Thursday, 18 June 2015

Review: THE LEVELLER by Julia Durango

Title: The Leveller
Author: Julia Durango
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Format: Ebook/ARC
Received: For review from HarperCollins, via DanaSquare (thanks Dana!)
Release date: Expected June 23rd 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 3/5
Read this if you liked: Tron, Inception, Reboot, The Eye of Minds, Ender’s Game

Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them. 
But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why? 
Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?

(I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion of the book. Thank you!)

I definitely like to see the good in all that I read but sometimes you can read a book and it just doesn't measure up to the high expectations you have for it. THE LEVELLER by Julia Durango was certainly a book that I wanted to love and I absolutely did enjoy a lot of it, but overall it fell flat for me.

There is a lot that Durango does right. For a start, the concept of virtual reality (although not new) was really intriguing and I have to admire the in-depth quality of the MEEP. The science of it and the dangers of staying too long felt believable and as I read it, I was prompted at several points to think about the perks and dangers of this type of gaming, knowing full well that I might see these kind of gaming advancements within my lifetime. The thoughtfulness of Durango’s argument was really compelling, not to mention the fun that Nixy had with her friends Moose and Chang in the MEEP was infectious. I wanted in on that! I also liked her relationship with her parents. It was good to see some parents in a YA novel that were involved, fun and not out to kill her. Durango is a good writer and built up suspense and generally, Nixy had a very distinct voice. And I absolutely loved the cover – the tagline pulled me in. 'There is no reset button' sounded so ominous.

The biggest problem I have with THE LEVELLER is the execution. There’s nothing worse than a book that hooks you in, promises you an exciting and interesting premise and then doesn’t deliver when it comes to the climax. I wanted to love it so much; the concept of an in-game hostage situation sounded very cool. The combination of Inception meets Tron was a mix that I felt really worked and I can’t deny that the author didn’t develop the MEEP and all its intricacies really well. However, when it came to the final chapters of the book (and even earlier than that if I’m honest), the plot started to feel dry, really predicable and very rushed as it came to a close. The revelation of who was really behind Wyn’s disappearance into the MEEP came as no surprise and the whole execution of it felt contrived and filled with tropes. The antagonist was monologue-ing and practically twirling their evil moustache. Then there was the Black – the edges of the game world that was comprised of undeveloped game space. It was such a sinister and deadly presence, but I was expecting more. It felt like it would be a character of its own earlier on, especially the way that LEGION spoke about it, but it really didn’t amount to anything, except to serve to some character development for Nixy later on. THIS WAS SUCH A SHAME. I really wanted the Black to be a bigger part.

As for the final chapter, I can’t even talk about how disappointed I was with the pacing. Everything was brushed away quickly in favour of an overly romantic and cheesy ending. It didn’t really feel like an ending at all. Durango had set up an entire network of potential antagonists with LEGION but there’s not even a whisper of the idea that they might cause more trouble for the Salvador’s and their MEEP system. The author spent time developing the system as I said, as well as its potential breakthroughs and flaws. It would have been really good to see whether LEGION’s fears about mind control and such like were founded, and whether Nixy would have sided with them eventually. It does say on Goodreads that THE LEVELLER is number one in a potential series but I think there is a fine line between leaving the audience with teasers to carry on reading and leaving a lot of loose ends. 

And so we come to Nixy. As a protagonist, I think that Durango’s aim was portray girl gamers positively and I really admire that. She made Nixy tough and resourceful and I liked that she didn’t feel the need to enhance herself in-game. But for whatever reason, I just didn’t click with her and I can’t put my finger on why. I think it’s because she seems unreal – good at everything, succeeding where people twice her age and experience couldn’t. I liked Wyn Salvador a lot, and his relationship with his family and fervent belief in the good that the MEEP could do was really intriguing. I didn’t feel like he was a typical heir to a multi-billion dollar empire; he felt, above all else, normal which was okay, but a little bland. There were times (especially when I got to the end) where I wished that Wyn had been the antagonist of the book. I think that would have been a more interesting dynamic than to throw the two of them into instalove, which is what happens. I didn’t believe especially in their romance. Their feelings for one another come very quickly, though Durango gets around it by introducing uncertainty of the passage of time, and a memory wipe of their kiss. Sometimes the relationship between the two of them is believable and cute, but there are equally painful, forced scenes where the dialogue is just corny.

