Speculating on SpecFic

Fantastic Literature: From epic fantasy to fairytales to myth-making

Only the Good Spy Young  - Ally Carter Despite having enjoyed the third book of the series, there were a lot of things that bothered me about Only the Good Spy Young, the fourth instalment of the Gallagher Girls. In part, this was because of my impatience with incorrect science, and in part because of my frustration with the way Cammie talks about Liz. I liked the action aspect of the novel, and although most of the surprises failed to actually surprise me, the ones that did were huge!Following the trend set in book three, the action begins very early on in the novel - I love getting straight to the meat! The first two books dwelled too much on rehashing the past and explaining the rather simple premise of The Gallagher Academy, in my opinion. So the action starts, and straight away we (and Cammie) are doubting "facts" that we've believed since the first book. Cammie's a little slow on the uptake (as usual) and although I was able to breathe through it and justify her reactions as shock, I was incredibly frustrated at how slowly her neurons work (as usual).But I was enjoying the book quite a bit, and tentatively having positive feelings about it when, at page 43, it began to go downhill. The thing that caught my eye is that Cammie describes the uber-special limousine that she's being driven around in as having tyres made entirely of rubber (rather than being inflated with air). The justification was that they'd never get a flat. I was immediately annoyed. Basically, this is a silly idea, and it fills me with a deep fear that super-smart spies who are entrusted with the safety of us non-spies don't know the basic principles of physics and chemistry (even though Cammie is always harping on about the advanced stuff they do).Added to this are small inconsistencies that I found irritating, particularly that Bex calls her mother Mom, not Mum, and that, when considering the operation reports that a certain character writes in a diary, their voice is very similar to Cammie's. It's highly unlikely that another character would fill out covert operations reports in the same syntax and style that Cammie uses, often using similar patterns of speech. And my favourite line from the book? "It can't be illegal, Cam. It's research." So say all the stalkers of the world. So say all the stalkers.The way that Cammie talks about the only person in the gang who isn't training to be a field operative, Liz, irritated me. She (Cammie) is always remarking on Liz's clumsiness, her inability to function in real life, and her lack of observational skills, and at one point insinuates that missions would probably be more successful without Liz. At one point, it's Liz's oversight that lands the gang in hot water, and I just don't understand how it happened. Cammie is always telling readers how exceptional Gallagher Girls are. How smart and observant. How they always know what's going on around them, remember numbers on cards, note when people cringe or startle, when people are wearing the wrong shoes. So I don't care that Liz has been put into the Research stream instead of the Investigation Stream at Gallagher - she did the same training courses as Cammie and her friends for a long time, and I feel it's unlikely that she didn't realise that her bag was open. I just feel like Cammie's always making a case for 'oh look the nerd isn't as good as us at the real spy stuff', which is, frankly, insulting.I love the role that Zach plays in this book - he hovers around the background, and came in when appropriate, but the story never devolves to him hand-holding Cammie through the secrets and mysteries. He gives clues, but the book is all about the smarts that Cammie and her friends have, not Zach's. And I like how conscious Cammie is that she really doesn't know this boy - she's wary around him, and when surrounded by people she can't trust, the acknowledges that she doesn't trust him either. I do hope these two work out a way to be together despite all the secrets and shadows and lies.Plot-wise I think the book is mediocre: there weren't many elements that surprised me. I'd guessed at Book 2 how Blackthorne would be disguised, but admittedly hadn't even been close to guessing what they trained to do there. I'd guessed the great big secret about the female assassin in the last book, but never imagined her familial connections to the main characters. Other developments were foreshadowed so poorly that the author basically stuck signs all around saying 'look at this character' or 'see what they said there?!' and it was all very obvious and clumsy.There were moments of brilliance - Cammie's reaction to the theme park was great (her serious lack of judgement in that situation was not), and there were a few really cute, funny lines. Finally getting to see Blackthorne was awesome, and I loved the journey the gang took to get there. I also liked the way Agent Townsend was written - he was good then bad then good then bad, and it kept me on my toes. I like that Cammie showed a lot more initiative in this book, and took her safety more seriously than before. However, the risks she did take surprised me, and although I understood the thought-process behind then, I could still see other avenues she might have pursued.There's a lot to like about the Gallagher Girls series - it's premise, the funny way it's written, the sisterhood of girls who back one another up. But there's also quite a bit that makes me sad or angry - the undertones of superiority over 'nerds', the lack of sophistication in the writing, the obviously incorrect physical concepts (killing people with uncooked spaghetti etc.). I think I'm approaching the books all wrong - maybe I'm meant to switch my brain off and just read them, but I can't, and these things keep nagging at me.The ending of the book took me completely by surprise, and hint at Cammie stepping up her game. With two books in the series to go, I'm looking forward to uncovering all the mysteries and seeing how Cammie and her friends get through the mess that's cropped up. Only the Good Spy Young isn't the best book of the Gallagher series so far, but it's not the worst either :-)A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
Every Breath - Ellie Marney This book is so good! I was absolutely hooked from the prologue (it's a punchy prologue!), and it only got better from there! I enjoyed the characters, the mystery, and the vivid sense of place, and am looking forward to the next two books in the series.Set in Melbourne, Every Breath is about Rachel Watts, who's new to the whole city-living thing (her family used to own a farm), and her neighbour James Mycroft, who's got a penchant for forensics and crime-solving. The city is brought to life by the author - I liked the emphasis on the small, usually overlooked aspects of the Melbourne, like little eateries, wonderful people, unexpected kindnesses. I think it's nice because we see the city through Rachel's eyes, and she's anti-Melbourne and the big smoke for so long that when she starts seeing how special it is, I could totally see it too.The murder-mystery aspect of the book had me worried initially, because I thought that teenagers solving a crime alongside the police wouldn't be believable. Why would adults give them pertinent details and allow them to spin their theories? But Marney handles it well, and I understood why the coroner and police officer wanted to listen. I was sucked into the action: there's a lot going on and I was always guessing what might happen next. One of the things that did disappoint me is how patronisingly Mycroft would wait for Watts to reach some conclusion or another - I feel like it took away from her own considerable agency and left us hanging on Mycroft's. In fact, whatever contributions Watts does make towards solving the case, she's never happy with. She's always in awe of how much Mycroft achieves and even blames herself for