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Meyer, Marissa: Scarlet

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Scarlet (2013)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale Retelling, Young Adult
Pages: 452 (hardcover)
Series: Lunar Chronicles #2

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: I didn't love Marissa Mayer's debut Cinder (which was released last year), but I did think it was a lot of fun (you can read my review here). It was great brain candy and I was looking forward to its sequel to see where the story would go. My wonderful friend Avery from Avery's Book Nook received an ARC of this from the publisher and was nice enough to pass it along to me. :)

This follow-up to last year's Cinder was a great, fun, everything-I-was-expecting-and-a-little-more, read. It was pure brain-candy like its predecessor, but that's what I was expecting, so the book was everything that I was hoping and wanting to be there, but it also offered a little more, for which I was obviously happy about. (By the way, this review will be spoiler-less for Scarlet, but does have a fairly big spoiler for Cinder, so read with caution!)

First off, where Cinder was purely from Cinder's POV, this book broadens its scope: we have chapters from Cinder's POV, but also from Scarlet Benoit (our Red Riding Hood parallel) and Prince Kai's as well. The only downside to this is that sometimes we have to take breaks from one characer's POV to jump to another, so if you become especially invested in any one character, this may potentially be frustrated. I, personally, really enjoyed this setup as it kept the pacing quick and steady; everything clipped at a good pace and this kept the pages turning. I was equally invested in all the storylines as well, so this obviously helped. The mystery of the whereabouts of Scarlet's grandmère kept me engaged in that storyline, as well as trying to figure out where Wolf's loyalties really lie; I loved the introduction of new-character Carswell Thorne in Cinder's story as he was a good dose of humour which helped even the tone of the novel; and getting inside the mind of the seemingly perfect Prince Kai added extra dimension to him that was absent in Cinder. It could be argued that there's a little too much going on here, to which I would agree, to a degree -- I think Meyer's bitten off a little more than she can chew, but it was still nice to see her expanding the universe she's created and

Once again, romance is one of the major elements of the plot, and this is where the book has me a little conflicted. On the one hand, I definitely got some warm fuzzy feelings, especially during one particular scene between Scarlet and Wolf. BUT, the time it takes for their relationship to escalate to this level is a little fast, especially when you consider that Scarlet is very mistrustful of Wolf to begin with. Perhaps if their feelings hadn't crescendoed so quickly I'd be more accepting, but as it stands, this aspect left me with a feeling of frustration due to the hastiness of it.

The characters on their own were quite great. Scarlet is a gun-toting badass but avoids all the common annoying tropes that often happen with those kinds of character; Wolf definitely has hints of the "bad boy" to him and he's literally an Alpha male, but he's never THAT kind of alpha male; I've already mentioned Carswell, but he was easily my favourite character (I love those smartass, flirty characters); Cinder is just as capable as she was in her debut, but now she's struggling with her new Lunar powers and still not wholly accepting of the fact that she's of royal blood; I've also already mentioned Kai, but it bears repeating that he's given a little more depth and dimension in this installment than when we saw solely through Cinder's eyes.

Final Verdict: Overall, I enjoyed this book more than the first in the series. We have more characters, and while it can a little unwieldy at times, it was a format that worked well for me because it kept the pacing quick and made the pages fly. I loved the introduction of the new characters (mostly Carswell), and others from the first book were more fleshed out here (especially Kai) due to the use of alternating POVs. I was also equally invested in all three concurrent storylines, so I was never frustrated with having to switch to different characters chapter to chapter. My only hitch was the romance; I can't deny that it made me swoon a bit, but the time it took for the intense feelings to develop felt too rushed to me -- I'm much more of a slow-burn kind of gal, so this put of me off a bit. But the fact that it still made me feel kind of tingly and excited despite this should be indicative of the strength of Meyer's developing the relationship, even if it was a little quick. I definitely recommend this, especially if you were a fan of the first book Cinder and/or are just looking for something that's a lot of fun. If you were a little unsure about it, this book may change your mind.

