Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

From Goodreads: Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But - she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years - where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos - and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: While I’m sure many people will be interested to read Maurene Goo’s I Believe in a Thing Called Love because the synopsis mentions K-dramas, I’ve never watched one. Instead, this book appealed to me because I liked that the cover had an Asian model and that it appeared to have the potential to make me laugh.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love does start off quite hilariously with poor, sick Desi coughing phlegm onto her crush’s shirt and then having her sweatpants fall off in front of the new student, Luca. However, I started sympathizing with Desi less and less over the course of the novel as she began to act more like a psycho, lying and injuring others in order to simply get a boyfriend. For example, Desi was willing to cause a car crash just so that Luca would realize how real their love was! I understand that in no way is I Believe in a Thing Called Love supposed to be realistic, but if a guy did what Desi did, I’d be running far, far away! So, I wasn’t completely thrilled by the ending, which basically rewards Desi for being a nut job. 

I Believe in a Thing Called Love was released in May 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Comments About the Cover: What’s happening with the splashes of pink on the model's skirt?! They’re so oddly placed …

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

Monday, August 07, 2017

Review: Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

From Goodreads: Deep within the palace of the Mede emperor, in an alcove off the main room of his master’s apartments, Kamet minds his master’s business and his own. Carefully keeping the accounts, and his own counsel, Kamet has accumulated a few possessions, a little money stored in the household’s cashbox, and a significant amount of personal power. As a slave, his fate is tied to his master’s. If Nahuseresh’s fortunes improve, so will Kamet’s, and Nahuseresh has been working diligently to promote his fortunes since the debacle in Attolia. A soldier in the shadows offers escape, but Kamet won’t sacrifice his ambition for a meager and unreliable freedom; not until a whispered warning of poison and murder destroys all of his carefully laid plans. When Kamet flees for his life, he leaves behind everything - his past, his identity, his meticulously crafted defenses - and finds himself woefully unprepared for the journey that lies ahead. Pursued across rivers, wastelands, salt plains, snowcapped mountains, and storm-tossed seas, Kamet is dead set on regaining control of his future and protecting himself at any cost. Friendships - new and long-forgotten - beckon, lethal enemies circle, secrets accumulate, and the fragile hopes of the little kingdoms of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis hang in the balance. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner was a book that I had been waiting for for years – the previous book in The Queen’s Thief series, A Conspiracy of Kings, was released in 2010 – so when it came out, I put aside all the books I was reading to see what Eugenides was up to now. To my disappointment, there wasn’t much of Eugenides in Thick as Thieves. Instead, Thick as Thieves’ main character is Kamet, a Mede slave whose master, Nahuseresh, is the Mede ambassador to Attolia.

Though I liked Thick as Thieves because Turner continues to build her world and expand on little details from the other books in the series, I didn’t enjoy it as much as her previous novels. Kamet doesn’t hold a candle to Eugenides as a protagonist; and with two books now where Eugenides hasn’t been the main character, I’m really missing his perspective. In addition, the political machinations that made me fall in love with The Queen’s Thief series were more subtle in Thick as Thieves because the focus was on Kamet’s flight of safety from the Mede empire to Attolia, a country that he considers “more backward than anywhere [he] has ever known” (4% on my Kindle). Finally, while I loved the little stories about the gods of Eddis in The Thief for example, I wasn’t as enamoured by the story of the friendship between Immakuk and Ennikar (which seems to be inspired by the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh) and ended up skimming those parts.

Thick as Thieves was released by Greenwillow Books in May 2017. 

Comments About the Cover: I miss the style of the old covers!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

From Back Cover: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family - and from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers ... right? Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him - wherein he’ll have to woo her - he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself. The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not? Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’m back … and one of the books I read during my blogging break was Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi. I originally had no intention of reading this book because I generally avoid straight-up romances; but with people seeming to love it on Twitter and the fact that the protagonist is Desi, I figured I’d give it a try. Having read When Dimple Met Rishi now, I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, I loved how I could relate to Dimple so much. Guys, the pressure to find a good husband is real, and the conversations Dimple has with her mom regarding marriage are definitely similar to ones that I’ve had with older female family members. I also loved how Menon blended Indian culture into the experience of a teen growing up in America. For example, Hindi is integrated seamlessly in conversations between Dimple or Rishi and their parents.

