Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies by Jordan Jacobs

From Back Cover: There's nothing twelve-year-old Samantha Sutton wants more than to become an adventure-seeking archaeologist like her brilliant Uncle Jay. Samantha's big dreams are finally coming true when Jay invites her along on a summer excavation exploring an ancient temple in the Peruvian Andes. But this adventure isn't exactly what she thought it would be with her nosy older brother, Evan, and Jay's bossy colleagues monitoring her every move. On top of that, she has to deal with the local legend, El Loco, a ghostly madman who supposedly haunts the ruins. But when the project's most important finds go missing, it's up to Samantha to solve the mystery before Jay loses his job and the treasures of the temple are lost forever.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: You know how when you’re little, people ask you what you want to be when you grow up? Well, one of my answers used to be: “Archaeologist!” As I grew up, I realized that it probably wasn’t as glamourous a job as the media made it out to be and that getting dirty wasn’t something I was fond of. And let’s not even talk about bugs! However, I thought it would be interesting to read Jordan Jacobs’ Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies considering that Jacobs himself is an archaeologist. Here’s my list of pros and cons about the novel:

  • Because the locals living around Chavin de Huantar speak Spanish, I liked that Jacobs kept their sentences and questions in Spanish rather than translating them into English. I may not have understood what was being said, but the incorporation of Spanish gave the book a more authentic feel. It also enabled me to relate to Samantha’s plight of not being able to understand what’s being discussed when people are conversing in Spanish because she doesn’t know the language.
  • Similarly, I liked the incorporation of real archaeological terms.
  • I thought the relationship between Samantha and Evan was depicted pretty realistically. As siblings close in age, they argue a lot; but there are also times when they’re sort of nice to each other.
  • Overall, I felt that Jacobs did a good job of demonstrating the day-to-day life of an archaeologist.
  • Though I didn’t think the answer was that obvious, my hunch as to who the looters might be turned out to be correct. Nevertheless, I had no clue as to how the looters were stealing from the units.
  • The book could have used a bit more excitement. It was a little more serious in tone than the MG novels I prefer to read, and I never felt that need to find out what was going to happen next.
Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on October 1, 2012.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

From Goodreads: It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology. Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth - an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go. But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret - one that could change their society ... or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: I’m not normally a fan of slow-paced dystopians. But, I ended up loving For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund because of its worldbuilding, characters and romance. A retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in a dystopian setting, I also liked For Darkness Shows the Stars because it simultaneously managed to retain the feel of a Victorian Era novel.

When reading dystopians not set in an alternative world, I usually find myself wondering how the world came to be the way the author imagines it for their story. Often, the backstory sounds rather incredulous. That wasn’t the case for For Darkness Shows the Stars because it’s not hard to imagine a group of people deciding to isolate themselves and stop using technology after seeing war break out and most of the world’s population be eradicated due to advances in technology and genetics.

Most of the characters in For Darkness Shows the Stars were well-developed as well. I especially liked Elliot who chooses duty over love, knowing that she’s the only one who can intercede with her father on behalf of the Posts’ working on her family's land. When Kai later comes back resolved to make Elliot rue the decision that broke his heart (and hers), she handles his aloofness and insults with remarkable grace. Based on her actions, she’s definitely one of the most mature YA protagonists I’ve encountered!

I also enjoyed the way Peterfreund chose to depict the romance between Kai and Elliot. Throughout the book, letters written by a young Kai and Elliot chronicle their relationship from friends to the possibility of something more. The innocence displayed in those letters was definitely a nice contrast against their current tense relationship and made it easier for me to see Kai as a complex character.

A fantastic standalone with a romance that had me invested despite the lack of a kiss, For Darkness Shows the Stars was released by Balzer + Bray in June 2012. 

Comments About the Cover: I think the cover is pretty. However, the dress looks a little fancy for a Luddite, especially for one who's responsible for managing an estate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Prophecy

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme held by Jill at Breaking the Spine to feature upcoming books that we can't wait to get our hands on. 

Title: Prophecy
Author: Ellen Oh
Publisher: HarperTeen
Date of Release: January 2, 2012 

Goodreads Description: The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms ... is a girl with yellow eyes. Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope … Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Why am I waiting? It's a fantasy that sounds a bit like Kristin Cashore's Graceling ... but set in Ancient Korea. And, judging from what I've read from the author about how much she research she did, it sounds like her research was quite thorough. Also, Prophecy was blurbed by Marie Lu and Robin LaFevers, two authors whose novels I loved.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

From Goodreads: Jane Eliot wears an iron mask. It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain - the ironskin. When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation" - a child born during the Great War - Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help. Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio...and come out as beautiful as the fey. Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life - and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again. 

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’ve never read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre; but through different retellings, I’m aware of the basic gist of the plot. As a result, I was curious about giving Tina Connolly’s Ironskin a try – especially once I found out that it involved steampunk elements and faeries. Sadly, while I loved the traditional Gothic feel of the setting, it was the fantastical elements of Ironskin that ultimately left me disappointed.