I’ve been pretty critical of THE LEVELLER, but as a whole, it is a good book. I read it very quickly, and I did really enjoy the first half of the novel. The descriptions in the book were great and I could definitely tell the author was passionate about gaming and technology. Durango isn’t a bad writer, which I think is what disappoints me most of all because she doesn’t quite pull off the potential of this story. That being said, it is a series, and maybe I'll find the answers to the questions I've been left with in later books. I really hope so!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

SADDLE UP! (Meet the Cast 2 and 3): VENGEANCE ROAD by Erin Bowman

Title: Vengeance Road
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HMH for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1st 2015
Genre: YA, Western


When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there's room for love in a heart so full of hate.      

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.   

Howdy pardners! I was lucky enough to be selected to be in the street team to help promote and support Erin Bowman's fantastic new YA western Vengeance Road!

On Monday you were introduced to KATE THOMSPON, and today, I have two new characters to share with you: JESSE AND WILL, and THE ROSE RIDERS.

There's still two more reveals for this week and I'll be posting a review of the first four chapters soon, so keep your eyes to the Western plains...


Title: One Chance Night
Author: Eliza Boyd
Series: Make A Change #1
Format: ebook
Pages: 188
Genre: NA, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Patchwork Press
Publication Date: 15th May 2015


On the surface, Chelsea Greer has it all:
A loving husband. 
A nice house.
A good job.

In reality, she works hard to maintain the illusion that is her life. She's also missing the most important thing:


One night could change her life. One night could give her the strength to rediscover what's important. In one night, she could find love when she most needs it and least expects it. 

All Chelsea has to do is follow her heart after One Chance Night.

I was hugely privileged to receive a copy of this via NetGalley and although I haven't finished it, I'm really enjoying this new adult book. Boyd gives us a romance that's a little different; if you're expecting a book about adultery, look elsewhere. The prevailing theme is self-love and not settling for a half-life. I believe these are themes we can all relate to whether we're in the same situation as Chelsea, the main character, or not. Boyd's writing is fluid and fun so that's a nice treat too!


Describe your writing routine (if you have one)

I wish I had one. Haha! While writing OCN, I would write between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning. I’d take my computer, a blanket, and a cup of tea outside while the sun came out and write about 1000-1500 words. By the time I moved on to book 2, it was too cold to sit outside that early, so I did sprints at the end of the day. Each book seems to bring its own routine.

What do you use for inspiration? (Pinterest, music, long walks etc)

Music! For sure, music. I can hear a song and book idea will pop into my head. Or sometimes it’s just a short story. But music is a big one for me. Car rides will do it too, but that’s usually when I’m listening to music.

How did you come up with the plot/ideas for One Chance Night?

The idea for OCN started with when Chelsea meets Jack (chapter 27) through the end. I saw that in my head when I heard a Brett Eldredge song (hence the name of Brett!) and wondered what had to happen to get Chelsea there. 

What was your favourite part to write (no spoilers if possible?)

Hmmm. Probably the scene I saw in my head (see question above) because that was the idea that sparked the whole thing. It might have been the hardest too because I really wanted to get it right! It’s definitely my favorite scene, and I really enjoyed writing it.

You're being sent out into space in a capsule. You have all the necessities - food, water, medical supplies etc - but you're allowed three non-essential items. What would they be and why?

  • My laptop so I can write! And take photos of my journey! And I’d load it up beforehand with the Kindle app and all the books I want to read because I have NO time to read for fun right now and I’d LOVE to catch up on all of the amazing books I’ve been missing out on! And I’d be able to listen to music! And audio books! Hopefully the charger doesn’t count as an addition item and I’d have a place to charge it… Haha!
  • A blender so I can make smoothies with the food I was able to bring. LOL! I’m a green smoothie junkie, so that would definitely be necessary to bring.
  • How about some Duct Tape? I could probably use that for something, right? Haha!

If you could have a second chance at something, would you? Or do you live by a no regrets type philosophy?

I definitely live more by “no regrets.” I didn’t always, but I am where I am for a reason, and I enjoy my life because I live that way. That being said, I’d love a second chance with my dog, Max. He passed away a year and a half ago, and I live with a lot of what-ifs regarding that.

One Chance Night is #1 in the 'Make A Change' series - what can we expect to follow? 

Book 2 will follow Ian’s sister. At the end of OCN, you find out why, so I won’t spoil that. J And Book 3 is about a character you will meet in Book 2, so I can’t say more than that either. Haha! But they each follow a different women who’s connected to the characters in book 1 in one way or another, so you’ll see the same characters throughout. Each book wraps up the woman’s story, but there *might* be a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of book 2…

A huge thanks to Eliza for answering my questions! :) In the comments below, tell me what you would like to change if you had 'one chance'!


