Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

From Back Cover: Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren't love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she's written. One for every boy she's ever loved - five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: In my early days of blogging, I saw quite a few positive reviews for Jenny Han’s Summer series. But since the premise of the series never appealed to me, I haven’t read any of her books until now. Given the synopsis, I was expecting To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to be a very romance-centric novel, but was pleasantly surprised to find out it focused equally on family.

I loved the Covey family and wouldn’t hesitate to be adopted by them! I just felt the family dynamics, particularly the relationship between siblings, was portrayed so realistically. As the eldest child, I have no idea how true to life Lara Jean’s relationship with her older sister, Margot, is; but the relationship she has with her younger sister, Kitty, is definitely very accurate. Like Lara Jean, though I got along with my younger siblings most of the time, we did fight and get great glee out of annoying each other.

Moving on to Lara Jean as a character, I found her to be a bit immature and naïve at times. But at other moments, I could completely relate to her thoughts and experiences. For example, the way Lara Jean describes her driving is pretty much how I feel when I drive, which probably explains why I still only have my G1 license.

The romance was the weakest aspect of the book for me. I just couldn’t support Lara Jean’s feelings for Josh, Margot’s ex, at the beginning of the novel, and later on, thought he acted way too much like a jealous boyfriend. As Lara Jean began to hang out more with Peter to try and get over her feelings for Josh, I ended up slowly liking Peter. The open ending kind of ruined how I felt about him though because when someone – it’s unclear who, but I’m assuming it’s Peter’s ex-girlfriend – spreads rumours about Lara Jean being a slut, Peter doesn’t defend Lara Jean, a fact she somehow forgets. Also, it just seemed like Peter and Lara Jean randomly decided that they had feelings for each other and were over the people they liked, yet their actions suggested otherwise.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was released in April 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: Since Lara Jean is half-Korean, I’m really glad that the cover features an Asian model. 

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mini Reviews: The Hunt by Stacey Kade and Boys Like You by Juliana Stone

From Goodreads: Ariane Tucker has finally escaped GTX, the research facility that created her. While on the run, Zane Bradshaw is the only person she can trust. He knows who-and what-she is and still wants to be part of her life. But accepting Zane's help means putting him in danger. Dr. Jacobs, head of GTX, is not the only one hunting for Ariane. Two rival corporations have their sights set on taking down their competition. Permanently. To protect Zane and herself, Ariane needs allies. She needs the other hybrids. The hybrids who are way more alien and a lot less human. Can Ariane win them over before they turn on her? Or will she be forced to choose sides, to decide who lives and who dies? 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Hunt by Stacey Kade is a sequel that really relies on readers remembering what happened in the previous book because it doesn’t provide much recap of the events that occurred in The Rules. Much more action-oriented than The Rules, I liked that The Hunt expanded the scope of the plot to show what GTX’s competitors are up to and how their hybrids differ from Ariane. The drawback to Ariane and Zane being on the run, however, was that the arguments they kept having became sort of repetitive after a while. But, overall, I found The Hunt to be a solid sequel; and its cliffhanger ending pretty much ensures that I’ll be reading the next book in the series.

The Hunt was released in April 2014 by Disney Hyperion. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Disney Book Group) for free via NetGalley. 
From Back Cover: For Monroe Blackwell, one small mistake has torn her family apart – leaving her empty and broken. There’s a hole in her heart that nothing can fill. That no one can fill. And a summer in Louisiana with her Grandma isn’t going to change that … Nathan Everets knows heartache first-hand when a car accident leaves his best friend in a coma. And it’s his fault. He should be the one lying in the hospital. The one who will never play guitar again. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and a court-appointed job at the Blackwell B&B isn’t going to change that … Captivating and hopeful, this achingly poignant novel brings together two lost souls struggling with grief and guilt – looking for acceptance, so they can find forgiveness. 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Considering that it features two broken characters, I was expecting Boys Like You by Juliana Stone to be a bit more emotionally intense. Instead, I feel like Stone sacrificed a more drawn out healing process in favour of romance. It's not that the characters didn't learn to deal with their issues and understand that life goes on, but they seemed to come to this conclusion in a very simplistic manner and relied a bit too heavily on each other. Also, the romance was very insta-love, and it annoyed me how Monroe and Nathan kept mentioning how hot the other person looked or repeatedly felt that the other person was worth getting to know simply because they could tell they were broken too by gazing into their eyes.

Boys Like You was released by Sourcebooks Fire on May 6, 2014. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

From Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge - a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece - a day dweller, or Ray - she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty, I had pretty high expectations for her newest novel, Plus One. Unfortunately, Plus One didn’t exactly deliver.

A huge part of that was because its plot was so far-fetched. See, you’re basically thrown into this alternate version of the U.S. where a strict curfew maintains a division between Rays (people who go to school, work, etc. during the day) and Smudges (people who do the same during the night), with no explanation given until 30% in – a bit too far into the story in my opinion – for how and why this division came about. On top of that, you’ve got a protagonist who has decided that she’s going to steal a baby without considering all its implications (e.g. like the fact that she has no diapers, will have to feed the baby every two hours, etc.). Let’s just say that things only got crazier from there, with the plot really revolving around the baby stealing incident.

