Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

From Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions. Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: We all know about the plight of Jews under Nazi Germany, but the suffering of people from the Baltic states (i.e. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) during Stalin’s regime is one that most people probably aren’t aware of. So, kudos to Ruta Sepetys for writing Between Shades of Gray and giving voice to those people who were silenced. 

I find it shocking that more than twenty million people died in Soviet prisons or as deportees in Siberia; and that those who survived had often spent as many ten to fifteen years in forced labour camps. These survivors and their descendants were considered criminals by the Soviets until 1991!  

Lina’s story was hard to read; but amidst that horror, Sepetys shows our ability to be resilient even in the worst of circumstances. I also liked that the Russians featured in the book were portrayed as human – some were terrible, but others were capable of kindness.

A historical fiction that should be read, Between Shades of Gray was released in March 2011 by Philomel Books. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s such a striking image – the plant has managed to survive despite the harsh environment.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mini Reviews: The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson and In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

From Goodreads: When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I haven’t had much time to read due to school ending and then deciding to take a course over the summer, but I did finish The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson recently. I didn’t know much about the book before beginning it, and only picked it up because of its cover and the fact that I wanted to see how a Caucasian, former CIA officer would deal with the subject matter. While I would have liked Laila to have been forthright about where she was from – all we know is that she’s from the Middle East, a region composed of many countries, each with their own customs and traditions – I understand why Carleson chose not to limit herself in such a way (as she explains in the back). Similarly, although I didn’t agree with all of Laila’s thoughts, her attempts to reconcile her old way of life with her new one were relatable. Overall, I think Carleson did a good job of portraying another culture’s way of thinking respectfully and showing how different American life can be to others.

Inspired by real events, The Tyrant’s Daughter was released in February 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. 

From Goodreads: Take caution ahead - Oversize plant life, eerie amphibious royalty, and fear-inducing creatures abound. Lest you enter with dread. Follow Jack and Jill as they enter startling new landscapes that may (or may not) be scary, bloody, terrifying, and altogether true. Step lively, dear reader ... Happily ever after isn’t cutting it anymore.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I love reading retellings because it’s always fun to see authors put their own twist on something familiar; and with its dark humour and some bloodshed (as a nod to the original Grimm tales), Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly is definitely one of the more memorable fairytale retellings I’ve read. Gidwitz takes the stories of The Frog Prince, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Jack and the Beanstalk among others and combines them into one over-arching story where Jack and Jill are the main characters. It wasn’t until I was done reading that I found out that In a Glass Grimmly was the second book in the A Tale Dark and Grimm series - perhaps I should have looked at the cover more carefully since it does say In a Glass Grimmly is a companion novel ... oops! - but now that I know there’s another book in the series, I’ll be sure to read it too.

In a Glass Grimmly was released by Dutton Children’s Books in September 2012.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mini Reviews: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

From Goodreads: In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point - he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well. As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With a clever thief who has a knack for getting in trouble as its narrator, it’s hard not to see the similarities between Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Sage and Gen from Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief. Nielsen is no Turner however; and where Gen is subtle, Sage’s hints are blindingly obvious when read from adult eyes. Moreover, The False Prince’s plot is a little far-fetched. As a book in its own right that’s intended for middle graders though – unlike The Thief – The False Prince is a pretty enjoyable read and will especially appeal to boys. 

The False Prince was released by Scholastic in April 2012. 

From Goodreads: Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged. In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings - Peculiars - and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them. One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley - Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed. First he's noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish ... and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann is a book that I’d describe as well, peculiar. It was written by Bachmann when he was in his teens, yet reads likes it’s been written by a more experienced author. It’s classified as a MG novel, yet has an adult as one of its two main characters and features steampunk and politics, topics most middle graders aren’t really interested in. Personally, I felt emotionally disconnected from the characters; and while the worldbuilding was imaginative, I would have liked it to be better explained.

The Peculiar was released in September 2012 by Greenwillow Books.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mini Reviews: Wanderlost by Jen Malone and Soldier by Julie Kagawa

From Goodreads: Aubree can’t think of a better place to be than in perfectly boring Ohio, and she’s ready for a relaxing summer. But when her older sister, Elizabeth, gets into real trouble, Aubree is talked into taking over Elizabeth’s summer job, leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe. Aubree doesn’t even make it to the first stop in Amsterdam before their perfect plan unravels, leaving her with no phone, no carefully prepared binder full of helpful facts, and an unexpected guest: the tour company owner’s son, Sam. Considering she’s pretending to be Elizabeth, she absolutely shouldn’t fall for him, but she can’t help it, especially with the most romantic European cities as the backdrop for their love story. But her relationship with Sam is threatening to ruin her relationship with her sister, and she feels like she’s letting both of them down. Aubree knows this trip may show her who she really is - she just hopes she likes where she ends up.

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I haven’t had the opportunity to travel much so I love it when books incorporate traveling abroad. It’s too bad then that Jen Malone’s Wanderlost didn’t do such a great job of making me feel as if I was in Europe since it involved more telling than showing. Also, the chance for Aubree to go on a trip to Europe began with the laughable premise of her perfect older sister being arrested for literally no reason. If you’re in the mood to read something that will make you want to book a trip ASAP, I’d recommend Kirsten Hubbard’s Wanderlove instead.

Wanderlost was released in May 2016 by HarperTeen. 