Eliza Boyd is a contemporary women's fiction and romance author. Also an avid reader, she writes novels, short stories, poetry, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Born and raised in Northern Illinois, she now lives in sunny Arizona with her husband and her plethora of animals. When she's not reading, writing, or working, she can be found walking around her neighborhood (for exercise, not for stalking), taking photos of her pets, or binge watching her favorite shows. 

Feel free to contact her on any of her social media sites. She spends too much time on the Internet, so she'll probably get back to you right away.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

SADDLE UP! (Meet the Cast #1) - VENGEANCE ROAD by Erin Bowman

Title: Vengeance Road
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HMH for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1st 2015
Genre: YA, Western


When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there's room for love in a heart so full of hate.      

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.   

Howdy pardners! I was lucky enough to be selected to be in the street team to help promote and support Erin Bowman's fantastic new YA western Vengeance Road!

It's an amazing opportunity that already has its perks (such as getting an exclusive look at some of the early chapters of the novel - and HOLY HOTRODS I am in love) but most of all, I just love being able to share my excitement for an awesome addition to YA lit!

There was a lot of excitement across Twitter when the cover was revealed and you can see why - someone give that designer an award! The colour scheme, the typography, ornate pistols...just looking at it makes me want to start spittin' and wear cow hide pants.

But it's worth getting excited about the contents too. For one thing, I love the main character's voice; I'm a big fan of westerns (The Good, The Bad, The Ugly anyone?? Hella good!) and having a character whose inner thoughts are accented not only feels authentic, but it's a breath of fresh air - and a real nod to how good Erin actually is at writing, because it can't have been easy to pull off!

I'll be sharing lots of things from VR up until its release in September. If you want to keep up with what Erin is sharing from the novel before its release date you can follow her (@erin_bowmanor the posse (@VRPosseon Twitter. There's a tumblr too!

And because it wouldn't be a blog from me if I didn't at least cover something Pinterest (seriously, will you marry me Pinterest? You complete me...), here's the GORGEOUS inspiration board Erin uses for the novel. LOOK AT ALL THE PRETTY WILD WEST THINGS ~~* o *~~ 

ANDDDDD because I know you'll all be as excited as I am, yesterday was start of the cast reveals! So without further ado...


Meet the Cast of Vengeance Road  { 1 of 5 }

Disguised as a boy, Kate takes to the plains looking to avenge her father’s murder. When she discovers he was killed for a journal revealing the location of a gold mine, Kate presses on despite the warning that “gold makes monsters of men.”

Fun Fact from Erin: The first line of Vengeance Road came to me in the shower (it’s remained unchanged since then!) and it had a stilted, rough quality to it. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was Kate’s voice and that the story demanded to be told in her dialect. (For those wary of novels written in dialect, I’ve heard from a bunch of early readers who said it took only a few pages to get used to Kate’s narration. Fingers crossed you’ll be the same!)

Photo credits from left to right, top to bottom: Devyn Galindo / Raphael Mazzucco / still from The Professionals (1966) / unknown (I searched high and low and couldn’t find the original source for this but it is SO perfect I had to include it. If anyone knows the artist/source, please let me know) /Chad Copress / Antique Arms Inc / Rush Zimmerman

Stay tuned for more VRPosse announcements! :)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Review: TROUBLE FROM THE START by Rachel Hawthorne

Title: Trouble From The Start
Author: Rachel Hawthorne 
Format: eARC, received from HarperTeen via danasquare (Thanks to both!)
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 28th 2015
Rating: 4/5
Read it if you liked: Kissing In America, Anna and the French Kiss, The Boyfriend Project, City Love 
Avery knows better than to fall for Fletcher, the local bad boy who can’t seem to outrun his reputation. Fletcher knows he shouldn’t bother with college-bound, daughter-of-a-cop Avery. But when their paths cross, neither can deny the spark. Are they willing to go against everything and let their hearts lead the way? Or are they just flirting with disaster? 

(I received a copy of this from HarperTeen via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion in any way. Thank you!)

I don't read a lot of contemporary. I always mean to but since I write fantasy and scifi myself, by allegiances tend to lie there when it comes to selecting reading material. Having said that, there are a few contemporary novels I'm really looking forward to reading and come very highly recommended. So, on New Year’s Day this year, when I was hauled up in bed with food poisoning, I thought I'd give Rachel Hawthorne’s companion novel TROUBLE FROM THE START a go. It is a YA contemporary that follows the romance between Avery Watkins, smart girl and general perfectionist, Fletcher Thomas, bad boy and school screw-up. It's the classic case of opposites attract with a few twists, but despite the familiarity of the set-up, I really liked the story.

