Saturday, 30 December 2017

Saturday Stack ~ Reads for the Holidays

The holidays are a time for good books and good company.

As many of you know, the second half of this year was extremely busy for me. With finishing my uni thesis + degree (so happy to have that behind me!) and dealing with challenges that arose within the family, it was hard to find time to sit back and devour some of the best books that 2017 had to offer.

The holidays allowed me to finally sit down and - one after the other! - get to reading some truly transportive reads. From assassins and magic, to mystery and trickery, there was so much to enjoy and many, many memorable quotes to bookmark! 

So today's post is going to be a recap of this stack of reads that kept my imagination company over Christmas + the Christmas weekend and that can keep you entertained this holiday season (whether you're celebrating New Years or just taking a break from work or study!). I can't wait to share what I thought of each of these six books with you guys.

A massive thank you to Allen and Unwin, Bloomsbury, and Hot Key Books for sending me these copies to review.

So without further ado...let's get stacking!

#1: Follow Me

Follow Me (The Amateurs #2)
By Sara Shepard 

Genre(s)Mystery, YA, Thriller, Crime
Pub Date: October 2017
Page(s): 288
Price: $16.99 (AUD)

Rating3.7 out of 5 stars

Best part(s): Sara is wonderful when it comes to YA mystery - the subterfuge, the collection of miscreant characters who all have their own agendas, secrets, and stories. And Follow Me definitely kept with this theme, presenting readers with another intriguing read.

I especially enjoyed the different POV. I know how difficult it is to get an individual sense, so to speak, attached to each POV - to make each one stand out and not sound like it's just the author or an omniscient narrator, etcetera. And just like the POVs, the cast of characters were all just as interesting as when we last saw them, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them all over again...and uncovering more about their characters.

Overall, although different in many ways from The Amateurs, Follow Me captures your attention and definitely encourages you to grab your detective's cap and magnifying glass!

Least favourite part(s): I really did enjoy The Amateurs (see my review here) but for some reason Follow Me just doesn't quite hit the same note as its predecessor.

One of the best features of Sara's work has always been that big question mark - who is behind the masterplan? As an avid fan of Pretty Little Liars and its eternal "Who is A?" conundrum, I was a tad disappointed that the villain was revealed so early on. Like...ok then, story done! Oh, there's more? Soooo I do just keep reading then?!

I know that the plot still contained complexity, and mysteries to be solved, but my heart just wasn't in it as much. I'm in it for the big reveals, the big mysteries, the chance to see if I can follow the author's - and characters' - way of thinking. I think the biggest draw of The Amateurs was that big mystery. Having to settle for a lesser one in Follow Me, as well as the fact that it had to live up to The Amateurs, just didn't make for the same sense of satisfaction.

Also secondary characters - many of whom I'd actually really liked in The Amateurs - sort of fell 'off the shelf'. Forgotten about, or reduced to simply a device for moving the story on (as opposed to having depth and purpose), it saddened me to see them so neglected.

However, a Book #3 is in the works! So, hopefully, all the characters will get their chance to shine and we'll get another chance to solve a complex mystery in the near future :)

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today! 

'Chuckling softly, he thought about the new message he would send...and what he had in store. It was perfect. And it was going to blow them all away.'

#2: Avenged

Avenged (Ruined #2)
By Amy Tintera

Genre(s)Fantasy, YA, Romance
ImprintA & U Children
Pub Date: May 2017
Page(s): 416
Price: $16.99 (AUD)

Rating4.2 out of 5 stars

Best part(s): The complexity!! Fantasy is always a win for me when it is complex, but understandable - detailed, but treats readers with respect and doesn't knock them over the head with pages of description or world building lore. Amy so far in the Ruined series has managed to find this perfect balance, and it was a treat getting to experience it again in Avenged.

And the dialogue. Don't get me started! It is my eternal struggle to not bookmark every single witty/sarcastic/"oh my gosh I have to use this in real life" quote that I come across. Avenged tested my bookmarking restraint to its limits - in the best way possible of course!

But the star of the entire book - and series - is the Ruined. The Ruined make this series. The whole concept, the ingenious way its been put to paper, just works and there are no words to accurately capture the kind of magic that's created.

I was going to dedicate a paragraph to my fangirling over every single character in this book but it kinda turned into an essay!! So to summarise:

Em is a sarcastic goddess.
Olivia is Scary Spice but like in the best way possible.
Aren is a loveable bundle of POV goodness.
Violet is awesome sauce.
And everyone else I've forgotten are magical in their own ways.

I cannot wait for Allied and to experience more of Amy's incredible storytelling and brilliant characters.

Least favourite part(s): Pacing/balance of drier plot areas and action pieces - although this may just be me being fussy, haha! I adore Amy's action sequences, so when we're engaging in meetings, planning, etcetera, sometimes it got a little hard to commit my attention 110%. But, overall, this book was a win <3 

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today! 