On the other hand, I wasn’t crazy about the romance, and was kind of disappointed that the coding aspect of the plot was overshadowed by it. I also found Dimple to be very self-righteous at times and didn’t like how quickly she judged others. For example, Dimple describes Isabelle as “the blond girl who wore a perpetual sneer as if she were too good for all of this” (p. 54) even before getting to know her.

Despite its flaws however, I’d recommend giving When Dimple Met Rishi a chance if only because of how authentic Dimple and Rishi’s voices felt as South Asian-American teens. When Dimple Met Rishi was released by Simon Pulse in May 2017.

Comments About the Cover: It makes the book seem like it’s a cute, cheesy contemporary. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Blogging Break

Hey, everybody! I've been so busy with work for the past several weeks - first marking and now writing report cards - that I've had little time to blog (or read for that matter). I expect to continue to be busy until the end of the month as I also need to plan and pack for a trip to Western Canada in July, where I'm hoping to meet Aylee and Danya as well. All this is just a preview to say that I'll be taking a blogging break until about mid-July at least. See you all when I come back :)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

From Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around - and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries - including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having read a few books that I rated as 3-stars or lower in a row, I decided to turn to a novel that I knew wouldn’t disappoint, Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. I was hooked right from the prologue, as a girl falls from the sky in the city of Weep and is impaled by a point on an iron gate. I love spectacularly violent deaths!

We then go back in time to be introduced to Lazlo Strange, a librarian who has dreamed of visiting the mysterious city of Weep his entire life. Penniless and unable to do so because as a foreigner he would be executed on sight, Lazlo continues to work as a librarian … until Weep’s warriors come to Zosma, seeking outsiders that can help them with a mission. There’s a shadow over Weep, and Lazlo will need to uncover the city's secrets if he wants to help its residents.

As always, Taylor’s writing is gorgeous, and the worldbuilding is fantastic. The characters were also fabulously written, with Taylor making me care about her secondary characters as much as I cared about Lazlo. Really, the only flaws of Strange the Dreamer were that the star-crossed romance was insta-love and that Taylor ended the book with such a twist that I can’t believe I’ll have to wait at least a year to read the sequel, The Muse of Nightmares.

Strange the Dreamer was released in March 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s quite plain looking and doesn’t really do the inside of the book justice.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Review: The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty

From Back Cover: With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady - which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls - and on the soldiers escorting them. As the girls' military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust - and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom. 

My Rating: 3 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty was a book I was really excited to read because I love fantasy, especially if it contains political intrigue and spying. So, I was thrilled when I got my hands on an ARC of The Traitor’s Kiss.

The story’s beginning reminded me of Mulan – and perhaps that’s why it was initially pitched as a Mulan retelling but has now been changed to “Jane Austen with an espionage twist” (which is more accurate) – with Sage, an orphan living with her uncle’s family, not wanting to be married but getting dressed up, going to a matchmaker, screwing up, and then getting told that she’s unfit to be married. After that, the plot diverges, with Sage apologizing to the matchmaker so as to not affect the marriage prospects of her younger cousins and being hired on as the matchmaker’s apprentice.

Although I enjoyed The Traitor’s Kiss overall, I had two major issues with it. First, there’s a lot of girl-on-girl hate in the book. Throughout the novel, Sage makes fun of the girls that are being matched for caring about beauty, and considers herself as better than them. Meanwhile, these girls are written as clichéd characters – they served no purpose other than to be dumb, catty, and only interested in money and marriage. I wish Beaty could have portrayed some of these girls as having both beauty and brains rather than succumbing to the stereotype that girls that care about their looks lack intelligence.

Secondly, there was a lack of worldbuilding in The Traitor’s Kiss. All I literally remember about the world is that there are two countries at war and the Kimisar have invaded Demora because they’re experiencing a famine. There was no map; and the Kimisar are simply described as being darker and having tattoos, indicating that Beaty relied on the use of another trope – that of the dark-skinned aggressor. 

