Book Review: All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter

I am an Ally Carter fangirl, so I was drop-dead excited when I found out she was starting a new series. This book was a great combination of her previous series with a new twist, but it is not my favorite of her books.

4/5 stars

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Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

This book was classic Ally Carter. Plot-wise, it was very similiar to the fifth Gallagher Girl (Out of Sight, Out of Time). Character-wise, it reminded me of her Heist Society series. Carter’s voice is constant and familiar throughout, though this book is more intense and less lough-out-loud than her previous series.

I love the setup of Embassy Row. The dynamic it created between the characters was great. On top of that, the fact that any disturbance between them could become an international incident added a drama to the series that the story would have suffered without.

Grace as a main character was okay. I sympathized with her plight–everyone believes she is crazy because she says her mother was murdered when the official story is that it was a tragic accident. She has spent the last three years since her mother’s death looking for the Scarred Man who shot her, and it has gotten her in loads of trouble. She is impulsive and reckless and broken–I liked her enough, but I wasn’t in love with her. She also has some serious PTSD to deal with.

Unfortunately, I don’t really like reading characters who have PTSD. It can come off as too much, and the story gets stuck inside the main character’s head instead of actually playing out. This story didn’t suffer from this too much–the plot continued even as Grace’s mental state deteriorated–but it was still a thorn in my side in regards to the entire book. In some ways, it seemed like her PTSD got in the way of her having a personality–everything revolved around the trauma, which was the point, I guess, but was still disappointing for the first book in a series. I want to know who the main character is, and then see her fall apart. Starting the book with her broken kept me from really connecting to her.

The other characters were an entertaining group of kids from various embassies. I liked them, but they weren’t incredibly complex. There is kind of a love triangle, but it doesn’t develop enough to become overwhelming. As the series progresses, I expect it will either solidify or one of the guys will be relegated to friend status (that has happened in the rest of Carter’s series).

The one part of this book that breaks from Carter’s other books is that none of the characters are badasses. In the Gallagher Girl series, all of the characters go to a school for spies and are naturally really good at what they do. In the Heist Society series, all the characters are trained as thieves.

None of the characters in All Fall Down are incredibly good at sneaking around or investigating international intrigue. While the plot of this book resembles the rest of Carters’, this detail makes All Fall Down unique and removes some of the semi-ridiculous air that surrounds her previous series.

The plot is simple but holds the reader’s attention. There were appropriate twists and turns and the ending completely shocked me. However, the story never achieved the addictive, magical quality of Carter’s other works.

All in all, All Fall Down is definitely worth reading, but fans of Ally Carter might be somewhat disappointed that this book doesn’t match up to standards set by her previous books.

Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

Today’s topic was supposed to be Top Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read From X Genre, but I didn’t feel like there was any genre that I specifically read enough to talk about that, so I’m taking it from a different angle and highlighting books where I read the first book in the series, enjoyed it, but never picked up the second book (or the third)…YET!

 1. Through the Zombie Glass (White Rabbit Chronicles #2) by Gena Showalter

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2. Rebel (Reboot #2) by Amy Tin

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3. The Immortal Crown (Age of X #2) by Richelle Mead

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4. The Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by

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5. Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) by Ann Brashares

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6. Fire with Fire (Burn for Burn #2) by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

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7. Deep Betrayal (Lies Beneath #2) by Anne Greenwood Brown

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8. Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

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9. Shades of Earth (Across the Universe #3) by Beth Revis

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10. Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tehereh Mafi

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For most of these books, I loved the first book, bought the second book…and then never read it. Part of this is my ridiculous need to read the entirety of a series if I am going to read a later book, basically if book two comes out, I have to reread book one before I read book two. This gets in the way of reading other things, and well, I have a lot of sequels I haven’t gotten to.

Someday, right?

Which ones of these have you read? Which do you recommend?

Book Review: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas

The best book in the series by far. It’s exactly what the series needed to keep it from being predictable and boring.

5/5 stars!!!!

Series: Throne of Glass #3

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Amazon description:

Celaena has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak—but at an unspeakable cost. Now, she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth . . . a truth about her heritage that could change her life—and her future—forever. Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. Will Celaena find the strength to not only fight her inner demons, but to take on the evil that is about to be unleashed?