wallowing at one stage because she didn't do as much as him.Watts and Mycroft have an easy, simple friendship . Even then they hurt one another, it's only because they know eachother so well. I think this aspect of life is frequently forgotten about in YA - author trip over themselves creating sexual tension between two protagonists and forget that the basis of any real, lasting relationship is friendship. So for me, it's a massive plus that Watts and Mycroft were firmly established as best friends long before they explored any other relationship, but having said that, I love the sweet cute (and heart achy) build up in their romance.The fact that Rachel and James refer to one another by last-name threw me for most of the book: although it was easy enough to remember Watts' name is Rachel, because her family call her that, I constantly forgot that Mycroft was the boy's last-name! Although it did serve as a good indicator of how close they were getting - when they started saying first-names you knew things were about to get interesting! Every Breath is an engaging crime thriller that most will enjoy, especially because of its rich setting, exciting plot and great characters. I'm glad there are more books to come about Mycroft and Watts, because I'm not ready to let them go yet! I'll be eagerly looking forward to the sequels!A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
Thirteen (The Last Thirteen, #1) - James Phelan Thirteen is the first in what is going to be a thirteen-book series by James Phelan, that follows a group of teens who hold the future of the world in their hands. They're called Dreamers - because they can prophesy the end of the world through their dreams. Thirteen is about Sam, who wakes up one morning after having a terrifying dream of the world ending, and ends up being kidnapped from school.I liked Sam quite a bit - he's always thinking things through and trying to take care of everyone around him. He's not a natural leader, I don't think but the kids he ends up meeting look to him for advice. Of the other characters, I found Alex to be a bit stereotypical (a hot-head who has something to hide), but liked Eva well enough. My favourite character so far is Lora, probably because she's almost the same age as me and thus provides a voice of reason in the midst of all the juvenile characters. She has secrets as well, however, and I'll be looking forward to uncovering what they are.At just over 200 pages, and sporting quite a large font, Thirteen is a quick and easy read (for me anyway). The complexity of the plot kept me engaged, however, because there are new organizations to learn about (like The Enterprise, the Academy, and S), and everyone seems to have a hidden motive. One of the things I liked is that the trio of Dreamers that we meet never take it for granted that one side is 'good' while the other is 'evil' - they are rightly skeptical and hesitant until more information is revealed about what is going on.Refreshingly, the friendships between the trio aren't instantaneous: they are forced to hang around one another and tend to gravitate towards each other because of familiarity, but in the end they all make up their own minds about what they want. I'd be looking forward to seeing them actually develop bonds of trust and friendship.I was disappointed, however, that after being dramatically kidnapped and almost killed, the kids were thrust into the Academy - which is a school. I just feel it's unlikely that anyone, even if they are kids, who hold can see the end of the world would necessarily need to be in a boarding school environment. This development was a letdown for me, but I understand that it's aimed at kids who are still in highschool, so it's relevant to put the main characters into a school for supernaturally gifted children.A final note on the presentation: I really enjoyed the images that are peppered throughout the book because they added to the atmosphere while reading. However, I'm still incredibly confused why a teacher would have aerodynamics on the board (with differentials!) and then ask Sam to explain what F = ma means. It would seem to me that students being taught aerodynamic equations should already be familiar with the basics of Newtonian motion.I liked Thirteen quite a bit, and will probably stick with the series to see what happens, especially if the future instalments are as short and action packed as this one. I think there's a lot of potential here for younger (high school aged?) readers.If you're interested in reading the series, there's an official website and a competition being run with prizes for each book in the series. Check it out here!You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.


Vortex - S.J. Kincaid Although high in action and drama, Vortex failed to deliver as far as the main protagonist went. I liked some aspects of the novel, such as the plot and the scientific background, but Tom the teenaged delinquent and his equally vapid friends soon left me grumbling and grinding my teeth.The qualities that I liked in Tom Raines in the previous book threatened to ruin things for me in Vortex: his insufferable arrogance and inability to see any consequences of his actions was funny at first, and then quickly became irritating. Tom basically self-sabotages himself throughout the book - he needs absolutely no help from anyone else alienating the very people who hold his future in their greedy little hands, who can kill him with barely a thought. I understand he needs to stand up to their tyranny, and even admire him for it - but there's a line between antagonising people, knowing what you are doing, and antagonising people just because you can't lack the brain cells to think. And Tom strays too often into the latter category. His rebellious nature isn't amusing, and I hated how he couldn't ever see a big picture - his myopic view of the future and his place in it sparked anger in me. It also surprised and confused me that Tom didn't see anything wrong with mutiny, like, he really couldn't comprehend that he needs to work within the military chains of command.For Tom Raines, nothing comes before his pride, and throughout Vortex, he not only abuses and mocks those who are higher above him in the military hierarchy, he becomes dangerously close to losing his friends. Mind you, his friends aren't much better - Vik devolved from fun-loving dude to dangerous side-kick in this book, and as Blackburn points out, his failure to try to stop Tom from ruining his whole future is concerning in someone masquerading as a best friend. I still liked Wyatt and Yuri (especially Yuri) in this book, and enjoyed the re-emergence of favourites like Elliot and even Heather. Of the supporting cast, however, it is Blackburn that whom I love the most - the long-suffering commander who tries so hard to give these kids the best chance of surviving, who Tom unfairly wants to paint as a villain every time he can. My mother's a school teacher, and I've always despised students like Tom Raines who can't see an authority figures' attempts at helping them for what they are.However, all my complaints about Vortex so far can be explained by the fact that Tom and his friends are fifteen-year-olds who have been thrust into a position of power that few adults ever have to handle. A lot of the things that the gang get up to can be laid at the feet of teenaged arrogance and that feeling of invincibility every kid has.One of the things I liked is that the narrative teaches these kids, especially Tom, just how fragile his position is within the US Intrasolar Forces, and how fragile his hold on life is: the big trillionaires of his world own him, and can choose to terminate him, his friends and their training school without any repercussions whatsoever. In this book, Tom learns that he can't spend his life raging at people above him on the totem pole - it's only going to harm him in the long run. Another lesson Tom learns (and finally!) is that sometimes, those