Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

From Back Cover: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now - but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood. In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters - and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair ... 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Inspired by the Russian folktale Vassilissa the Beautiful, Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night is a bizarre read that probably won’t appeal to everybody. If you like your books to make sense, Vassa in the Night is not that type of book. The plot, at times, took strange turns that I found downright confusing. For example, I still don’t get Vassa’s dad’s desire to be a German shepherd!

At other times though, despite the magic making no sense, I really enjoyed the book. Porter’s writing was almost dreamlike; and I loved that the story features a witch who doesn’t hesitate to behead shoplifters and has a great marketing campaign, a pair of bloodthirsty hands who delight in deception and violence, and a kleptomaniac wooden doll with an endless appetite. I also thought the setting was atmospheric and magical.

An odd book that should be given a chance, Vassa in the Night was released on September 20, 2016 by Tor Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: I like how the text stands out against the simple background.  

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

Vassa in the Night can be bought from: [Amazon] [Barnes and Noble] [Book Depository]
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As part of the blog tour for Vassa in the Night, I was lucky enough to ask Sarah a question as well. I asked her, "If you were to write a story inspired by another piece of writing, what work do you think it would be based upon and why?"

Hi Zahida! I doubt I’ll ever write another retelling, but I can think of a few more Russian fairy tales that would make great novels. “Finest the Falcon” could be particularly lovely, though I’m not sure a story that romantic would be the right fit for me. I’d love it if somebody else tackled that one, though. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing something with “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.” Ivan encounters the Gray Wolf when the Wolf devours his horse in the wilderness; talk about a meet-cute! But then after that violent introduction, the Wolf is passionately loyal to Ivan, even when he doesn’t deserve it. There’s something so moving and fierce about their relationship; I think it could make an amazing book. 


Monday, September 19, 2016

Mini Reviews: Write This Down by Claudia Mills and Foxheart by Claire Legrand

From Back Cover: Twelve-year-old Autumn loves to write, and she can't wait to grow up to be a published author. She finds inspiration all around her, especially in Cameron, the dreamy boy in her journalism class who she has a major crush on. But when her older brother, Hunter - who used to watch out for her but has grown distant since he started high school - discovers one of her most personal pieces of writing and makes fun of it, she is devastated. Determined to show her brother how wrong he is about her talent, Autumn decides that she is going to become a published author - now! She writes an essay about her changing relationship with her brother and enters it in a contest that puts her dream of publication finally within reach. But if her essay is published, everyone will know her family's secrets. Is being published worth hurting those you love? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Personally, it was impossible to read Write This Down by Claudia Mills without being reminded of a time when I thought anything was possible but didn’t understand how difficult it can be to achieve your dreams. Mills’ protagonist Autumn dreams of being a famous writer like her idol Emily Dickinson – a choice that perhaps middle graders might find hard to connect to – but when her older brother makes fun of her poem about her crush, Autumn sets out to prove to her brother that her writing is good. As an adult, it’s easy to see that Autumn is a little naïve in thinking that she could have a piece of writing published so easily, but I also liked that Write This Down focuses on trying to achieve your dreams – and doing so in a way that leaves you without regrets. 

Write This Down will be released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on September 27, 2016.

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Goodreads: Orphan. Thief. Witch. Twelve-year-old Quicksilver dreams of becoming the greatest thief in the Star Lands. With her faithful dog and partner-in-crime Fox, she’s well on her way - even if that constantly lands them both in trouble. It’s a lonesome life, sleeping on rooftops and stealing food for dinner, but Quicksilver doesn’t mind. When you’re alone, no one can hurt you. Or abandon you. But the seemingly peaceful Star Lands are full of danger. Witches still exist - although the powerful Wolf King and his seven wolves have been hunting them for years. Thankfully, his bloody work is almost complete. Soon the Star Lands will be safe, free of the witches and their dark magic. Then one day a strange old woman and her scruffy dog arrive in Quicksilver’s town and perform extraordinary magic. Real magic - forbidden and dangerous. Magic Quicksilver is desperate to learn. With magic like that, she could steal anything her heart desires. She could even find her parents. But the old woman is not what she seems, and soon Quicksilver has to decide - will she stay at home and remain a thief? Or will she embark upon the adventure of a lifetime and become a legend? 