This review will contain spoilers for books #1-3 of the series. I realized I can’t say much about this book without talking about all the stuff that happens!!!

There are three main plots running in this book, so I’m going to talk about each individually, and then how they worked together.

Celaena and Rowan

This was by far my favorite of the three plot lines. Probably because Celaena is my favorite character, and Rowan is also amazing. From the moment we met him, I could tell his dynamic with Celaena was going to be great to read. It was frustrating to see him underestimate Celaena and to know that he has no idea all the horrible things she has experienced, but it was hiliarious watching Calaena disrespect him.

Their dynamic evolved nicely–not too fast, not too slow. I loved–and hated–that Rowan consistently beat her in their fights. Not that it humbled Celaena, but it humbled me as a reader. In the first two books, there were few scenes when Celaena truly lost a fight. It was refreshing to have the invincible character knocked down a peg.

The training plot lines was good. I liked that Celaena sucked at it in the beginning. As the reader, it helped me understand her relationship with her past as a Fae–and of course, it created more tension between her and Rowan, which was great. Once she started getting the hang of it, the book got even better. Celaena isn’t just a mortal badass–she’s also a badass Fae. (Yay!)

I actually love that Rowan and Celaena’s relationship never became romantic. Up until this point, Celaena had basically had a romantic relationship (of some kind) on every male figure presented: Dorian, Chaol, Archer, that thief in book one that I can’t remember the name of. Their relationship was tense, charged and deeply personal–they were undeniably connected. I loved that. And I respected Maas more because she presented a emotional but platonic relationship between a girl and guy (which by the laws of the YA Hot Trainer Meets Rebellious Trainee Plot Line should have ended up being heavily romantic).

The Witches

I have mixed feelings about this plot line. I got into it, sure…eventually. Basically once we met the wyverns and it turned out that they had personalities. Looking back on the book as a whole, I realize that this plot line was fun to read and will become important in the next book. There was good character development and it added a new aspect to the magic and the world building.

However, I have to admit that these chapters bugged me while I was reading. They felt extraneous. I didn’t want to read them, I wanted to get back to Celaena–the character I actually cared about. The plot line took its sweet time getting to the point (the wyverns and the war games) and it took me even longer to feel emotionally invested in the characters.

Dorian, Chaol, Sorscha, and the Rebels

I liked this plot more than the witches’ but less than Celaena’s.

Dorian and Chaol’s relationship was confusing for me. They were really cold and distant; they didn’t trust each other with their secrets. I know that they ended the previous book on a bad footing, but if they just talked to each other, they had exactly the same motivation. It felt unnecessarily brooding and stubborn. Bleh.

Chaol’s relationship with the rebels was more interesting. His continuing loyalty to the king makes no sense, so it was good to see him start to stray from that. The general/Celaena’s cousin was a smart addition to the book. It made the rebel cause believable (because otherwise it was two guys in dark corners doing…nothing?).

I’m ready for Chaol to get over Celaena. He was turning into a Angel-in-the-first-season-after-he-breaks-up-with-Buffy-esque character. It didn’t fit his personality and stagnated his character development. He maybe finally moved on at the end of the book?!?!

Dorian’s relationship with Sorscha made my heart melt. They were perfect for each other. Their relationship progressed quickly, but I was okay with it because Sorscha’s half of it was a long time in the making, and Dorian is the kind of guy who falls in love hard and fast. I loved that Sorscha helped Dorian with his magic–the bit about the iron helped make the magical elements of the book more complex. I really appreciate that Dorian moved on to a new romantic relationship instead of pining over Celaena (I’m looking at you Chaol); it made the book feel more natural and less in-you-face LOVE TRIANGLE.

I cannot believe the king cut off Sorscha’s head and put one of those devil collars on Dorian!!!!!!! Seriously, that felt unnecessary. I hate it when characters die and I don’t immediately see the importance of their death. Also, the next book, with Dorian under the king’s control, is going to be soooooo sad. *glares at author*

All together

This book was intense. The fantasy side of the book came into full force, and the author continued to world-build by presenting new aspects of magic. Romance moved on or didn’t happen, breaking from the heavily saturated love-triangle-ness of the first two books. New characters and new plot lines pushed the book away from its humble beginnings into a dramatic fantasy series.

