Monday, March 30, 2015

Mini Reviews: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby and The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

From Goodreads: After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all. Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas - a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn't want to give in to it - especially since he has no idea how they're connected - but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost ... and all that remains at stake.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having read Jessi Kirby’s previous novels, I knew what I’d be getting when I began Things We Know by Heart – a contemporary novel that’s easy to dive into. I wish, however, that Things We Know by Heart had focused a little less on the romance (which I enjoyed, despite thinking that both Colton and Quinn fell for each other quite quickly) and a little more on organ donation and on the thoughts and feelings of those involved, particularly because I liked both Quinn and Colton. Quinn’s grief felt very real to me and I could relate to her need for closure, whereas Colton stole my heart because of his kindness and appreciation for life. 

Things We Know by Heart will be released on April 21, 2015 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: Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world. When - after a heated argument - Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options - confess her deception or live her sister's life.  

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver was a book that turned out to be a disappointing read. Personally, I just couldn’t form an emotional connection with Ella because I didn’t understand her motivation for pretending to be Maddy. I mean, it’s understandable that her parents were joyous when they heard the news that Maddy survived – at least one of their daughters did. I have no clue though why Ella would assume that that meant that they wouldn’t be happy to hear that she, instead of Maddy, survived. As well, although the synopsis suggests that Maddy’s life was full of secrets, Maddy really only had one big secret, which unfortunately just wasn’t scandalous enough for me.

The Secrets We Keep will be released on by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on April 28, 2015.  

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

From Goodreads: Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known. Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act. Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants ... and how to take it. But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey was a book that I was really looking forward to reading. Unfortunately, while I found it entertaining due to its fast pace, the plot reminded me far too much of that of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The characters in The Girl at Midnight could have also been more fleshed out.

The protagonist of The Girl at Midnight, Echo, is a human girl who ran away from home, and is adopted by the Avicen. A skilled thief, Echo – whose appearance is never really described so you can’t picture her – is tasked to find proof that a) the mythical firebird from Avicen lore exists, and b) its location. Echo isn’t the only looking for the firebird though; Caius, a Drakharin, is too. Whichever species finds the firebird first gets to permanently decide how to end the war between the Avicen and the Drakharin.

At first, even though Echo and Caius's star-crossed attraction reminded me a bit of the attraction between Karou and Akiva, especially with Echo running around as an errand girl for another species, I wasn't too concerned. There were differences in plot; and at the time, I was more worried about the potential development of a love triangle because Echo already had an Avicen boyfriend. The ending, however, appears to be completely ripped off from Daughter of Smoke and Bone!

The Girl of Midnight resembles Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments (a series I haven't read, but have read lots of reviews and spoilers for) in some aspects as well. Although I wasn’t invested in the attraction between Echo and Caius, I was interested in a romance potentially developing between Dorian, Caius’ guard who harbours unrequited feelings for Caius, and Jasper, an Avicen. Doesn’t that sound a lot like Alec and Magnus though?

Another issue that I had with The Girl at Midnight was that the characters’ backstories could have been better developed. We’re given pieces of information about their past, but this information never appears important; it’s almost as if the characters’ pasts should just be glossed over. For example, we know that the main reason Caius wants the firebird is so that he can end the war through peaceful means rather than through violence because he was once in love with an Avicen who was then burned to death by Caius' twin sister, Tanith. What remains unclear though is how a Dragon Prince managed to meet an Avicen not just once, but multiple times in secret, and how Tanith found out about their relationship.

I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel to The Girl at Midnight, but if I do, I hope the sequel will be more original and have better characterization. 

The Girl at Midnight will be released on April 28, 2015 by Delacorte Press.

Comments About the Cover: It’s gorgeous, and was one of the reasons why I became tempted to read The Girl at Midnight. 

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

From Goodreads: The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself - for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

My Rating: Somewhere between 3 and 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, I had extremely high expectations for its sequel, Shadow Scale. Sadly, while I did like Shadow Scale, it just wasn’t as good as Seraphina.

Shadow Scale begins nicely with a prologue that recaps what happened in Seraphina. I found this quite helpful because almost three years after having read Seraphina, I couldn’t really recall what had happened in the novel. The plot of Shadow Scale then expands on the detailed worldbuilding of Seraphina by allowing the reader to now learn about the cultures of Goredd’s neighbours, the Ninysh, the Samsamese, and the Porphyrians, and see how they have interacted with the saarantrai and the ityasaari. 

