Monday, June 12, 2017

Blogging Break

Hey, everybody! I've been so busy with work for the past several weeks - first marking and now writing report cards - that I've had little time to blog (or read for that matter). I expect to continue to be busy until the end of the month as I also need to plan and pack for a trip to Western Canada in July, where I'm hoping to meet Aylee and Danya as well. All this is just a preview to say that I'll be taking a blogging break until about mid-July at least. See you all when I come back :)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

From Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around - and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries - including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having read a few books that I rated as 3-stars or lower in a row, I decided to turn to a novel that I knew wouldn’t disappoint, Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. I was hooked right from the prologue, as a girl falls from the sky in the city of Weep and is impaled by a point on an iron gate. I love spectacularly violent deaths!

We then go back in time to be introduced to Lazlo Strange, a librarian who has dreamed of visiting the mysterious city of Weep his entire life. Penniless and unable to do so because as a foreigner he would be executed on sight, Lazlo continues to work as a librarian … until Weep’s warriors come to Zosma, seeking outsiders that can help them with a mission. There’s a shadow over Weep, and Lazlo will need to uncover the city's secrets if he wants to help its residents.

As always, Taylor’s writing is gorgeous, and the worldbuilding is fantastic. The characters were also fabulously written, with Taylor making me care about her secondary characters as much as I cared about Lazlo. Really, the only flaws of Strange the Dreamer were that the star-crossed romance was insta-love and that Taylor ended the book with such a twist that I can’t believe I’ll have to wait at least a year to read the sequel, The Muse of Nightmares.

Strange the Dreamer was released in March 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s quite plain looking and doesn’t really do the inside of the book justice.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Review: The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty

From Back Cover: With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady - which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls - and on the soldiers escorting them. As the girls' military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust - and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom. 

My Rating: 3 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty was a book I was really excited to read because I love fantasy, especially if it contains political intrigue and spying. So, I was thrilled when I got my hands on an ARC of The Traitor’s Kiss.

The story’s beginning reminded me of Mulan – and perhaps that’s why it was initially pitched as a Mulan retelling but has now been changed to “Jane Austen with an espionage twist” (which is more accurate) – with Sage, an orphan living with her uncle’s family, not wanting to be married but getting dressed up, going to a matchmaker, screwing up, and then getting told that she’s unfit to be married. After that, the plot diverges, with Sage apologizing to the matchmaker so as to not affect the marriage prospects of her younger cousins and being hired on as the matchmaker’s apprentice.

Although I enjoyed The Traitor’s Kiss overall, I had two major issues with it. First, there’s a lot of girl-on-girl hate in the book. Throughout the novel, Sage makes fun of the girls that are being matched for caring about beauty, and considers herself as better than them. Meanwhile, these girls are written as clichéd characters – they served no purpose other than to be dumb, catty, and only interested in money and marriage. I wish Beaty could have portrayed some of these girls as having both beauty and brains rather than succumbing to the stereotype that girls that care about their looks lack intelligence.

Secondly, there was a lack of worldbuilding in The Traitor’s Kiss. All I literally remember about the world is that there are two countries at war and the Kimisar have invaded Demora because they’re experiencing a famine. There was no map; and the Kimisar are simply described as being darker and having tattoos, indicating that Beaty relied on the use of another trope – that of the dark-skinned aggressor. 

The Traitor’s Kiss will be released by Imprint tomorrow!

Comments About the Cover: All I need to see is a sword on the cover to automatically put the book on my wishlist!  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

From Back Cover: It doesn't look dangerous, exactly. When twelve-year-old Farah first lays eyes on the old-fashioned board game, she thinks it looks .. elegant. It is made of wood, etched with exquisite images - a palace with domes and turrets, latticework windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider - and at the very center of its cover, in broad letters, is written THE GAUNTLET OF BLOOD AND SAND. The Gauntlet is more than a game, though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic. It holds worlds inside worlds. And it takes players as prisoners.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With the launch of Salaam Reads – an imprint of Simon and Schuster focused on bringing Muslim voices into publishing – and an author known for being passionate about diversity, Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet was a novel that I know many people were excited about. After reading The Gauntlet, I find that my thoughts on it are quite scattered, and so the best way for me to write a cohesive review was to create a pros and cons list.

Pros:
  • As a South Asian, I was really looking forward to having a protagonist whose upbringing reflected mine to some degree. More importantly, as a Muslim who wears a hijab, it was amazing to finally read a novel with a hijabi protagonist.
  • I loved the premise of being sucked into fantasy city within a board game, especially one that has clearly been inspired by Middle Eastern architecture.
Cons:
  • The plot felt very rushed, with Farah and her friends having to quickly complete challenges and run all over the city of Paheli to try and find Ahmad, her little brother.
  • I had to laugh when I found out who the Architect was. I have no clue why authors make the evil mastermind controlling everything so young. How am I supposed to find this believable at all?!  
  • Farah’s friends could have been more developed. They didn’t have much personality and felt like sidekicks rather than actual friends.  
  • I didn’t like that Ahmad’s behaviour was solely attributed to ADHD. While children with ADHD may have trouble controlling their impulses and act out, the way Ahmad behaves is more due to his environment – he appears to be spoiled and used to getting his way – than because of ADHD. 
The Gauntlet was released in March 2017 by Salaam Reads. 

