Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness. There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With the increasing number of books devoted to the topic of mental illness, Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes distinguishes itself by not just having its main character contemplate suicide, but looking to do so with a partner. While I found My Heart and Other Black Holes to be pretty solidly written, there were some issues that I had with it. So, I figured I’d do a pros and cons list for this book. 

  • Based on the subject, I thought My Heart and Other Black Holes would be a darker read. Instead, it had a quite hopeful tone.
  • I like that Warga didn’t glamourize depression and that she shows how important it is to talk to someone and seek help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression.
  • By having Roman be depressed, I really liked that My Heart and Other Black Holes showed that depression can affect anybody; there isn’t a certain type of person that’s more prone to depression than someone else.
  • Both Aysel (pronounced Uh-zell) and Roman came across as layered, realistic characters.
  • To me, it seemed like Aysel got better because she started falling for Roman. I think there should have been a stronger and clearer emphasis on the fact that love isn’t a cure for depression.
  • I also didn’t think that having two suicidal teenagers fall in love was the best recipe for a romance. Despite their chemistry, I would have liked it better if Aysel and Roman had simply stayed as friends.
  • Early in My Heart and Other Black Holes, it’s implied that part of the reason Aysel is currently so depressed is because of something her dad did. While Warga makes it seem like a huge mystery, it turns out that there isn’t some crazy twist behind what he did. He murdered someone, plain and simple, although it sounds like he did so while experiencing a delusion. 
My Heart and Other Black Holes will be released on February 10, 2015 by Balzer + Bray. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s interesting and different. 

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

From Goodreads: Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory. The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?

My Rating: 1.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Defy by Sara B. Larson was a book that began quite promisingly with a premise that reminded me of one of my favourite childhood series, Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness quartet. Once Alexa’s twin brother, Marcel, died however, my enjoyment of the story deteriorated because the romantic subplot took over.

This basically resulted in Alexa transforming from a seemingly competent soldier – the best of Prince Damian’s guards, actually – to one who simply couldn’t help but ogle male chests, swoon over guys’ eyes, blush, cry, and/or run away. Forget surviving, this girl clearly had her priorities straight by being more concerned about whether she was in love with Damian or Rylan, a fellow soldier, and how she could tell the other guy so without hurting their feelings.

Not only was it annoying having to read over and over again about heat rushing to Alexa’s cheeks and other places, but there was barely any worldbuilding. My knowledge of the fantasy world Larson created was literally this: a) there are three countries and their royal houses seem to be related, b) two of those countries are at war, c) there’s magic (and no explanation for why some people have it), and d) there’s a jungle. Oh, and to ensure that the reader realizes how vile the king is, there are breeding houses. (Since it takes time for babies to grow, I personally am not sure why the king thinks breeding houses are the best option for creating future soldiers; to me, conscription and training women to become soldiers would be more reasonable options).

Suffice it to say, other than its beginning, Defy didn’t resemble The Song of the Lioness quartet in the least.

Defy was released in January 2014 by Scholastic Press. 

Comments About the Cover: If there’s a sword on the cover, chances are I’m probably picking up the book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

From Goodreads: The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change. Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control. But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: One of the most hyped books of early 2015, Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen sucked me in right away due to its mixture of paranormal, fantasy, and dystopian elements, the ever present danger of a girl’s secret identity being revealed, and court intrigue. The more I read Red Queen however, the more I noticed that the worldbuilding was seriously lacking. For example, there was little mention about the history of the world that Aveyard created, or how the Silver hierarchy came to be.

In addition, while I liked Mare’s loyalty to her loved ones and her willingness to sacrifice everything to change things for the better for all Reds, she was incredibly na├»ve at times. One such instance that comes to mind is her randomly thinking that Prince Cal would choose her over his throne since he loved her. Although he displayed some interest in her, at no point did Cal say that he loved her. So, I’m not sure how she arrived to this conclusion.

Speaking of Cal, there was very little outright romance in Red Queen. But, that’s not to say that there aren’t several guys who are attracted to Mare. First, there’s Mare’s childhood best friend, Kilorn, who I personally think is the best option for her because they have things in common and know each other well. Then, you have Cal, the crown prince, who’s of course extremely nice and attractive. Finally, because two boys aren’t enough, Prince Maven, Cal’s younger brother, also seems to develop feelings for Mare. Now, normally reading a story where every single male seems to fall in love with the main character annoys me, but I found the situation in Red Queen more tolerable because each person had their own agenda, which meant that I was never sure whether their attraction to Mare was actually real or something that they were using to manipulate her.