Another thing that I enjoyed about Shadow Scale was that we get to meet the half-dragons from Seraphina’s garden of grotesques and find out their backstories. When Seraphina leaves Goredd, she’s quite excited by her task of trying to gather the ityasaari because she thinks that she’s going to find a group of people that she can automatically connect with. Over the course of her journey however, Seraphina comes to realize that just because the ityasaari have all been procreated from a dragon and a human, it doesn’t mean that she can assume that they’ve had experiences similar to hers.

Where Shadow Scale could have been improved was the relationship between Seraphina and previously introduced characters such as Kiggs, Glisselda, and Orma. The romance, for example, needed more closure. As well, since Seraphina hardly gets much page time with Kiggs, Glisselda, or Orma in Shadow Scale, I felt a distinct lack of emotional connection with these characters this time.

The plot of Shadow Scale also began to feel repetitive after awhile as it involved Seraphina finding a half-dragon, only to realize that Jannoula, the villain of the story, was mentally connected to them. Since Seraphina didn’t know how to fight Jannoula, she appeared to have little agency throughout the novel. This reached a climax with the deus ex machina ending. 

Shadow Scale was released on March 10, 2015 by Random House Children's Books. 

Comments About the Cover: I like it, but I prefer Seraphina’s cover. 

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

Monday, March 09, 2015

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

From Goodreads: It’s been a year since it happened - when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school ... and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her - the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club - simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After not really liking Emery Lord’s debut standalone, Open Road Summer, last year, I debated whether I should read her newest novel, The Start of Me and You. I’m so glad that I decided to give her writing a second chance because I would have missed out on a great contemporary novel.

Here are five reasons why I think you should read The Start of Me and You too:
  1. The voice of Paige: One of the biggest reasons I loved The Start of Me and You was because of how easy it was to hear Paige’s voice in my head. She’s introverted and kind of nerdy, and I liked her right away!
  2. The friendships: When I read the synopsis and saw the cover for The Start of Me and You, I figured that it would involve a lot of romance. Instead, more of the novel is focused on friendship than romance. Not only do we see Paige befriending Max and through him, Ryan, but I loved that Paige also had a close group of girl friends who were always there for each other. More importantly, these girls were solid secondary characters who had their own personalities, perspectives, and lives, and weren’t just in the book for the sake of being there.
  3. The romance: The romance in The Start of Me and You is exactly the kind of romance I enjoy because it begins with Paige and Max starting off as friends and Paige not even considering Max to be her type. 
  4. The familial relationship: Just as important to Paige’s story are her interactions with her family. I loved that Paige’s parents and sister were present throughout The Start of Me and You and that one of the people Paige admired and constantly talked to was her supportive grandmother.
  5. The realistic dealing of grief with the passage of time: Finally, I liked that Paige’s grief over Aaron’s tragic death was portrayed realistically. Not only does she mourn the fact that she will never see Aaron grow up, but she also mourns the fact that she will never see what they could have been like as a couple. As well, I liked that Lord showed that despite people trying to move on, grief has a way of occasionally creeping back into one’s thoughts. 
The Start of Me and You will be released by Bloomsbury on March 31, 2015. 

Comments About the Cover: Although it’s cute and romantic, the novel makes it clear that Paige has recurring dreams of drowning and is terrified of even going into a pool. So, I doubt that she’d be casually hanging out near a large body of water. 

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

Monday, March 02, 2015

Review: A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

From Goodreads: One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale. Her family is long dead. Her "true love" is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept. As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.

My Rating: Somewhere between 2.5 and 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: As a fairy tale, the story of Sleeping Beauty was never one that I felt the need to reread or re-watch. But, since I love seeing what an author is capable of doing with a retelling, I decided to give Rhiannon Thomas’ A Wicked Thing a try.

A Wicked Thing is very much a character-driven story. After being woken up with a kiss and finding out that all the people she’s ever known are dead, Aurora is a girl who’s thoroughly confused about what to do and believe. This isn’t surprising given that she was locked in a tower while growing up so that she would remain safe. Now, she’s expected to marry a person who a book claims is her true love, and be the saviour for her suffering kingdom. Aurora, however, just wants to be free from the constant expectations placed upon her.

