Blog Tour Stop! Review, Top 5, and Giveaway: No Angel by Helen Keeble


No AngelGood morning! Enjoy my review, Helen’s five favorite things about writing No Angel, and a giveaway courtesy of this Xpresso Reads blog tour stop.

Title: No Angel

Author: Helen Keeble

Genre: Comedy, YA Paranormal, Angels

Publication Date: October 8, 2013 (HarperTeen)

Source: ARC for review from the author

Synopsis: Rafael Angelos just got handed the greatest gift any teenage boy could ever dream of. Upon arriving at his new boarding school for senior year, he discovered that he is the ONLY male student. But what should have been a godsend isn’t exactly heaven on Earth.

Raffi’s about to learn that St. Mary’s is actually a hub for demons-and that he was summoned to the school by someone expecting him to save the day. Raffi knows he’s no angel-but it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s some higher plan at work when he wakes up one morning to discover a glowing circle around his head.

Helen Keeble’s debut novel, Fang Girl, has been praised for its pitch-perfect teen voice, and VOYA called it “refreshing and reminiscent of Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series.” No Angel brings you angels and demons like you’ve never seen them-complete with the wry humor of Vladimir Tod, sinfully irreverent romance, and some hilariously demonic teenage dilemmas.

4/5 stars – A funnier take on angels than most, though the mythology can be baffling

Angels are bad for me. With maybe one or two exceptions, books that center on Judeo-Christian angel mythology usually kill me, but c’mon! Helen Keeble! How much I enjoyed Fang Girl + lovely author = I’m a sucker.

Rafael is kind of a douchebag, but it works because how douchey he can be never overpowers his personality. He’s got a good heart beneath the spot-on snark and when he gets too far out of line, there’s always someone ready to smack him in the back of the head and set him straight (usually Krystal or Faith). Seeing as he didn’t think very deeply into why students were being given guns and told to go to a shooting range when they got in trouble during one class, it’s also evident he has an Idiot Ball permanently glued to himself.

If you did a double take at the gun thing, don’t worry because I did too. I promise there’s a good explanation for it. It may not explain how parents never question a gun range and guns being on a prep school campus, but it explains why it’s there in the first place.

For the most part, the novel is slowly plotted, but it rarely feels as slow as it technically is. When the plot isn’t around to move us forward, Raf finds himself growing new appendages or discovering he has a lot more eyeballs than the average human being should. His research into this and incidents related to it all is what keeps us going in the meantime. When the plot does kick in, it becomes clear nothing is as it seems. There are enough twists and turns that everything we thought we knew at the beginning of No Angel is pretty much out the window by the end. And I mean everything.

There are just as many twists that make the novel’s mythology difficult to digest, sadly. I think of pentagrams (upside-down star in a circle) and pentacles (right-side-up star in a circle) as two different things. In No Angel, they are called the same thing. This is technically correct, but thanks to how I associate pentagrams with “evil” and pentacles with “good,” it seems a little strange to me that a pentagram was used to summon a guardian angel AND bring forth demons. And that makes sense to Raf, who has already been demonstrated to be a little brainless. A later reveal also makes the powers Raf comes into that much more confusing, It’s impossible to go into details because it’s a major spoiler, but the point in question doesn’t feel fully explained.

Then we come to what might be the most relieving element: the very low-key role romance plays. It seems like it plays a much stronger role when Raf meets Faith and starts to crush on her hardcore, but like I said, nothing is as it seems here. Believe it or not, it takes until the last page for Raf to take the first explicit step toward a romance with another character that has nothing to do with his angelic duties.

So all in all, anyone who enjoyed the way Keeble subverted, parodied, and generally poked tired tropes with fun results in Fang Girl will surely enjoy No Angel just as much. At this point, she could write just about anything and I would be willing to read it because I know she’s going to entertain me and make my head spin all the right ways.

