Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

From Goodreads: The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common - they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out. But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship. Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together ...

My Rating: 1 heart 

Thoughts on the Novel: Have you ever looked at a book, and despite the great reviews for it, known instinctively that it wasn’t for you; but you read it anyway because so many other people liked it … and you end up wishing you hadn’t? Well, that was my experience with A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall.

One of the reasons I was so resistant to reading A Little Something Different was because I thought the concept sounded gimmicky. And I was right! The book just had too many unnecessary narrators. For example, I could have done without the POVs of the bench that thought Gabe’s derriere was perfect and could tell what he was doing or how he was feeling based on the way he was sitting, or the squirrel that claimed to not understand human but could still somehow recap exactly what Gabe and Lea were saying. As well, I found it hard to care about any of the narrators, and thought some of the guys sounded a bit like they were written by a female trying to get into the mindset of a guy.

The romance – it took Gabe and Lea almost a whole school year to get together! (Seriously, grow a pair, and stop wasting my time!) – also got annoying after a while because it involved so much telling. I really have no idea why all these characters kept talking about how much chemistry Gabe and Lea had when in reality, the two were barely even talking to each other and were pretty much strangers. Here’s what I wanted to say to some of them:
  • Inga (Gabe and Lea’s professor) – Just because you think Gabe and Lea belong together in your head, it is not okay to belittle another female student (Hillary, who is portrayed as a ditz) for having a conversation with Gabe. Please act like a professional! (Inga is not the only female character in the book to call Hillary names.)
  • Frank (a Chinese delivery guy) – You deliver to college students living in dorms. Why is it such a big deal for you if two people living in the same building have the same order? How could this not have happened to you numerous times before?
  • Bob (a bus driver) – Yawn, moving on!
  • Charlotte and Victor (a Starbucks barista and a classmate) – I liked you guys until you had a personality transplant (and started shipping Gabe and Lea). (Also, I worked for a year in a coffee shop during high school, and never stood around making up stories or wondering about the people that I served.) 
I considered DNF’ing A Little Something Different before reaching its midpoint, but then kept on reading it because I wanted to know why Gabe was – as Lea says – so weird. Once I found out, I figured I might as well finish the book because there was only a little more left to read. 

A Little Something Different was released in August 2014 by Swoon Reads. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s cute, and all the red can be associated with love.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

From Goodreads: Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless. Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink. Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they - like everyone else - are made of molecules.

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Using the themes of death and divorce, Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules explores how families can change and adapt. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the book was tempered by: 1) the character of Ashley and 2) the use of rape as a plot device.

Told from the alternating points of Stewart and Ashley, We Are All Made of Molecules chronicles what happens when two families decide to merge. Although I thought both Stewart and Ashley seemed very stereotypical, Stewart was at least a pretty decent character. Ashley, on the other hand, was not only mean and constantly putting others down, but Nielsen chose to highlight that Ashley wasn’t as smart as Stewart by having Ashley continually mix up words (e.g. using unconstipated instead of emancipated, etc.). This drove me crazy!

Another issue that I had with We Are All Made of Molecules was that Ashley wasn’t almost raped once but twice in the book - just so that she could experience some character growth! Also, nobody experienced any major consequences in the aftermath of either situation. It’s just too bad that a topic like rape was used as a plot device, and wasn’t handled more sensitively.

We Are All Made of Molecules will be released by Tundra Books on May 12, 2015. 

Comments About the Cover: Though I like its colourfulness, I don’t think it really matches the title of the novel.  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Random House of Canada Limited) for free via NetGalley.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep

From Goodreads: It's not as great as you'd think, living in a tourist town that's known as "the most magical place in America." Same boring high school, just twice as many monsters under the bridges and rival Families killing each other for power. I try to keep out of it. I've got my mom's bloodiron sword and my slightly illegal home in the basement of the municipal library. And a couple of Talents I try to keep quiet, including very light fingers and a way with a lock pick. But then some nasty characters bring their Family feud into my friend's pawn shop, and I have to make a call - get involved, or watch a cute guy die because I didn't. I guess I made the wrong choice, because now I'm stuck putting everything on the line for Devon Sinclair. My mom was murdered because of the Families, and it looks like I'm going to end up just like her ...

My Rating: Wavering between 3 and 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After enjoying the Mythos Academy series, I was looking forward to reading Cold Burn of Magic, the first book in Jennifer Estep's newest series. Cold Burn of Magic, however, was kind of not what I was expecting.