older and more experienced than him can provide him with good advice, and that maybe he should stop rebelling against them quite so much.In terms of action, Vortex certainly delivers! There are very few dull moments - from simulated battles and training situations to pranks and dares between his friends, there's a lot going on throughout the book. Of course, looming in the background is the space war going on between the two alliances, and the space combatants who fight in them. We get a look into the big companies that have stakes in the war and pay for the US Intrasolar Forces trainees, and how the world functions on a large-scale. It's scary how much control these trillionaires have. I also enjoyed the science that Kincaid puts into this novel - it feels realistic enough. I liked the maglev train (but it was a bit too fast, it didn't seem feasible) when Tom and his friends went  into space (sort-of).One of the things I wish had been handled better is the romance. There's not a lot of it in the book - which I liked personally - but what there was seems odd. Medusa never really called Tom out on his mistreatment of her - she kept coming back for more abuse (admittedly Tom never seeks to hurt her feelings, he just does so every single time they meet). I really don't see what Medusa sees in Tom (aside from his unique powers), because she doesn't really know him that well, but he's already betrayed and insulted and abused her worse so much! It's perplexing, to say the least.I think Vortex is a step down from the awesome that was Insignia - for someone who's "hyper-intelligent", Tom can't see the most obvious traps and consequences and owes a lot of his petty victories to his friends. There are some great moments in the book, however, and I ended up enjoying it well enough. But I'm not sure if I'm invested in the series anymore - if Tom continues on the path he's on then he'll be a boring, frustrating protagonist indeed.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
The Red Knight - Miles  Cameron This is going to be a difficult book to review, because there were times I loved it, times I hated it, times I was absolutely engaged in the story and times when I was bored senseless. An ambitious début, The Red Knight uses the well-used tropes of medieval epic fantasy to tell the story of a company of mercenaries who end up fighting in a war against daemons.My initial reaction to the book was on one of admiration - the writing style was unique and the premise was interesting. A hundred pages later, I felt I wasn't getting anywhere; there were too many characters, too much to keep track of, and I couldn't imagine how on earth any of it could be connected. The Red Knight, in all his pompous glory, was starting to annoy me greatly. So I put the book down, but for some reason, couldn't get the characters or the world out of my head. The mercenaries and nuns, and their struggles against the supernatural power of the Wild, had gotten under my skin. So I read another hundred pages, and then a hundred more, and suddenly I couldn't put the book down!Not fast-paced by any stretch of imagination, the plot of The Red Knight meanders in a languid fashion, and will frustrate most readers to the point where they feel like they should stop reading it. Rather like an avalanche, it begins with a few loose pebbles, in different areas of the mountain, that roll and bounce, and cause other stones to roll and bounce, until suddenly, the movement of the mountain is unstoppable. Those with the patience to see it through will undoubtedly be impressed.One of the more outstanding aspects of this novel is the wide range of female characters in the cast, many of whom are given a point of view, and how some display strength and independence while others aren't self-sufficient at all and use their cunning to get by. My favourites are the Abbess, a deep and nuanced character who believes she is atoning for sins committed in her youth, and Amicia, who always knows what she wants even if it means making sacrifices. I think they're all awesome though, and I love the female mercenary, Sauce, especially.Another thing I liked is the incredible detail the author pours into describing the armour and fortifications and battles in the story. Every battle scene is beautifully told, and I could imagine what was going on clearly. I also liked that the book didn't gloss over how difficult it is to get ready for a battle, and to disarm afterward - a lot of the time authors make it seem like armour magically gets on and off a knight's body, but Cameron takes special care in describing the intricacies involved.Aside from the initial sluggishness of the plot, I also disliked the Red Knight's hubris, which caused him a lot of trouble, especially in his dealings with the Abbess and Amicia. He's abrasive, rude and blasphemous, and it took me a long, long time to see any redeeming qualities in him. The revelation about his youth, his upbringing and his experiences with his brothers certainly put a lot of it into perspective, and I have to admit I quite like him now!My final, albeit minor, complaint is that my copy has quite a few errors. Heel is used instead of heal, words are missing letters, sometimes words are missing altogether. It just needs one more round of editing, in my opinion - I'd say there are 4 errors to every hundred pages, which probably doesn't seem like a lot, but we're talking about a 650 page tome! They stood out to me, and although I didn't catalogue them all, I know that I grew tired of the errors before I was even halfway through.I ended up liking The Red Knight way more than I'd thought, but I remember what a struggle the first third of it was! I'd recommend it to readers looking for something new but familiar, who have a lot of time to dedicate to it. I'm looking forward to the next book, The Fell Sword, and getting to uncover more of The Red Knight's secrets (what did he say to the King!?). This is a very cool début, and I'm glad to have read it!You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.

'Til The World Ends: Dawn of EdenThistle & ThorneSun Storm

'Til The World Ends: Dawn of EdenThistle & ThorneSun Storm (Luna Books) - 'Julie Kagawa',  'Ann Aguirre',  'Karen Duvall' This anthology presents three stories about the end of the world as we know it by acclaimed YA authors Julie Kagawa, Ann Aguirre and Karen Duval. The stories give us a rare glimpse into the apocalypse: many dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories are set well after the initial disaster. Of particular interest is the first story, where Julie Kagawa tells us how the dystopian world of the Blood of Eden series came about.Dawn of Eden by Julie KagawaA really well written, enlightening short story that chronicles the outbreak of the mutation of the Red Lung virus that creates the rabids. It's a great read, especially with the context of The Immortal Rules and The Eternity Cure, and I think it will be enjoyed by fans of the Blood of Eden series.Kylie is a doctor, struggling to keep her small clinic going after most of the population has been infected and killed by the Red Lung virus. It's terrifying, and she's doing everything she can to make her patients comfortable. I really like Kylie, she's resolute and determined, and I think she makes an awesome protagonist. I would liked her to be a little more hesitant with the guns and violence, being a doctor and sworn to protect lives, but overall she's believable and easily sympathised with.When two strangers seek shelter and safety in her clinic, she doesn't hesitate to take them in. But one of them is hurt, and with  strange bite-marks on his arms, and the other, Ben, has suspicious claw marks on his back. Kylie has a sneaking suspicion that they've been attacked by a predator like she's never seen before - human, but not. I think the dynamic between Kylie and Ben is believable - his initial dishonesty and her disbelief, their attraction to another in the face of impending