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

From Goodreads: When forced to choose between safety with the dragon organization Talon and being hunted forever as an outcast, Ember Hill chose to stand with Riley and his band of rogue dragons rather than become an assassin for Talon. She’s lost any contact with her twin brother, Dante, a Talon devotee, as well as Garret, the former-enemy soldier who challenged her beliefs about her human side. As Ember and Riley hide and regroup to fight another day, Garret journeys alone to the United Kingdom, birthplace of the ancient and secret Order of St. George, to spy on his former brothers and uncover deadly and shocking secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragonslayers alike and place them all in imminent danger as Talon’s new order rises. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Considering that the series feature dragons, the books in Julie Kagawa’s Talon series have yet to wow me – and Soldier was no exception. Yes, it advanced the overarching plot and confirmed my suspicions about Ember and Dante’s heritage, but it still focused a little too much on the love triangle for my liking. As well, the reveal about Garret’s family felt very rushed. With two more books planned for this series, I don’t think I’m going to continue on with it. 

Talon was released by Harlequin Teen in April 2016.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Review: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

From Back Cover: When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future. Important internship? Check. Amazing friends? Check. Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks). But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life. Because here’s the thing - if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected. And where’s the fun in that? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Morgan Matson’s novels always have a nice blend of family, friendship, and romance, which is why I enjoy them. However, her latest book, The Unexpected Everything, was my least favourite of her novels.

Since my thoughts for The Unexpected Everything were kind of all over the place, I figured the best way to review this book would be to write a pros and cons list.

  • Despite the fact that she didn’t make the best decisions, I still found Andie to be a likeable character. 
  • Clark was an adorable love interest. 
  • I loved seeing the change in Andie’s relationship with her father. I would have liked The Unexpected Everything to have spent a little more time exploring that relationship in greater detail and a little less time on the drama between Andie’s friends. 
  • At just over 500 pages, I think this book was a little too long. Had it been shorter, the plot wouldn’t have dragged at times. 
  • I found the character of Topher – and by extension, Andie’s relationship with him – to be totally unnecessary.
  • Although I understood how important Andie’s friends were to her, I still didn’t care about the drama between Bri and Toby.
The Unexpected Everything was released by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in May 2016. 

Comments About the Cover: It makes the book look like a great beach read, which I could easily imagine The Unexpected Everything being.  

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

From Goodreads: War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people - and certainly more than she did for him. At least, that’s what he thinks. In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her. But no one gets what they want just by wishing. As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski was a book that I was both excited and nervous about reading because I hoped that it would be more like The Winner’s Crime and less like The Winner’s Curse. Thankfully, The Winner’s Kiss struck a good balance between focusing on romance on the one hand and political machinations on the other.

At the end of The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel is banished to the Valorian work camp in the tundra. So, I assumed that it would take a long time for Arin to realize where she was. Surprisingly, that turned out to not be the case, and Kestrel is rescued within the first quarter of the The Winner's Kiss. As a result, the focus of the novel ends up being on the war between the East and the Valorian Empire, a decision that I was pleased with. 

With regards to the characters and romance, I really ended up loving Roshar and the bromance that developed between him and Arin. I also liked that Arin and Kestrel’s relationship finally seemed to mature, with both realizing that they needed to open up and trust the other person if they were going to have any sort of future together.

Where I think The Winner’s Kiss could be improved upon is with an epilogue. The ending was good, but it did leave me with questions about the future of the characters. An epilogue could have somewhat answered those questions!

The Winner’s Kiss was released in March 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Comments About the Cover: Why is the model posed so weirdly in all three covers of this trilogy?!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mini Reviews: Riders by Veronica Rossi and Ruined by Amy Tintera

From Goodreads: Nothing but death can keep eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does. While recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse. Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen - Conquest, Famine, and Death - are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence. They fail. Now - bound, bloodied, and drugged - Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for - not to mention all of humankind - he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger. But will anyone believe him?

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky trilogy, I was really excited to read, Riders, the start of her newest series. Riders began promisingly with the main character, Gideon, being interrogated. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting that more than 80% of the book would consist of alternating chapters of Gideon’s interrogator asking him questions and Gideon telling his interrogator (and thereby, the reader) how he became War and learned to control his powers and horse. Another thing that I struggled with in Riders was the lack of information with regards to the worldbuilding. Only one character had the answers, and she revealed them slowly. Even that wasn’t enough, however, because many of my questions remain unanswered. Finally, knowing that Rossi is capable of writing a well-developed slow burning romance, I was disappointed to see that Gideon and Daryn developed feelings for each other almost instantly.

Riders was released in February 2016 by Tor Teen.
From Goodreads: Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped. But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family. In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family. Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life - and her family - on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake. 

My Rating: 1.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Ruined by Amy Tintera was another book I was really looking forward to reading because I had enjoyed Tintera’s Reboot duology. With insta-love and extremely weak worldbuilding though, Ruined turned out to be an even bigger disappointment than Riders. Moreover, the characters in Ruined were underdeveloped, and the plot focused too much on the unrealistic romance. For example, it made me laugh that even after Cas’ father died due to Em, Cas' biggest concern was whether Em was only pretending to have feelings for him. Ultimately, while I have no idea why the Ruined have powers but their neighbours don’t or why everyone wants to exterminate the Ruined, I can tell you that I hate fantasy books where a girl out for revenge promptly falls in love and abandons her quest.

Ruined was released by HarperTeen on May 3, 2016.

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