HELEN’S FIVE FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT WRITING No Angel:

1. Researching angels in De coelesti hierarchy, a 5th Century text that was pretty much the foundation for orthodox Christian angelology. (no, I didn’t read it in the original Greek – I’m not THAT hardcore) It is awesome… and has ensured that I am never going to be able to read my favourite angel romance novels in quite the same way ever again.

Let’s put it this way: When you think “angel”, what comes to mind?

a. An ethereally handsome guy with big white wings and a noble expression

b. Two massive bicycle wheels jammed crossways into each other, set on fire, and COVERED IN EYES

Thanks to De coelesti hierarchy, I now have to tick option b.

2. The Headmistress, a long-suffering, take-no-prisoners teacher with the brain of a supercomputer, a heart of solid granite and a tongue of pure battery acid. It’s awfully fun to write someone that witheringly sarcastic!

3. The many romances. In my previous book, Fang Girl, the main character is far too pragmatic and practical — not to mention busy running for her life — to do anything more than have a tiny flirt with romance. In contrast, No Angel revolves around the main characters’ love-lives – off the top of my head, there are at least seven different romances going on, and I’ve probably forgotten some! I enjoyed the opportunity to explore many different sorts of relationships, from platonic first crush through to forbidden passion. And of course, there’s true love…

4. In the middle of all the romantic comedy, I got to break out my inner math geek and explain something really awesome about geometry. No, really. (it’s ok, I promise there aren’t any equations)

5. Rafael Angelos, the spectacularly handsome and completely in-over-his-head hero of No Angel. He’s a good guy at heart, but he does have a small flaw of being utterly convinced that he’s God’s Gift to Girlkind. He’s so over-confident about his irresistible attractiveness, and I took great sadistic pleasure in putting him into dreadful situations because of it!

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Review: “The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2)” by Maggie Stiefvater


The Dream ThievesTitle: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA contemporary, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (Scholastic Press – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

☆: 4/5 stars – Not quite as amazing as “Raven Boys”, but still pretty damn good.

Review: If “Raven Boys” was Gansey’s book/the intro book, “Dream Thieves” is definitely Ronan’s book,  100%. We also get a lot of juicy details about backstory about Ronan and his brothers, as well as some new characters, and new mysteries to solve in order to get the boys back together, and back to business at hand. Yes, while “Dream Thieves” had a little more introspection than its predecessor, it’s still a really good sequel, and it’s making me froth at the mouth for book three.

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Review: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller


Where the Stars Still ShineTitle: Where the Stars Still Shine

Author: Trish Doller

Genre: YA Contemporary, Social Issues

Publication Date: September 24, 2013 (Bloomsbury USA Childrens)

Souce: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Syopsis: Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.

5/5 stars – A book that isn’t afraid of sex or mistakes! One of my favorites of 2013

Some books have a beauty that defies words and is so hard to talk about even though you want to talk it up to the moon and back because it’s that good. Where the Stars Still Shine is one of those books and coming from a picky reader like me, that’s not praise to be taken lightly. Doller paints a messy picture of Callie and who she is because of the life she’s led, but it’s a lovely one too. It could have easily gone wrong, but she makes all the right brush strokes to bring out just the right images and emotions.

Callie. Oh wow, Callie. The poor girl has had it anything but easy after so many years of being on the run with a mentally ill mother whose disease runs her life (and whose struggles are portrayed without judgment or ableism, thank goodness). The girl uses sex to cope and goes off alone at all hours and pushes people away when they only want to help, but flashes of how Frank abused her and what else she went through helped me understand her. Victims cope in all sorts of ways that can be healthy or unhealthy. That’s hers.

Callie’s family and friends really come to life too. Her best friend/cousin Kat is often annoying, but the rest of the family is larger than life and may conform to the media stereotype of a Greek family, but they feel real all the same. There’s more focus on the romance-ish thing she has going on with a boy named Alex than her family for most of the book, though. I’m a fan of Alex and Callie mostly because of how their relationship develops and turns out. It gets a pretty satisfactory conclusion, especially considering the fact he’s her step-uncle. No true relation, but it’s still weird to think about.

