Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mini Reviews: The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima and The Young Elites by Marie Lu

From Goodreads: Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great - until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts. Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: he is Weirlind, part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At their helm sits the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game - a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir. As if his bizarre heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he's not just another member of Weirlind - he's one of the last of the warriors - at a time when both houses are scouting for a player.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although I’d never checked it out, Cinda Williams Chima’s The Heir Chronicles was a fantasy series that I’d heard a lot about in the past. With the release of the newest book in the series, The Sorcerer Heir, however, I figured I’d give the first book, The Warrior Heir, a try.

Though I found The Warrior Heir to be an okay novel and thought the worldbuilding was pretty solid, the story just didn’t grip me. Not only was The Warrior Heir quite predictable, but its pacing was slow and the characters were sort of boring. Ultimately, I think my younger self would have enjoyed this book a lot more.

The Warrior Heir was released by Disney Hyperion in April 2007. 

From Goodreads: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars - they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites. Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all. Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen. Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: While I still need to read the second and third books in Marie Lu’s Legend series, I figured I’d give her newest series a try in the meantime. Although it wasn’t what I expected (because I didn’t realize that all the characters in the novel would be anti-heroes), I still enjoyed The Young Elites due to its well-written beginning and ending. Little happened in the middle, however, and the worldbuilding was very much neglected.

The Young Elites was released on October 7, 2014 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: #scandal by Sarah Ockler

From Goodreads: Lucy’s learned some important lessons from tabloid darling Jayla Heart’s all-too-public blunders: Avoid the spotlight, don’t feed the Internet trolls, and keep your secrets secret. The policy has served Lucy well all through high school, so when her best friend Ellie gets sick before prom and begs her to step in as Cole’s date, she accepts with a smile, silencing about ten different reservations. Like the one where she’d rather stay home shredding online zombies. And the one where she hates playing dress-up. And especially the one where she’s been secretly in love with Cole since the dawn of time. When Cole surprises her at the after party with a kiss under the stars, it’s everything Lucy has ever dreamed of … and the biggest BFF deal-breaker ever. Despite Cole’s lingering sweetness, Lucy knows they’ll have to ’fess up to Ellie. But before they get the chance, Lucy’s own Facebook profile mysteriously explodes with compromising pics of her and Cole, along with tons of other students’ party indiscretions. Tagged. Liked. And furiously viral. By Monday morning, Lucy’s been branded a slut, a backstabber, and a narc, mired in a tabloid-worthy scandal just weeks before graduation. Lucy’s been battling undead masses online long enough to know there’s only one way to survive a disaster of this magnitude: Stand up and fight. Game plan? Uncover and expose the Facebook hacker, win back her best friend’s trust, and graduate with a clean slate. There’s just one snag - Cole. Turns out Lucy’s not the only one who’s been harboring unrequited love ...

My Rating: 1.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having enjoyed Sarah Ockler’s previous books, I was looking forward to reading #scandal. Sadly, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

First, the romance was set up in a weird way. Not only did #scandal begin with Cole and Lucy hooking up and having feelings for each other, but the two were forced to go to prom together by Lucy’s best friend, Ellie, who didn’t tell Lucy that she and Cole had broken up. So, while I was trying to figure out how I should feel about Lucy and Cole as a couple (because I barely knew anything about Cole or Lucy as individuals or Cole and Ellie as a couple), I was also wondering why somebody would agree to pretend to still be dating their ex. On top of that, you’ve got two girls claiming to be best friends, yet keeping huge secrets from each other.

As the novel progressed, it became clear that the romance wouldn’t be a highlight of #scandal. Cole was barely around (because Lucy kept avoiding him since she felt guilty about hooking up with him); and when he was present, I just found the way that he and Lucy interacted to lack chemistry.

Another aspect of #scandal that could have been great had it been written differently was the cyberbullying element. I never really connected with Lucy, and it didn’t help that she refused to stand up for herself despite being given opportunities for doing so. I also found it very strange that the school administrators didn’t investigate the issue more but simply decided that Lucy was the bully. Even after realizing that she wasn’t the perpetrator, an apology wasn’t given; instead, the principal decided to use Lucy as an example and made her do a presentation about the effects of cyberbullying.  

