Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

From Goodreads: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets - a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After liking Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom was a book that I was highly anticipating. Sadly, I was unable to read it right after its release because I was so busy, and have only been able to review it now.

Once again, I loved reading from the perspective of Nina. She continued to develop as an individual, and she and Matthias remained my favourite couple of the series. Surprisingly, I also ended up liking Jasper and Wylan as a couple. I didn’t understand why everyone was shipping them in Six of Crows, but I totally got it here! As for Kaz and Inej ... I just didn't believe in the chemistry between them and think that they'd be better off as friends; not everybody in this series needs to be paired up with each other.

Besides the romance, I also enjoyed the action and plot twists in Crooked Kingdom. I would have liked Kaz and his gang though to be a bit more vulnerable as I feel like they were able to get away with everything too easily. And yes, I'm aware that Matthias died! 

Crooked Kingdom was released in September 2016 by Henry Holt and Company. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the continuation with a crow on the cover.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mini Reviews: The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan and Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

From Back Cover: Everything has been going wrong for aspiring scientist Madeline Little, and she's dreading the start of sixth grade. Now that her best friend has moved to private school, Maddie has no one to hang out with except a bunch of middle-school misfits. And if you add Maddie's blood disorder, which causes public humiliation at the very worst times, it's all a formula for disaster. At least she can rely on her standard operating procedures, the observations and step-by-step instructions she writes down in her top-secret lab notebook. Procedures for how to escape a conversation with your mother, how to avoid the weirdos at school - it's all in there. Fortunately, no one will ever read it. But does science have all the answers? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan is a solid MG read about discovering the unpredictability of life. I really liked that Madeline loved science so much, and found it refreshing to have a narrator who wrote Standard Operating Procedures and grew bacterial cultures instead of worrying about popularity and boys.

The Friendship Experiment was released in November 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Goodreads: Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose ... it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest ... but she may be the darkest.  

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns was a book that I was looking forward to reading because of its dark premise. Unfortunately, while the beginning part of the novel whetted my appetite with Katherine having to ingest poisoned food, for example, the majority of the book was quite dull. There was little plot to be honest, and I’m still confused as to why Katherine, Arsinoe and Mirabella must kill each other. Furthermore, none of the queens made me want to root for them or their insta-love romances.

A huge disappointment, Three Dark Crowns was released by HarperTeen in September 2016.  

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

Monday, December 05, 2016

Mini Reviews: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

From Back Cover: Follow Hansel and Gretel as they run away from their own story and into eight other scary fairy tales. They'll encounter witches and warlocks, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens that are just right for baking children ... It may be frightening, but unlike those other fairy tales you know, these are true. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly, I thought it was time to give its companion novel, A Tale Dark and Grimm, a try. Despite having some of the same elements as In a Glass Grimmly (e.g. a few gory parts here and there, an interjecting narrator that's funny, etc.) however, I didn’t enjoy A Tale Dark and Grimm as much – perhaps because the main characters were Hansel and Gretel, who I don’t care for as Grimm characters either.

A Tale Dark and Grimm was released in October 2010 by Dutton Books for Young Readers. 
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From Inside Jacket: Gertie Reece Foy is 100% Not-From-Concentrate awesome. Which is why she's dumbfounded by her mother's plan to move away from their coastal Alabama town, leaving Gertie with her father and Great-Aunt Rae. Most kids would be upset about this. But Gertie is absolutely not upset, because she has a plan. More than a plan. She has a mission. Gertie is going to become the greatest fifth grader in the universe! All she needs to do is: write the best summer speech (after she finds Zombie frog), become the smartest student in her class (if her best friend, Jean the Jean-ius, doesn't mind), and win the lead part in the play (so long as a Swiss-chocolate meltdown doesn't mess things up). There's just one problem: Seat-stealing new girl Mary Sue Spivey wants to be the best fifth grader, too. And there is simply not enough room at the top for the two of them.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley was a book that I generally liked because of the realistic way it handled a theme like parental abandonment and because it featured a non-traditional family structure – Gertie is raised by her great-aunt and her dad (who is often away due to his job). At times though, Gertie could be perceived as selfish due to her me-first attitude and inability to listen to others. 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness was released in October 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR). 

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

From Goodreads: Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained. When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest - though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: After loving The Rose Society, I must say that Marie Lu’s The Midnight Star wasn’t as strong a conclusion as I hoped for for The Young Elites series.

Although I breezed through reading The Midnight Star, I felt quite detached from the characters while reading it. Nowhere was this more obvious than when certain characters died. I feel that a huge reason why I couldn’t make myself care about these deaths was because the characters didn’t feel like they were used to their full potential. For example, it felt like Lu didn’t know what to do with Enzo anymore so she simply killed him off again. Moreover, some characters still weren’t fleshed out enough. A case in point would be Magiano: we learn a little about him, but not enough to explain why he’s so drawn to Adelina and willing to do anything for her. Finally, the religious element was unexpected, and I remain unsure how I feel about it overall.