I didn't read THE BOYFRIEND PROJECT, which TROUBLE FROM THE START is a companion to, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't need to. Hawthorne set it up so that everything between the main characters of the mother novel (Kendall and Jeremy) was pretty self explanatory. I liked the plot; Hawthorne didn't tell us everything about Fletcher right away, which was good and the pacing of the events was generally good. The ending felt a little rushed, and a little too neatly tied together; the major climax did seem like it was rushed through, whereas the week leading up to graduation was much longer in comparison (or so it felt to read). I would have loved to hear more from Avery and her parents about her decision to be a teacher instead, since this was one of the big aspects of her character (her trying to live up to expectations) but it was a little skirted over.

Avery was in danger of being a little too perfect for me, but I still liked her a lot. She was over-achieving, gave her time up to tutor, didn't go to prom because she was reading – classic brainiac, and the perfect foil to Fletcher’s trouble maker aspects, which saves her from being an all out Mary Sue. In fact, her perfection (or desire for it) becomes one of her major flaws, which is nice, but it was a dangerous line. Fletcher was a lot more interesting to read about and I wish his chapters had been longer, because at times they just felt like they were there to contradict the negative thoughts Avery had in the prior chapters. Having said that, Hawthorne challenges the bad boy perspective that gets used so often: a player comes to tempt good girls (which Avery most certainly is) to the dark side, and she changes his rakish ways. Fletcher isn't the bad boy, he's the victim of people's perceptions. It's kind of a twist on the classic case of misjudgment that goes all the way back to Lizzie and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, but it was really good to see applied to a modern setting because reputation and the impression you give people is as vital now as it was in the 18th century.

Their romance was addictive. You know you want them together from the second he takes her home in chapter one and it's not spoiling it to say that, of course, we get our happy ending. It's a YA contemporary romance, a genre with certain reader expectations, and I went into TROUBLE FROM THE START knowing that this would be the conclusion. However, I'm always interested in how an author can take two characters you know will end up together from A to B. It's not the bumpiest of roads for Fletcher and Avery, but their biggest problems are frighteningly human – low self esteem, being afraid of disappointing people, and fear of failure. These are all things that as a reader, I could identify with. Not scheming exes or blackmail plots. The key behind the enjoyment of this novel is that it's so human.

Well, that, and having a hot male lead doesn't hurt. And the first kiss between the two of them is a delight! For the chapter afterwards, I was still thinking about it. I think Hawthorne could have afforded to have a few more teasing moments leading up to it because although we know they're attracted to one another there's not a lot of physical tension but it works fine without. For me, personally, I like a teensy more tension before the Big Crunch, but that's just me.

The supporting cast weren't bad, but they were a little vague. I like Avery’s parents, especially her dad. I'd like to see more Marc; he was funny and his unrequited love for his coworker was definitely something that could become another novel. He made me laugh and out of all the male sub characters, he was the best. I felt like I'd have liked Kendall and Jeremy more if I'd have read the previous book, because they did feel like they were there to make Avery feel like the third wheel, which of course, isn't the case.

The writing style was good, although there were moments when I felt that the author was just skimming over description to get the story going, so we ended up with lots of filler sentences or paragraphs. Besides that I found it easy to read, engaging, and I read straight through in about six hours!

All in all, it was a fun, sweet read that was a little different to the norm. As I've said, I really liked reading it. I would read Hawthorne’s books again!

Monday, 8 June 2015

POLARIS AWAKENING personality test!

The new Patchwork Press anthology has some great characters in it; as I read and edited the stories, one of my prevalent thoughts was 'wow, we have a really strong cast here'. I knew when writing Scorpio who I definitely wanted to see a second time around (that's right - a sequel has been planned!), and I got the same feeling reading the other author's stories too. I could spend a hundred years writing about Polaris Space Station, but the characters in particular...well, I just wasn't ready to say goodbye to them all. 

If you loved the main characters as much as I did, I made this Buzzfeed quiz to find out which one of the seven main narratives you would be most like. I was sure there was a fair amount of Seth in me, but when I answered honestly, I got Fay from Meghan's story Taurus!

Take the quiz and let me know who you got, either by leaving a comment below or by tweeting about the quiz!