The Traitor’s Kiss will be released by Imprint tomorrow!

Comments About the Cover: All I need to see is a sword on the cover to automatically put the book on my wishlist!  

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

Monday, May 01, 2017

Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

From Back Cover: It doesn't look dangerous, exactly. When twelve-year-old Farah first lays eyes on the old-fashioned board game, she thinks it looks .. elegant. It is made of wood, etched with exquisite images - a palace with domes and turrets, latticework windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider - and at the very center of its cover, in broad letters, is written THE GAUNTLET OF BLOOD AND SAND. The Gauntlet is more than a game, though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic. It holds worlds inside worlds. And it takes players as prisoners.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With the launch of Salaam Reads – an imprint of Simon and Schuster focused on bringing Muslim voices into publishing – and an author known for being passionate about diversity, Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet was a novel that I know many people were excited about. After reading The Gauntlet, I find that my thoughts on it are quite scattered, and so the best way for me to write a cohesive review was to create a pros and cons list.

Pros:
  • As a South Asian, I was really looking forward to having a protagonist whose upbringing reflected mine to some degree. More importantly, as a Muslim who wears a hijab, it was amazing to finally read a novel with a hijabi protagonist.
  • I loved the premise of being sucked into fantasy city within a board game, especially one that has clearly been inspired by Middle Eastern architecture.
Cons:
  • The plot felt very rushed, with Farah and her friends having to quickly complete challenges and run all over the city of Paheli to try and find Ahmad, her little brother.
  • I had to laugh when I found out who the Architect was. I have no clue why authors make the evil mastermind controlling everything so young. How am I supposed to find this believable at all?!  
  • Farah’s friends could have been more developed. They didn’t have much personality and felt like sidekicks rather than actual friends.  
  • I didn’t like that Ahmad’s behaviour was solely attributed to ADHD. While children with ADHD may have trouble controlling their impulses and act out, the way Ahmad behaves is more due to his environment – he appears to be spoiled and used to getting his way – than because of ADHD. 
The Gauntlet was released in March 2017 by Salaam Reads. 

Comments About the Cover: I love that there’s someone wearing a hijab on the cover, but it’s hard to see this because Farah is so small in comparison to everything around her. I wish Farah was drawn just a little bit bigger. 

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

From Goodreads: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen. At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship. Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

My Rating: Somewhere between 3 and 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, I finally decided to get around to reading Heartless, which gives a backstory for the Queen of Hearts. Now, I’ve never read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but I grew up watching Disney’s version and always found Wonderland very bizarre. Meyer stays true to that feel by incorporating talking animals and featuring prominent characters like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and the Caterpillar. 

Unlike her previous heroines though, Meyer’s Catherine is a dreamer rather than a doer, which is probably why I didn’t really like her. Cath wishes to have a bakery – the descriptions of the desserts in Heartless will have you salivating! – but isn’t truly willing to go against her parents’ desires, and so just ends up moaning about not wanting to be married and deluding herself into thinking that she’ll become the finest baker in Hearts someday.

Another aspect of the story that I wasn't fond of was the insta-love romance. I found it very hard to believe that Cath and Jest loved each other after only a short amount of time spent together. As a result, although it was no surprise, I found it ridiculous that the explanation given for why the Queen of Hearts is so unfeeling is because Cath couldn’t get over Jest’s death and therefore gave away her heart.

Heartless was released November 2016 by Feiwel & Friends. 

Comments About the Cover: The black and red design, centred by a crown, is perfect for a story about the Queen of Hearts.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mini Reviews: Literally by Lucy Keating and The Freemason's Daughter by Shelley Sacker

From Goodreads: Annabelle’s life has always been Perfect with a capital P. Then bestselling young adult author Lucy Keating announces that she’s writing a new novel - and Annabelle is the heroine. It turns out, Annabelle is a character that Lucy Keating created. And Lucy has a plan for her. But Annabelle doesn’t want to live a life where everything she does is already plotted out. Will she find a way to write her own story - or will Lucy Keating have the last word? 