LIS 9318: The "Slice of Life" Story

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Following from my last post, I'm going to be doing another recap of books I had to read for school. LIS 9318 is "Exploring and Understanding Comics in Libraries" and our third week required us to read four titles that were focused on stories that dealt with the everyday. Our required readings were: Contract With God by Will Eisner, Locas (vol. 1) by Jaime Hernandez, Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and Essex County (vol 1-3) by Jeff Lemire. I was unable to locate a copy of Locas, but I managed to read everything else.

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The Complete Essex County (2009)
Author: Jeff Lemire
Illustrator: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 512
Series: Essex County vol. 1-3

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Before diving into my review/reaction, I want to share a little something with you guys. Did you all know that this book was a finalist for Canada Reads? If you're unfamiliar with CR (which you probably are if you're not Canadian), here's an explanation from their website: "Launched in 2001, Canada Reads is CBC's annual battle of the books, where five Canadian personalities each select a book they want Canadians to read. They defend their chosen title in a series of debates, and the books are eliminated one by one until a winner is declared. The debates air on CBC Radio One, CBC-TV and are livestreamed online through CBC Books." The Complete Essex County was one of the finalists in 2009, but when it came to the debates, it got ripped to shreds by the judges of the debates; they couldn't believe that a comic book (the horror!) would be seriously considered and they refused to acknowledge it as real literature. When the first round of voting rolled around, Essex County was the first title to go. I can't even begin to tell you how much this pisses me off. I don't care that it lost, but I was enraged at how summarily it was dismissed due to its format. I just -- I can't -- ARRGG. Stupid assholes. (Note: I've just read on Wikipedia that Essex County went on to win the "People's Choice" poll of the competition with more votes than all the other books combined. VINDICATION.)

Anyway.

If my above indignation is any indication, I loved this comic. This edition collects all three volumes of the Essex County series, a collection of three separate, but interconnected stories chronicling the lives of three families in Southern Ontario. The experience of living in urban and rural settings is explored and the themes of isolation and loneliness are especially scrutinized, along with the strengths and tribulations of family ties. I wish I could say more, but to talk about everything would say too much and this is one you really need to go into without knowing a lot. I think that it's place in the Canadian Literary Canon is well-deserved (and if it's not now, it will be), and even though it speaks so much to the Canadian experience, I think people from elsewhere will still find a lot of like here (I have a very good friend who is American and he enjoys this title quite bit). If you're looking for a light uplifting read, you won't find it here; these stories are sad and left me completely gutted, but not in an exploitative or manipulative way -- they resonated with me in a way that I haven't felt in a long while.

The artwork initially turned me off, but the more I read it, the more I felt it complemented the story being told and I grew to love it. The stark black and white images fit the themes and the storytelling, and recurring images such as the crow add a gravitas to the story. Lemire is also quite masterful at transitioning from one scene to the next, especially when there's a time-lapse involved. The use of gray colouring for the flashbacks also added another layer to the atmosphere. However, I did have trouble differentiating characters from one another at first (a lot of the characters are related, so many of them resemble one another) and this was very confusing at times. If one takes time with the story and takes care to learn the names and faces, it's easy enough to adjust.

Readers who enjoy intense family sagas will find a lot to enjoy here, and for anyone wanting to read graphic novels that don't involve superheroes should take a gander at this as well. The Complete edition that I've read also includes a bonus short story that's not available anywhere else, and also has some bonus artwork as well, so I recommend reading the collection in this format. I can't recommend this series enough, and I'll certainly be seeking out more of Lemire's work in the future.

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Skim (2008)
Author: Mariko Tamaki
Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Pages: 140 (hardcover)
Series: Stand Alone

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

This story, similarily to Essex County, is a sad one. Where it differs though is this is a much more quiet, subdued kind of sadness. Where Essex County spanned generations, this story encompasses the life of a single person in the span of a couple of months. Kimberly, like most teens, is cynical and lonely. Not really having any place to belong, she involves herself in Wiccan culture and finds herself falling in love with her hippie English teacher.

