (The Ladybirds #3) by Jenny McLachlan
Published August 2015 by Bloomsbury
Source: purchased
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Kat can't believe her family are sending her to Sweden for the summer. But without her friends, or even a phone signal, can Kat make it on her own?In a land of saunas, nudity and summer sun, Kat soon realises she has nowhere to hide. It's time to embrace who she really is, underneath what she's been thinking people want her to be. Especially if she's going to win the heart of mega fit Swede Leo! Can Kat find her inner strength and prove she's got what it takes?Kat soon finds that when you're surrounded by phosphorescence and wonder it's easy to sparkle. Or maybe that's what happens when you fall in love . Or maybe you only shine when you're true to yourself. 

Fifteen year old Kat Knightely's parents have had enough with her attitude and always finding herself in trouble, while they head to the USA for a holiday, they're sending her to spend the summer with her Aunt Frida in Sweden. What Kat doesn't realise until she lands in Stockholm, is that she will be spending the summer on an island, Stråla. No phone, no friends, no shopping.

I loved both Flirty Dancing and Love Bomb, the previous two books in Jenny McLachlan's Ladybirds series, but I wasn't as keen to read Kat's book as she hadn't been the nicest girl to Bea and Betty in the past. I'm so glad I gave Sunkissed a chance because Kat's story ended up being one of my favourites.

Kat feels ignored and inferior, never as good as her older sister Britta. Her family enjoys races - triathlons, obstacles courses, you name it, but Kat prefers hanging out with her friends and shopping for clothes. She's absolutely devastated at the thought of not spending the summer with Bea, Betty, and Pearl, especially when she discovers there's no mobile phone service on the island.

Stråla, the fictional island, is based on the Swedish island of Grinda, and the descriptions of it sounded so beautiful. It was clear the author had been there and you can read about it on her blog. It sounded like an idyllic place to spend a summer and I couldn't stop thinking about what it would be like, I even dreamt about it the night I finished the book.

I enjoyed all the Swedish references, from the language, to the food, to the Little Frog Dance, and it was fun to google them all as I read.

Sunkissed is a beautiful summer story that will have you planning a trip to a Swedish island. Kat's summer turns out to be a chance for her to grow and find out who she is alone, as well as what role she plays in her family. It gives her a chance to make new friends, and discover a part of her heritage that she'd long forgotten. It was sweet, romantic, and most of all, fun.

Ableist language: lots and lots of use of the words dumb, dumber, dummy etc

Star Struck (The Ladybirds #4) by Jenny McLachlan
Published March 10, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: In a huge fantastic final hurrah to our lovable heroines - Bea, Betty, Kat and Pearl - Jenny McLachlan's latest book tells Pearl's story. Pearl is the 'bad girl' of the group - she drinks, she smokes, she swears - and she's mean to Bea and Betty. But she did fly halfway round the world to rescue Kat in Sunkissed. If there's one thing Pearl knows deep down, it is how to be a friend. And now, more than ever, she could really use a friend.There will be laughter, there will be tears and there will definitely be kissing. Most importantly, Pearl will be keeping it fierce!

Fifteen year old Pearl Harris lives with her mum, and older brother, Alfie. Her dad left and now has another family. Pearl loves musicals and has been taking in part in them at school since Year 7. When new girl, Hoshi, arrives and ruins her chance at a lead role, Pearl decides to ruin Hoshi's life in return.
Out of all the girls in Jenny McLachlan's Ladybird series, Pearl was the one I least liked. She's been horrible all the way through, until we got a glimpse of what a good friend she could be in Sunkissed. Star Stuck, the final book in the series, is our chance to see the real Pearl.

What we find out is that Pearl's home life is awful and only getting worse. Alfie has an explosive and unpredictable temper, sometimes he's joking around and within in instant, he turns violent. To make it worse, her mother often laughs it off, blames Pearl, or ignores what's going on altogether. The one solace she has at home, are her fish. She loves her tropical fish and takes a lot of pride and care with their environments. She has to keep her room locked just so Alfie can't come in and ruin her hideaway.

While none of that is an excuse for being a bully, it sheds light on why Pearl has treated the other girls poorly in the past, something she's trying to make up for now, by hanging out with Bea and Betty and trying her hardest not to tease them. Instead she sets her sights on Hoshi because of her jealousy.

Star Struck is a really beautiful story of friendship and forgiveness, and while the scenes in Pearl's home made me feel sad and scared for her, the friends she has made me hopeful and happy. This series has been a lot of fun and I can't wait to see what Jenny McLachlan writes next!