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Literally by Lucy Keating had the potential to be really interesting. Instead, it turned out to be a rather unoriginal contemporary with a love triangle where there was no doubt about who the protagonist would choose. The idea of Keating incorporating herself into the story was very meta, but I quickly got tired of Annabelle referencing the author Keating’s books, movies, and writing style. I think I would have liked Literally much more had Annabelle realized that she was a fictional character later in the story or Will been written to be less perfect.  

Literally was released on April 11, 2017 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: Saying good-bye to Scotland is the hardest thing that Jenna MacDuff has had to do - until she meets Lord Pembroke. Jenna’s small clan has risked their lives traveling the countryside as masons, secretly drumming up support and arms for the exiled King James Stuart to retake the British throne. But their next job brings them into enemy territory: England. Jenna’s father repeatedly warns her to trust no one, but when the Duke of Keswick hires the clan to build a garrison on his estate, it seems she cannot hide her capable mind from the duke’s inquisitive son, Lord Alex Pembroke - nor mask her growing attraction to him. But there’s a covert plan behind the building of the garrison, and soon Jenna must struggle not only to keep her newfound friendship with Alex from her father, but also to keep her father’s treason from Alex. Will Jenna decide to keep her family’s mutinous secrets and assist her clan’s cause, or protect the life of the young noble she’s falling for? 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I love historical fiction, especially if the setting is in Europe; so Shelley Sacker’s The Freemason’s Daughter was a book that I had to request. Unfortunately, most of the characters could have been better developed, and I thought Jenna was silly for trusting Alex so easily with her and her clan’s secrets. The plot also took a very long time to get going, which meant both the romance and the ending felt quite rushed.

The Freemason’s Daughter was released by HarperTeen on April 11, 2017. 

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

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

From Goodreads: Our world belongs to the Equals - aristocrats with magical gifts - and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price? Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. [There] is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate - or destroy?

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Gilded Cage by Vic James was the 2017 debut I was probably most excited about reading. The prologue did nothing to decrease my excitement either – with a slave trying to escape with her baby off an estate and then getting shot by her master (who also happens to be the baby’s father).

The premise is supposed to be simple: In an alternate Britain, the aristocrats are now people with Skill – known as Equals – and all those that lack Skill have to serve them for ten years as slaves before they can become full citizens. When you choose to serve is up to you, but you can’t own property, travel abroad or have certain jobs until you've completed your slavedays. Despite this, Luke and Abi’s parents appear to have their own house and jobs. Considering you’re pretty much allowed to do everything you want then without fulfilling your slavedays (e.g. go to university, marry, have kids, own assets, etc.), I’m not sure why everybody wouldn’t wait until they’re about to die before doing their slavedays.

Besides the confusing worldbuilding, there were quite a few POVs as well. This is something I normally avoid because I find that characters’ voices often blend together … and this was the case in Gilded Cage. It also didn’t help that the storyline kept jumping back and forth between Millmoor, a slavetown, and Kyneston, the estate of the founding family.

Finally, I never connected with the characters. Luke was basically a pawn, and I just wanted to slap Abi because for someone who was supposedly smart, she developed an instant crush on Jenner, whose family essentially owned her and her family. Moreover, Abi continued to lust after Jenner even after finding out that he witnessed her memories being tampered with and didn't tell her what happened!

A disappointing read, Gilded Cage was released by Del Ray Books in February 2017. 

Comments About the Cover: To me, the cover makes it seem like the story is set in the Victorian era, even though it isn’t.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mini Reviews: You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando and Poison's Kiss by Breeana Shields

From Goodreads: Fighter. Faker. Student. Spy. Seventeen-year-old Reagan Elizabeth Hillis is used to changing identities overnight, lying to every friend she’s ever had, and pushing away anyone who gets too close. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most powerful top-secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with the boy next door was never part of the plan. Now Reagan must decide: Will she use her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away to follow her heart and embrace the normal life she’s always wanted? And does she even have a choice? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: An entertaining read while it lasted, You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando begins with Reagan being tired of constantly having to be undercover and feeling indecisive about her future – should she follow her parents’ footsteps and join a covert government organization or go to college and ultimately have a normal life? One of the reasons Reagan wants to be a regular girl of course is because there’s a boy … who coincidentally wants to go into the military and therefore knows how to shoot and not be a liability on a mission. Considering that Reagan is a teenager, it’s not surprising then that there are many plot holes in You Don’t Know My Name; but I chose to overlook those in favour of the action and suspense. 

