Monday, September 01, 2014

Review: Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

From Goodreads: There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her. Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them - Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna - must link hands, follow the rules ... and never let go. A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: "Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY." A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror. Once is not enough, though - at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary's wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered. A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary - and Jess - before it's too late?

My Rating: Slightly higher than 3 hearts, but not quite 3.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Hillary Monahan's Mary: The Summoning was a book that I have mixed feelings about because although I liked some aspects of it, other parts could have been improved upon.

Here is my list of pros and cons about Mary: The Summoning: 

Pros:
  • I liked that Monahan created a background for Mary. She wasn’t just some ghost, but a girl with a history, which made me want to know why she became so full of fury that she eventually became Bloody Mary.
  • Although Mary: The Summoning was full of horror scenes, they weren't too frightening. While some people might be disappointed by that, I was actually content about not having to worry about whether Mary was coming for me. If you’re a scaredy-cat but want to read a horror novel, I would suggest giving Mary: The Summoning a try.
  • I loved what happened to Jess at the end. She totally deserved it! 
Cons: 
  • I thought there was a lot of telling rather than showing in Mary: The Summoning. For example, before we even really get to know Shauna and her friends, we’re told about their personalities and group dynamics.
  • Shauna and her friends weren't very memorable.
  • I would have liked to know more about Mary’s background. Three letters addressed from Mary to her sister just weren’t enough since they only painted a brief picture of her life.
  • I wasn't too pleased that by the time story ended, Jess’ motives for wanting to summon Mary remained unclear. I had thought that Mary: The Summoning was a standalone, but Goodreads confirms otherwise. Honestly, I'm extremely surprised that one book wasn't sufficient for the overall story arc.
Mary: The Summoning will be released tomorrow by Disney Hyperion. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s so creepy looking! 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Disney Book Group) for free via NetGalley. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee

From Goodreads: In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret - she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from - or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her. Then Reev disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reev, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power.


My Rating: 3.5 hearts for the first 1/4 of the book; 2.5 hearts for the final 3/4 

Thoughts on the Novel: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee was a book that began promisingly. But, by the middle, the plot no longer seemed well thought out, and the ending just contained revelations that were unveiled in a haphazard manner. 

Initially, I liked the worldbuilding because Lee slowly immerses readers into her world. I thought she did a really great job of depicting the economically stratified city of Ninurta where most people barely have enough credits to survive, and was intrigued by the fact that people were mysteriously disappearing from the city. However, once Kai left the city to search for Reev, the worldbuilding became pretty much nonexistent. For example, within less than a half a day’s journey east of Ninurta, there’s both a forest and a desert.

Likewise, I liked Kai at the beginning of the book. I loved her relationship with her adopted brother, Reev, and completely supported her decision to find out what happened to her brother. Over time however, I kind of became indifferent to her, particularly because she hardly ever used her power to manipulate time (which although sounds awesome, was really just that she could slow time for a couple of seconds). Instead, Lee chose to have her protagonist become physically stronger, which is apparently doable in two weeks according to Gates of Thread and Stone.

The weakest aspect of Gates of Thread and Stone for me was the romance. I just couldn’t get invested into it because I didn’t really care about Avan. I also kept waiting for a love triangle to occur, but thankfully at least there wasn’t one in this book. 

Gates of Thread and Stone was released on August 5, 2014 by Skyscape. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s eye-catching.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

From Goodreads: Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t - power, money, status ... and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Kiersten White's Illusions of Fate was a book I was enticed into reading because of its beautiful cover. Once again though, I got burned for judging a book by its cover.

Although it wasn’t as completely fleshed out as I would have liked (e.g. the rules of magic were slightly confusing, the politics of Alban weren’t completely clear, etc.), the worldbuilding was probably the most enjoyable aspect of Illusions of Fate because it can elicit a discussion about colonialism. Unfortunately, the plot’s main focus was on the insta-love romance, which I could have cared less about. 

I also thought that the characters weren’t completely developed. Finn, for example, was one of those characters that you know you’re supposed to swoon over, but I couldn’t muster up much emotion for him because I still felt like I barely knew him by the end of the novel. I did like Jessamin a bit better due to her attempts at trying to be an independent woman. However, her efforts at being indifferent to Finn didn’t last very long, and her tendency to focus on his collarbones was downright annoying!  

Illusions of Fate will be released by HarperTeen on September 14, 2014. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s so pretty! I really like the scene painted on the cup and how the crows look like they’re becoming real by flying off the cup. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (HarperCollins) for free via Edelweiss.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

From Goodreads: In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love - a boy who died in battle - returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her? 

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: If you’re looking for a historical fiction novel that gives you an accurate feeling of the time period that it takes place in, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters would be one such book.

Set during the month of October 1918 when Americans were experiencing both WWI and the Spanish influenza epidemic, there was a palpable sense of fear and desperation throughout the book. With so many young people dying in such a short span of time, the grief-stricken living sought to contact their beloved through spiritualism, which Winters uses to her advantage by seamlessly incorporating the presence of a ghost into the story.

Throw in a likeable protagonist such as Mary Shelley with her no-nonsense approach and love of science, secondary characters like anxious Aunt Eva with her folk remedies, a sweet romance that isn’t the focal point of the plot, a mysterious death, and the inclusion of black and white photographs that enrich the overall atmosphere of the story, and it’s not surprising that I enjoyed In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds was released by Amulet Books in April 2013. 