Although I liked the characterization of Aurora, it took a long time for her to decide to not simply be a pawn for other people to manipulate. As a result, I eventually got bored of the story – so much so that I considered DNF’ing it at several points. In addition to the slow pacing, there was also no romance. However, I would say that there are three potential love interests for the sequel.

A Wicked Thing was released in February 2015 by HarperTeen. 

Comments About the Cover: That pose looks like an uncomfortable position to fall asleep in for a century. 

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

From Goodreads: When Davy Hamilton's tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS) - aka the kill gene - she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn't feel any different, but genes don't lie. One day she will kill someone. Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he's not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan was a book I hesitated to read because I hadn’t really liked the first book, Firelight, in Jordan’s previous series. But, I decided to give her writing another chance because I thought the premise of Uninvited sounded interesting.

One of the aspects of Uninvited that I enjoyed was the growth in Davy’s character. At the beginning of the novel, she had the perfect life – she was rich, popular, smart, musical, dating a hot jock, and had a loving family. Once Davy tested positive for HTS, however, her friends dropped her and her parents began to avoid interacting with her. Yet even as her life changed; Davy continued to believe herself to be superior than other HTS carriers. Over time though, Davy learned to look beyond people’s superficial features, and became less of a damsel in distress.

The same depth of characterization, unfortunately, wasn't given to Sean. Not only would I have liked to learn more about him, but he just seemed to serve the purpose of conveniently showing up whenever Davy needed help. As well, even though the romance wasn’t insta-love, it sure seemed like it because I had no clue why Sean fell for Davy. What made her so unique from the other girls that he interacted with? 

Another reason I had to lower my rating of Uninvited was because of the weak worldbuilding and premise. For example, even though the novel was set in 2021, there wasn’t much of a difference in the technology. In addition, I learned very little about the Wainwright Agency or how HTS was discovered.

Furthermore, from a scientific perspective, the premise of Uninvited is illogical. Since, HTS affected more males than females in the book, this suggests that it's a case of X-linked recessive inheritance. For Davy to be a carrier and her brother to not be one, it implies that her HTS allele is on the X chromosome provided by her father. This would mean that Davy's father should also have the HTS allele and therefore test positive, which he doesn’t!

Ignoring my issue with the genetics of the premise though, – I spent way too much time thinking about that, – I liked that Uninvited makes readers think about whether we’re a product of nature or nurture. Although the governmental authorities in Uninvited seem to side towards nature, the book does a good job of demonstrating instances where people committed violence as a result of their environment.

Uninvited was released in January 2014 by HarperTeen. 

Comments About the Cover: Why is the model positioned like that?!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

From Goodreads: The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn't look at her like she might break down at any moment. Now she's just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that's all she'll ever be. As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there's a secret she hasn't told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything. Lex's brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn't have to be real to keep you from moving on.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although I’ve read numerous books where the main plot involves a character dealing with the death of a loved one, I’ve yet to read a book where the loved one is a teen that died by committing suicide. The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand helps to fill that void in the YA genre.

While I would liked Lex regardless, due to her love for math and science and the fact that she embraced her nerdiness, Hand also made Lex easy to sympathize with. What really struck me though while reading The Last Time We Say Goodbye was how incredibly real Lex’s emotions felt - from feeling guilty about not having responded to her brother’s text the night he committed suicide, to being angry at her brother for leaving her family even more broken than it originally was, to distancing herself from her friends in order to avoid feeling any type of emotion - and how evident it was that she loved her brother.*

Given how common suicide is as a cause of death, I would have liked the back of The Last Time We Say Goodbye to have contained a list of resources for teens thinking about committing suicide or trying to deal with the death of someone who has committed suicide. As well, since Alexis was beginning to look forward to moving away for college and starting over somewhere where she wouldn’t be known for the tragedy her family experienced, it would have been nice to have an epilogue to see how she was doing after some time had passed.

A moving novel that explores the what-ifs that can never be answered when a loved one commits suicide and the accompanying guilt and grief that comes with their death, The Last Time We Say Goodbye was released by HarperTeen on February 10, 2015. 

Comments About the Cover: I like how the title is written on a Post-it and stuck on a mirror because that was how Tyler left his suicide note.  

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

*Hand mentions at the end that her own brother committed suicide when he was a junior in high school, and I think the emotions that she personally must have experienced in the aftermath of her brother’s death were conveyed extremely well into the pages of her novel.