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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black I am by no means an expert on either vampire lore or vampire fiction. In fact, my entire pop culture vampire experience consists of reading the Twilight series years ago, plus one summer spent watching every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.But I am a big fan of the Curse Worker series, which ranks among my favorite YA series of all time. So I was both excited and nervous to read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Fortunately, I really liked it.As the blurb suggests, the story starts dramatically, with main character Tana waking up the morning after a party in a house full of dead bodies. Soon she's on the run with her vamp-infected ex-boyfriend with a live vampire stuffed in her trunk.I love Cassel Sharpe's wry first-person narration, so it took me a few pages to adjust to Tana's matter-of-fact third person point of view, but the more I got to knowTana, the more I liked her. She's not the kind of girl who thinks about what's in her own best interest. She does what she thinks is right. And when someone needs help, whether it's her ex-boyfriend or a stranger, she doesn't hesitate.I also really loved the story world, which seemed to me to use vampirism as a way to explore modern day obsessions with fame, notoriety, and physical perfection, and to gently mock the way these obsessions are fueled by our social media and reality TV-obsessed world. Yes, other vampire series like Buffy have incorporated the concept of vampire groupies, but The Coldest Girl in Coldtown makes this concept even more 21st century. Those outside the Coldtowns watch the vampires inside on live feeds. Bloggers breathlessly chronicle the goings-on inside the guarded cities. Vampire celebrities entertain viewers and camera crews ride shotgun with vampire hunters. Everyday teens dream of finding fame and escaping their humdrum lives by joining the vampire world.Tana, who survived a real-life childhood encounter with a vampire, has more complicated feelings about vampires. Yet when vampire Gavriel needs to be rescued, she risks her own life to help him.Holly Black also wrote a bunch of fairy stories. I haven't read those, but I was thinking about this as I read and decided that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown definitely has some fairytale elements. Tana's rescue of Gavriel felt a little like one of those moments in a fairy tale when a character helps, say, a prince disguised as a beggar, and is later handsomely rewarded. Indeed, Tana's impulsive gesture will have repercussions that extend through the entire story. Later in the book, Gavriel actually tells Tana a fairytale, the story of Koschei the Deathless. Gavriel says of the main character, Ivan: "he manages to do the impossible purely by not giving up. He is the chaotic part of the story, because he doesn't do what everyone expects of him."A Coldtown isn't much of a fairy tale kingdom, but Tana also never does what you'd expect. She never gives up, and never does what any sensible person would do. She's an interesting hero -- a regular girl who refuses to give up on anyone -- not the guy who dumped her, not the vampire who could infect her, not the best friend she promised a trip to California after graduation.I really loved the ending of the book. There's revenge, there's sacrifice, and, just like a fairy story, what goes around comes around. Then the world settles into a sort of moral equilibrium -- yes, even a crazy, mixed up world like a Coldtown. So while I really can't comment on where this book fits into the whole vampire subgenre, I can tell you that I really enjoyed it as a story.


Conjured - Sarah Beth Durst I was SO excited by the concept of a magic-wielding serial killer, but I was disappointed that serial killer was not actually a big part of this book.I must have glossed over the part of the blurb that mentions that Conjured is also an amnesia story. Eve, the main character, is in witness protection but doesn't remember why. But instead of regaining her memory, she keeps passing out and losing it. She's constantly being told she's in danger, but I never felt that.Characters with amnesia can be tricky in my experience as a reader -- a person who is trying to remember her own personality can easily come off as flat. This was definitely the case with Eve. While I felt for her, her blankness made it hard to connect with her. The other characters are… well, they may have had too much personality. Zach, the love interest, just blurts out whatever is in his head. He meets Eve and tells her he wants to kiss her and see if her lips taste like strawberries. Okaaaay …. That said, he wasn't the stereotypical smoldering book boy, and he did grow on me. Many of the other characters (such as Eve's handlers) have similarly offbeat senses of humor. Their wackiness set against Eve's blankness did give the book a "Who's on First" vibe that was funny at times, but this did not mollify me -- I still wanted scary serial killer action.Eve's story, told in third person, is periodically interrupted by a first person account of a girl who's part of some creepy magic show. Those segments added a touch of intrigue but were also pretty cryptic. I was 80% through the book before I felt any real sense of suspense or creepiness start to build. I thought that the last quarter of the book was really very good -- finally I understood who Eve was, what her relationship with the Magician was, etc. I was impressed by some of the creeptastic detail and really wished more of that had been incorporated earlier in the story. I mean, whoa!!! Eve's a doll come to life, imbued with the magic of the serial killer victims? And the serial killer traps people in boxes, either before or after he cuts them up? THAT'S the book I was expecting to read. (I could have done without the trio of teens with superpowers, all of whom seemed to be planted in the story just so they could conveniently join forces in the final scene.) But more of the creepy girl-doll with Stockholm syndrome, please!!!!Readers who love WTF-is-going-on-here books like As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott or Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn will really enjoy this. And, I swear, if you persevere until the end, you will be rewarded.I've heard good things about this author, and was impressed enough with her writing and her offbeat imagination that I'd love to try another of her books and see if I can find one that suits me better.