Doller has such a way with words and characters, which makes me sad that Arcadia Falls, her next book, isn’t going to come out until at least 2015. I guess I can occupy my time until then with rereading her books and hoping the many non-Trish books I’ll read between now and 2015 will be as good as hers. (Fun fact: This short little review took an hour of banging my head on the keyboard and another hour of tying to find the right words after I stopped the aforementioned head-on-keyboard shenanigans.)

Blog Tour: “Once We Were” author Kat Zhang talks writing sequels and more!


Once We WereHey, everyone! Welcome to our stop (and the final stop) on the “Once We Were” blog tour! Ashleigh and I are really excited to be on the tour, and so we asked Kat to write about her feels on writing a sequel, and some other stuff. For a debut author, I imagine that it must be daunting.

So for now, sit back, relax, and read Kat’s response below the jump. Remember, “Once We Were” is out now from HarperTeen, so go out and read it! Seriously. It’s awesome.

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Review: “Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)” by Kat Zhang


Once We WereTitle: “Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)” by Kat Zhang

Author: Kat Zhang

Genre: Alternate History, Sci-Fi, YA contemporary, Dystopia, Biopunk

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – Not quite as breathtaking as book one, but still a really, really awesome follow-up to it.

Review: “What’s Left of Me” was definitely in my top ten of my favorite debuts of 2012, and so I was really, really happy to get a copy of this next installment in the series, “Once We Were”. While not quite in frenetic in its pace (except for the last quarter or so), “Once We Were” is a quieter book that reflects on what has happened in book one, and what’s on deck for Addie, Eva, and the rest of the hybrids on the run, as well as delves a little deeper into the differences between Addie and Eva in pretty much every way. So for those that want that non-stop action from book one may be a bit let down, but “Once We Were” is just every inch as good as its prequel – just a little emotionally deeper.

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Review: “Horde (Razorland #3)” by Ann Aguirre


10596724Title: “Horde (Razorland #3)”

Author: Ann Aguirre

Genre: Biopunk

Publication Date: October 29, 2013 (Macmillan Children’s – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: The horde is coming.

Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they’re not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn’t run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade’s love.

Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn’t been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them.

This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

☆: 5/5 stars – The best possible ending to a series I’m really going to miss.

Review: This trilogy, you guys. I’ve been keeping score since book one, and the way that Aguirre has grown in her writing for YA has grown in such measure that I can’t even. Really. Seriously. This book is the best possible ending, and yet, the most the most painful, as I’ve really grown to love Deuce and the boys. In this final book in the “Razorland” trilogy, we see a major tribute paid to the US Civil War, almost re-enacted, and prairie life come back to life in a hell of a future created by humanity itself. If there’s a final book in a trilogy you’ve got to read this year, or better yet, start, it has to be “Horde”.

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Review: Find Me by Romily Bernard


Find MeTitle: Find Me

Author: Romily Bernard

Genre: YA Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

Source: Publisher-provided ARC via Edelweiss

Synopsis: “Find Me.” These are the words written on Tessa Waye’s diary. The diary that ends up with Wick Tate. But Tessa’s just been found…dead.

Wick has the right computer-hacking skills for the job, but little interest in this perverse game of hide-and-seek. Until her sister Lily is the next target. Then Griff, trailer-park boy next door and fellow hacker, shows up, intent on helping Wick.

Is a happy ending possible with the threat of Wick’s deadbeat dad returning, the detective hunting him sniffing around Wick instead, and a killer taunting her at every step?

Foster child. Daughter of a felon. Loner hacker girl. Wick has a bad attitude and sarcasm to spare.

But she’s going to find this killer no matter what.

Because it just got personal.