I NEED THE NEXT BOOK!!!!!!!

Book Review: Insanity by Susan Vaught

3/5 stars

Genre: thriller paranormal (with romance)

I love Susan Vaught. Before Insanity, I’d read three of her contemporary novels, and they were all amazing. Going Underground remains one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read. She’s a therapist in real life, and her stories capture the raw humanity her job exposes her to.

However–this is her first paranormal novel (as far as I know). And it shows. It felt like a debut novel, with the quirks and not-quites I would expect from a much less experienced author.

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Amazon description for Insanity:

Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing….When the dead husband of one of Forest’s patients makes an appearance late one night, seemingly accompanied by an agent of the Devil, Forest loses all sense of reality and all sense of time. Terrified, she knows she has a part to play, and when she does so, she finds a heritage that she never expected.

As always, no spoilers:

I loved the beginning of this book. Forest, who I thought was the main character (and kinda is), is lovable and relatable. She was the perfect mix of strong, righteous, and freaked the hell out when everything started going insane. She meets the Love Interest (Levi), and he’s perfectly dark, creepy, and hot in the paranormal fashion.

And then, a quarter of the way through the book, she isn’t the main character anymore. Part two is told from a different POV, someone you haven’t even met in part one. Time has passed, the conflict of part one has basically vanished. It was disorienting and off-putting. From then on, I had trouble telling what was going on–especially as the paranormal elements got weirder and weirder and it stopped being clear what was metaphorical and what was literally happening.

Part three is another POV. Part four is a fourth.

By that time, I was annoyed. I felt like we never spent enough time with any character to get them to feel real (something I associate with Susan Vaught’s books).

The romance was Instalove. We never saw Forest and Levi fall in love,  it just happened, so I never understood the basis of their relationship. As the cast of characters grew, the dynamic between the characters became less and less realistic, with people forgiving each other and working together when it made sense for grudges to be held, and held firmly.

Each part of the book had its own conflict, which could have been an interesting effect, if Susan Vaught had been able to pull it off. However, though parts one and four were compelling, parts two and three were confusing and borderline annoying. I finished the book grudgingly, and only out of a hatred of giving up on books and a faith in Susan Vaught.

This review reads very negatively. However, I want it to be clear that this book isn’t horrible. It feels like a debut novel for an author still trying to figure out how to build a story without leaning on the tropes of their genre. I love Susan Vaught as a writer and I expected so much from this book, that as soon as I realized it wasn’t up to her usual standards, I was let down, and then judged the book more harshly.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes paranormal or wants a scare (parts of this book are seriously scary). I’d also like to give a shout-out to Susan Vaught’s other books, because they really are worth reading.

Book Haul #1

As a Back-to-School treat, my sister and I went to Vromans Bookstore and spent probably more money than we should have.

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1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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Amazon description:

Anna can’t wait for her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a good job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s not too thrilled when her father unexpectedly ships her off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Etienne St. Clair, the perfect boy. The only problem? He’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her crush back home. Will a year of romantic near-misses end in the French kiss Anna awaits?

I’ve seen a lot of excited review for the third book in this series, Isla and the Happily Ever After. I needed more Chicklit to look forward to, so I decided to buy book one.

2. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

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Amazon description:

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”
 
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.
 
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.
 
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?
 
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds that his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

This book reminds me of The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I like this brand of not-really-historical-fiction-not-really-fantasy, and I want to read more. The title is interesting as well.

3. The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz

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Amazon description:

Magic is power, and power is magic… Once they were inseparable, just two little girls playing games in a mighty castle. Now Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the mightiest empire in the world, and Aelwyn Myrddyn, a bastard mage, face vastly different futures. Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second. With the help of her Merlin, Eleanor has maintained a stranglehold on the world’s only source of magic. While the enchanters faithfully serve the crown, the sun will never set on the Franco-British Empire. As the annual London Season begins, the great and noble families across the globe flaunt their wealth and magic at parties, teas, and, of course, the lavish Bal du Drap d’Or, the Ball of the Gold Cloth. But the talk of the season is Ronan Astor, a social-climbing American with only her dazzling beauty to recommend her. Ronan is determined to make a good match to save her family’s position. But when she falls for a handsome rogue on the voyage over, her lofty plans are imperiled by her desires. Meanwhile, Isabelle of Orleans, daughter of the displaced French royal family, finds herself cast aside by Leopold, heir to the Prussian crown, in favor of a political marriage to Marie-Victoria. Isabelle arrives in the city bent on reclaiming what is hers. But Marie doesn’t even want Leopold—she has lost her heart to a boy the future queen would never be allowed to marry. When Marie comes to Aelwyn, desperate to escape a life without love, the girls form a perilous plan that endangers not only the entire kingdom but the fate of the monarchy.