Starry Nights - Daisy Whitney Okay, I'll admit right off that magical realism is not usually for me, unless it's an element in a children's book. In YA and adult books, I usually find it too weird and trippy. Yes, I know that adults need magic too. Feel free to lecture me about this in the comments if you want.So … the magical realism was not my favorite part of Starry Nights, and I wasn't crazy about the "greatest love he's ever known" that Julian finds with a girl in a painting.But …. I still found a lot in Starry Nights that I enjoyed:1. Paris. Who but a Grinch couldn't love Paris? 2. Parisian teens: It was such a great change to read about French teenagers instead of American ones. I thought that Julian, his gender-bending new friend Bonheur, Bonheur's adorable sister Sophie, and aspiring ballet dancer Emilie were all fun and engaging characters.3. Calling Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books as a kid and I still read it from time to time. It didn't feature magical realism, but it did follow two kids who hide out in the Metropolitan Museum and solve the mystery behind a mysterious statue. Starry Nights had some similarities -- Julian's mother runs the Musée d'Orsay, so he can also sneak in and out whenever he wants, and he's trying to solve a bunch of mysteries: why does the art come to life when he's around? Why are some of the paintings at the museum starting to fade?4. An excellent author's note: I love it when authors use real events and people to inspire their stories. But I hate when they neglect to add a note at the end to explain where they took creative license. Starry Nights has a fantastic author's note that explains everything -- I was surprised to learn there's a lot of reality in this book to go along with the magic. Fascinating!It seemed to me that Starry Nights is a book that sits on the younger end of the YA spectrum. It would make a great pick for a tween who loves art and magic. But if you're a reader of any age who is a Francophile, an art lover, or a fan of magical realism, I definitely recommend that you give Starry Nights a try. Read more of my YA reviews and find great giveaways on YA RomanticsThanks to Bloomsbury for giving me access to an e-ARC for review.
The Chaos of Stars - Kiersten White I enjoyed the first book in the Paranormalcy series and thought that Mind Games had some really intriguing aspects, so I had high hopes for this.Isadora, the heroine, didn't have any of Evie's appealing spunk and vulnerability. She does a lot of pouting and sulking after finding out that her parents -- the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris -- were expecting a new baby. And she broods endlessly about the fact that she's mortal.She goes to stay with her brother in San Diego, where she volunteers at a museum and her life suddenly gets perfect. Fun new BFF, check. Dreamy boy with blue, blue eyes and the hots for her, check. Glam job, check. (Isadora is put in charge of designing a major museum exhibit that will feature some of her family's artifacts.) There's also a tame mystery involving suspicious break-ins and the like. One of the characters is harboring a secret that was pretty obvious from the outset. For me, this book just didn't come together. I kept begging Isadora to give me a reason to root for her, but she just kept being surly and sullen. The book had a glib feel for a story about a girl who's trying to come to terms with her mortality. At times, I felt the story couldn't decide whether to be breezy and funny or dark and serious and just kind of awkwardly straddled the two. Chaos of Stars was not my favorite Kiersten White book, but it could make a great pick for tweens who have loved the Percy Jackson books and are looking for something slightly more grown up, or for YA readers looking for a quick read with some light mythological elements. Thanks so much to Harper Teen for letting me read an e-ARC of this book!
Vampire, Scones and Edmund Herondale  - Sarah Rees Brennan, Cassandra Clare Those of you who have been reading these mini-stories, waiting and waiting for some characters you might recognize will find satisfaction in this third installment of the Bane Chronicles. Magnus is in London, where he meets three intriguing new people: Camille Belcourt, vampire, Edmund Herondale, Shadowhunter, and Linette Owens, Welsh heiress. When Edmund and Linette meet, sparks fly. And trouble ensues. Fans of the Infernal Devices series will recognize many familiar names -- Morgenstern, Fairchild, Starkweather…. While I loved meeting young Edmund and Linette, their romance did happen offstage (this is a short story) and I felt sad knowing what would become of them. I also wasn't crazy about the reader of this one. He was a little mumbly at times, and it didn't seem like the accents he did were always consistent. Still, I think diehard fans of Cassie Clare are really going to enjoy this story
The Runaway Queen  - Maureen Johnson, George Blagden, Cassandra Clare I'm fascinated by stories of the horrors of the French Revolution -- in fact, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is one of my favorite YA books of all time. So I was excited to discover that this side story about Magnus Bane takes place in eighteenth-century Paris. Can't you just picture Magnus hanging out with Marie Antoinette? I can, but I never pictured the two of them together in a hot air balloon. Hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself. In this story, Magnus is approached by a Swedish nobleman named Axel, who begs for Magnus' help in smuggling the royal family to safety. I wasn't sure if this was going to be alt-history or just a weaving of Magnus into real history, and I don't want to tell you which. But the story was poignant and beautifully read by George Blagden. I thought he did a fantastic job with the many and varied accents that were required.