Ableist language: dumb, dumbass, midget, plus Pearl and Tiann seemed racist when discussing Hoshi, though later Pearl tells Tiann off.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my ARC via Netgalley.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

To celebrate the release of The Raven King, I've been painting a series of nails to match The Raven Cycle series. You can find Part 1 (The Raven Boys) here, and Part 2 (The Dream Thieves) here.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3) by Maggie Stiefvater
Published October 2014 by Scholasti
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost. Friends can betray. Mothers can disappear. Visions can mislead. Certainties can unravel. 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue picks up over a month after the end of The Dream Thieves. Blue is missing Maura, Adam is learning from Persephone, Ronan is trying to work some magic, and Gansey is, as always, searching and planning. I had  issues with book two, and while I still didn't find this book had the momentum of The Raven Boys, I enjoyed it a lot more than the sequel.

It was great to be back with Blue and the boys, though the story was slow, and it took me over a month to read this, which is really odd for me. But, the pace picked up towards the end and I think there's a lot of momentum to lead on with in the final book, The Raven King.

Thank you to Scholastic for my copy.

I started with a base of white nail polish and used acrylic paint for the details.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

In celebration of the upcoming release of The Raven King, I'm celebrating with a series of nails to match The Raven Cycle series. You can check out Part 1, The Raven Boys, here.

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
Published: September 2013 by Scholastic
Source: the publisher
Rating: originally 2 stars, on second reading 3 stars

From the blurb: Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.And sometimes he's not the only one who wants those things.Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan's secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

I first read The Dream Thieves two and a half years ago after picking up an ARC at BEA. I was so excited for it because I loved The Raven Boys and was keen to see where the series would go. Perhaps it had been too long since I read book one, but I didn't like this nearly as much as I thought. I found it a real chore to get through, it was slow, and I didn't care for the direction the story was going in.

Fast forward to November of last year, I decided it was time to finally read Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but first I would re-read book one and two. I loved reading The Raven Boys just as much as the first time, but I still struggled with The Dream Thieves, though I did enjoy it a bit more. It was great to find out more about the Lynch family and Ronan's abilities, but I found the character of Kavinsky irritating and his story line made me lose interest.

The Gray Man's story was enough to win me back over, as was Adam's, and I'm glad I gave the book another go.

Thank you to Scholastic for my copy.

I did nails to match the cover on the day the ARC was released at BEA, you can see them here. This time I again started with a white base but used acrylic paint for Ronan and the ravens.

Monday, 18 April 2016

As Stars Fall by Christie Nieman

As Stars Fall by Christie Nieman
Published 2014 by Pan Macmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Robin is a self-confessed bird-nerd from the country, living in the city. On the first day at her new school, she meets Delia. Delia is freaky and definitely not good for Robin's image.Seth, Delia's brother, has given up school to prowl the city streets. He is angry at everything, especially the fire that killed his mother.When a rare and endangered bird turns up in the city parklands, the lives of Robin, Seth and Delia become fatefully and dangerously intertwined ...
As Stars Fall is Christie Nieman's debut novel, set in Melbourne and the fictional rural town of Murramunda. The opening scene involving a bush fire and the death of a woman was haunting, especially as seen from the eyes of a Bush Stone-curlew, a rare native Australian bird. I knew from that moment that I was in for a moving and beautiful story.

Robin is struggling with the move to the city, but she doesn't want to upset her mum after her father's betrayal. Delia and Seth are both dealing with their mother's death in different ways. Delia finds herself wanting to scientifically investigate the appearance of a bird nearby, a bird that haunts her sleep at night, sure that the bird is one of a pair her mother was studying before she died. Seth withdraws from the world, quitting school and spending his days smoking and getting stoned, and soon finds himself similarly haunted, but in his case by Robin's arrival.

The references to different birds and their behaviour was vividly described and it's clear that Christie herself is someone who has spent a lot of time watching birds. I enjoyed looking up all the different species, as well as their unique calls. As I'm writing this I can hear cockatoos, noisy minors, and lorikeets. We have a pair of lapwings in our area and I immediately thought of them because of their similar build and their funny alarm-like call. When I used to go running really early in the morning one of my favourite things was getting to see all the different birds and animals, and listening to the birds above me as I ran.

We're so lucky to have such amazing wildlife in Australia and this book really highlighted the need for us to pay more attention to caring for these animals, rather than destroying their habitat. This was conveyed through the passionate and thoughtful writing that Selina, Delia and Seth's mum, left behind. This aspect of the story really spoke to my vegan heart.

The characters and the location all felt completely real to me and I was intrigued as to how the characters lives would intertwine. It was lovely to watch Delia and Robin become friends, and it was equally sad to watch Seth struggle on his own. There was an undercurrent of urgency throughout the story, left over from the opening scene. I could feel the ending building and thought it was well resolved. It was heart wrenching, it made me cry, and I have to say I feel a little depressed, but there's a faint tinge of hopefulness too.