death, their struggles to find shelter from the rabids.I also love the appearance that a certain vampire mentor makes.Thistle & Thorne by Ann AguirreAn interesting story that looks at the world after a series of dangerous chemical spills that have poisoned the air, the soil, the water. It follows Mari (her late name is Thistle), who's out on a mission to steal some valuables from the rich folk in her world - those who live inside a fortress and have access to water and food and safety, things she lacks. She's on this dangerous journey so that she can afford to support her two younger siblings, whom she cares about a lot.This story takes a long time to become interesting: there's quite a bit of information to wade through at the beginning where Mari is orienting us into her world, and i just couldn't bring myself to care. I wanted to go straight to the action!Things really get interesting when Thorne is introduced - he's an enforcer for the slum-lord Mari's allied herself with, and his job is to take Mari back after her mission. Only Mari hasn't successfully completed her mission, and faces death if she returns. what follows is a pretty hair-raising, adrenaline filled ride as Thorne and Thistle try to work together to achieve their own ends: Thistle wants safety for herself and her siblings, and Thorne is on a mysterious quest for vengeance. I love the action - the fight scenes were great and had me on the edge of my seat.Although I liked Mari and Thorne as individual characters, I think they seriously lacked any chemistry. I'm still unsure, however, if romance was ever part of what the author was trying to write. There are countless moments where it seems one is attracted to the other, but nothing ever happens, and outwardly, neither seems to want anything to happen. It's just a confused mess of clashing glazes, starting at mouths and rampant sexual innuendo.Overall this is a sufficiently engaging story, I actually wouldn't say no to a full length novel set in this world, and the writing has convinced me to check out Aguirre's work when I can.Sun Storm by Karen DuvallI only got one chapter into this one. The protagonist was outside, in  radiation storm, trying to save her father, and a mysterious boy came outside to help too, and she was waxing lyrical about how attractive she found him and his scars, rather than, oh, I don't know, saving her father?Dawn of Eden is certainly worth the read, and Thistle and Thorn was enjoyable. I'd recommend those two. And who knows, Sun Storm might have been great as well, but I am sick and tired of female protagonist who are more concerned with their hormones than surviving dangerous situations. The 'Til the World Ends Anthology is pretty cool, and I recommend it to fans of the Blood of Eden series who are interested in seeing how it all started, as well as folks who want to read a few short stories about a worlds falling apart.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.

All Our Yesterdays

All Our Yesterdays - Cristin Terrill There's no doubt that All Our Yesterdays is an exhilarating, exciting read that will have you on the edge of your seat. It took me a while to really get into: there are a few characters I didn't initially like and all the 'secrets' seemed really obvious to me. But as the story went on, I realised that this book achieves a level of complexity rarely seen in YA, and I started enjoying myself a little more.It begins with Em, a girl who's in a prison cell, and her companion Finn, who occupies the next cell. They're observed and interrogated by two mysterious characters, the doctor and the director. Em and Finn are in the future, where everything has gone wrong and the US has become a police state. I liked Em almost instantly, and Finn by proxy because Em thought so well of him the entire time. The more I got to know about them, their struggles for safety and eventual capture, the more I liked them. Em's kick-butt attitude is tempered by her emotional hang ups and reluctance to face her past, and is balanced by Finn's calm nature and ability to think everything through rationally. I like them individually and as a team.We also meet James and Marina, two best friends who live four years in the past, and although I sort of liked James, his dedication to his friends, family and work, I couldn't stand Marina and her friends at all. They are shallow and vain and manipulative, and I simply couldn't make myself sympathise with them. Marina is one of the reasons I started to think about not finishing the book, but I am really glad I stuck it out.In both the past and future, the character development of these four characters is simply amazing. I love how much they learnt and grew, and even Marina ended up redeeming herself. I think this is one the best aspects of All Our Yesterdays - the palpable changes the characters go through because of the events of the narrative. They all find strength in such different ways, some in friends and family, others through emotions or battling their personal demons. Of all of them, Marina struck a chord with me because, in the end, she's just a teenaged girl who incredibly insecure and needs someone to tell her she's fine the way she is.The plot basically races along in All Our Yesterdays, and I found it really hard to put the book down! This is a book where there are no real breaks in the action, and everything keeps snowballing until the climax - I loved it! Although the plot isn't overly complex, one does have to pay attention - it would be easy for a reader to get lost and fail to properly grasp the implications of certain actions and keep track of the possible paradoxes. Everything is well explained though, and I never had any trouble keeping up.I have to note that the basic premise isn't too well grounded in science, and there are a lot of things the author seems to have added to give the scenario a ring of truth, but I guess you have to try a little harder to convince an astrophysicist of your time travel mechanism. I think time travel is one of those things where I'd rather the author used something completely nonsensical like a flux capacitor to drive it, than try to ground it in real science, because I'm going to feel inclined to pick the real science apart. It seems like a particle collider is producing some kind of wormhole, and that scientists have discovered how to magically control which time that wormhole opens up to. It also seemed (to me) like the biggest cop-out to introduce some kind of mystical time-force that essentially freezes events so that time-paradoxes couldn't occur - it allows the author to worm her way out of the biggest challenge in writing a time-travel novel (pun intend).My other complaint is the alarming frequency at which anything girly is given a negative connotation in the book. Marina complains that she's acting like such a girl, Finn says this is going to make me sound like such a girl and one of the characters calls another a slut (which the 'slut' in question embraces, but still). I felt like there was a constant denouncement of anything girly in the background of the whole book, and it disturbs me.I love the way Terrill has written the book from both the past the future points of view, and although it's never any huge secret how they are linked, I still liked not knowing what was going to happen, and guessing, and getting it wrong. I think the memory flashes are a clever device that allow us to glimpse what happened in the four years separating our protagonists without it dragging the action down.I enjoyed All Our Yesterdays a lot and will be recommending it to anyone who wants to read a YA novel with a difference. I think the book brings something fresh to the genre, and fans of science fiction will enjoy it greatly. Although it works perfectly as a stand-alone novel (which I believe it was intended to be), a sequel has been announced. I'm not sure what can be added to the story, but am keen to find out.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.