☆: 4/5 stars – The love interest should get out and let this book be awesome

Wow. Seriously, wow. Not many books get me to stay up late at night to finish it because I enjoy my sleep far too much, but Find Me did it and it was worth every yawn, drowsy moment, and general sluggish feeling the next day. This may be one of the most entertaining YA debuts I’ve read this year!

Early on, mentions of the much-feared Blue Screen of Death, a twist on the infamous Lethal Weapon quote of getting too old for this shit, and more made me giggle, but Find Me is anything but a comedy. Moments like those are sweet little beacons of light in an otherwise dark novel. The reason Tessa didn’t go to the police about her rape (she was afraid they’d say she deserved it) is all too real. That is one of many factors that results in so few people reporting it when someone sexually assaults them.

Short chapters, tight plotting, and tense scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat make this short little novel (288 pages is very short by my standards) go by very quickly and it makes you wish this book were longer even though you know it’ll drag on if it gets any longer. The suspense kicks in from the very first chapter, which has Wick keeping an eye on the possibly-dirty cop hanging around outside her house, and it never lets up. We go all the way from the upper-class suburbs to the bad neighborhood where Wick lived before her mother committed suicide and her meth-making father went on the run, and it’s always a fun ride wherever we’re going. The twist and reveal? Genuinely caught me off guard, though my suspicions grew the closer the novel’s end came.

Wick might be one of my favorite female leads as of late too! Her hacking know-how is just enough to show us she knows what she’s doing but not enough to provide an evil villain’s blueprint or go right over our heads. Where she’s the one with the trust issues and bad attitude most of the time, her sweet little sister Lily is the opposite. Can I have a stuffed Lily, please? Fictional character or no, she’s pretty huggable.

The title is referenced multiple times throughout the book in a desperate repetition, but there’s one phrase I associate with the novel even more than the title: it’s not that easy. The “it” can be anything from living on after enduring an abusive relationship to trusting good people when you grew up learning trust is a bad thing to escaping the past you grew up with. Either way, these characters have it anything but easy.

One thing that is actually that easy in this book? Tying up plot lines. In fact, they all seem to tie up a little too neatly, some to the point of contrived. Just before Wick can question Tessa’s little sister Tally about an important passage that could have revealed the mystery man? Tessa’s parents get divorced and Tally leaves with the mother. That’s the end of that and it’s pretty clear that had Tally stayed, this book would have been over sooner. The epilogue in particular is all about tying up loose ends in such an overly neat fashion that it clashes with the rest of the novel.

Then there’s the love interest Griff. There’s a difference between being a douchebag and not being a nice guy. A guy who blackmails Wick into kissing him by withholding info on who’s threatening her and her sister? Um, NO. No swoons because that’s waaaaaaaay into douchebag territory. Their relationship didn’t feel developed enough in the first place and his blackmail soured my opinion of him for the rest of the book. He’s also got a habit of being a creep, but Wick says the creepy things he does like watching her sleep isn’t creepy just because it’s him. Um, no, still creepy. He must have acquired his creepiness in the three years he spent crushing on Wick without doing anything.

In general, Wick didn’t need that romance. She was doing just find rocking out and taking names all on her own. A strong friendship made over similar backgrounds that one escaped and one is still stuck in would have been perfect, especially for giving Griff the motivation to do what he does for Wick. Another thing the novel needed less of was the mean girl drama with Jenna. Making her someone who likes telling people to throw people in Dumpsters and fakes anguish over her best friend’s death didn’t help the novel at all. What plot-sanctioned reason was there for her to fake sadness over Tessa’s death?

There’s much more good than bad in this novel despite how much space it took me to talk out my criticisms. They need a lot more words to explain why they hurt the novel, you know? Communicating how suspenseful and fun this is makes for hard work too, so go check out the first three chapters on the author’s website and see what I mean. Desperate Google searching at one in the morning told me Bernard is working on a second book. Whether it’s related to Wick or something completely new, I don’t care because I just want more of this woman’s magic words.