The story sensitively explores grief and I liked how it demonstrates the ways North Americans typically face grief, and how there are "expectations" about how people should grieve. The girls at Skim's school are the physical emobidements of these expectations and they force them on all the students in the school and on the girl who was previously dating the boy who died. I loved how Tamaki dealt with this issue, and dealt with it in a way that was so real, and felt authentic to not only the teen experience, but to how people deal with grief in general.

Of course, Skim's personal journey of finding herself also takes front-and-center and I'm sure almost anyone could relate to her. Anyone who's felt displaced, or like they're experiencing a transitional stage in their lives and are stuck in the limbo between two phases will be able to identify with Kim's experience, even if only marginally. Growing apart from friends, finding our niches in what we like, experiencing first-love; these are all things were likely to experience in our formative years and Tamaki presents them to readers in the same quiet, subdued way that grief transpires the story. It's quiet and avoids melodrama, but it's still very present and has impact. I also want to point out that I love how Kim's sexual orientation was dealt with; instead of making a fanfare about it, or dwelling too much on the fact that she's in love with another woman, the focus remains on the Kim's feelings of first-love, the nervousness and excitement that accompanies it and the crushing blow that's felt when it doesn't work out. It's presented as normal, as it should be, instead of focusing on any kind of "otherness."

The art style is different than your typical graphic novel. It's done in broad brushstrokes and ink, which while not always the most visually appealing (to me) was still original. Even if the style wasn't completely to my taste, there were still things to appreciate, most notably for me, the use of negative space and how it mirrors the sense of emptiness and isolation that Kimberly experiences (I especially enjoyed the winter scenes.)

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A Contract With God (1978)
Author: Will Eisner
Illustrator: Will Eisner
Publisher: Kitchen Sink Press
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction
Pages: 196 (trade paperback)
Series: Contract With God Trilogy #1

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

This title is a lot harder for me to review/describe my reaction to. Even though I've never read any of Eisner's work before, I am familiar with his name, and I knew that this title in particular is considered a seminal work in the graphic novel medium. While I certainly appreciated this title and can see why it has cemented Eisner as such an important figure in the world of graphic novels, I didn't connect to it on any emotional level.

Like the other titles I've explored in this post, Contract With God is a down-to-earth look at the lives of people living in an area of New York. Eisner explores the psychology of these people, and often the darker side of humanity is put under a lens. Actually, I was surprised at HOW dark some of these stories were -- the art style was a lot more reminscient of comic strips found in the Sunday Funnies than of the comics I've become used to reading. And when I say dark, I'm talking really heavy stuff here: adultery, pedophilia, lots of sex, cheating and lying -- Eisner holds nothing back. These are bad people living in worse circumstances and nobody comes out unscathed.

As I mentioned, the artstyle reminded me of the sort of thing you would find in serial comic series found in newspapers (and I'm fairly sure that Eisner's The Spirit was published as such, so maybe that's why), which brought with it all kinds of expectations that Eisner obliterated. Eisner is most well-known for exploring different ways the graphic novel format could be utilized, often employing unconventional panel layouts and font placements etc., and this can be seen in this work as well. He often foregoes using panels all together, letting the action of one scene spill into the other, the text bubble of one character overlap on the scene of another, really accenting the hustle and bustle of city life, and the claustrophobia that can accompany it.

Overall, I'm not sure if this would be a good place for people who are new to graphic novels to start, but anyone who is fairly immersed in the format and would like to become more familiar with seminal works should definitely check this out.

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LIS 9364: YA Firsts

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Today I'm going to be doing something a little different. See, part of the reason I have such a huge review backlog is I've been doing a lot of reading for school. I have a class on YA Materials in libraries (LIS 9364), and one on understanding graphic novels in library collections (9318). Both of them are fairly reading-heavy (YA consists of about 3-5 titles to read on any given week and GNs can be 3-8 volumes) and take up a lot of my time as of late. Instead of reviewing everything I've read for these classes individually, I think I'm going to review all the titles I was assigned on any given week. Each week has a sort of theme, so all the titles will go together nicely.