The Girl with the Iron Touch

The Girl with the Iron Touch - Kathryn Smith Kady Cross hooks me once again - I read this book over two days, but the whole time I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. I love The Steampunk Chronicles - sometimes a girl needs a rip-roaring adventure with sweet romances and super-creepy automatons. These books make me let go, forget all my troubles, and focus on how things could be so much worse - an automaton of Queen Victoria could be hell-bent on killing me!My favourite aspect of the series are the relationships between the characters, and it's no different in The Girl with the Iron Touch. We get to see a lot more of Emily and Sam, and since they have always been my favourite couple. I couldn't be happier. I also liked that Finley finally owned up to the fact that she just likes that Jack Dandy is interested in her, and that she's never really considered him as a potential love interest. I do think she's a bit petty and odd when it comes to Griffin, and got tired of hearing how she liked seeing Griff being jealous of Jack, and how she was jealous every time a woman talked to Jack. I feel like she should just stop stringing Jack along, it's very unfair to him because he's so willing to help her out because of his feelings, and I think Finley takes advantage of him.I love the plot of this book - the automata certainly achieve a whole new level of crazy! The narrative focuses on Emily and her unique talents, and I liked getting to know her better, especially how she feels about the rest of Griffin's motley crew. I like how Griffin's newfound moodiness and Jasper's gloominess all tied in, and how there's actually some resolution on both those fronts - too often I see authors come up with problems and then drag them on in the hopes of keeping readers entertained, when it's probably more entertaining when we actually get some answers. There's still a lot to come though, with the series being planned for a total of five books, and I'm eager for it.In previous books I've mentioned that the world-building has felt shaky to me, but I don't think that's where my only discomfort with The Girl with the Iron Touch lies. It's more to do with Finley's attitude towards intimacy before marriage. I completely understand her views, given the things she's been through, and relish the idea of her just deciding she's going to live each day to the fullest and damn what anyone else thinks. But then she acts mighty odd when she feels someone may have found out about her and Griffin, when they're not really doing anything wrong to begin with. In my opinion, this is the author trying to balance Finley's outlook with what is expected of her in that world, but it comes across as clumsy and a bit confused.An enjoyable, thrilling read, The Girl with the Iron Touch is bound to be adored by fans of the previous books The Steampunk Chronicles. New readers will also enjoy the series' boldness and the heartwarming friendships and romances between the characters, and vivid setting, and are encouraged to begin reading at The Girl in the Steel Corset.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover  - Ally Carter 3.5/5Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover is the third instalment of the Gallagher Girls series, and begins at the start of Cammie's junior year (which is Yr 11, I understand). Cammie's visiting her friend Macey in Boston when everything changes, and suddenly, the real spy-world is nearer than ever before. Where before everything was a learning experience, a training exercise, Cammie and her friends find themselves thrust into the midst of a conspiracy.I think the plot of this book is a vast improvement on the other two: there's finally some substance and meat to a series that was previously mostly concerned with the silly adventures of a very silly girl. I liked the action, the intrigue, and enjoyed all the new characters (and the reappearance of some old favourites). The secrets in this book aren't as obvious, or as trivial, as they were before. In particular, Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover isn't all about the opposite sex, thank all the powers that be. There's a lot going on throughout the book, and I feel like I got to know a bit more about Cammie, her mother and their family. I still don't feel like we really made much progress on the series arc, or about what happened to Cammie's father, but maybe that's not the point of the series after all. In terms of character, I don't really think I liked Cammie any more than in previous books. But I feel that the author has gone to great lengths in this novel to explain some of the incongruities in Cammie's character: in particular, she goes to some effort to balance Cammie's need for camouflage and to be unnoticed with her notoriety and penchant for drawing attention to herself through rule breaking. I also liked that in this book, Cammie is a lot more reluctant to break rules, perhaps because she finally understands how many things could go wrong when she does.Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover is a lot more focussed on Macey that the other books have been (they've largely focussed on Cammie + a boy), and I found I really like this way of telling a story. Boys dance around the periphery of the narrative, but this novel is more focused on the friendships between Cammie, Macey, Bex and Liz, which I personally enjoyed. Rather than her group of sidekicks backing her up on some hare-brained plan, it's finally Cammie playing a supporting role to a friend in need. Since I have felt that on previous occasions the group dynamic has always been one of others giving and Cammie taking, I quite liked the change because it shows a compassionate, selfless side to Cammie that, until now, I'd found woefully lacking.There are still inconsistencies and incongruities in the story and the way the author tells it: for example, Cammie explains how smart her friend Macey is great at math because she can do linear algebra in her head, but at a spy-school for the most gifted girls in the country, that's a skill I'd expect the students to have. I think one of my main problems with Cammie and her friends is that they aren't smarter than I was at that age -- I graduated in the top 2% of my state in AU, and consistently tested in the top 5% of the country in all the skills tests we did. Cammie and her friends are gifted, but not any more so than I was at that age, so it's hard for me to take them seriously, because by the internal logic of the series, I should have been in a spy-training school as well.One of the other things I have noticed is that Cammie and her friends are always being taught how to overpower men. I think this is somewhat due to the author using 'man' to denote any enemy opponent, and also because many of the covert operations these girls can expect to be involved in will have male targets. I'm realistic about that, but it's always kill a man with uncooked spaghetti and kill a man with an issue of People Magazine and I just want to know whether the girls are also trained in specifically fighting women. Especially since one of Cammie and Macey's attackers was a woman, and her aunt and other alumni of Gallagher Girls are women, so there must be many more female enemy agents around too.Another thing that ticked me off a little bit is how Cammie, after finding out a bunch of secrets, hurting herself, and being caught breaking school rules, focussed on how a boy didn't react to her the way she wanted him to rather than the important stuff. But at least the author, through Cammie, recognised at the absurdity behind her reaction.So there you have it. I definitely enjoyed Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover more than the other two books in the series, and I can see why fans say the series improves at book 3. It's still a little too juvenile and boy-centric for my tastes, I really do need my female protagonists to be able to put aside the boy-drama and focus on, I don't know, surviving dangerous situations, but I see the appeal this series has. I said before that if I don't enjoy this book, I'd be swearing off the series forever, but since I did like it, and want to know more about the world and the secrets everyone's hiding, I'll be continuing.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