As Stars Fall is a gorgeously written novel that captures the essence of the Australian bush, and shows how friendship can help to heal grief and loss. I can't believe I've had this on my shelf for two years, unaware of what a gem this book is, I can't recommend it enough.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King is coming! So, I thought I'd do a series of manicures to march the covers of the The Raven Cycle series, starting with The Raven Boys. Here's my review from 2012:

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
Published 2012 by Scholastic
Source: the publisher + purchased a copy
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them--until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.
His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can't entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn't believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.

I loved this book! I read the first two chapters when they were released online back in April and ever since then I’d been waiting to read the rest. Like many readers, I thought this book was going to be purely about Blue's fears of kissing and therefore killing her true love, but there was so much more to this story and it all worked together well.

I liked Blue from the beginning – she’s intelligent, creative and kind. She’s had to grow up surrounded by women with physic abilities yet she always feels a bit left out as she’s the only one who cannot see the future. And as for the boys, I loved all four of them. Gansey because he’s so sure of himself (most of the time), Adam for being so sweet and proud, Noah for being so quiet and enthralled by Blue, and Ronan, though it took me some time to warm to him. These boys have such an amazing bond and watching Blue get to know them was heart warming. Despite being a close group, Maggie managed to create a bunch of wonderful and distinguishable characters.

I found the pacing perfect, I was immediately intrigued by Blue’s true love problem as well as Gansey’s need to find the ley line and Glendower. The setting was so vivid, I could picture the town, their homes, and the countryside so clearly.

I really can’t fault this book, though I do have many unanswered questions due to the events of the ending, but it’s not enough to reduce my love of this book.

The Raven Boys is an intriguing blend of contemporary fiction with a paranormal and historical element, filled with unique and lovable characters. I now want to rush off and join Blue and boys on the rest of their adventure.

Thanks to the fantastic people at Scholastic Australia for my review copy.

The covers for this series are beautiful and Scholastic should win an award for being a publisher that sticks with the cover design theme for the entire series, well done, guys!

I used a base of white nail polish and acrylic paint for the ravens.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

When We Collided by Emery Lord

When We Collided by Emery Lord
Published April 5, 2015 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Meet Vivi and Jonah: A girl and a boy whose love has the power save or destroy them.Vivi and Jonah couldn't be more different. Vivi craves anything joyful or beautiful that life can offer. Jonah has been burdened by responsibility for his family ever since his father died. As summer begins, Jonah resigns himself to another season of getting by. Then Vivi arrives, and suddenly life seems brighter and better. Jonah is the perfect project for Vivi, and things finally feel right for Jonah. Their love is the answer to everything. But soon Vivi's zest for life falters, as her adventurousness becomes true danger-seeking. Jonah tries to keep her safe, but there's something important Vivi hasn't told him.

I love the cover of When We Collided by Emery Lord, and in a way the characters are like the cover, they'll jump out at you and stick with you throughout the story, as well as afterwards.

This applies to Vivi in particular, she is bright, bubbly, vivacious, and demands your attention. She's come to Verona Cove for the summer with her artist mother. She's left behind what happened in Seattle, including her best friends Ruby and Amala, but she's not going to think about them. She's going to enjoy her summer and is already in love with the small beach side town. She's making her mark, carving or writing "Vivi was here" wherever she goes and has already acquired a job at the local pottery and art shop. It's here she meets Jonah and his little sister Leah.

Jonah doesn't quite leap off the page, but he is just as engaging. His father, former chef, died of a heart attack and while their mother deals with depression, he and his older brother and sister look after their three younger siblings. Vivi brings a much needed injection of fun and spontaneity into all their lives, and Jonah gives Vivi a distraction.

The pacing in this story was perfect, Vivi is dealing with the discovery that she has bi polar disorder and has stopped taking some of her medication. The speed of her story gains momentum quickly as she becomes more manic each day. Her emotions were palpable, I could feel her sense of exhilaration and urgency and it only made her more real.

Jonah's side of the story is more steady but his fear of the future and his sense of hopelessness made it easy to empathise with the feeling that his life was slipping away and out of his control.

When We Collided is such a beautiful love story, and a realistic look at how people deal with different aspects of mental illness, whether personally or as a family member or friend. The ending was perfect to me, sad and sweet, but realistic too.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my review copy via Netgalley.

This is such an eye-catching cover and perfectly suits the story. I used white nail polish for the base and acrylic paint for the paint streaks and splotches.