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. 

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. 
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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 fairy tale 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. 
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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. 
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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.