The Bone Season  - Samantha Shannon A perfect, exhilarating blend of fantasy, dystopia and science fiction, The Bone Season is one of the must-read books of 2013. There's no other way to say it - this is as close to a perfect book as I've ever read.The voice of the narrative is the first thing that really impressed me - I knew I'd love this book from Paige's very first words. Her voice is the perfect mixture of sarcasm and fear, loneliness and defiance. The author does an amazing job of fully immersing us in her thoughts, feelings and memories. Few reading experiences are ever as vivid as this, and I think it's even harder for an author to pull it off in first person because of the narrowing, blinkering effect this gaze is susceptible to.I love that Paige never tries to be super-awesome-strong woman with absolutely no faults or fears or vulnerabilities. She has lots of those, and they come to light throughout the novel, but what makes her special, what made me absolutely love her as a protagonist, is that she has so much growth throughout the book. She learns to live with past mistakes, learns to protect herself and those around her, slowly starts to trust the strangers around her. It's not like everything goes to plan, and it's not like she never has any difficulty with these things - in fact, her struggles and tribulations make her a refreshingly complex heroine, one I really connected to on more levels than the superficial (her clumsiness or unhappiness with her hair etc).Surrounding her are colourful, delightful characters such as Jaxon the mime-lord (a volatile crime-boss if there ever was one), the kind and thoughtful Lissa, and of course, the mysterious Warden. I loved them all, they're painted really well and I feel that I got to know them very well throughout the book. There are still hidden depths to many of the people surrounding Paige, but that's only to be expected because the book is part of a series.The world-building in The Bone Season absolutely blew me away. It's nuanced and well-researched and delivered beautifully. The oppressive society of Scion, its rules and regulations, the downtrodden clairvoyants, the mysterious city of Oxford, are all brought to life vividly by the author, and I was engrossed in the details every time I cracked the book open. Shannon has spent a lot of time orienting readers into her world, which some may find wearying because of the new clairvoyant-related terms and the alternate history, but I quite liked the way the way Paige introduced us to Scion in 2059 England.The narrative is also impeccably plotted - I noted no obvious holes or inconsistencies, and the author always managed to surprise me. Every time I got a little too comfortable with the story, or thought I'd figured a character or plot-element out, the author was quick to remind me how little I knew, and how ill-equipped I was to foresee anything! I loved the spontaneity and sheer unpredictability of it all.I'm frequently frustrated while reading if a protagonist can't see connections between people and events that seem obvious to me, and a lot of this is because the author goes to great lengths to point threads out to readers, but has the protagonist flail in the dark. Shannon steers well clear of this device, and doesn't assume her readers are unobservant - in fact, she goes to great lengths to hide those same threads from readers (essential because the book is on first-person), resulting in readers being as shocked, confused or mind-blown as the protagonist. I've seriously missed reading books written at this calibre, and loved every moment of not knowing.I love, love, love this book, and the best part is that The Bone Season is the first instalment in a seven part epic - you read that right, there are six more amazing, incredible books to be published! This is an absolutely solid beginning to what is undoubtedly going to be a highly acclaimed series.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
The Returned - Jason Mott I'm going to begin my review with an announcement, a caveat, a warning. The Returned isn't a zombie book. The Returned isn't even about what happens when one dies, nor is it particularly interested in why the dead are Returning to life. It is a literary novel looking into the deepest, darkest corners of human nature, and as such, is far more concerned with the living than it ever is with the Returned.The haunting premise of The Returned pulled me in the moment I first heard about it at a Harlequin event. Gorgeously written and realised, this book explores humanity in a way that I've never seen before: it explores what happens when the one certainty in life, death, suddenly becomes a lot less certain. How would you, as an individual, deal with it? How would your community, your country, the whole world, deal with the Returned?Jason Mott tackles the issue on a variety of levels: firstly with Harold and Lucille, and then with their small-town community of Arcadia, and finally with the whole of America and the rest of the world. The same confusion, desperation and fear are examined at these different levels, and one of the most interesting things the author proposes is that, while people are nice on an individual-by-individual basic, there is some number, some critical mass, after which we group together and discriminate against what's different.I love how the author examines this through Arcadia. This is one of those towns where everyone says sir and ma'am, where there's one major road and two traffic lights, where the same families have lived for generations, where there are no secrets. When the Returned first appear, the people predictably turn to their pastor for guidance and support, and they stay calm because he preaches acceptance and patience. But the longer they go without answers, the more agitated the townspeople become, and the Return of the Wilsons, a family who was murdered in the past, unearths deep prejudices, fears and secrets and threatens to tear the community apart.Mott uses a cast of relatable, dimensional characters to tell this story, including a FBI agent stationed in Arcadia and other inhabitants of the small town. Peppered throughout are short glimpses of what's going on in other areas of the country and other parts of the world. Taken together with the emotional story of the newly reunited Hargrave family, they paint a picture of a world struggling to accept the new reality it finds itself in.I love the story-telling style that the author has chosen, it's vivid and lyrical and enthralled me easily. The book is carefully and simply told, and one gets the feeling that every word, every sentence, is carefully measured and thought out. I think The Returned is exceptionally well told - it's a literary novel, and aside from the premise, there's not an iota of speculative fiction within it, which I really enjoyed because it made me think very hard about the things I've taken for granted for my whole life.A beautifully told, richly imagined novel, The Returned isn't the book to turn to if you're looking for an apocalypse, for a fight for survival against zombies in horrendous conditions, for guns and blood and hunger and desperation. However if you're interested in a deep but gentle exposition that looks into human nature, with the most interesting premise I have ever had the pleasure to read about, then The Returned is perfect for you!A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