'(She) jumped, trying to pull her hand away. He didn't let go.

He could see her fear. He was usually perfectly to terrify people, but he didn't like it from her. This girl who risked her life to join him (...), who had helped him (...), she shouldn't be scared of him.'

#3: Tower of Dawn

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)
By Sarah J. Maas

Genre(s)Fantasy, YA, Romance
ImprintBloomsbury Children's Books
Pub Date: September 2017
Page(s): 672
Price: $17.99 (AUD)

Rating3.9 out of 5 stars

Best part(s): The fact that it was written by Sarah is probably the best part!!

For anyone who hasn't read a book by Sarah J. Maas...firstly I don't know how you accomplished this but like omigosh you are missing out on so much!! *showers you with a million quotes about stars and then proceeds to list all the reasons fae men are superior*

But if you haven't read one of her books, then you probably wouldn't understand why the fact Sarah wrote this is enough for it to be incredible off-the-bat. To explain briefly, Sarah J. Maas has a gift. I honestly don't believe that you can acquire this kind of storytelling finesse, character and world building effortlessness, and just endless amounts of quotable material, by studying writing or practising it. There is just this inner fire that makes her works so addictive and makes them stay with you long after you've closed the final page...after your twentieth re-read!

I knew that a part of me would adore any book she released, so when she released Tower of Dawn I was immediately in love with it, its plot, and (of course!) the fact that it is centred around Chaol. I loved getting to revisit parts of Sarah's world that we'd only glimpsed on occasion, and getting introduced to even more amazing characters. 

I look forward to Chaol's paths crossing with the rest of the crew in Sarah's upcoming Throne of Glass series novel - which is bound to be an epic adventure.

Least favourite part(s): Timing, my friends. Timing!

I know I'm not the first reviewer to say this (and I probably won't be the last!) but the announcement of this book's plot, POV, and character focus were a major disappointment. As much as I do adore Chaol and Sarah J. Maas, this book felt like (A) a diversionary tactic, (B) a novella forced into becoming a novel because its parents told it to, and (C) a total 180 turnaround from the plot and characters we'd become emotionally attached to.

The ending of the previous book in the series, Empire of Storms, ruined me. Like actually! I was on my couch, eyes raw from crying, and that's not even mentioning the days...months!...spent stressing over the damage done and the heartache caused to the characters. Sarah J. Maas is a genius and honestly Empire of Storms - as a fifth book in the series, no less! - is probably my favourite book os Sarah's so far. Everything was just so perfect. The ending had us all invested and ready to go.

Which made it so hard to care about Tower of Dawn! It'd be like if Harry Potter had stopped at Harry discovering the location of the final give you an entire book dedicated to Neville's time at Hogwarts during the Death Eater reign.

Would I love a book about that? Umm yes! Yes I would! Even a novella!
Would I want it in place of a much needed finish to the emotional and plot-related stakes the author raised in the last book? No. Nope. Nada. Nooooo.

There is a time for novellas, or novels, dedicated to side characters and this just wasn't it in my opinion. As much as I treasure Tower of Dawn, my attention kept slipping and returning to Empire of Storms. I was dying to know what's happened to everyone! The stakes in the previous novel were lightyears ahead of Tower of Dawn's, which was a wonderful read...just not as epic as it would have been if it had picked up where Empire of Storms left off.

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today!

The book is so gorgeous that I got a little carried away taking pics...!

'A gift. A gift from a queen who had seen another woman in hell and thought to reach back a hand. With no thought of it ever being returned. A moment of kindness, a tug on a thread.'

#4: Unearthed

Unearthed (Unearthed #1)
By Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Genre(s)Sci-Fi, YA
ImprintA & U Children
Pub Date: December 2017
Page(s): 352
Price: $19.99 (AUD)

Rating4.7 out of 5 stars

Best part(s): I'm an ancient history student so when a book mentions the words 'Indiana Jones' I'm immediately on board! Despite Indiana Jones' historical inaccuracies and horrific amounts of destruction, there is just something so cool about the combination of scavengers, raiders, temples, and artefacts - the merging of humans and their history in high-stakes settings. Add space into the mix (plus the goddesses Amie and Meagan!) and this book was bound to be a success from the start.

I'm actually 99% convinced we should be making sure writing dynamic duos like Amie and Meagan are signing a pact to write together forever. Like, on their own these women are epic. Together?! *cue the mind explosion*

The problem solving, dialogue, world building, and the awesome-as-hell characters are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Unearthed has to offer. I especially liked the fact that archaeology and space are combined. It's always been a pet peeve of mine that modern society - a good percentage of it - has been built on our ancient history, making it difficult to truly get a look at history in its authentic context and to gain access to it. Where will we get a chance to uncover something new? A whole new world, a new planet?! That's my idea of a good time! This book being fiction aside, this would be amazing and I honestly think that the fact the book draws from fields and practices in real life makes the book's sense of realism heightened.