Comments About the Cover: The cover suits the novel perfectly! The model is even wearing Mary Shelley’s aviatrix goggles!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mini Reviews: The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand and Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

From Goodreads: Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year. Her mother's left; her neglectful father, the maestro of a failing orchestra, has moved her and her grandmother into the city's dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat. Just when she thinks life couldn't get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia's help; if the hall is torn down, they'll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on. Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living; and soon it's not just the concert hall that needs saving. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Through the use of music and a loosely defined world of Limbo, Claire Legrand’s The Year of Shadows explores the themes of loss, friendship, and loneliness in a manner suitable for MG readers. Consider for example the protagonist: Olivia. During a time of recession, many tweens will be able to relate to Olivia’s situation of having their parents be stressed about their finances. Although I found The Year of Shadows to be a solid read, I couldn’t help repeatedly comparing it to Legrand’s other novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, which I thought was more engaging. 

The Year of Shadows was released in August 2013 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. .................................................................................................. 
From Goodreads: Tripp, who plays guitar only for himself, and Lyla, a cellist whose talent has already made her famous but not happy, form an unlikely friendship when they are forced to share a practice room at their high school. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts for the first 2/3 of the book; 2 hearts for the final 1/3 

Thoughts on the Novel: Like The Year of Shadows, Guitar Notes by Mary Amato was a book that I began without having read the synopsis. A few chapters in, I thought I had figured out what would happen: after exchanging a flurry of letters, Tripp and Lyla would get to know each other better and eventually become a couple. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find out that Tripp and Lyla maintained a platonic relationship throughout the novel. Since I find books that feature a friendship between a guy and a girl without it becoming anything more somewhat lacking in YA, I was enjoying Guitar Notes in spite of the clichéd secondary characters and Tripp’s tendency to be overdramatic.

The ending, however, ruined my enjoyment because Amato resorted to something over the top to ensure her main characters would be reunited. In doing so, she also didn’t provide a satisfactory resolution because while most of Guitar Notes took place on a day to day basis from September to November, the last 20% was just a brief summary of the next 4 months.

Guitar Notes was released by EgmontUSA in July 2012.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

From Goodreads: Jasper "Jazz" Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say. But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could - from the criminal's point of view. And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod. In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret - could he be more like his father than anyone knows?  

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The last book that I read that involved a serial killer was Katherine Ewell’s Dear Killer, a novel that I wished I had DNF’ed. Thankfully, after reading Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers, I have found a book about serial killers that I would gladly recommend. 

With its horrifying descriptions of crime scenes, references to notorious real life serial killers, and statistics and logistics about murder, I Hunt Killers was unsurprisingly dark. But, there was also unexpected humour laced throughout this novel due to its snarky main character, Jazz. Jazz was likeable as well because although he used his charm and skill to manipulate others, he was constantly worried about becoming a replica of his dad.

As well-developed as Jazz was, I found the secondary characters to be just as strongly developed. My favourite character from the cast of secondary characters would have to be Howie, Jazz’s amusing, loyal, and chatty best friend. A close second would be Jazz’s crazy grandmother.

Though there’s little I would change about I Hunt Killers, I would rather not have had POVs from the serial killer because they weren’t necessary nor were they particularly interesting. Overall, however, I Hunt Killers was brilliantly written.

I Hunt Killers was released in April 2012 by Little, Brown and Company. 

Comments About the Cover: The black and white cover with splotches of blood perfectly suits the tone of the novel.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

From Goodreads: Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction - the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars - is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy. On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo ... is her most dangerous mission ever. Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, I finally made the time to read its companion novel, Across a Star-Swept Sea. Set in the same world as For Darkness Shows the Stars but on the islands of New Pacifica, it took me awhile to relearn the lingo and remember how the Reduction came about, especially because Albion and Galatea were so different from the society established in the previous book.

Thankfully, while I kept getting distracted trying to figure out the worldbuilding, the characters held my interest. Like For Darkness Shows the Stars, Across a Star-Swept Sea features a strong heroine who is easy to support. Superficially, Persis appears to be a rich and spoiled aristocrat whose only concern is the latest fashion. Underneath the persona of a ditz, however, lies a girl who’s smart, loyal, generous, courageous, and determined to fight injustice and leave her mark on the world. Besides Persis, I loved that the League of the Wild Poppy involved other females who were committed to creating change despite living in a patriarchal society.

While it would be hard for me to decide if I liked Persis better than Elliot (who shows up in Across a Star-Swept Sea with some other characters from For Darkness Shows the Stars), I know that Justen didn’t hold a candle to Kai. Even though we get POVs from Justen and therefore get to know him better, I just didn’t swoon over him as much as I did over Kai. I blame Kai for stealing my heart with those letters …

Speaking of romance, I enjoyed the slow romance between Persis and Justen because I thought they complemented each other’s personalities nicely. I also thought that Peterfreund did a good job of not making the romance overwhelm the plot.

If there was one thing I could change about Across a Star-Swept Sea though, it would be the ending because it came way too soon! I rarely like epilogues, but in this case, I would have preferred one so that I could know what happened to all the characters. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a third companion novel!

Across a Star-Swept Sea was released by Balzer + Bray in October 2013. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s so pretty! I think I like it more than For Darkness Shows the Stars’.