The Shadowed Throne - K.J. Taylor Taylor's gorgeous writing hooks me again! The Shadowed Throne is impeccably plotted and wonderfully told, figuratively carrying me away into another land. I'm not sure I'll survive the wait until the concluding volume of the series.Since the groundwork was beautifully laid out in the previous title, The Shadow's Heir, is great to see that Taylor jumps right into the action and doesn't waste time specifically re-orienting readers into the world. Which isn't to say that I was confused at any point - even a year after reading The Shadow's Heir, I found that Taylor made it very easy to slip back into the story, its characters and places. This cunningly created world is enhanced by the sequences (and there are quite a few!) told from the eyes of griffins. These are my favourite, because of the vastly different way that griffins see the world and order their priorities, although it's always somewhat of a shock to me reminded how not-human they are.Laela's story continues to captivate me - she found her way to her people, saved them, and is now ruling them as Queen. Her struggles to balance her beliefs and dreams with her need to carry on Arenadd's complicate her journey, as does the inevitable opposition from Arenadd's cousin Saeddryn. But I actually wanted a little more growth from Laela, and expected the story to focus a little more on her. The Shadowed Throne aims to tell Laela's story, but achieves this through exploring the lives and motivations of those around her - from her griffin Oeka, to the strange new-comer Kullervo. Which is rather a new way for me to read a story, but I ended up being really invested in all the peripheral characters and enjoyed how their stories wove in with that of the young Queen.One of the things I've always admired about Taylor is the way she probes cultural and social mindsets, and in particular, how she's handled the attitude of the Northerners. After their lengthy oppression and slavery at the hands of the Southerners, and only two decades after being set free by Arenadd, the Northerners are just as obsessed with the purity of blood and supremacy as their enemy. I wasn't exactly surprised by how vehement some of them are in their pursuit of revenge, but I'm still waiting for good sense to kick in and for them to realise that maybe they're better off just trying to live nice and peacefully ... I'm not too hopeful though.In previous books I've despaired at how the Gods in the story-world treat their followers - and how it's usually the most loyal who are mistreated the most. It almost physically pains me to see how the Night God treats Arenadd, but I sort of understand it. However, Saeddryn is absolutely loyal and pious in her faith, and I almost, almost, feel sorry for her! But since she's definitely my least favourite character (it's a close call between her and Oeka though), I'm not ready to feel bad for her yet!My only teeny-weeny negative about this book: it ends on a slight cliff-hanger and the story's gotten to interesting that I am desperate for the next one! I really need to know what happens.Taylor's a masterful storyteller, and I'm glad I could experience this again with The Shadowed Throne. Readers already familiar with her work will love her latest offering, and I'd suggest to fans of Fantasy looking to dip into her work to begin with the prequel trilogy, The Fallen Moon, which deals with Arenadd's amazing journey, but they could equally go straight to the first novel of this series, The Shadow's Heir.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy  - Ally Carter 2.5/5The second instalment of the Gallagher Girls series picks up shortly after book 1 ended, with Cammie undergoing a debrief over her secret romance with Josh. Cammie just wants to get her life back to normal, back to the way it was pre-Josh, but she's got a surprise coming that will rock the foundations of her world.Back at school after Winter break, Cammie notices a few changes around her beloved all-girls spy-school: a few corridors are inaccessible, her mother's keeping secrets from her and there's a mysterious word being thrown around - "Blackthorne". It's at about this time that I felt that the quality of the book started declining, and didn't stop. Everything is introduced in quick succession in Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy: Cammie's friends, the secret about Blackthorne, the tantalising locked corridor. And less than 24 hours after making a vow to her mother to behave and stop sneaking around her school to figure out the answers to questions she's better off not asking, Cammie's planning a covert mission with her friends. I guess this means we get straight to the action, but there are a lot of coincidences.Cammie is a paradoxical, unbelievable character that I just barely abide to read about. She's meant to be super-smart, and yet, makes shortsighted decisions all the time, and very little of her training and skills go into making those decisions. Also, Cammie is written as someone who craves normalcy and shuns the limelight, always wishing she could just blend in and make people forget about her, and yet she goes out of her way to pull the stunts she does and obviously revels in being a star-pupil. There's nothing wrong with pride in oneself and one's achievements, but she's constantly pretending to be demure when she's really quite arrogant: Cammie doesn't exactly shy away from regaling readers with her skills, from rappelling down rope to blending in like a Chameleon, from acute observational skills (which abandon her the moment she needs them in real life, OMG how did she miss those boys following her around!) to fluency in a dozen or more languages.To further muddy the waters, the author introduces boys into the story, and what had previously been a passably enjoyable book turned into a frustrating, inexplicably silly read. The female students at Gallagher Academy literally go crazy when they see boys, there's so much nonsensical primping, showmanship and competition that I quickly grew tired, and then angry. I noted in the last book that I didn't like the insinuation that the only important thing in a teenage girl's life is boys. The competitive nature introduced to GG because of fifteen male visitors just panders to the myth that women can't get along once men are in the picture. But Carter goes one step further in this book and insinuates that every single girl goes nuts for the male visitors except for Macey, who's hung out with boys lots of times before her enrolment at Gallagher Girls, and Cammie, because she's had her one, incredibly short, pseudo-relationship with Josh. Carter actually uses the word "immune". I can't even ...One boy in particular quickly becomes a large art of the plot, and I have to say I really liked him. Cammie finds him infuriating and unknowable, but that's really just because of the way Cammie is written as a character. I think Zach is interesting and sweet, and love that while Cammie was digging her heels in and apparently couldn't let go of the fact that someone had beat her once in a training exercise (remember what I said about arrogance), he was genuinely trying to get along with her.Speaking of boys, I really, truly don't understand why the existence of a training school for male spies is considered shocking news for the girls. Where exactly did they think male spies were trained? Or did they assume that boys were born fully trained in covert operations? I didn't think it was such a big deal, in fact, I basically assumed there was a brother-school in my last review, so I was perplexed at the reactions Cammie and her friends had.I was really looking forward to getting a few clues to the big questions that were posed in the first book - such as what happened to Cammie's father - but I feel like Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy has barely added anything to the overall series-arc. In fact, plot-wise the book reads almost like a rehashing of the first book: spy school for girls, hot guy, secret, illicit meetings, training exercise in town, huge attack on the school where only Cammie and her friends are able to help, which turns out to be a test for the students. The level of hyperbole and melodrama achieved throughout the narrative irritated me as well - we're expected to believe the Cammie's mother killed someone with an issue of People magazine, that one's appearance can be completely altered with only a pair of nail clippers and shoe polish. Where does Carter get those ideas? Are they meant to be funny? Is the author making fun of the spy-craft genre, or is she seriously expecting us to believe that spies can do silly things like that?I think this sequel is a step backward from the first book, and didn't enjoy it very much at all. I now understand all the Zach-swooning that goes on by the readers, but there's very little substance to this series, which is a shame because it's a series about spies in training. I just feel like the books could be a lot more than they are. I will be continuing, because fans tell me that the plot darkens becomes about something other than boys in the future books, but I think, if I don't enjoy the third book, I'll be giving up.Generally described as a light, fun read, I think Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy will be enjoyed by readers who want to switch off for a few hours and read about the adventures of a girl who's training to become a leading covert operative.