The Midnight Dress - Karen Foxlee I went into this book expecting the typical YA paranormal -- new girl in town, big dance coming up at school, prom dresses -- the same story I've read a dozen times over.What I got instead was a spellbinding story that's one part dark fairy tale, one part coming of age story, one part mystery. Told in beautiful -- yet compellingly readable -- prose, with vivid setting, and an inventive narrative structure, The Midnight Dress had me enthralled from the first sentence.I loved the way that the book's narrative flashed forward and back, alternating between the investigation of a tragedy on the night of the Harvest Festival to the story of Rose Lovell, who arrives in a sleepy beach town in Queensland, Australia, with her charming, ne'er-do-well father. In the wrong hands, this kind of technique can be confusing, but it worked beautifully here. Each storyline -- the investigation and Rose's integration into town -- moves forward on its own, but each illuminates the other.The story is set in Queensland, Australia in 1986. (I hadn't even realized that the book was set in the 1980s until one of the characters referred to a major world event.) As in many Australian novels, the setting is a central part of the story. From the violent rainstorms of the "wet"season to the snakes that slither through the sugar cane fields, the book's descriptions convey the simultaneous beauty and menace of nature.The Midnight Dress is one of those books that feels as if it was casting a magical spell over me as I read. There are the two main story lines, as described above, but then the narrative is also filled with other, smaller stories of love and betrayal and tragedy. Rose's friend Pearl tells Rose about the wildly romantic (and wildly improbable) plots of the romance novels she picks up at the Blue Moon Book Exchange. As Rose and town recluse Edie Baker work to sew Rose's Harvest Festival dress, Edie tells Rose strange and tragic stories about her family. As I read, I could feel the way that all Rose's emotions and all Edie's family history were being sewn right into Rose's dress. By the time the Harvest Festival arrives, I was almost expecting something really dramatic and crazy -- Carrie-prom-style. But, when the tragedy was finally revealed, it was like everything else in this book -- understated and deeply resonant.I highly recommend this one, especially to fans of dark, lush, atmospheric books like Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke or Chime by Franny Billingsley.
Jessica Darling's It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection - Megan McCafferty This summer I did a re-read of all the Jessica Darling books, so this was a perfect time for Jessica darling's It List to come into my life.I loved it now, and this is a book that I also would have adored as a tween. Jessica's starting seventh grade, which has to be the most brutal year of a girl's life. Some girls are developing, and others not. Some girls are getting interested in boys, and others are not. Girls reinvent themselves, friendships shift, hearts are broken.Jessica, being Jessica, wants a foolproof plan to guarantee that seventh grade goes perfectly, that she's as popular and adored as her big sister Bethany. So Bethany gives Jessica a Top Secret list of tips. But Jessica being Jessica, nothing goes as promised. When Bethany's list says "wear something different every day," Jessica interprets that as wearing something eccentric. Then there's Marcus Flutie. I must be honest: my re-read has slightly cooled me on MF, but I absolutely adored reading about the circumstances of their first meeting.If you're a JD fan, you must read this book. And if you're the mom or aunt or older sister of a tween who hasn't yet discovered Jessica, you must give her this book. It was charming, hilarious, and a whole lot of fun.

Two Lies and a Spy

Two Lies and a Spy - Kat Carlton This book was a fun, fast-paced read. (Like most, if not all YA spy books, it requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief.)I liked Kari and her brainy little brother Charlie -- though poor Charlie got ditched a lot throughout the course of the story. There were aspects of the story that were fun, and overall I enjoyed the book. The plot took an unexpected turn that really pleased me... Kari's parents are accused of being double agents … and they actually are. Which made me very happy - I mean, not for the kids, obviously, but because I thought this would be the more predictable kind of "my parents are innocent and I must clear their name" book and got something far more unexpected: a "I thought I knew my parents but I don't know them at all" kind of book..The ending makes it clear that there is another book in the works, and the aforementioned plot twist plus a developing love triangle could provide great opportunities for angst and action. I'm hoping that Charlie gets to play more of a role too!Review coming August 26 and a giveaway -- stop by YA Romantics
All Our Yesterdays - Cristin Terrill All Our Yesterdays had one of those winning premises -- simple to grasp, yet filled with conflict, emotion, and fascinating philosophical questions. The story was also ingeniously plotted -- one of those books you can hardly put down.Em and Finn are prisoners in adjacent cells, tormented and tortured daily by captors who want to know the locations of secret documents. Marina is a carefree teenager in Washington DC, a girl in love with her next-door-neighbor. Em and Finn need to go back in time to try to stop a terrible chain of events that plunged the world into chaos. Marina is shocked and dismayed when a madman suddenly targets her neighbor's family.After reading only a chapter or two, it became very clear to me exactly what was going to happen in this book, and that only made the story more exciting. There was just enough science for me -- a brief explanation of how time travel paradoxes are resolved*** -- but not so much that the focus was taken off the characters and their conflicts.The moral dilemmas that these characters faced were really set this book apart for me. Action scenes without any kind of emotion behind them are exciting in the moment, but ultimately empty. All Our Yesterdays had action plus wrenching emotion, placing characters in conflict and raising interesting questions: could you take a human life if you knew that it would make the world a far better place? How far would you go to save someone you love? Whether or not you're a fan of time travel books, I think you'll appreciate the very clever plotting and absolutely excruciating tension that this book sets up. I highly recommend it!