My Rating: 3 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Having liked Claire Legrand’s previous MG novels, I was looking forward to reading Foxheart, especially since I love books that involve thieves and magic. However, I wasn’t expecting Foxheart to incorporate time travel, a tricky subject to explain in my opinion, and made even more so in Foxheart because Quicksilver’s mentor is her older self. It was a concept I struggled with, and when combined with the fact that the worldbuilding wasn’t fleshed out enough for me, it negated the book’s enjoyable beginning. 

Foxheart will be released on October 4, 2016 by Greenwillow Books.

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

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Review: Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton

From Goodreads: Piper Baird has always dreamed of becoming a journalist. So when she scores a scholarship to exclusive Chiswick Academy in Washington, DC, she knows it’s her big opportunity. Chiswick offers the country’s most competitive prize for teen journalists - the Bennington scholarship - and winning will ensure her acceptance to one of the best schools in the country. Piper isn’t at Chiswick for two days before she witnesses the intense competition in the journalism program - and the extreme privilege of the young and wealthy elite who attend her school. And Piper knows access to these untouchable students just might give her the edge she’ll need to blow the lid off life at the school in a scathing and unforgettable exposé worthy of the Bennington. The key to the whole story lies with Rafael Amador, the son of the Spanish ambassador - and the boy at the center of the most explosive secrets and scandals on Embassy Row. Rafael is big trouble - and when he drops into her bedroom window one night, asking for help, it’s Piper’s chance to get the full scoop. But as they spend time together, Piper discovers that despite his dark streak, Rafael is smart, kind, funny, and gorgeous - and she might have real feelings for him. How can she break the story of a lifetime if it could destroy the boy she just might love?

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having enjoyed Brodi Ashton’s Everneath series, I was really looking forward to reading her newest book, Diplomatic Immunity. Sadly, Diplomatic Immunity failed to live up to my high expectations for several reasons.

First, Piper was a character I never really warmed up to. I found her to be very judgemental, and thought she could have tried a bit harder to look up some other ways to get into Columbia besides just trying to win the Bennington. As well, even though she claimed to be very serious about journalism, her feelings got all muddled up pretty quickly. 

Secondly, I thought the relationships could have been better explored. I would have liked more insight into Piper’s family’s financial situation for example, and thought it was weird how Piper’s otherwise normal mom decided it was acceptable that Piper drink on Embassy Row (because it’s international soil) and be out all night as long as she came home before the sun rose. Another relationship that felt flat was Piper’s friendship with her best friend, Charlotte, since their conversation seemed to only revolve around Piper’s life.

Finally, the romance lacked chemistry, and I didn’t understand what Rafael saw in Piper (besides the fact that they both had siblings with ASD, which seemed extremely convenient). I also couldn’t fall in love with Rafael because I thought he was very stupid for being so frank with Piper when it wasn’t a secret that she was out for a good scoop and he had already been burned by a previous girlfriend for something similar. 

Diplomatic Immunity will be released by Balzer + Bray today!

Comments About the Cover: I’m not sure why the cover shows a couple kissing since – spoiler alert – very little of that happens until the end. 

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mini Reviews: Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

From Back Cover: Meet Missy Piggle-Wiggle. She is the young niece of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Missy's aunt has gone away unexpectedly (in search of her lost husband) and left Missy in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that, like her aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has both magical and practical ways of solving children's problems. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Inspired by a beloved series published over seventy years ago, Ann M. Martin has written Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure for readers (like me) who know nothing about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. To the parents in Little Spring Valley, Missy, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s great-niece, is a bit like Mary Poppins in that she can cure children of their bad habits. Although younger readers might be amused by the annoying habits of some of Little Spring Valley’s children and relate to them, I couldn’t help but notice how overly reliant the parents were on Missy to solve their problems instead of parenting their children themselves. For example, the Freeforalls are too busy working and have no rules for their kids so it’s no surprise that their kids are rough and tumble. But of course Mr. and Mrs. Freeforall have no idea why their children are so unruly, and think that their kids need to be cured.