Earthbound - Aprilynne Pike Earthbound began so promisingly - traumatized young girl who's lost her parents, has a nice best-friend whom she's slightly crushing on, and has amicable relationships with the step-aunt and uncle who have taken her in. She sees a mysterious blonde boy on the street, and immediately feels a connection to him. She then sees him at 2 am on her lawn, and freaks out. Tells her therapist and best friend. Worries about her safety.All great points, right? Pike's writing, up to this point, is lyrical and engaging and I was really loving where the story was going.Cut to the next morning, where our protagonist, Tavia, has decided that the mystery-man is nice. Trustworthy. That he's not going to hurt her. That "he’s a cappuccino secret – something sweet and frothy that warms me from the middle out." Excuse me, what? Despite repeated warnings and weirdness, Tavia decides she's going to go meet him, in a town that takes hours of driving to get to. And off we go, with the best friend Benson in tow.What follows is too complex, and simultaneously too boring, for me to remember clearly. Luckily I kept good notes on Goodreads! There are red herrings everywhere, the main characters are never on the right track, and there are so many coincidences and random events that I could not keep up. Certain events stuck out at me, and had me laughing out loud or groaning in despair, but  I don't think the author was going for those reactions.It's immensely difficult to like a book if you dislike the protagonist, especially in a book told in first-person. And I disliked Tavia vehemently, once she stopped being an independent, intelligent young woman, and became focussed on following her stalker. I just don't understand why anyone, man or woman, would react the way she did. So I was laughing when bad things happened to her, and rolling my eyes at her pathetic attempts at figuring out what's going on.My antipathy towards Tavia could have been redeemed if I had felt any connection to either love interest, but the romance is stilted and non-sensical throughout the novel. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities about Tavia's mystery stalker, and her best friend Benson is bland. Tavia can't figure out which one of them she wants, and is constantly thinking about one and making out with the other. On the topic of Benson - I also feel that the romance between Tavia and Benson is really weird: they basically act un-attracted to one another except for a handful of random but intense make out sessions. It's really confusing. There is a fix that the author introduces, some 86% of the way through the book, but I had basically given up on Earthbound by then.My final gripe (and I know there are many) is the plot itself. Or, to be clearer, the lack thereof. Beginning as science-fiction lite, perhaps with a bit of reincarnation/parallel universes thrown in, Earthbound quickly snowballs to incorporate elements of historical thrillers, paranormal romance and finally, Egyptian mythologies. It feels like the author didn't know where the book was going, and just kept adding over-used tropes until a page limit was achieved.The thing that almost made me throw the book across the room was this: "I should have realised how ubiquitous the triangle has been as a symbol throughout our history. The Templars, the Masons, the Egyptians; hell, it's on our dollar bills. The Earthbound - and through them, these brotherhoods - are etched across the history of civilisation." I found that the story did pick up in the end - once Tavia stopped thinking about her mystery-stalker and Benson, I started enjoying the book again. So perhaps a lot of my discontent with the novel has to do with the love triangle - I found it unnecessary and bland.I didn't like this story and I wish I had spent my free time engaged more pleasantly. But it's a little like a train wreck, I couldn't look away, couldn't stop reading, and it was so bad, it was almost riveting. If you like your love triangles with a background of themes of mythology and reincarnation, you may enjoy Earthbound. But I'm not sure I'll ever be brave enough to pick up a Pike book again, and thank my stars that I read Life After Theft (which I enjoyed immensely) beforehand.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.

Slammed (Slammed, #1)

Slammed (Slammed, #1) - Colleen Hoover A gorgeous, emotional read, Slammed is one of the best new adult contemporaries I have ever read. It's not some silly YA story with some sex and violence and illness added in, it's a real, heartbreaking story of two people who have so much to lose. This amazing story about Lake and Will riveted me, and I raced through it, and the sequel, Point of Retreat, in one day.I loved reading from Lake's point of view - she's an incredible girl: strong, stubborn, radiant, someone who values her family and friends. I think the author does a wonderful job of creating a character everyone can identify with - the tragic death of her father doesn't alienate readers. When she meets Will, the connection is instant and binding, and whereas I've felt exasperated at how quickly some bookish relationships progress, their interactions felt raw.And Will. I think I'm in love.The other refreshing thing about Slammed are the secondary characters, and the relationships that they have with one another. Lake's mother is supportive, attentive and always there for her children, and her younger brother made me laugh so much. The friends she makes at school are also great, because they stick around through everything and aren't ever relegated to the background because the romance needs more airtime.And the romance, the sweet, cuddly, cute, hot romance. Oh, how I laughed and cried, right along with Lake and Will. I didn't see their struggles coming, so the full force of it hit me like a train, and it was great! I hate predictable books. Although their lives are hard, and they see more misfortune and despair than many of us will see throughout our whole lives, Slammed isn't morbid or dark. Actually, there are many moments that are surprisingly light interspersed cleverly throughout the darkness.So there, I don't think I have any more praises to sing. Slammed is great, and readers looking for a change in scenery will enjoy it. Go forth and read!You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.

Point of Retreat

Point of Retreat  - Colleen Hoover I don't know what to feel about this book. On one hand, Point of Retreat is a great sequel to Slammed, and delivers a great story line and continues to introduce us to amazing characters. On the other hand, it's so drama-lhama! There is just too much going on, and it's presented in two parts, which made me feel like I was reading two completely different books.Point of Retreat is told from Will's point of view, and I initially loved it! I really wasn't expecting him to be as intense as he though, and I was quickly swamped under his bull-headedness and desperation. I think the most interesting thing is seeing Layken, Kel, Eddie and other characters through his eyes. I also liked getting to see Lake and Will after their happy ending - most books and series end with the couple getting together, and rarely explore how to actually be in a relationship. It's something these two struggle with, and it doesn't help when Will's past comes back to intrude in the worst way.One of my favourite parts is getting to see little Kel and Caulder grow up - they're so adorable and lively and brave and strong. I think they're amazingly written characters, made all the more hilarious because of their new friend and neighbour Kiersten. She turns out to be wiser and more mature than any other eleven-year-old in existence.However, I struggled with just how much was going on throughout the book. Will and Lake's struggles to act as parents to their brothers, balance their relationship and their obligations at home and at school, deal with Will's past and resulting insecurity should have all been enough, but then the book takes a completely different direction and I didn't really know what to make of it. It was still engaging, but I think I was emotionally wrung out.Point of Retreat is a great book, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. It just didn't grab me like Slammed did, and I find myself a little disappointed at the melodrama that permeated the story. However, I will be reading the third instalment, This Girl, in this great series later this year.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.