A solid debut that I hope has a sequel with more elaborate worldbuilding, Red Queen will be released on February 10, 2015 by HarperTeen. 

Comments About the Cover: How gorgeous is that cover?! I love the blood dripping off the crown!  

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Gone Too Far by Natalie D. Richards

From Goodreads: Piper Woods can't wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She's sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone's sure it's suicide, but Piper remembers Stella's name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse. Drowning in secrets she doesn't want to keep, Piper's fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished ...

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Gone Too Far by Natalie D. Richards is a book I probably would enjoyed more in my teenage years. That’s not to say I still don’t love revenge stories – I do – but if I’m going to love the plot now, there needs to be a very good motivation for the character(s) to want revenge and the victim(s) must truly deserve it.

That wasn’t the case in Gone Too Far, though it did acknowledge that there’s a person behind a label and that not everybody within a certain clique is the same. The motive of the person responsible for exacting revenge (and later blackmailing Piper) was extremely weak, and Piper herself voluntarily became a co-partner because she hadn't stood up for Stella and had been bullied herself by the popular kids. Thankfully, over the course of the novel, Piper slowly becomes more uncomfortable with her role in the take down of some students and realizes that part of the reason she’s in the mess that she’s in is due to the fact that she’s very judgmental. However, trying to get her anonymous co-partner to stop seeking retribution is another matter altogether. 

Gone Too Far was released on January 6, 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s okay. 

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

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

From Goodreads: It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: When I tried forcing myself to read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before the movie was released last year, I gave up after a few pages. I attempted to read it again a few days ago; and after finishing it, can understand why so many people loved it.

Because I’m having a hard time figuring out how to write a proper review for The Book Thief, I decided to do a pros and cons list instead. 

  • Set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief does a great job of showing both the compassion and cruelty that humans are capable of. 
  • The book is narrated by Death, who provides a unique perspective because he can talk about the lives of many people and reflect on how their stories intersect. 
  • All of the characters are well-developed. 
  • The writing is lovely, and the slow pacing allowed me to truly appreciate this story.
  • Since Death doesn’t care about spoilers, finding out that certain people would die before they actually died kind of reduced the emotional trauma of their death. 
  • Death could have been a bit clearer about what happened to the living characters after WWII. 
  • As much as I enjoyed the writing, Death’s introspections were sometimes distracting from the actual story. 
The Book Thief was released by Knopf Books for Young Readers in March 2006. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the symbolism of the dominoes. 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Review: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

From Goodreads: Things I know about Reece Malcolm: 1) She graduated from New York University. 2) She lives in or near Los Angeles. 3) Since her first novel was released, she’s been on the New York Times bestseller list every week. 4) She likes strong coffee and bourbon. 5) She’s my mother. Devan knows very little about Reece Malcolm, until the day her father dies and she’s shipped off to live with the mother she’s never met. All she has is a list of notebook entries that doesn’t add up to much. L.A. offers a whole new world to Devan - a performing arts school allows her to pursue her passion for show choir and musicals, a new circle of friends helps to draw her out of her shell, and an intriguing boy opens up possibilities for her first love. But then the Reece Malcolm list gets a surprising new entry. Now that Devan is so close to having it all, can she handle the possibility of losing everything?

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding was a pretty solid novel, but would have received a higher rating from me if it had more drama with regards to some of the conversations and if it had made me feel a bit more emotionally connected to the plot. What I really enjoyed about this book though was the emphasis on family and its exploration of the definition of family.

Musicals and theatre also play a significant role in The Reece Malcolm List, and while I know nothing about either subject, it didn’t stop me from connecting to Devan. I think most of us book bloggers tend to be on the nerdy and more socially awkward side, and so Devan’s personality is something that’s quite easy to relate to.

The weakest part of The Reece Malcolm List for me was the romance. While I was invested in the relationship of Reece and Brad, I didn’t care at all about the guy Devan was crushing on. I feel like I didn't get to know him extremely well – even though Devan appears to instantly click with him – and then disliked him because he would come to Devan whenever he needed comforting rather than going to his girlfriend.

The Reece Malcolm List was released in February 2013 by Entangled Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: I like how the title sort of looks like it’s on the notebook. It would have been even better if it was actually written on the notebook.