Review: “The Winner’s Crime (Winner’s Trilogy #2)” by Marie Rutkoski

20443207Title: “The Winner’s Crime (Winner’s Trilogy #2)”

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Publication Date: March 3, 2015 (Macmillan Children’s – North America)

Genre: YA, high fantasy, AWESOME

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

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

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

☆: 5/5 stars – a more internal approach compared to book 1, but still awesome.

Review: Oh boy. Where do I start? I loved book 1, “The Winner’s Curse”, in a way that I haven’t really loved Rutkoski’s books before. It felt like she’d evolved so much in all of the areas of technical novelship/novelcraft (is that a word? it’s a word now), and with book 2, while it did have a few slow areas, it was the quiet where the loud in book 1 was. This book is a more quiet, sinister book than book one – more quiet deception, less physical action, and more internal examination. And that’s what made it great (along with how it was used with all of our players). If you were a fan of “The Winner’s Curse”, you simply must move on to “The Winner’s Crime”.

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Review: Two Lies and a Spy by Kat Carlton

Two Lies and a SpyTitle: Two Lies and a Spy

Author: Kat Carlton

Genre: YA Contemporary, Thriller, Mystery

Publication Date: September 3, 2013 (Simon & Schuster BFYR)

Source: print ARC from the publisher

Synopsis: Kari plunges into the world of espionage on a mission to save her parents while trying to impress the guy she’s been in love with forever.

When sixteen-year-old Kari’s dad sends her an unexpected text, she and her brother immediately go into hiding. Because when your parents are superspies and your dad declares a Code Black, it can only mean something bad. Very bad.

Kari soon discovers that her parents have been disavowed and declared traitors, and she’s determined to clear their names. Breaking into the Agency seems like a reasonable plan, especially with the help of a team that includes her longtime crush, Luke, as well as her two best friends—an expert hacker with attitude and a master martial artist—and Luke’s popular, vindictive twin sister. Oh, and a new guy, who’s as cute as he is complicated…

3/5 stars – great thriller with a fast-paced plot and THAT kind of love interest

First off, I apologize to anyone who saw this post when it was just a bunch of notes thrown together because I forgot to post it as a review. I’m so deeply, thoroughly mortified that happened. But now that my apology and dying-of-embarrassment is out of the way, Two Lies and a Spy. How did I like it? It was pretty fun! It indulged in a few of my least favorite pet peeves, but as a YA thriller, it’s solid and even turns a trope or two on its head while it’s at it.

Two Lies and a Spy starts off with a bang, though Kari tries to tell us a little too much at once. The length and the lightning-fast pacing work together to make it a quick read. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough beyond Kari, but they make for such a fun, motley crew that it gave me fond flashbacks to Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Thirteen (the movie between them does not exist according to me). It follows the path of being a YA thriller faithfully, but it knows exactly when to call out the more ridiculous elements. Kids being able to outsmart the US government? Please. Seeing that be turned on its head was one of my favorite parts.

Lacey, mean girl and sister to Kari’s crush, is a standout character that probably isn’t meant to be so. I can’t figure out why she’s playing along as Kari tries to prove her own parents innocent of their charges, but she can really rise to the occasion despite how Kari characterizes her as selfish and slutty. If only Kari were able to pay less attention to a flash of Lacey’s underwear as she fights a guard and more attention to the fact Lacey is risking her life, safety, and future to help her by fighting a guard.

A supporting character named Evan is the other major sticking point in my experience. He plays the part of the rude, crass, and very British flirt who comes off more often as a creep than anything and makes his way into everything he shouldn’t. It later turns out the way he’s been acting isn’t what he’s really like at all, but his true nature and the sad backstory that goes with it don’t excuse the fact he chose to act like a creep. There had to be something else he could do!

Nevertheless, the cliffhanger ending that comes just after a handful of unexpected twists has me hooked for the second book in this series. I’ll forever be fond of YA thrillers and on the lookout for more good ones. Two Lies and a Spy, despite the hiccups described, is definitely a good one.

Review: “Flicker & Burn (Cold Fury #2)” by TM Goeglein

16101039Title: “Flicker & Burn (Cold Fury #2)”

Author: TM Goeglein

Genre: YA contemporary, paranormal, mafia, thriller, urban fantasy, AWESOME, NIGHTMARE STAG OH GOD

Publication Date: August 20, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Sara Jane Rispoli is still searching for her missing family, but instead of fighting off a turncoat uncle and crooked cops, this time she finds herself on the run from creepy beings with red, pulsing eyes and pale white skin chasing her through the streets in ice cream trucks; they can only be described as Ice Cream Creatures. They’re terrifying and hell bent on killing her, but they’re also a link to her family, a clue to where they might be and who has them.