The Midnight Star was released in October 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the cover, but I think The Young Elites’ and The Rose Society’s covers are better.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mini Reviews: Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin and Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

From Goodreads: Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled - by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends - sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo - Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny. Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness ... it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it. 

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Meredith Zeitlin’s Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters was the perfect novel to lighten my mood when I was really stressed and get me out of my reading slump. A quick read filled with hilarious moments, this book features a narrator that’s incredibly easy to connect with as we’ve all been through what Kelsey has – trying to figure out our identity and how to leave a mark, having friendships change, falling in love, etc. I definitely encourage you to give Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters a try, and dare you to read it without giggling!

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters was released in March 2012 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
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From Goodreads: Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold's attackers make them their next target.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was a book that I decided to read because I loved its premise – hunting for and getting to keep books by having to solve puzzles! However, unlike some MG books which have crossover appeal, it was obvious that the target audience for this book were Middle Graders for two reasons: 1) Emily’s friend James names his cowlick and almost treats it like an imaginary friend, which was annoying to read about as an older reader, and 2) the villain of the story was quite predictable and you knew that the characters were never in any danger from him. 

Book Scavenger was released in June 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Mini Reviews: Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz and Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly

From Back Cover: To Molly Nathans, perfect is: the number four, the tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil, a crisp, white pad of paper, her neatly aligned glass animal figurines. What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right? But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.


My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Elly Swartz’s Finding Perfect is another book that one can add to their list of books focusing on mental health. Geared for middle graders, this book features a likeable protagonist in Molly, whose need for control slowly escalates as she places greater internal pressure on herself to succeed and deals with a complicated home life. The depiction of OCD is realistic, and Swartz does a great job capturing Molly’s confusion and anxiety over her symptoms.

Finding Perfect was released in October 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Inside Jacket: Twins Crystal and Amber have a plan: Be the first in their family to graduate from high school, get full-time jobs, and move out of the hovel they've called home for eighteen years. When one of them gets pregnant junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between Amber's job washing dishes and Crystal working at a gas station, they’re just scraping by. Car-buff Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration. When she secretly applies - and gets in - new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister. 


My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: If you're not a fan of contemporary novels due to their slower pacing, Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly probably isn't for you since it has a plot where very little happens. There are also instances of slut shaming in Speed of Life, and it features a narrator that comes across as selfish. However, it also has a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and shows a strong relationship between twin sisters that evolves over the course of a year. In addition, I liked that Crystal chooses to pursue a non-traditional career.

Speed of Life was released by HMH Books for Young Readers in October 2016. 

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day

From Goodreads: Ash Gupta has a life full of possibility. His senior year is going exactly as he’s always wanted - he's admired by his peers, enjoying his classes and getting the kind of grades that his wealthy, immigrant parents expect. There's only one obstacle in Ash's path: Eden Moore - the senior most likely to become class valedictorian. How could this unpopular, sharp-tongued girl from the wrong side of the tracks stand in his way? All Eden's ever wanted was a way out. Her perfect GPA should be enough to guarantee her a free ride to college - and an exit from her trailer-park existence for good. The last thing she needs is a bitter rivalry with Ash, who wants a prized scholarship for his own selfish reasons. Or so she thinks ... When Eden ends up working with Ash on a class project, she discovers that the two have more in common than either of them could have imagined. They’re both in pursuit of a dream - one that feels within reach thanks to their new connection. But what does the future hold for two passionate souls from totally different worlds? 

My Rating: 1.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: It’s sad to say but there’s a distinct lack of diverse love interests, which is why The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day caught my eye. A love interest who was Indian? Awesome!

Unfortunately, the romance in The Possibility of Somewhere was hard to believe for so many reasons, not the least of which was that Ash and Eden lacked chemistry. It was also not clear why they hated each other in the beginning, and the issue of racism that the two had to deal with from their parents was handled much too easily. Furthermore, although the synopsis makes it seem like the book would be narrated from both Ash and Eden’s perspectives, Eden actually was the only main character. As a result, Ash basically came off as a jerk who only noticed her when she wore some fitting clothes and then had all these expectations about her, whereas Eden became one of those clingy, annoying girlfriends.

The friendship between Eden and Mundy wasn’t something I liked either, and basically rubbed me the wrong way the minute it was revealed that Mundy only befriended Eden because Mundy had never hung out with anyone that lived in a trailer park. Meanwhile, Eden kept going on about how perfect Mundy was.

The only thing that saved The Possibility of Somewhere from being a complete failure was the great relationship between Eden and her stepmom. Stepparents usually seem to be a source of tension in the books I’ve read so it was nice to see this type of familial relationship depicted positively.

