Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

From Goodreads: Things Finley Hart Doesn't Want To Talk About: 1) Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.) 2) Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer. 3) Never having met said grandparents. 4) Her blue days - when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.) Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real - and holds more mysteries than she'd ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones. With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having enjoyed Claire Legrand’s previous novels for the most part, I decided to give Some Kind of Happiness a try without reading its synopsis. Therefore, I wasn’t expecting this MG novel to be so heavy, with a main character battling anxiety and depression but unable to put her feelings into words. To cope with her feelings, which worsen as her parents’ marriage falls apart and she meets her perfect, estranged extended family, Finley creates and writes about an imaginary world that the reader reads about as well.

To be honest, I’m not sure who I’d recommend Some Kind of Happiness to. The book felt quite long – the plot dragged in the middle – and there are much better novels that revolve around family or mental health. Moreover, the metaphor of the Everwood to describe Finley’s problems in real life may be lost on younger readers.

Some Kind of Happiness was released in May 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Comments About the Cover: The dark colours match the book's mood well, and the solitary person gives off a sense of loneliness, which is how Finley often feels. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

Mini Reviews: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti and The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

From Goodreads: A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn't mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie's life. That includes taking her job ... and her boyfriend. It's a huge risk - but it's just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world. 

My Rating: 1 heart 

Thoughts on the Novel: Chelsea Sedoti’s The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett was a book that I decided to read because I was in the mood for a good mystery. It’s too bad then that this book fell far below my expectations. I found the protagonist, Hawthorn, to be really judgemental and seriously weird. Furthermore, the secondary characters lacked depth and the plotline was boring as it revolved around Hawthorn investigating the disappearance of twenty-one year old Lizzie Lovett, a girl who goes missing while on a camping trip with her boyfriend. Obsessed with Lizzie, Hawthorn finally concludes that she turned into a werewolf. Like, WTF?! I thought Hawthorn was kidding, but the high school senior legitimately believed in her ridiculous theory! On top of that, she then hooks up with Lizzie’s twenty-five year old boyfriend, who I thought was really sleazy (since he kept hooking up with girls in high school). 

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett was released on January 3, 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Sourcebooks) for free via NetGalley.
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From Goodreads: Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking - all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee had several things going for it. For example, it had an interesting premise since its main character and her mom are able to smell scents that regular humans can’t detect, and then use this information to create elixirs (for free) to help love blossom. Lee also did a phenomenal job of describing various scents (e.g. that of emotions, different flowers, etc.) and the beauty of Mim’s family garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t like The Secret of a Heart Note as much as I thought I would because I didn’t buy the romance in it and got annoyed by Mim making one stupid mistake after another. 

The Secret of a Heart Note was released by Katherine Tegen Books in December 2016. 

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

Monday, January 02, 2017

Reviews: A Good Trade and When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton

Thoughts on the Novels: When I was contacted by Pajama Press asking if I’d like to review any of their books, I looked through their catalogue carefully. Despite never reviewing picture books, two of Alma Fullerton’s books caught my eye because I figured that I could use them at work and because I like picture books that feature life in other countries.

Set up of Plot: In a small village in Uganda, Kato has to wake up early each morning and walk barefoot a long distance so that he can get water from the village well. This day, when he comes back home, there is an aid worker's truck in the village square, waiting to give something special - a new pair of shoes - to all the children. In exchange, Kato gives the aid worker a single, white poppy.
 
A Good Trade’s title is somewhat misleading as it implies that there’s a real trade between two people. However, in reality, Kato gives an aid worker a poppy to thank her for giving him a pair of shoes. Overall, I liked A Good Trade, and believe that it can be used to launch a discussion about gratitude and what it’s like to live in a third world country. 

Set up of Plot: In a Sri Lankan village, Malini wakes up nervous and excited about learning how to plant rice seedlings, which will provide food and income for her community. When she is asked to watch an ox carrying the seedlings so the driver can take a break, a sudden monsoon separates Malini and the ox from the driver and her family. Malini must now find the courage to try and save the ox and the cart carrying the precious rice seedlings.

I liked When the Rain Comes even more. The illustrations and text in this book work really well together to highlight Malini’s feelings and show the importance of rice to her village and the dangers of a monsoon. The back of the book tells a little bit more about Sri Lanka and how reliant the country’s population is on rice. 

In exchange for an honest review, both A Good Trade and When the Rain Comes were received from the publisher (Pajama Press) for free.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

From Goodreads: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets - a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After liking Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom was a book that I was highly anticipating. Sadly, I was unable to read it right after its release because I was so busy, and have only been able to review it now.