While she battles these new pursuers, she’s also discovering more about her own cold fury and more about the Chicago Outfit, how the past misdeeds–old murders and vendettas–might just be connected to her present and the disappearance of her family. But connecting the dots is tough and time-consuming and may finally be the undoing of her relationship with the handsome Max–who’s now her boyfriend. But for his own safety, Sara Jane may have to end this relationship before it even really starts. Her pursuers who’ve shown her her mother’s amputated finger and the head of the Chicago Outfit who’s just whistled her in for a sit-down make a romance unthinkable. The only thing that matters is finding her family and keeping everyone she loves alive.

☆:  5 stars – an absolute knock out of the park, and better than book one!

Review: WOW. What is it with you, sophomoric books of 2013? You’ve all been more or less amazing, if not really good. If you guys thought “Cold Fury” was good, just wait until you get your hands on “Flicker & Burn”! Seriously. Every bit of tension that Goeglein had in “Cold Fury”, every stake? It’s been upped about a hundred times. This book has turned from paranormal into parascience, which is awesome, and I really can’t wait for book three. Another one of my favorite sophomoric effort of 2013, “Flicker & Burn” definitely leaps off the page and sears itself into your brain. Let’s just say I’ll never look at “healthy” ice cream the same way again.

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Review: Transparent by Natalie Whipple

TransparentTitle: Transparent

Author: Natalie Whipple

Genre: YA contemporary, sci-fi, coming-of-age,

Publication Date: May 21, 2013

Source: Publisher-provided ARC via Edelweiss

Summary: Plenty of teenagers feel invisible. Fiona McClean actually is.

An invisible girl is a priceless weapon. Fiona’s own father has been forcing her to do his dirty work for years—everything from spying on people to stealing cars to breaking into bank vaults.

After sixteen years, Fiona’s had enough. She and her mother flee to a small town, and for the first time in her life, Fiona feels like a normal life is within reach. But Fiona’s father isn’t giving up that easily.

Of course, he should know better than anyone: never underestimate an invisible girl.

☆: 2/5 stars – It’s a fast read, but the science is too ridiculous for the average suspension of disbelief and Fiona is a terrible character.

I’m not into The Godfather and Mafia stories in general, but the X-men? Yes please! Transparent has been pitched as a mix of the two and once you start reading, you can see both elements in it clearly. Too bad The Godfather is much more intimidating and the science behind the X-men is more easily swallowed than anything you’ll find in this novel.

Transparent is a fast read good for when you need to be occupied, like during a long flight or a boring road trip (the latter being for those lucky people who can read in moving vehicles without getting carsick). Sitting down and devouring it all in one afternoon if one has the free time is an easy feat and if you’re the kind of reader that turns your brain off completely as you read, you’ll do just fine with this. Anyone who starts to examine the science of the novel is going to start running into problems.

Characters in books don’t need to be likable for me to understand them. After all, I’m a huge Courtney Summers fan and her characters are never likable. If a character is likable, well-constructed, or both, I can happily get invested in them and their story. When they are unlikable and badly drawn like Fiona is, that’s where the problem begins. Fiona’s invisibility, her fear of going back to her father (which we are told instead of shown, sadly), and how awfully she treats her mother are her only real identifiable traits, rendering her as flat as the rest of the cast, including her love interest.

Speaking of that last trait, she treats her mother like dirt when she should appreciate what she has done for her. Her mother has simultaneously escaped an unhealthy relationship, put her life on the line, and kept Fiona from becoming a killer, but all Fiona ever does is throw vitriol at her. The situation between Fiona’s parents can be compared to both an abusive relationship and drug addiction, making Fiona’s actions even more reprehensible. This might be forgivable if Fiona were a decently drawn character, but she isn’t.

She’s also terrible at hiding. Multiple people figure out very quickly that she’s on the run and she is also enrolled in school under her real name. Lesson one of going into hiding when the Mafia is after you: change your name. She has a lot more problems than that when it comes to keeping her secret and staying hidden, but the list is so exhausting that it’s better left alone.

Much of the novel’s science is simply told instead of shown or dumped onto us. This is the most explanation we get about where everyone’s superpowers came from: back during the Cold War, people popped antiradiation pills like candy and about five years later, the babies these people had were born with superpowers like flying, scent imitation, telekinesis, charm, and smelling like Port-o-Potties when someone scares you. All that takes up about a page or two early in the novel and you’re flying on your own from there.