Comments About the Cover: I love that there’s someone wearing a hijab on the cover, but it’s hard to see this because Farah is so small in comparison to everything around her. I wish Farah was drawn just a little bit bigger. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Simon and Schuster Canada) for free.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

From Goodreads: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen. At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship. Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

My Rating: Somewhere between 3 and 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, I finally decided to get around to reading Heartless, which gives a backstory for the Queen of Hearts. Now, I’ve never read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but I grew up watching Disney’s version and always found Wonderland very bizarre. Meyer stays true to that feel by incorporating talking animals and featuring prominent characters like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and the Caterpillar. 

Unlike her previous heroines though, Meyer’s Catherine is a dreamer rather than a doer, which is probably why I didn’t really like her. Cath wishes to have a bakery – the descriptions of the desserts in Heartless will have you salivating! – but isn’t truly willing to go against her parents’ desires, and so just ends up moaning about not wanting to be married and deluding herself into thinking that she’ll become the finest baker in Hearts someday.

Another aspect of the story that I wasn't fond of was the insta-love romance. I found it very hard to believe that Cath and Jest loved each other after only a short amount of time spent together. As a result, although it was no surprise, I found it ridiculous that the explanation given for why the Queen of Hearts is so unfeeling is because Cath couldn’t get over Jest’s death and therefore gave away her heart.

Heartless was released November 2016 by Feiwel & Friends. 

Comments About the Cover: The black and red design, centred by a crown, is perfect for a story about the Queen of Hearts.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mini Reviews: Literally by Lucy Keating and The Freemason's Daughter by Shelley Sacker

From Goodreads: Annabelle’s life has always been Perfect with a capital P. Then bestselling young adult author Lucy Keating announces that she’s writing a new novel - and Annabelle is the heroine. It turns out, Annabelle is a character that Lucy Keating created. And Lucy has a plan for her. But Annabelle doesn’t want to live a life where everything she does is already plotted out. Will she find a way to write her own story - or will Lucy Keating have the last word? 

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Literally by Lucy Keating had the potential to be really interesting. Instead, it turned out to be a rather unoriginal contemporary with a love triangle where there was no doubt about who the protagonist would choose. The idea of Keating incorporating herself into the story was very meta, but I quickly got tired of Annabelle referencing the author Keating’s books, movies, and writing style. I think I would have liked Literally much more had Annabelle realized that she was a fictional character later in the story or Will been written to be less perfect.  

Literally was released on April 11, 2017 by HarperTeen. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (HarperCollins) for free via Edelweiss.  
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From Goodreads: Saying good-bye to Scotland is the hardest thing that Jenna MacDuff has had to do - until she meets Lord Pembroke. Jenna’s small clan has risked their lives traveling the countryside as masons, secretly drumming up support and arms for the exiled King James Stuart to retake the British throne. But their next job brings them into enemy territory: England. Jenna’s father repeatedly warns her to trust no one, but when the Duke of Keswick hires the clan to build a garrison on his estate, it seems she cannot hide her capable mind from the duke’s inquisitive son, Lord Alex Pembroke - nor mask her growing attraction to him. But there’s a covert plan behind the building of the garrison, and soon Jenna must struggle not only to keep her newfound friendship with Alex from her father, but also to keep her father’s treason from Alex. Will Jenna decide to keep her family’s mutinous secrets and assist her clan’s cause, or protect the life of the young noble she’s falling for? 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I love historical fiction, especially if the setting is in Europe; so Shelley Sacker’s The Freemason’s Daughter was a book that I had to request. Unfortunately, most of the characters could have been better developed, and I thought Jenna was silly for trusting Alex so easily with her and her clan’s secrets. The plot also took a very long time to get going, which meant both the romance and the ending felt quite rushed.

The Freemason’s Daughter was released by HarperTeen on April 11, 2017. 

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

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

From Goodreads: Our world belongs to the Equals - aristocrats with magical gifts - and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price? Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. [There] is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate - or destroy?

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Gilded Cage by Vic James was the 2017 debut I was probably most excited about reading. The prologue did nothing to decrease my excitement either – with a slave trying to escape with her baby off an estate and then getting shot by her master (who also happens to be the baby’s father).

The premise is supposed to be simple: In an alternate Britain, the aristocrats are now people with Skill – known as Equals – and all those that lack Skill have to serve them for ten years as slaves before they can become full citizens. When you choose to serve is up to you, but you can’t own property, travel abroad or have certain jobs until you've completed your slavedays. Despite this, Luke and Abi’s parents appear to have their own house and jobs. Considering you’re pretty much allowed to do everything you want then without fulfilling your slavedays (e.g. go to university, marry, have kids, own assets, etc.), I’m not sure why everybody wouldn’t wait until they’re about to die before doing their slavedays.

Besides the confusing worldbuilding, there were quite a few POVs as well. This is something I normally avoid because I find that characters’ voices often blend together … and this was the case in Gilded Cage. It also didn’t help that the storyline kept jumping back and forth between Millmoor, a slavetown, and Kyneston, the estate of the founding family.

Finally, I never connected with the characters. Luke was basically a pawn, and I just wanted to slap Abi because for someone who was supposedly smart, she developed an instant crush on Jenner, whose family essentially owned her and her family. Moreover, Abi continued to lust after Jenner even after finding out that he witnessed her memories being tampered with and didn't tell her what happened!

A disappointing read, Gilded Cage was released by Del Ray Books in February 2017. 

Comments About the Cover: To me, the cover makes it seem like the story is set in the Victorian era, even though it isn’t.