Honestly, I haven’t really looked at this book yet. My sister read the first few pages and fell in love, so I’m sure it will be good.

4. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

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Amazon description:

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

I also read a very positive review for this book. The premise of this book sounds amazing and it’s a genre of books I haven’t read much of, so that will be interesting.

5. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

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I don’t think you guys need an amazon description for this one.

I’ve always love this story, but I’ve never read the book. I meant to read it over summer but I just didn’t get around to it. I got it off of PaperbackSwap.com (a website you guys should definitely check out).

 

The seventh Stephanie Plum book should arrive soon as well. I’m currently reading Insanity by Susan Vaught, which is creepy as hell.

 
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New Page: My Top Shelf

My sister and I do this thing:

We obsessively organize our bookshelves, putting books in the order of how good they are. I can’t tell you how many times we have taken every book out of our shelves, resorted them on our floor, and then reshelved them in a new order. And then there are the small changes, where one of us just goes, “I think this series actually goes here,” and the books shift a few places in the ranking.

It’s awesome, though our mother makes fun of us.

Anyway, to the point of this post. I added a page to my blog. You can now see my Top Shelf. It’s a big list, in order, of my current favorite books. Most of them don’t have reviews, but they might if I decide to reread them (which I totally will). I hope you guys find this entertaining, or at least interesting.

Does anyone else do this with their book shelves? I’ll probably post about it more, frankly because it cracks me up that my sister and I are so obsessed with it.

Are any of my books on your top shelf? What books are on your top shelf?

By the way, here is my current, main book shelf, gorgeously organized.

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Best, top left. Still very good but not as good as the best, bottom of the right.

Book Review: Blonde Ops by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman

Blonde Ops was a fun read. It’s ridiculous and romantic.

4/5 stars!

Genre: YA contemporary romance, I guess

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Amazon description:

Expelled from yet another boarding school for hacking, sixteen-year-old Rebecca “Bec” Jackson is shipped off to Rome to intern for Parker Phillips, the editor-in-chief of one of the world’s top fashion magazines. But when a mysterious accident lands Parker in a coma, former supermodel and notorious drama queen Candace Worthington takes the reins of the magazine. The First Lady is in Rome for a cover shoot, and all hands are on deck to make sure her visit goes smoothly.

Bec quickly realizes that Parker’s “accident” may not have been quite so accidental, and when the First Lady’s life is threatened, Bec is determined to uncover the truth. On top of that, Bec must contend with bitchy models, her new boss, Candace, who is just as difficult as the tabloids say, and two guys, a hunky Italian bike messenger with a thousand-watt smile and a fashion blogger with a razor-sharp wit, who are both vying for her heart.

Can Bec catch the person who’s after the First Lady, solve the mystery of Parker’s accident, and juggle two cute boys at the same time?

I read the book quickly, in the drive up to San Diego, with breaks for activities and recovering from car sickness (I know I shouldn’t read in the car, but the book was so good).

Everything, from the plot to the characters, are ridiculous. This book is definitely not for the people who get mad at movies when a gun never runs out of ammo or a random passerby becomes an MI-5 agent (I’m looking at you Hulu). If you can get past that–which I can–the story is great.

The characters are lovable. There’s no deep characterization to speak of, but it works with the light-hearted tone of the book. The romance is sweet, complicated without being bogged down in drama.

All throughout the novel, the identity of who is behind the car crash and possibly after the First Lady remains a mystery. I wasn’t trying particularly hard to figure out who it was (not like I would with an Agatha Christie, per se), but there were enough characters and enough intrigue to keep the plot going and the ending murky.

I’m excited for the sequel, though I don’t think there is a release date or title posted yet.

A word on the title: The main character has pink hair until the end of the novel. It just bugs me that the title implies she’s blonde.