Swallowing the mysterious-X-gene explanation of X-men is much easier than swallowing any of what’s in the previous paragraph even with my healthy suspension of disbelief. Even if I did accept that psuedoscience, none of it explains how someone’s ability to see emotions allows a person to see anyone who is invisible. I’ve tried to think about it a million ways and none of it explains how they can her so clearly that they know her hair and eye color when no one else does. That would have been the straw to break my back.

My verdict is that Transparent is a book to pass on, but if you’re still interested in it and feel certain it will be better for you than it was for me–or even if you want to dissect the science of the novel, seeing as there’s a lot there to critically examine if you’re a science whiz–go for it. Just be warned that this book is good science the way 4 x cake donut = roflcopter is good math: hilarious but wrong.

Review: “Life After Theft” by Aprilynne Pike

16248037Title: “Life After Theft”

Author: Aprilynne Pike

Genre: YA contemporary, retellings, paranormal

Publication Date: April 30, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC/Edelweiss Review Copy

Summary: Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto.

No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff, so–in hopes of bringing an end to the snarkiest haunting in history–he agrees to help her complete her “unfinished business.” But when the enmity between Kimberlee and Jeff’s new crush, Sera, manages to continue posthumously, Jeff wonders if he’s made the right choice.

Clash meets sass in this uproarious modern-day retelling of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

☆: 1/5 stars – interesting idea, poorly executed.

Review: Oh boy. This one was…difficult to say the least. As I love retellings of any sort, I was really looking forward to “Life After Theft”. I didn’t have much luck with any of Pike’s previous works, really – nothing earthshattering, at least, so I was hoping this work would change my mind. Unfortunately, “Life After Theft” just wasn’t for me (to put it lightly).

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Review: “Game (Jasper Dent #2)” by Barry Lyga

15790833Title: “Game (Jasper Dent #2)”

Author: Barry Lyga

Genre: YA Contemporary, Crime, AWESOME

Publication Date: April 16, 2013 (LBFYR – North America)

Source: NetGalley Review Copy

Summary: Billy grinned. “Oh, New York,” he whispered. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”

I Hunt Killers introduced the world to Jazz, the son of history’s most infamous serial killer, Billy Dent.

In an effort to prove murder didn’t run in the family, Jazz teamed with the police in the small town of Lobo’s Nod to solve a deadly case. And now, when a determined New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz’s door asking for help, he can’t say no. The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple–and its police force–running scared. So Jazz and his girlfriend, Connie, hop on a plane to the big city and get swept up in a killer’s murderous game.

☆: 4/5 stars – a great follow-up to book one!

Review: It’s no secret that I loved “I Hunt Killers”, and it was one of my favorite releases of last year. I’m happy to say that “Game” doesn’t suffer from middle book syndrome, though I did have a few issues for it. But for the most part? This is an insane ride of a book that will start you from page one and carry you on a crazy tsunami until the very last page. I’m positively drooling for book three now. If you read and liked “I Hunt Killers”, I think you’ll like “Game”, too.

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Review: “Tiger (Dark Eyes #2)” by William Richter

15811574Title: “Tiger (Dark Eyes #2)”

Author: William Richter

Genre: YA, Thriller, Contemporary, Urban Fantasy

Publication Date: March 21, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: A vigilante fights for justice at any cost. Wallis Stoneman isn’t like other teenage girls. She’s beautiful, fearless, and deadly.

Wally lives alone in her Brooklyn loft. She’d be a regular teenager, except that she’s the daughter of a Russian assassin. Crime is in Wally’s blood, but she uses her legacy for good: she solves missing persons cases for the Ursula Society, an under-the-radar organization that uses oft-illegal tactics to find people the police have given up on.

The person Wally most wants to find? Tiger, her own fugitive brother. But the closer Wally gets to finding Tiger, the more dangerous her search becomes. And Klesko, Wally and Tiger’s sadistic father, is again at large. With two highly-skilled con men against them, Wally and Tiger band together to destroy a conspiracy in which they—and their hearts—are mere pawns.

☆: 4/5 stars – a great follow-up to “Dark Eyes”!

Review: While this isn’t quite the same constant tension and heart-poundingly exciting story as “Dark Eyes”, “Tiger” takes us to a quieter, softer place within the head and heart of Wally and her brother Tiger, and also sets us up with a merciless and shameless cliffhanger for book three. And while Wally is still the same badass we saw in book one, she’s also grown quite a bit, and continues to grow all throughout “Tiger”. If you’ve started your journey with “Dark Eyes”, you simply must continue with book two in the series, “Tiger”.

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