A book that took me far too long to finish, #scandal was released in June 2014 by Simon Pulse.  

Comments About the Cover: I like that it focuses on one of the important events of the book.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

From Goodreads: Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair ... Tiger Lily. When fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan deep in the forbidden woods of Neverland, the two form a bond that's impossible to break, but also impossible to hold on to. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. However, when Wendy Darling, a girl who is everything Tiger Lily is not, arrives on the island, Tiger Lily discovers how far she is willing to go to keep Peter with her, and in Neverland. Told from the perspective of tiny, fairy-sized Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily is the breathtaking story of budding romance, letting go and the pains of growing up.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson was a book I probably wouldn’t have read if it wasn’t for the book blogging community that put it on my radar. A retelling of Peter Pan narrated from the perspective of Tinkerbell, this story focuses largely on Tiger Lily and features a less innocent Peter.

I really liked the idea of having Tinkerbell be the narrator of this book because as a fairy, she could understand the thoughtz and emotions of everybody around her. So, you got more insight into all the characters. It also led to Tinkerbell being a more rounded character herself instead of just being a fairy who’s in love with Peter Pan.

Other characters that I liked included Tiger Lily, a girl struggling to hold on to her freedom while trying to find a place for herself within her tribe, Pine Sap, the boy who accepts Tiger Lily just the way she is, and Tik Tok, Tiger Lily’s adopted father. Sadly, I didn’t find Peter’s story as captivating – he came off as clingy and manipulative instead – and didn’t really feel like I got to know Wendy very well because she entered the story so late. Poor Wendy also wasn’t portrayed in a very favourable light, which wasn’t surprising.

What I loved about Tiger Lily though was that it was grounded in reality. In Anderson’s story then, Neverland is a magical island that some Englanders like Captain Hook were able to find. As a result, you get to see how the European travellers affected the Indigenous population. For example, the native Neverlanders worry about the aging disease brought by Englanders, which is why the Sky Eaters agree, as a tribe, to let Phillip die. Meanwhile, after being nursed back to health by Tiger Lily, Phillip begins trying to get the Sky Eaters to give up their religion and traditions and start assimilating to more European ways of living.  

A very different retelling from the Disney version of Peter Pan, Tiger Lily was released by HarperTeen in July 2012. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the colours used. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

From Goodreads: Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since. Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior - and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather - she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics - and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own. 

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Sara Raasch's Snow Like Ashes was a debut I was really looking forward to reading because I thought it would be a good fantasy and feature a strong heroine. Unfortunately, this book just let me down.

Firstly, there was a lot of info-dumping to establish the worldbuilding (and it didn’t help that the Season kingdoms were named after the seasons or that their capital cities were named after months of the year). The world of Primoria was also confusingly set up. So, for example, each Season kingdom experiences only one season - and this is simply attributed to magic, which I hate as an explanation. This means that it only snows in Winter, yet in the neighbouring kingdom of Autumn, it’s always dry and cool (i.e. fall-like weather).

As well, Snow Like Ashes featured a very whiny protagonist. At the beginning of the novel, Meira moans about not being allowed to go on important missions to Spring, even though she knows that she needs to improve her close range fighting skills. (Personally, I think living is a better option than dying recklessly, but hey, I’m not Meira.) Of course after complaining about wanting more responsibility, Meira is given the opportunity to help out the Winterian's cause by creating an alliance with another kingdom through an arranged marriage. In response, Meira naturally grumbles about this. While I sympathized with her situation, I do think people who are responsible for hundreds of other lives sometimes need to suck it up and not be so selfish. What’s an arranged marriage to a prince, compared to knowing that you can help free others from enslavement?

Lastly, and unexpectedly, Snow Like Ashes had a love triangle. It would have been nice if the synopsis had warned me of this! Here I was all excited about a slow romance between best friends, and what I got was a story where I barely got to know either guy and didn’t really care who Meira ended up with.