Once again, I loved reading from the perspective of Nina. She continued to develop as an individual, and she and Matthias remained my favourite couple of the series. Surprisingly, I also ended up liking Jasper and Wylan as a couple. I didn’t understand why everyone was shipping them in Six of Crows, but I totally got it here! As for Kaz and Inej ... I just didn't believe in the chemistry between them and think that they'd be better off as friends; not everybody in this series needs to be paired up with each other.

Besides the romance, I also enjoyed the action and plot twists in Crooked Kingdom. I would have liked Kaz and his gang though to be a bit more vulnerable as I feel like they were able to get away with everything too easily. And yes, I'm aware that Matthias died! 

Crooked Kingdom was released in September 2016 by Henry Holt and Company. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the continuation with a crow on the cover.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mini Reviews: The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan and Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

From Back Cover: Everything has been going wrong for aspiring scientist Madeline Little, and she's dreading the start of sixth grade. Now that her best friend has moved to private school, Maddie has no one to hang out with except a bunch of middle-school misfits. And if you add Maddie's blood disorder, which causes public humiliation at the very worst times, it's all a formula for disaster. At least she can rely on her standard operating procedures, the observations and step-by-step instructions she writes down in her top-secret lab notebook. Procedures for how to escape a conversation with your mother, how to avoid the weirdos at school - it's all in there. Fortunately, no one will ever read it. But does science have all the answers? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan is a solid MG read about discovering the unpredictability of life. I really liked that Madeline loved science so much, and found it refreshing to have a narrator who wrote Standard Operating Procedures and grew bacterial cultures instead of worrying about popularity and boys.

The Friendship Experiment was released in November 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Goodreads: Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose ... it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest ... but she may be the darkest.  

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns was a book that I was looking forward to reading because of its dark premise. Unfortunately, while the beginning part of the novel whetted my appetite with Katherine having to ingest poisoned food, for example, the majority of the book was quite dull. There was little plot to be honest, and I’m still confused as to why Katherine, Arsinoe and Mirabella must kill each other. Furthermore, none of the queens made me want to root for them or their insta-love romances.

A huge disappointment, Three Dark Crowns was released by HarperTeen in September 2016.  

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

Monday, December 05, 2016

Mini Reviews: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

From Back Cover: Follow Hansel and Gretel as they run away from their own story and into eight other scary fairy tales. They'll encounter witches and warlocks, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens that are just right for baking children ... It may be frightening, but unlike those other fairy tales you know, these are true. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly, I thought it was time to give its companion novel, A Tale Dark and Grimm, a try. Despite having some of the same elements as In a Glass Grimmly (e.g. a few gory parts here and there, an interjecting narrator that's funny, etc.) however, I didn’t enjoy A Tale Dark and Grimm as much – perhaps because the main characters were Hansel and Gretel, who I don’t care for as Grimm characters either.

A Tale Dark and Grimm was released in October 2010 by Dutton Books for Young Readers. 
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From Inside Jacket: Gertie Reece Foy is 100% Not-From-Concentrate awesome. Which is why she's dumbfounded by her mother's plan to move away from their coastal Alabama town, leaving Gertie with her father and Great-Aunt Rae. Most kids would be upset about this. But Gertie is absolutely not upset, because she has a plan. More than a plan. She has a mission. Gertie is going to become the greatest fifth grader in the universe! All she needs to do is: write the best summer speech (after she finds Zombie frog), become the smartest student in her class (if her best friend, Jean the Jean-ius, doesn't mind), and win the lead part in the play (so long as a Swiss-chocolate meltdown doesn't mess things up). There's just one problem: Seat-stealing new girl Mary Sue Spivey wants to be the best fifth grader, too. And there is simply not enough room at the top for the two of them.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley was a book that I generally liked because of the realistic way it handled a theme like parental abandonment and because it featured a non-traditional family structure – Gertie is raised by her great-aunt and her dad (who is often away due to his job). At times though, Gertie could be perceived as selfish due to her me-first attitude and inability to listen to others. 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness was released in October 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR). 

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

From Goodreads: Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained. When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest - though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After loving The Rose Society, I must say that Marie Lu’s The Midnight Star wasn’t as strong a conclusion as I hoped for for The Young Elites series.

Although I breezed through reading The Midnight Star, I felt quite detached from the characters while reading it. Nowhere was this more obvious than when certain characters died. I feel that a huge reason why I couldn’t make myself care about these deaths was because the characters didn’t feel like they were used to their full potential. For example, it felt like Lu didn’t know what to do with Enzo anymore so she simply killed him off again. Moreover, some characters still weren’t fleshed out enough. A case in point would be Magiano: we learn a little about him, but not enough to explain why he’s so drawn to Adelina and willing to do anything for her. Finally, the religious element was unexpected, and I remain unsure how I feel about it overall.

The Midnight Star was released in October 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the cover, but I think The Young Elites’ and The Rose Society’s covers are better.