You Don’t Know My Name was released in January 2017 by Swoon Reads.  .................................................................................................. 
From Goodreads: Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It's a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon. Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she's really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose. 

My Rating: 1.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With a synopsis promising an assassin – an instant addition to my want-to-read list – capable of killing with a kiss as well as elements of Indian folklore, I was really excited to read Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields. It’s too bad then that the aforementioned assassin turned out to feel guilty about killing so many boys! It’s very annoying when I think I’ll be reading about a deadly assassin and instead end up reading about a person drowning in remorse! On top of that, Marinda was so naïve and ignorant, believing everything told to her and never bothering to ask questions! As if that wasn’t bad enough, making everything worse was the fact that there was an insta-love romance. Seriously, like after two conversations with Deven, Marinda was willing to risk her life for Deven! 

A book that definitely didn’t live up to its potential, Poison’s Kiss was released by Random House Books for Young Readers in January 2017. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Gerber

From Goodreads: Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Normally, when I see a lot of buzz for a book, I try to avoid reading it until the hype dies down so that I’m not as influenced by others’ feedback. As a result, I didn’t bother reading Stephanie Garber’s Caraval until recently.

The setting in Caraval was mysterious and enchanting, making it hard to figure out what was real and what was imaginary. Furthermore, the writing in Caraval was very flowery, enhancing the magical, dreamlike vibe of the book.

Where Garber lost me as a reader though was with the lack of character development. Not only did the secondary characters feel like actors at times - I now understand why - but I struggled to like Scarlett. She constantly talked about loving Tella, but it wasn’t evident how much her sister meant to her until the end when everything was revealed at once in a poorly executed dramatic moment. Instead, for the majority of the book, Scarlett seemed more fixated on lusting after two different boys.

Caraval was released by Flatiron Books in January 2017. 

Comments About the Cover: I love the colours used and how nicely they contrast against the background.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Mini Reviews: Speed of Life by Carol Weston and Wait for Me by Caroline Leech

From Goodreads: Sofia wonders if 14 might be the worst possible age to lose your mom. Talking with her dad about puberty and s-e-x is super-awkward (even though he is a gynecologist). And when she wants to talk about her mom, her friends don't know what to say and her dad gets sad. When Sofia discovers Dear Kate, an advice columnist from Fifteen magazine, she’s grateful to have someone to confide in about everything from crushes to mourning - someone who is completely, wonderfully anonymous. It feels ideal - until Sofia’s dad introduces her to his new girlfriend, Katherine Baird, a.k.a., Dear Kate ... 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Speed of Life by Carol Weston chronicles the life of Sofia over the course of a year, several months after her mom’s sudden death from an aneurysm. As time passes and her life changes in unexpected ways, Sofia slowly grows and learns that life can go on even after a loved one dies. Weston’s background as an advice columnist is clearly evident in the voice of Dear Kate, and I also liked how realistic the book felt. At the same time, many parts of Speed of Life felt very juvenile, making it a book I would have enjoyed a lot more had I been much, much younger. 