So, the first group of novels I had to read were novels that were considered YA Firsts. We had three titles to read that week: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Hold Fast by Kevin Major. I was unable to get to the last title on the list because it wasn't available at my local library (and sorry, but I don't have the cash to throw away on books I may not even enjoy), but I was able to get to the first two, which was slightly unfortunate because they were actually re-reads. However, it had been quite a long time since I had read them, so it was still nice to revisit them and see how my opinions and reactions to them changed.

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The Outsiders (1967)
Author: S.E. Hinton
Publisher: Speak
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 180 (mass market paperback)
Series: Stand Alone

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

This novel was written when the author, S.E. Hinton, was still in high school. I think she began writing it when she was fifteen and finally made it to publication when she was around eighteen. While I know that adults are capable of writing from a teen perspective (they were teenagers once too after all), having this "insider" look from Hinton during her teen years really shows in her prose. I can only imagine what it was like for teenagers in the late 1960s opening this novel and reading something that must have felt so authentic -- it should be understood that before this book was published, the term "Young Adult" still didn't really exist, and most recommended reading lists for teens were actually comprised of adult titles -- this must've been a breath of fresh air.

In the vein of typical YA, this is a coming-of-age story, as Ponyboy grows up and learns a lot of Life Lessons. Ponyboy is interesting character to me because he lives in very harsh circumstances, but he still has an air of innocence to him. He's familiar with his friends being beaten up by Socs and he's aware that the social divide between Greasers and Socs is deeply rooted in classism, but he's still incredibly sweet despite living in these less-than ideal circumstances. What makes him especially likable is his ability to see most things objectively; he knows that his brothers friends are not the nicest people, and he knows that not all Socs are jerks, and watching him grow and further open his mind to the world around him keeps him real and makes his emotional journey all the more impactful (ie. his realization that Socs are human beings too who must live with their own sets of problems and prejudices -- that was powerful stuff.)

It's just a really great book that holds up so well to the test of time. I'm not at all surprised that this is a classic and I think it will remain so for a good long while.

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The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Author: J.D. Salinger
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction
Pages: 224 (pocket paperback)
Series: Stand Alone

Summary (from Worldcat.org)Collapse )

Among my colleagues, this book had a much more mixed reaction (as opposed to The Outsiders which was generally positive.) Most couldn't relate to Holden's narrative voice, but I personally think this is okay. Holden's a miserable bastard and if you could relate to him, chances are you're pretty miserable too. I know a lot of teens (at least, in my experience) like this book because they idolize Holden's cynicism and feel like they're being weighed down by a world populated by "phonies", I think they also, whether consciously or not, also relate to the fear that paralyzes Holden: the fear of growing up; of being burdened with more and higher expectations; of being expected to know what to want to do with your life. Seriously, what teen has never experienced this before?

And what also makes this book so great, to me, is that it doesn't go about extrapolating these issues in a ho-hum, "issues" book kind of way. Whether you you appreciate the plot of the novel or not, it's hard to deny how good the writing is. Salinger clearly knew his craft and so many bits of this novel could be scrutinized and picked apart. Holden's voice is of especial interest to me -- his contradictions, his vernacular, his scattered, borderline ADD thought-patterns -- are expertly written and support so many of the themes running through the novel, but are still accessible to teens who may not want to pick it apart and dissect a la English Honours class. I'm surprised that this is still marketed exclusively as an adult title (at least, I've only ever seen it shelved in the "adult" sections of libraries and bookstores) when there is obviously so much potential teen appeal here. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's got a lot going on and demonstrates that YA Fiction can be elevated above the low-brow standards that (sadly) many still attribute to the demographic.