Crown of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas Being a somewhat new-to-fantasy reader, I wasn't sure what to expect from Throne of Glass when I read it last year. While I really loved the world that Sarah Maas created and the characters who inhabited it, I also wished that the trials Celaena had been put through to win a position as the royal assassin had been a little more exciting.Well, I'm here to report that Crown of Midnight more than delivers in that department. I mean, Celaena is an assassin, and let's just say that in this book, her cutthroat side is finally unleashed in full force. While there were some plot developments I was expecting, there were other things that really took me by surprise. One is incident hits Celaena pretty hard. I can't say more than that without spoilers, and believe me, you want to avoid spoilers for this one.I'm also really into this love triangle! I was not a huge fan of Dorian in Throne of Glass, but after reading Crown of Midnight, I'm now really like both him and Chaol, which means certain heartbreak -- for me.Absolutely no draggy second book syndrome here -- Crown of Midnight was chock-full of new revelations, tons of action scenes, heartbreak, revenge, and sacrifice. I'm definitely on board for the next installment. In fact, I can't wait to see what happens.Please stop by my blog, Jen @ YA Romantics! to read my full review and win a signed ARC!
A Tale of Two Centuries - Rachel  Harris Such a fun book! Cat's cousin Alessandra completely won my heart in My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century. She's innately sweet and incredibly loyal. A character like that might sound dull, but I found her endearing and charming. In A Tale of Two Centuries, she's also funny -- okay, sometimes unintentionally funny -- as she tries to puzzle out some of the weirder aspects of 21st century life, like our clothing, slang, and popular culture.When Alessandra enrolls in Cat's Hollywood high school, she meets the infuriating and handsome Austin Michaels, surfer and slacker. I am not always the biggest fan of "gorgeous jerk" characters and found Austin a little moody -- aloof, angry, flirtatious, rebellious, protective. There's an explanation given, which helped. And I did think that Alessandra brought out the best in him.One of the things I liked most about this story was that it introduced the element of choice. In My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century, Cat pretty much gets transported back and forth in time against her will. In this book, Alessandra knows what happened to Cat, and, after a big life disappointment, decides to try time travel. Then, when she's happily ensconced in her new life, she has to face the consequences of what she's done. I thought it was great that this aspect of each book changed to fit the needs of the main character. Cat didn't have much choice in the first book, but she needed to learn to loosen her control -- to be more trusting and open to other people, while Alessandra needed to learn to gain control -- to stand up for herself and trust her instincts.While I had an idea about how My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century was going to end, A Tale of Two Centuries (and its Dickensian title) had me in suspense up to the last page. If you're in the mood for a book that's funny and romantic, definitely try these out!Read the full review and find tons of great YA reviews and giveaways on my blog: Jen @ YA Romantics I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher for review
This Song Will Save Your Life - Leila Sales LOVED. Loved loved loved.I wish that could be my review, but I will post something more coherent soon….
In the Age of Love and Chocolate - Gabrielle Zevin Love this series so much! Short review to come once I've absorbed it -- longer one on the blog closer to release :)
Social Suicide - Gemma Halliday I feel the same way about this as I did about Deadly Cool: cute, fun, and light. The identity of the killer was extremely obvious in this one, though I continue to be amused by the characters and their sleuthing. Don't expect a serious mystery; do expect to be entertained.
Deadly Cool - Gemma Halliday I've been meaning to read this book forever, and finally on vacation I had time to give it a try.There was a lot that I liked. Hartley is a funny and engaging character and a lot of fun to read about. The flippant "OMG! A murder" tone gave the book more of a Scooby Doo vibe for me than the darker Vernonica Mars feel I was hoping for. So, while reading Deadly Cool was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours, it's not a book that will stick with me for long. But if you love funny books and enjoy mystery, definitely give it a try!