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure will be released on September 6, 2016 by Feiwel and Friends. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Inside Jacket: Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty, the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting a long time for Ophelia's help. As Ophelia embarks on an incredible adventure to rescue the boy, everything that she believes is tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’ve been trying to read some of my older books lately, and one of the books I decided to tackle was Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. I started Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy way back when it was in ARC form, but put it aside when I wasn’t feeling engaged by the story. I recently decided to give it another chance because the reviews that I’d seen for it were quite positive. Unfortunately, this book and I just didn't click. A tween me would probably have been bored by the writing (which is lovely but doesn’t sound very middle grade-ish) whereas the present me found the plot extremely predictable and was bored by the Marvelous Boy's story. I also felt like the book was trying too hard to stand out, what with Ophelia having a long name, constantly pulling on her braids, and repeatedly using her puffer. 

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy was released on January 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

From Goodreads: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora's throne ten years ago. Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it's too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Stacey Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty and in the mood to read another fairy tale retelling, I decided to read Princess of Thorns. Unfortunately, Princess of Thorns turned out to be nothing like Of Beast and Beauty!

Where I was expecting a fabulous retelling, Princess of Thorns didn’t deliver. Admittedly, this might be more my fault than the book’s because I automatically equated the name of Aurora with Sleeping Beauty and thought “fairy tale retelling.” Aurora in Princess of Thorns, however, is the daughter of Sleeping Beauty and Princess of Thorns is very much not even close to a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I’m not sure why Jay decided to make her princess’ name Aurora instead of giving her any other name, but you can see why I’d be confused, right?

Once I got over that, I was left disappointed by the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is pretty much nonexistent, and literally the only thing that’s clear is that in the world of Princess of Thorns, there are ogres and fairies. Also, the ogres have taken over Aurora’s throne and are trying to kill her due to some poorly explained prophecy that guarantees they’ll stay in power forever if they do so. Basically, it reduced the need for the ogres to be well-developed characters.

Similarly, the main characters were lacking in character development. Aurora was supposed to be this kickass heroine, but she just exasperated me with her attempts to pretend that she wouldn’t develop feelings for Niklaas. Niklaas was even more annoying though because he was constantly bragging about all the women he had slept with. I could never swoon over a guy like that! I didn’t buy the chemistry between him and Aurora, and thought they’d have been better off as friends.

A poorly written fantasy, Princess of Thorns was released in December 2014 by Delacorte Press. 

Comments About the Cover: Um, what’s the model supposed to be doing?

Monday, August 08, 2016

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

From Goodreads: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price - and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone ... A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first. 

My Rating: Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo was a book that I waited so long to read because I didn’t want to get sucked in by the hype for it and because I typically avoid reading novels where there are more than two POVs. I shouldn’t have doubted Bardugo’s ability to write an entertaining story, however, since I ended up enjoying Six of Crows.

Although I wish some of the characters were older – I find it hard to believe that a cast of characters that can break into highly guarded places only consists of teenagers; I did like the characters and the fact that we got all of their backstories, even though it resulted in the plot taking some time to get going. My favourite characters at this point are Nina and Inej because I love that they’re two strong girls that are just as capable as the guys they’re surrounded by. I also really like the friendship that developed between them - probably even more than all the potential romances.

Finally, I enjoyed seeing the expansion of the Grisha world. In The Grisha series, we learn about Ravka, but little about its neighbours. In Six of Crows though, we get to see how Grisha abilities are perceived in the other countries.

A great start to a new series by Bardugo, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to Kaz and his gang in Crooked Kingdom. Six of Crows was released by Henry Holt and Company in September 2015. 

Comments About the Cover: It kind of reminds me of the covers from The Grisha series because it too features a creature and a building.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Review: Vicious by Victoria Schwab

From Goodreads: Victor and Eli started out as college roommates - brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find - aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge - but who will be left alive at the end?

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’ve never been into comic book superheroes or watching movies about them, but I love reading stories where characters have superpowers. I also really enjoy books that feature psychopathic characters or serial killers. So, it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved Victoria Schwab’s Vicious.

Told through a narrative that switches between the past and the present as well as between characters, Vicious explores a complex friendship between two very similar men obsessed with power. It’s got plenty of twists, and will leave you wondering if you should even root for Victor to stay alive since he’s pretty much as mentally unstable as Eli but just does a better job of hiding it. 

Vicious was released by Tor in September 2013. 

Comments About the Cover: I wish this was a little darker in style to reflect the mood of the book.