A novel that would be a good read for its target audience of middle graders, Speed of Life will be released on April 4, 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Sourcebooks) for free via NetGalley. 
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From Goodreads: It’s 1945, and Lorna Anderson’s life on her father’s farm in Scotland consists of endless chores and rationing, knitting Red Cross scarves, and praying for an Allied victory. So when Paul Vogel, a German prisoner of war, is assigned as the new farmhand, Lorna is appalled. How can she possibly work alongside the enemy when her own brothers are risking their lives for their country? But as Lorna reluctantly spends time with Paul, she feels herself changing. The more she learns about him - from his time in the war to his life back home in Germany - the more she sees the boy behind the soldier. Soon Lorna is battling her own warring heart. Loving Paul could mean losing her family and the life she’s always known. With tensions rising all around them, Lorna must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice before the end of the war determines their fate. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Caroline Leech’s Wait for Me was a book that piqued my interest because it’s set during WWII. Although I rarely read straight-up romance novels, I ended up really liking Wait for Me because the progression in Lorna’s feelings for Paul felt very natural, and I liked that she had to learn to look beyond Paul’s physical appearance to fall in love with him. The setting of the book also felt very authentic. In fact, there’s even a note at the end of the book about how German POWs did work on Scottish farms and that many ended up falling in love with local girls. The one thing that this book could have done without was an unnecessary potential rape scene. Overall, however, Wait for Me was a solid YA debut. 

Wait for Me was released by HarperTeen in January 2017. 

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Metaltown by Kristen Simmons

From Goodreads: The rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does. Lena’s future depends on her family’s factory, a beast that demands a ruthless master, and Lena is prepared to be as ruthless as it takes if it means finally proving herself to her father. But when a chance encounter with Colin, a dreamer despite his circumstances, exposes Lena to the consequences of her actions, she’ll risk everything to do what’s right. In Lena, Ty sees an heiress with a chip on her shoulder. Colin sees something more. In a world of disease and war, tragedy and betrayal, allies and enemies, all three of them must learn that challenging what they thought was true can change all the rules.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Metaltown by Kristen Simmons was a book I was attracted to due to the steampunkish vibe I got from the cover. I also loved the premise, but the worldbuilding could definitely have been expanded upon. The gist is clear – a world that depends on child labour, contains a scarcity of food and clean water, and is suffering from a war – but there’s a serious lack of other details, making the setting in Metaltown hard to imagine visually.

More attention was given to the romance instead, which thankfully never turned into a love triangle since Ty’s feelings for Colin were never reciprocated. As for the characters, I wasn’t completely thrilled with either Colin or Lena because Colin seemed to ditch Ty once he met Lena and I felt like Lena only fell for Colin because he was the first guy to be nice to her. Ty was the most interesting out of the three so it was maddening to see how things ended for her after there was so much buildup with her importance.

Metaltown was released in September 2016 by Tor Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: Even though the cover seems to give off a steampunk vibe, the book itself is more of a dystopian novel.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mini Reviews: The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Apologies for the extended break! I haven't done much reading over the past month as I got really busy at work and then ruined my Kindle by accidentally dropping it in water - putting it in a bag of rice sadly didn't work - so I had to buy a new one and wait for it to ship. Anyways, on to my reviews!
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From Goodreads: Rudger is Amanda’s best friend. He doesn't exist, but nobody's perfect. Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold is a delightfully creepy read that explores what it is like to be an imaginary friend. I loved the illustrations and the fact that the library was a safe haven for imaginaries waiting to pick a child as a friend. I also really liked that Amanda’s mom was so supportive of her daughter's imagination and did things like setting out an extra plate with food for Rudger.

A book that would be great for discussing friendship and imagination, The Imaginary was released in October 2014 by Bloomsbury Children's. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.  
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From Goodreads: Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map - the key to a legendary treasure trove - seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship. More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King. 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Since I love stories featuring pirates and they have not become a trend in YA yet, Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King was one of my most anticipated debuts of this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would, mainly because the romance played such a prominent role but felt very forced. Alosa also came across as extremely cocky – she reminds me of Captain Jack Sparrow, though not as likeable – and while some people might have no problems with that, I just kept wondering why her character had to be so annoyingly exaggerated.

Daughter of the Pirate King will be released on February 28, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends. 

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

From Goodreads: Things Finley Hart Doesn't Want To Talk About: 1) Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.) 2) Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer. 3) Never having met said grandparents. 4) Her blue days - when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.) Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real - and holds more mysteries than she'd ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones. With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having enjoyed Claire Legrand’s previous novels for the most part, I decided to give Some Kind of Happiness a try without reading its synopsis. Therefore, I wasn’t expecting this MG novel to be so heavy, with a main character battling anxiety and depression but unable to put her feelings into words. To cope with her feelings, which worsen as her parents’ marriage falls apart and she meets her perfect, estranged extended family, Finley creates and writes about an imaginary world that the reader reads about as well.