The character of Sol was another issue I had with Plus One because she was far too thoughtless for my liking. Case in point: her decision to steal a baby, which she does so by hiding the baby under her hoodie and then putting the baby in a drawer! What I did like though about Sol was her loyalty to the people she loves. Unlike Sol, D’Arcy was much more level-headed, which is why I liked him better.  

I also didn’t like the romance as much as I was expecting. It’s funny that while Sol and D’Arcy weren’t together, I kept waiting for them to discover how they were connected and to just kiss; but then as soon as it happened, I wanted the opposite because they quickly moved from kissing to having sex and declaring their love for each other.

A rather disappointing novel, Plus One was released in April 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Comments About the Cover: I think the cover and synopsis give a false impression that this is a romance-centric novel. It’s not; instead, Plus One attempts to show what people are willing to do for love (of any type). 

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

From Goodreads: As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him - with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.  

My Rating: Definitely higher than 3.5 hearts but not quite 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski was a book that I initially had no plans to read. After seeing all the positive reviews for it though, I changed my mind for two reasons: 1) it was a fantasy and 2) the romance was deemed not to be an insta-love one.

Although I can’t say that The Winner’s Curse blew my mind, I did like it a lot. The worldbuilding was pretty solid; and while I had a bit of trouble visually conceptualizing how Rutkoski’s world would be arranged on a map, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine the setting because Rutkoski takes her time immersing you into her world.

What I didn’t enjoy as much was the romance. Yes, it was slow-paced and set up in such a way that you could logically understand why Arin and Kestrel would fall for each other, but the actual writing of the novel made their feelings sort of appear out of the blue. Also, considering that Kestrel and Arin don’t have a long history with each other, it was mystifying to me how Kestrel could still be attracted to Arin after what he did to her friends and townspeople.

As individual characters, I liked Arin and Kestrel much better. Right from the start, I had a feeling that there was more to Arin than met the eye, but I would have never guessed what he was up to! Kestrel, unfortunately, wasn’t as interesting as Arin because she seemed rather content with her life of attending parties and engaging in gossip. However, she does occasionally show that she isn’t entirely comfortable with the way her society functions. I just wish that she had been more vocal with her opinions. 

The Winner’s Curse was released in March 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Comments About the Cover: I think it’s pretty and love the dress, but am not a fan of the camera angle or the model’s pose.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

From Goodreads: Rule One - Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. Rule Two - Be careful. Rule Three - Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest. Rule Four - Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible. Rule Five - The letters are the law. Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life - the only way of life she has ever known. But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.

My Rating: 1 heart 

Thoughts on the Novel: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell was a book that I wish I could say something redeeming about. But I can’t. And since letters play an important role in the book, here’s my letter to Dear Killer.

Dear Dear Killer,

Your premise was utterly ridiculous as it features a teen serial killer who receives mail from people wanting her to kill others. Though Kit (aka the Perfect Killer) has killed over fifty people (since the age of nine) and it appears that everybody seems to know where her mailbox is located, the police have somehow not yet discovered her identity.

I thought you would get better at some point and so continued reading on. You didn’t. Instead, you remained unbelievable. As further proof, you decided to have the police not even realize that their serial killer was a teenager until Kit tells them so. The police then continue to remain inept by not considering Kit a suspect when she has access to information that only the murderer would know, inviting her to a crime scene in the hopes of her providing them with a fresh pair of eyes to the case, etc. It’s not just the police who is incompetent though but the public at large as well because apparently in your version of London, office buildings lack security and cameras. And don’t even get me started on the idea of someone not reporting the identity of the Perfect Killer after she attempts to kill them but is unsuccessful!

Another reason I disliked you Dear Killer was because you had a main character who I felt completely disconnected from. I didn’t like her voice, and I didn’t like her arrogance. And to top it off, she was a crappy murderer! Not only does Kit not fit the psychological profile of a serial killer, but there seemed to be no real reason for her to be killing anybody. Yes, you talked quite a bit about moral nihilism but do you seriously expect me to believe that weak argument?! Furthermore, Kit hardly prepares for how she’ll commit the murder – basically, she relies on good luck – and when she does so, it seems way too easy. Oh, and then she returns to the scene of her crime!

Finally, I found it seriously creepy and disturbing that you tried to create a romance between a much older cop and a teenager.

P.S. The conversation with Diana was weird!

A novel I wish I had DNF’ed, Dear Killer was released by Katherine Tegen Books in April 2014. 

Comments About the Cover: I like that the background is a letter.  

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

From Back Cover: It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just ... disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back? Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she'll find. 

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After I ended up loving both Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer, Morgan Matson quickly joined my list of contemporary authors I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. So, I was thrilled when I received an ARC of her newest novel, Since You’ve Been Gone, for review because it shortened my need to wait for its release.