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Beth Durst, Sarah: Vessel

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Vessel (2012)
Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 424 (hardcover)
Series: Stand Alone

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: The gorgeous cover caught my eye when it was initially revealed. Then the great reviews started pouring in and I was intrigued enough to buy it.

REVIEW: no spoilersCollapse )

Final Verdict: I'm already 99% sure this is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2013 despite how early in the year it still is. This was one of the most original Fantasy novels I've read in awhile, from the setting (arid, harsh desert), to the lore (gods using humans as physical vessels), I loved absolutely everything about this. It was all well developed and Durst managed to cover all her bases despite this being a stand-alone (something you don't see in Fantasy, especially of the more Epic variety like this, very often.) The characters were as equally developed as the world and I found myself loving them all, even when they weren't the most likable people. The ending is epic and I am in awe at how Durst was able to bring everything together so well. Needless to say, I'm going to be checking out more of Durst's work and I highly recommend this 2012 title.
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The Indignation of Haruhi Suzumiya (2012)
Author: Nagaru Tanigawa
Translator: Chris Pai
Illustrator: Noizi Ito
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Genre: Science Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 212 (trade paperback)
Series: Haruhi Suzumiya #8

Summary (from goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: This series really is so mediocre. But I love the anime and there's been no word of a new season and/or movie, so these keep me satiated in the meantime.

REVIEW: no spoilersCollapse )

Final Verdict: This volume in the series only has two short stories, but they both are extremely mediocre. They don't anything to any of the over-arching plots in the story, nor they do add any character development. The stories are uneventful and largely forgettable. If you're not a hardcore fan of the series, I'd consider skipping this volume altogether.

Priest, Cherie: The Inexplicables

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The Inexplicables (2012)
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Science-Fiction / Steampunk / Alternative History / Horror
Pages: 366 (trade paperback)
Series: Clockwork Century #5

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: I think this series a ton of fun. I was all caught up at the end of September (I even got my hands on Clementine), so I bought this almost as soon as it came out. Too bad it took me until 2013 to read it though.

REVIEW: no spoilersCollapse )

Final Verdict: This isn't my favourite installment in the Clockwork Century series, but there's enough here for long-time fans of the series to enjoy. I, for one, was quite excited to be back in Seattle and to return to many of the characters that have featured prominently in preceding volumes in the series (though mileage may vary there.) What I wasn't so fond of was Rector's voice; I largely found him to be a grating and annoying character, but this is purely a personal thing. His reasons and motivations for behaving the ways he does is sound with his characterization and history (and frankly, understandable), but for me personally, it was difficult being stuck in the head of such a character. Overall though, this is a solid novel and was a lot of fun. I look forward to Fiddlehead, which is due for release in November of this year.

Favourites of 2012

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I'm sort of late on this post; the truth of the matter is that I suck at school and still -- even after six months -- can't seem to find a happy balance between school, reading and blogging. Doesn't help that I messed up my wrist a few weeks ago after I fell down a flight of stairs, so typing for any length of time has been a pain (literally.) ANYWAY, I have a week off school, so some catching up is in order.

Before jumping into my favourites, I want to look at a few stats. In 2012, I read 147 books. 23 of those were graphic novels and manga and 2 were DNFs, meaning 122 of my reads were novels. My goal was to read 100, so I'm more than happy with what I've accomplished this year. :)

Also, a note on this list. This is NOT a top ten. I'm lazy and couldn't be bothered to list my favourites of this year. So I'm just going to highlight the books I *really* loved and be done with it. These will have blurbs from my reviews as to why I liked them. I will have honourable mentions as well though -- these will be books that I really enjoyed but that just didn't quite make the cut. These won't have segments of my review, but they will be linked to them if you're curious and want to read what I thought of them.

So, onto the favourites!!