Recommended for fans of Mary E. Pearson’s The Kiss of Deception, Snow Like Ashes will be released tomorrow by Balzer + Bray. If you didn’t like The Kiss of Deception, I’d suggest passing on this book.

Comments About the Cover: It’s so pretty! I like that the focus is on the snow and Meira’s weapon of choice, a chakram. 

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

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Review: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

From Goodreads: Sophos, under the guidance of yet another tutor, practices his swordplay and strategizes escape scenarios should his father's villa come under attack. How would he save his mother? His sisters? Himself? Could he reach the horses in time? Where would he go? But nothing prepares him for the day armed men, silent as thieves, swarm the villa courtyard ready to kill, to capture, to kidnap. Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, disappears without a trace. In Attolia, Eugenides, the new and unlikely king, has never stopped wondering what happened to Sophos. Nor has the Queen of Eddis. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again. Across the small peninsula battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Darkening the horizon, the Mede Empire threatens, always, from across the sea. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Sophos, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the Magus and Eddis, sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Whereas the previous books in The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner starred Eugenides, A Conspiracy of Kings is from the perspective of Sophos. This was unexpected; and meant that at least early on, I missed Eugenides.

But, I think Turner knew exactly what was necessary to broaden the scope of political intrigue in her series. Unlike Eugenides who you know would definitely have something up his sleeve, Sophos is a more vulnerable character; and so the series shifts its focus from the sly Eugenides’ ascent to power to the growing possibility of an invasion from the Mede Empire.

Since reading The Thief, I had liked the shy and scholarly Sophos. In A Conspiracy of Kings, you get to witness the suffering he endures – being kidnapped and sold into slavery – transform him from a na├»ve and idealistic character to one who is worthy of being a king. Although Sophos does his best to remain true to himself and to avoid bloodshed, he comes to realize that violence is sometimes unavoidable as a monarch. Some things are just worth fighting for!

And it’s not as if Eugenides isn’t around to help. While he can’t do anything outright because of his position, you know he’s machinating in the background with Attolia and Eddis.

The problem now is having an excruciatingly long wait for the next book in the series as there is still no date for when the fifth book is to be released. If only Turner would write faster!

A Conspiracy of Kings was released in March 2010 by Greenwillow Books. 

Comments About the Cover: I love the older look of all the covers in The Queen’s Thief series.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

From Goodreads: It's an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp - the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn't return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed. Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp's done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance - and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her. 

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Just like the swamp of Sticks, Louisiana, Natalie C. Parker’s Beware the Wild lures you in and then refuses to let go. Within a few chapters, I was thoroughly captivated by the setting and its impact on the characters.

I loved the swamp! At first, I thought Sterling was exaggerating about its danger and wasn’t sure whether her brother, Phin, ever existed; but over time, the swamp’s presence subtly began to take over the book. As more and more people disappeared and their loved ones forgot about them, it became clear that not only were the townspeople of Sticks right to be deathly afraid of the swamp, but that their various superstitions were no longer keeping them safe.

In the midst of this is Sterling, a realistic character with flaws and weaknesses. At the beginning of the novel, Sterling is very dependent on Phin for protection and security – so dependent in fact that she develops an eating disorder from the stress of thinking about her brother moving away for college. However, once Phin disappears into the swamp and doesn’t return, Sterling has to muster up the courage to overcome her fears in order to find Phin since she's the only one who remembers his existence.

Sterling’s love for Phin also meant that I enjoyed the romance because she never got carried away by intense romantic feelings. Her top priority always remained finding her brother. As a result, the romance, despite being a little fast, never overwhelmed the plot. Sterling’s involvement with Heath made sense as well because they had both lost someone they loved to the swamp, and had been interested in each other in the past.

Finally, although the secondary characters in Beware the Wild remained firmly in the background, I found them to be very well-developed. For example, in spite of spending little time with characters like Phin, Lenora May, and Fisher, I was still able to learn their hopes and dreams and find out what motivated them.

A debut that’s particularly recommended for fans of Victoria Schwab's The Near Witch, Beware the Wild will be released by HarperTeen on October 21, 2014. 

Comments About the Cover: The dark cover and the blurb are perfect for the creepiness of Beware the Wild!

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