The Possibility of Somewhere was released in September 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin. 

Comments About the Cover: It seems like a very generic romance cover.  

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Guest Post: J.M. Kelly

Twins Crystal and Amber have the same goal: to be the first in their family to graduate high school and make something of their lives. When one gets pregnant during their junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between their after-school jobs, they’re scraping by. Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration, perfect for the car buff she is. When she secretly applies - and gets in - new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister.

Today, I'd like to welcome J.M. Kelly, the author of Speed of Life to my blog. J.M. is here to talk about one of her hobbies, building miniatures.

When I'm writing a new book, there comes a point where I'm so absorbed in it that I can't do any of my normal after-work past times, like read, or cook anything fancy ... or clean the house. And that's when I turn to visual arts. I wouldn't say I'm great at painting or drawing, but it's fun to do and it's a release from words, plots, and characters. It takes all my attention because it's not something I do regularly and it gives my brain a break from thinking about the story.

One of my favourite things to do is build miniatures. My college degree is in Theatre Arts and at university I had to take stagecraft and scene design. We learned to build dioramas which I found really fun. A few years ago, when I wanted to have a writing cabin constructed for me, I first built a small one to scale out of foam core. I painted it with kids' poster paints, mixing the colours like I used to do in Grade 7 art class. You can see a video of it here.

My friend is an architect and she and I took it out into the yard with her husband, the builder, and we positioned it in different places on our property, deciding on the building spot and turning it in different directions to get an idea of good placement, which was actually pretty cool and not anything I'd intended to do with it.

I have such clear pictures in my head of places I imagine and all of my books are like little movies in my head. Speed of Life is so visual to me, and I hope it comes across to readers, but in my head, I know every detail of the place Crystal, Amber, and Natalie live in, so I decided it would be fun to build it in miniature.

First I laid it out on paper, planning to build the whole house. But then I realized even at a small scale (1/2" to the foot), it would be pretty big, so I decided to build only the garage-bedroom that they share. I laid it out on a board that was big enough to include the driveway, too. I had plans for that driveway.

Here are some pictures of it:


If you're looking at it in person, you can see a lot more detail, but even these pictures give you a good idea of my vision. Some things are more "representative" of what they are supposed to be, and others look a little more realistic. This is because I'm pretty much winging it and trying to have fun, not judge my abilities as an artist. After all, it's something I do to relax. I figure building miniatures is a lot like cooking…if you want a perfect cake, go buy one. If you want a delicious, homemade cake with ingredients you know about, make one and who cares if it's slightly lopsided?

I knit the bedspreads for the beds and the crib, but I printed out tiny pictures to make the posters on the walls. It was great fun choosing decorations for each side of the room depending on which girl slept where. And I printed out a tiny picture of pampers to make the box of diapers, cut up an ice cube tray to make Rubbermaid storage containers, and used a scrap of old material for the rug. The rug covers a stain Crystal made when she worked on a car part in their bedroom (it might look like I spilled paint there, but I admit nothing). I'm not sure if the toothpick legs on the crib could actually hold Natalie without collapsing, but they look okay!

The reason I included the driveway (and the oil stain) is because like Amber, I have ambitions that there will be a cool Mustang parked there. I bought a plastic model kit last spring that my husband and I were going to put together, but do you know how many pieces those models have in them? Probably as many as a real car, except they're tiny! I could write another novel in the time it would take to put it together. I'm seriously considering making a paper maché car. Or possibly I'll just make some tiny bricks and primer the model and "put it up on bricks." Everyone who restores cars seems to have at least one that doesn't run, up on bricks, somewhere in their yard. Why not Crystal? 

I have a terrible time visualizing settings so these photos should definitely help me with picturing Amber and Crystal's bedroom. Thanks for dropping by, J.M.! 

A bit about J.M. (as found on Goodreads): J.M. Kelly is the YA pen name for the children's author Joelle Anthony. She loves the rain, which is good because she was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and now lives in British Columbia, Canada. She spent her childhood with her nose in a book, often in the backseat of whatever old car her dad had at the time. She's worked as an actress, a Minor League Baseball souvenir hawker, the Easter Bunny, and various other not-so-odd jobs. Now she mostly writes novels, but she still dabbles in sketch comedy, nonfiction articles, and teaching writing to both kids and adults. She recently wrote and starred in her first full-length play, along with her husband. Books by Joelle Anthony include: Restoring Harmony, The Right & the Real and the forthcoming A Month of Mondays.

Speed of Life can be bought from: [Amazon] [Chapters]

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

From Back Cover: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now - but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood. In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters - and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair ... 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Inspired by the Russian folktale Vassilissa the Beautiful, Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night is a bizarre read that probably won’t appeal to everybody. If you like your books to make sense, Vassa in the Night is not that type of book. The plot, at times, took strange turns that I found downright confusing. For example, I still don’t get Vassa’s dad’s desire to be a German shepherd!