Favourite Reads of 2012Collapse )

Honourable Mentions of 2012Collapse )

So that's it!! I obviously had a pretty good reading year in 2012; here's hoping the same can be said for 2013 (I've already three new reads that have earned 5-stars on goodreads, so it's looking promising so far.) I've already read 40 books this year, but about about 60% of them are graphic novels (one of my classes this semester is on integrating graphic novels into library collections -- it's awesome), so I have a lot of catching up to do review-wise. Expect to see a lot of posts in the next couple of of months (or not, because I suck at school.)

Almost all of the blogs I follow have already posted their Best Of lists so I've already seen them, but if you want, link me to your list and I'll be more than happy to check it out. :) 

Alexander, William: Goblin Secrets

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Goblin Secrets (2012)
Author: William Alexander
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 240 (hardcover)
Series: Zombay #1

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: I didn't even know of this book's existence until The National Book Award announced their shortlist a few months ago. Then, the book went and won the whole thing, so my curiosity couldn't help but be piqued. So, I signed it out of the library and read it all in one day.

REVIEW: no spoilersCollapse )

Final Verdict: There's nothing horrible about this book, but when I finished, all I could think was "That's it?" and "How did this win the National Book Award?" Not the best feelings to have when finishing up a book. The world-building, while it had a lot of cool ideas, never felt fully fleshed out to me, and was composed of many disparate parts that I never knew how to put together. Also, many of these elements never felt like they added anything to the world or story, which made for a muddled and sometimes confusing world. The characters also had inklings of good ideas in them, but there wasn't enough page-time to develop the goblins, and Rownie didn't have enough personality for me to care about him or be invested in his quest. I plan on reading the other NBA 2012 nominations, so it'll be interesting to see how they compare to this title (especially since none of them are Fantasy.)

Stiefvater, Maggie: The Raven Boys

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The Raven Boys (2012)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fantasy, Paranormal/Supernatural
Pages: 409 (hardcover)
Series: Raven Cycle #1

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: I really enjoyed Stiefvater's 2011 novel The Scorpio Races, so I was more than willing to give this book a chance. Honestly, the premise didn't do too much for me, but Scorpio was so good I was willing to put that aside.

REVIEW: no spoilersCollapse )

Final Verdict: This offering from Stiefvater isn't nearly as strong as The Scorpio Races, but it still exceeded my expectations -- I was expecting some insta-lurve and other annoying things, but instead I got an original paranormal/supernatural book about dead kings and ghosts with very little focus on romance at all. There was much more focus on the titular Raven Boys and their relationships with one another, which I thought were very well presented and developed. It felt very genuine and true to life and was easily my favourite aspect of the novel. I did, however, find the plot lacking in some regards -- it was very slow-moving at times, though it did pick up considerably by the end. There was enough for me to like here that I will be picking up the next book in the series, but this title won't be making my favourites list any time soon. I do still recommend it with the above reservations if you're looking for YA with paranormal elements that isn't focused on romance, as the plot is quite original (despite its slower pace), and the interpersonal relationships are fantastically executed.
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The Assassin's Curse (2012)
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 320 (trade paperback)
Series: The Assassin's Curse #1

Summary (from Goodreads.com)Collapse )

Why I Read It: I love love the cover of this book. The swirly font, pretty shade of blue, and the little pirate ship silhouette had me hooked. Then reviews started coming in and they were all generally positive. In Nov-Dec, I had a HUGE craving to read this book, but didn't really feel like doling money out for it. But the library city system in the city I live in didn't have it, nor did they have any copies on order (*SOB*), but then I went home for Christmas and the considerably smaller library system DID have it recently added to their collection! SUCCESS!!! So I promptly signed it out and devoured it.

REVIEW: no spoilersCollapse )

Final Verdict: I had some small nitpicks with this novel (the main character's name, some choices about the character's use of swear words which felt out of place to me) but overall it was a helluva lot of fun and did a lot of things well (notably, first-person narration of the female MC was my favourite aspect -- very well realized and distinct.) It's not mind-blowingly spectacular, nor is it a book that's going to change my life or anything, but I enjoyed it for what it was and I would be more than happy to read the sequel, The Pirate's Wish, which is slated for release later this year.

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