After being introduced to Jane and reading about her getting accepted as a governess at Silver Birch, I felt as if the pacing slowed to a crawl. I understand that Jane’s duties as a governess are going to be discussed, but who wants to read half a book about how hard it is for Jane to get her charge, Dorie, to obey her?! It certainly didn’t help that I couldn’t make myself care about the characters – or later, the romance (which if I wasn’t expecting it would have come as a complete surprise since Jane and Mr. Rochart hardly interact with each other before falling in love). 

After waiting for what felt like an eternity for Jane to start caring about what Mr. Rochart did for a living, the second half of Ironskin dramatically picked up the pace. Unfortunately, I found that the plot became hard to follow with the greater prominence of the fey element.

I was also left confused by the theme of beauty in the book. For the majority of Ironskin, Jane desires to be normal and keeps thinking about how her life would have turned out had she been unscarred. To me, it seemed as if the author was suggesting that females should judge themselves based on their physical looks – particularly after Jane makes Edward put a mask on her so that she too can become beautiful. However, since everybody that’s beautiful in the book has a bit of a fey in them, there’s also the sentiment that being attractive isn’t a good thing. 

Ironskin was released by Tor Books on October 2, 2012. 

Comments About the Cover: Another pretty cover that lured me in … only to disappoint me with its contents!

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

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Review: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

From Back Cover: Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn't really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together. To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks - all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic ... and the growing romantic tension between them. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: When I first heard about Angry Robot’s latest imprint, Strange Chemistry, and its upcoming releases, I was most excited about Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse because the synopsis promised pirates, assassins, curses and magic. It’s not surprising then that my expectations for this fantasy novel were high … perhaps too high.

Although I didn’t really fall in love with any of the characters, I did like the secondary character of Marjani. I also liked the main character, Ananna, because I found her to be spunky and very unladylike. She lies, steals and curses, and is clearly capable of surviving by herself. It was much harder to appreciate Naji as a romantic lead because I felt that he was quite useless as an assassin. After all, not only does he fail to kill Ananna, but he also manages to get himself bound to her through a curse! Furthermore, he refuses to tell Ananna anything important. I couldn’t understand why Ananna would find Naji appealing – he didn’t seem to find her quite so attractive – nor did I feel like there was much chemistry between the two.

Another thing that bothered me was the lack of details about certain parts within the plot. For example, I still feel like I don’t know anything about the Order or the Mists. Readers also don’t learn much about Naji’s background – or even how old he is. 

In spite of its flaws and the lack of a climax, I did enjoy The Assassin’s Curse while I was reading it because the pacing was relatively fast and didn’t give me time to dwell on the book’s faults.

The Assassin’s Curse was released by Strange Chemistry on October 2, 2012. 

Comments About the Cover: The desert setting of the novel evokes a Middle Eastern feel, which is why love the Middle Eastern-inspired artwork and font.

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

Monday, October 01, 2012

Review: Speechless by Hannah Harrington

From Goodreads: Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can't keep a secret. Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast - and nearly got someone killed. Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence - to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she's ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse. But there's strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way - people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she's done. If only she can forgive herself.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After seeing lots of praise for Hannah Harrington’s debut novel Saving June and then again for her newest book Speechless, I wondered what I was missing out on and figured I’d give her sophomore novel a try before my galley expired. I’m not really fond of stories revolving around selfish, mean girls so when I first started Speechless and realized Chelsea was one of those girls who ignores how awful her “best friend” is in order to stay popular, I speculated how long it would take before she blurted out the secret mentioned in the synopsis. Fortunately, not long; and by the end, Harrington’s gradual development of Chelsea’s character had me if not liking Chelsea, at least respecting her.

In my opinion, by far the best thing about Speechless was Chelsea’s voice because it was so honest and easy to relate to. Since Chelsea decides to take a vow of silence – which to me seemed a tad unrealistic because why decide to stop speaking altogether when you could just as easily make a vow not to gossip for example – a significant chunk of the book focuses on her thoughts. Through Chelsea’s perspective, you realize that, like anybody, she’s flawed and is a myriad of contradictions – brave, judgmental, determined and self-absorbed yet also vulnerable, thoughtful and perceptive.

I also liked the secondary characters. I just wish I could have gotten to see them in a more personal environment (e.g. in their homes) so that I could learn about them as characters independent of their interactions with Chelsea at school or work.

Another thing that I would have liked more time to be spent on was the relationship between Chelsea and Kristen. Since the two stop hanging out after the awful incident, we don’t really get to see Kristen as anything other than a stereotypical mean girl. At the same time though, I was okay with the way their relationship was portrayed because there was eventually some sort of resolution between the two.

Speechless was released in August 2012 by Harlequin Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: At first, I figured this was just a temporary cover because THERE’S NO PICTURE! It has actually grown on me now, and I find it unique and very creative. The author’s name still seems to be missing, however.  

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