I loved this book and found it to be the perfect read to jump into headfirst, falling into a world of adventure and hidden wonders.

Least favourite part(s): The romance??? I put question marks here lol because I'm not 100% sure if lessening the romance would have aided the plot or not - but I personally found it a little distracting. With Unearthed just being so dang awesome and original, having that YA romance in there was a little like finding a chocolate coin in a Lindt chocolate box! However, I liked both characters a lot so it wasn't so bad. It did nothing to deter my history-obsessed mind from reading and enjoying this good read.

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today! 

'I want to convince her that I will always find a way to help her.

I want to try and explain one more time that we could be in the middle of the most important discovery on Gaia - that we could be saving our whole world. I want to...

"Mia -"

The word is a bullet, and it silences me.'

#5: Shadowblack

Shadowblack (Spellslinger #2)
By Sebastien de Castell 

Genre(s)Fantasy, YA, Magic
Pub Date: October 2017
Page(s): 352
Price: $19.99 (AUD)

Rating3.9 out of 5 stars

Best part(s): I really enjoyed Spellslinger and its unique concepts. The tattoos and bands that determined a wielder's magic type: iron (protective), ember (fire), breath (air), silk (mind manipulation), blood (physical manipulation), sand (secret knowledge), shadow (emptiness and demonic). Everything about the creation of the world of Spellslinger fit perfectly together like pieces of a puzzle.

The world of this series is what made Shadowblack for me. It was nice getting to revisit these concepts again and see them evolve and be reflected in different ways. This world with all its quirks is a feast for the imagination and full of endless possibilities.

Least favourite part(s): As much as I truly like these characters and this world, Book #2 (like I talked about in my Tower of Dawn review above!) is following in the path of greatness. It's not easy being a sequel - it's a path full of judgement and comparisons and I know not every sequel can be as perfectly balanced and addictive as its predecessor.

It felt like even the characters weren't committed to their given paths. The romance lacked lustre and believability. Honestly I've seen people pass one another on the street who've had way more chemistry than these two. I feel like nowadays YA has this draw towards the plot of single characters of the opposite gender being shoved together, regardless of compatibility. Like, we can have a book where two people aren't mooning over one another! Or where two people who no longer connect in a romantic way are simply allies, friends, or even enemies lol, and the protagonist is left to find someone they do connect with eventually.

Shadowblack has a keen sense of mystery, magic, and adventure, although a tad aimless at times in regards to character and plot. I'm hoping that some of Spellslinger's charm will be more present in the upcoming Book #3 Charmcaster.

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today! 

'There are many winds that travel across the land: winds of change, winds of sorrow, winds of joy, winds of war, To know the truth of the world, an Argosi must listen to these winds, awaken to their touch upon the skin and follow every discordance, for any one of them could grow into a hurricane that could change the course of history.'

#6: Nexus

Nexus (Zeroes #3)
By Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, & Deborah Biancotti

Genre(s)Fantasy, YA, Sci-Fi
ImprintA & U Children
Pub Date: November 2017
Page(s): 432
Price: $19.99 (AUD)

Rating4.7 out of 5 stars

Best part(s): The terrific trinity is back! Scott, Margo, and Deborah create magic together, and this has been evident in Books #1-#2 of the Zeroes series. Despite the quality of Books #1-#2 however, they now pale in comparison to Nexus. Nexus is just next-level, packed full of incredible writing, adventure and mayhem, and a ticking clock in the background as the 'final showdown' begins.

First off, how is it possible that one book carries so much?! Normally this would put me off a book - I have only one brain and that one brain can't hold too much information at one time lol (it's already full of useless trivia, repetitive song lyrics, and history nerd material). But somehow it just works. There is a perfect harmony amid the chaos. The Zeroes and their troubles, Agent Phan, new superpowers to go up against...disaster awaits and yet there is this buzz of anticipation throughout it all that makes everything just a joy to uncover and experience.

I don't want to give too much away, but I'll just say that it is a perfect finale. A worthy conclusion. It's not often that a trilogy gets that - a chance to shine without it seeming forced, rushed, or an imitation of the former glory created by its predecessors. Nexus is one of the highlights of 2017 in sci-fi.

Least favourite part(s): It's done! Gone! Why must all good things come to an end?! *cue the Nelly Furtado song*

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today! 

'She was in pain. She was in tears.
It was very simple all of a sudden.
He couldn't let her cry.

He opened his mouth, and a voice came out of it, hardly a voice at all, hoarse with disuse...

Instantly he wanted to snatch the word back. That single sound reeling everything in - all his pain, his guilt, what he'd done.'

Which book will you be adding to your TBR? Have you read any standout books these holidays?

Let me know in the comments below!

Although I was provided with a review copy by the author and/or publisher, all opinions expressed in the this post are purely my own. To find out more, please visit my disclaimer page.

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