Firstly, the pacing was very uneven (but that may have been because this is the first book in the Black Blade series). See, Cold Burn of Magic starts off quite excitingly with Lila stealing a necklace from a house and getting chased by guards after she's caught, and ends on a solid, noncliffhanger note; but sort of stalls in the middle as it introduces the reader to an urban fantasy city where regular humans, humans with talents (i.e. superpowers), and monsters coexist. Unfortunately, a lot of this introduction came via telling rather than showing. For example, although there's a lot of talk about monsters, we don't really see any until the end when one conveniently appears to save Lila and Devon, the romantic interest. 

Secondly, though I liked the characters, Devon pales in comparison to Logan, the romantic interest from the Mythos Academy series. In fact, I liked Felix, Devon's best friend, better than Devon! As well, Lila reminded me a bit of Gwen because they both have powers that enable them to peek into other people’s minds. (Speaking of powers, the talents that people could have in Cold Burn of Magic weren't very well explained. For example, I still don’t understand how it’s possible for people to steal each other’s talents.)

Cold Burn of Magic will be released on April 28, 2015 by K-Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: It doesn’t really look very memorable. 

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: Shutter by Courtney Alameda

From Goodreads: Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat - a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever. When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before ... or die trying.

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With its creepy cover, Courtney Alameda’s Shutter was a book that I had no plans on reading … until I got a copy of it for review. So, I decided to give it a try, hoping that it wouldn’t be too terrifying.

Surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying Shutter. I don’t generally read horror novels so I don’t know how effective mirrors and cameras are in actually capturing and trapping violent ghosts, but Alameda’s explanations seemed pretty believable to me. I also liked how Alameda incorporated references to Dracula throughout Shutter.

Furthermore, I liked Micheline and all her friends, and thought they had a great group dynamic. In particular, the relationship between Micheline and Ryder as they transitioned from friends to something more was pretty cute and believable. I would have preferred it though if Micheline’s relationship with her dad had been less clich├ęd and if there had been more females in the novel.

Ultimately, if you loved Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, you’ll probably enjoy Shutter as well. It’s just as violent and gory, but has a slightly more predictable plot.

Shutter was released by Feiwel & Friends in February 2015. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s so dark and scary-looking! 

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mini Reviews: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin and Mortal Gods by Kendare Blake

From Goodreads: It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies - plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war. After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible - until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads - or their hearts ...

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin had the potential to be a decent read. Unfortunately, its emphasis on romance came at the expense of characterization and plot development. Whereas I felt like I barely got to know the secondary characters, the main character, Georgiana, came across as pretty immature and impulsive. She also kept complaining about her red hair and feeling unloved, which became annoying because she wasn't Anne Shirley

As well, the short time span that the book covered made nothing feel believable. For example, Georgiana develops an invisible ink within six days, yet tons of people had tried to do something similar, with limited success. She also meets and falls for Sebastian during this time, and then is later involved in an extremely quick rescue of someone.

A School for Unusual Girls will be released by Tor Teen on May 19, 2015. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free. 
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From Goodreads: Ares, God of War, is leading the other dying gods into battle. Which is just fine with Athena. She's ready to wage a war of her own, and she's never liked him anyway. If Athena is lucky, the winning gods will have their immortality restored. If not, at least she'll have killed the bloody lot of them, and she and Hermes can die in peace. Cassandra Weaver is a weapon of fate. The girl who kills gods. But all she wants is for the god she loved and lost to return to life. If she can't have that, then the other gods will burn, starting with his murderer, Aphrodite. The alliance between Cassandra and Athena is fragile. Cassandra suspects Athena lacks the will to truly kill her own family. And Athena fears that Cassandra's hate will get them ALL killed. The war takes them across the globe, searching for lost gods, old enemies, and Achilles, the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. As the struggle escalates, Athena and Cassandra must find a way to work together. Because if they can't, fates far worse than death await.  

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Mortal Gods by Kendare Blake was what I wanted the previous book in the Goddess War series, Antigoddess, to be more like. Though there were still parts where the pacing lagged, Mortal Gods had more action, and finally explained why the Greek gods and goddesses were dying. It also made Odysseus – one of my favourite Greek heroes; Perseus is the other – more like his reincarnation in that he's shown to still be wily (polymechanos, according to Homer) because he appears to have been keeping some secrets. As well, I like that Blake continues to have the gods remain prideful and not care too much about the effects on the humans involved in their affairs.