In a well-ordered universe, here are five reasons (in no particular order) why you should get your hands on a copy of Since You’ve Been Gone:
  1. The realistic depiction of friendship: I thought Matson did a fabulous job of showing a friendship from a variety of different angles. For example, through Emily’s thoughts, you see Sloane portrayed ideally whereas through flashbacks, you come to learn some of Sloane’s faults. When combined with Sloane's list of dares and the ending, the flashbacks also enable the reader to understand how important their friendship is to both girls.
  2. The protagonist: I found Emily really easy to relate to because her personality is similar to mine. The way she reacts and the choices she makes are ones that I could see myself making too if I were placed in the same situation.
  3. The slow personal growth: Accomplishing Sloane’s list of dares causes Emily to change in a very natural way, and it’s only at the end of the novel that you realize just how much she has grown over the course of the summer.   
  4. The secondary characters: I loved that they seemed like real people and were complex. For example, though Collins is Emily’s friend, he is also simultaneously jealous of her friendship with Frank, his best friend, because it means that he gets to spend less time with Frank.
  5. The romance: Although I didn’t completely love the romance because Frank still had a girlfriend when he hooked up with Emily, I did like how it developed. I found the transition from the two being acquaintances to friends to something more to be very nicely paced.
Since You’ve Been Gone was released on May 6, 2014 by Simon & Schuster. 

Comments About the Cover: Besides making me want a scoop of ice-cream, I like that the cover has a fun summer feel to it. I also really like that it emphasizes the friendship aspect of the novel by showing two girls hanging out and looking like they’re having a good time.

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

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Mini Reviews: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn and The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

From Goodreads: Gemma just got dumped and is devastated. She finds herself back in the Hamptons for the summer - which puts her at risk of bumping into Hallie, her former best friend that she wronged five years earlier. Do people hold grudges that long? When a small case of mistaken identity causes everyone, including Hallie and her dreamy brother Josh, to think she’s someone else, Gemma decides to go along with it. Gemma's plan is working (she's finding it hard to resist Josh), but she's finding herself in embarrassing situations (how could a bathing suit fall apart like that!?). Is it coincidence or is someone trying to expose her true identity? And how will Josh react if he finds out who she is?  

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: When I saw the summary of Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn, I thought it sounded like a fun summer read. Unfortunately, while it was pretty easy to breeze through Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend, I found the plot twist to be very predictable and Gemma to be incredibly naïve! Considering that she had been lying the whole summer, how on Earth could that she think that her apology to Hallie and Josh would be accepted as heartfelt?! I also wasn’t thrilled by the ending because I assumed this was a standalone – and there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been one – and so was surprised to find a cliffhanger ending which promises more petty drama in the future. 

Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend was released on May 13, 2014 by Feiwel & Friends. 

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

From Goodreads: Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they're rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father. Lucy and Owen's relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and - finally - a reunion in the city where they first met. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having now read three of Jennifer E. Smith’s novels, I’ve come to the conclusion that although her novels have cute premises and are enjoyable in the moment, they’re books that just don’t linger with me. However, though I’ve (apparently) given each book the same rating, I’d have to say that I liked The Geography of You and Me slightly more than The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This is What Happy Looks Like because it shows how time and distance can affect people’s perceptions of each other and their relationships. While I liked that Smith realistically portrays how hard it can be to maintain a long distance relationship, I was never fully invested in or sold by the romance of Lucy and Owen.

The Geography of You and Me was released by Poppy in April 2014. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

From Goodreads: By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz. When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love. But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world. From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: If it wasn’t for the blogging community, I probably would have never read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Eventually succumbing to the hype, I read both Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight last year, and have been eagerly waiting since for Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Since my thoughts about Dreams of Gods and Monsters are pretty scattered and I want to limit the amount of spoilers in my review, I decided to do a pros and cons list. 

  • Taylor’s writing remains as beautiful as ever.
  • While a part of me acknowledges that Karou forgave Akiva a bit too easily, another part of me understands that it was inevitable because peace would only occur between the chimaera and seraphim if their leaders put aside their need for vengeance. The romantic tension between Karou and Akiva was just so good!
  • I loved the slow growth of Liraz as a character over the course of the trilogy, but especially over this novel.
  • Every time I got to Eliza’s POV during the first two-thirds of the novel, I had to force myself to read it because I knew that she was important. But, I just had an unbelievably difficult time caring about her, and resented her for taking away precious page time from Karou and Akiva. I would have liked to see her importance to the story be revealed earlier.
  • The inclusion of the Stelians not only made Jael’s surrender too simple, but also expanded the worldbuilding way too much for my liking. By the end, the focus wasn’t so much on the war between the chimaera and seraphim and its resolution, but on the greater war threatening Eretz. I totally didn’t understand all the talk about the godstars, and was disappointed to not learn, for example, why Akiva is so special, even by Stelian standards.
  • Although I thought the person Ziri ended up with was perfect for him, I wasn’t completely sold on the romance because he had been crushing on Karou for pretty much the whole series. It just seemed like he developed feelings for someone else after one interaction with them – an interaction that readers aren't even privy to!
The final book in the trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters provides enough closure so that readers will be satisfied, yet leaves the door open for a possible return to the world of Eretz if Taylor chooses to do so in the future.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters was released by Little, Brown & Company in April 2014. 

Comments About the Cover: It kind of creeps me out, which I guess is okay considering the title.