To be honest, I’m not sure who I’d recommend Some Kind of Happiness to. The book felt quite long – the plot dragged in the middle – and there are much better novels that revolve around family or mental health. Moreover, the metaphor of the Everwood to describe Finley’s problems in real life may be lost on younger readers.

Some Kind of Happiness was released in May 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Comments About the Cover: The dark colours match the book's mood well, and the solitary person gives off a sense of loneliness, which is how Finley often feels. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

Mini Reviews: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti and The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

From Goodreads: A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn't mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie's life. That includes taking her job ... and her boyfriend. It's a huge risk - but it's just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world. 

My Rating: 1 heart 

Thoughts on the Novel: Chelsea Sedoti’s The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett was a book that I decided to read because I was in the mood for a good mystery. It’s too bad then that this book fell far below my expectations. I found the protagonist, Hawthorn, to be really judgemental and seriously weird. Furthermore, the secondary characters lacked depth and the plotline was boring as it revolved around Hawthorn investigating the disappearance of twenty-one year old Lizzie Lovett, a girl who goes missing while on a camping trip with her boyfriend. Obsessed with Lizzie, Hawthorn finally concludes that she turned into a werewolf. Like, WTF?! I thought Hawthorn was kidding, but the high school senior legitimately believed in her ridiculous theory! On top of that, she then hooks up with Lizzie’s twenty-five year old boyfriend, who I thought was really sleazy (since he kept hooking up with girls in high school). 

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett was released on January 3, 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Sourcebooks) for free via NetGalley.
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From Goodreads: Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking - all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee had several things going for it. For example, it had an interesting premise since its main character and her mom are able to smell scents that regular humans can’t detect, and then use this information to create elixirs (for free) to help love blossom. Lee also did a phenomenal job of describing various scents (e.g. that of emotions, different flowers, etc.) and the beauty of Mim’s family garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t like The Secret of a Heart Note as much as I thought I would because I didn’t buy the romance in it and got annoyed by Mim making one stupid mistake after another. 

The Secret of a Heart Note was released by Katherine Tegen Books in December 2016. 

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

Monday, January 02, 2017

Reviews: A Good Trade and When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton

Thoughts on the Novels: When I was contacted by Pajama Press asking if I’d like to review any of their books, I looked through their catalogue carefully. Despite never reviewing picture books, two of Alma Fullerton’s books caught my eye because I figured that I could use them at work and because I like picture books that feature life in other countries.

Set up of Plot: In a small village in Uganda, Kato has to wake up early each morning and walk barefoot a long distance so that he can get water from the village well. This day, when he comes back home, there is an aid worker's truck in the village square, waiting to give something special - a new pair of shoes - to all the children. In exchange, Kato gives the aid worker a single, white poppy.
 
A Good Trade’s title is somewhat misleading as it implies that there’s a real trade between two people. However, in reality, Kato gives an aid worker a poppy to thank her for giving him a pair of shoes. Overall, I liked A Good Trade, and believe that it can be used to launch a discussion about gratitude and what it’s like to live in a third world country. 

Set up of Plot: In a Sri Lankan village, Malini wakes up nervous and excited about learning how to plant rice seedlings, which will provide food and income for her community. When she is asked to watch an ox carrying the seedlings so the driver can take a break, a sudden monsoon separates Malini and the ox from the driver and her family. Malini must now find the courage to try and save the ox and the cart carrying the precious rice seedlings.

I liked When the Rain Comes even more. The illustrations and text in this book work really well together to highlight Malini’s feelings and show the importance of rice to her village and the dangers of a monsoon. The back of the book tells a little bit more about Sri Lanka and how reliant the country’s population is on rice. 

In exchange for an honest review, both A Good Trade and When the Rain Comes were received from the publisher (Pajama Press) for free.