Mortal Gods was released by Tor Teen in October 2014.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Mini Reviews: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake and Omega City by Diana Peterfreund

From Goodreads: Old Gods never die … Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health. Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra - an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god. These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods - in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning. Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out. Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath. The Goddess War is about to begin.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: While I liked the writing and the premise – the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology are somehow dying, and have, in order to survive, resorted to fighting each other and trying to find the reincarnation of the Trojan princess Cassandra for answers – of Kendare Blake’s Antigoddess, it felt very much like a prequel. Nothing really happened for the majority of the book, and the question of why the Greek gods and goddesses were dying remained unanswered. Furthermore, the ending felt a bit rushed, with one of the immortal characters dying way too easily. Despite these flaws, I’m going to give Antigoddess’ sequel, Mortal Gods, a try. Having read her Anna series, I know Blake is capable of doing better!

Antigoddess was released by Tor Teen in September 2013. 
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From Goodreads: Gillian Seagret doesn't listen to people who say her father's a crackpot. His conspiracy theories about the lost technology of Cold War–era rocket scientist Dr. Aloysius Underberg may have cost him his job and forced them to move to the middle of nowhere, but Gillian knows he's right and plans to prove it. When she discovers a missing page from Dr. Underberg's diary in her father's mess of an office, she thinks she's found a big piece of the puzzle - a space-themed riddle promising to lead to Dr. Underberg's greatest invention. Enlisting the help of her skeptical younger brother, Eric, her best friend, Savannah, and Howard, their NASA-obsessed schoolmate, Gillian sets off on a journey into the ruins of Omega City, a vast doomsday bunker deep inside the earth. But they aren't alone inside its dark and flooded halls. For while Gillian wants to save her dad's reputation by bringing Dr. Underberg's secrets to light, there are others who will stop at nothing to make sure they stay buried ... forever. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars series, I was curious to see what she could do with a MG novel. Perhaps it's a bit unfair, but I guess I wasn’t expecting Omega City to feel like a MG book … and was a bit disappointed as a result. For example, the villain lacked complexity, and I knew the characters were never really in any danger. I also had to really suspend my disbelief with regards to the plot because it involved four kids and a teen discovering an underground city and running around unsupervised, chased by three adults who were the ‘bad’ guys. That being said, I’m not the target audience for Omega City; MG readers who enjoy action and adventure should easily find the story captivating.

Omega City will be released on April 28, 2015 by Balzer + Bray.  

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

Monday, April 06, 2015

Review: None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

From Goodreads: What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant? When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She's a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she's madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she's decided that she's ready to take things to the next level with him. But Kristin's first time isn't the perfect moment she's planned - something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy "parts." Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin's entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although its plot wasn’t really that remarkable, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio was a book that I think YA needs more of due to its frank discussion about gender diversity. Since I’ve kind of been in a review slump lately though, I’m just going to list what I liked and disliked about None of the Above:

Pros:
  • Kristin was very easy to relate to, and the range of emotions she experienced once she learned about her diagnosis were all very understandable. 
  • I really liked how Gregorio used her own experiences as a surgeon as well as the situation of Caster Semenya to show what it means, in reality, to not fall neatly into the gender binary.
  • I also liked how informative None of the Above was. Despite knowing the difference between sex and gender, for example, I still learned quite a lot from the book. 
Cons:
  • I thought that Kristin was a bit too hasty in getting gonadectomy. It felt more like an emotional decision than a calculated decision to me, and I would have preferred it if she had thought a little more about the risks associated with surgery.
  • I didn’t really see a process to self-acceptance; Kristin just seemed to become okay about her body quite suddenly. 
  • I wasn’t really a fan of the romance. It felt like Gregorio needed a reason for the guy Kristin became interested in to dump his girlfriend so that he could get together with Kristin, and so Gregorio came up with a lame excuse for why things weren’t working out between them. I don’t understand why authors think a girl in a YA novel must have a boyfriend!  
None of the Above will be released tomorrow by Balzer + Bray! 

Comments About the Cover: It’s cute, and I like the use of blue and pink because they're the colours that society has come to think of as for a 'boy' and a 'girl'.  

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