At other times though, despite the magic making no sense, I really enjoyed the book. Porter’s writing was almost dreamlike; and I loved that the story features a witch who doesn’t hesitate to behead shoplifters and has a great marketing campaign, a pair of bloodthirsty hands who delight in deception and violence, and a kleptomaniac wooden doll with an endless appetite. I also thought the setting was atmospheric and magical.

An odd book that should be given a chance, Vassa in the Night was released on September 20, 2016 by Tor Teen. 

Comments About the Cover: I like how the text stands out against the simple background.  

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

Vassa in the Night can be bought from: [Amazon] [Barnes and Noble] [Book Depository]
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As part of the blog tour for Vassa in the Night, I was lucky enough to ask Sarah a question as well. I asked her, "If you were to write a story inspired by another piece of writing, what work do you think it would be based upon and why?"

Hi Zahida! I doubt I’ll ever write another retelling, but I can think of a few more Russian fairy tales that would make great novels. “Finest the Falcon” could be particularly lovely, though I’m not sure a story that romantic would be the right fit for me. I’d love it if somebody else tackled that one, though. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing something with “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.” Ivan encounters the Gray Wolf when the Wolf devours his horse in the wilderness; talk about a meet-cute! But then after that violent introduction, the Wolf is passionately loyal to Ivan, even when he doesn’t deserve it. There’s something so moving and fierce about their relationship; I think it could make an amazing book. 


Monday, September 19, 2016

Mini Reviews: Write This Down by Claudia Mills and Foxheart by Claire Legrand

From Back Cover: Twelve-year-old Autumn loves to write, and she can't wait to grow up to be a published author. She finds inspiration all around her, especially in Cameron, the dreamy boy in her journalism class who she has a major crush on. But when her older brother, Hunter - who used to watch out for her but has grown distant since he started high school - discovers one of her most personal pieces of writing and makes fun of it, she is devastated. Determined to show her brother how wrong he is about her talent, Autumn decides that she is going to become a published author - now! She writes an essay about her changing relationship with her brother and enters it in a contest that puts her dream of publication finally within reach. But if her essay is published, everyone will know her family's secrets. Is being published worth hurting those you love? 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Personally, it was impossible to read Write This Down by Claudia Mills without being reminded of a time when I thought anything was possible but didn’t understand how difficult it can be to achieve your dreams. Mills’ protagonist Autumn dreams of being a famous writer like her idol Emily Dickinson – a choice that perhaps middle graders might find hard to connect to – but when her older brother makes fun of her poem about her crush, Autumn sets out to prove to her brother that her writing is good. As an adult, it’s easy to see that Autumn is a little na?ve in thinking that she could have a piece of writing published so easily, but I also liked that Write This Down focuses on trying to achieve your dreams – and doing so in a way that leaves you without regrets. 

Write This Down will be released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on September 27, 2016.

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Goodreads: Orphan. Thief. Witch. Twelve-year-old Quicksilver dreams of becoming the greatest thief in the Star Lands. With her faithful dog and partner-in-crime Fox, she’s well on her way - even if that constantly lands them both in trouble. It’s a lonesome life, sleeping on rooftops and stealing food for dinner, but Quicksilver doesn’t mind. When you’re alone, no one can hurt you. Or abandon you. But the seemingly peaceful Star Lands are full of danger. Witches still exist - although the powerful Wolf King and his seven wolves have been hunting them for years. Thankfully, his bloody work is almost complete. Soon the Star Lands will be safe, free of the witches and their dark magic. Then one day a strange old woman and her scruffy dog arrive in Quicksilver’s town and perform extraordinary magic. Real magic - forbidden and dangerous. Magic Quicksilver is desperate to learn. With magic like that, she could steal anything her heart desires. She could even find her parents. But the old woman is not what she seems, and soon Quicksilver has to decide - will she stay at home and remain a thief? Or will she embark upon the adventure of a lifetime and become a legend? 

My Rating: 3 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Having liked Claire Legrand’s previous MG novels, I was looking forward to reading Foxheart, especially since I love books that involve thieves and magic. However, I wasn’t expecting Foxheart to incorporate time travel, a tricky subject to explain in my opinion, and made even more so in Foxheart because Quicksilver’s mentor is her older self. It was a concept I struggled with, and when combined with the fact that the worldbuilding wasn’t fleshed out enough for me, it negated the book’s enjoyable beginning. 

Foxheart will be released on October 4, 2016 by Greenwillow Books.

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

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Review: Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton

From Goodreads: Piper Baird has always dreamed of becoming a journalist. So when she scores a scholarship to exclusive Chiswick Academy in Washington, DC, she knows it’s her big opportunity. Chiswick offers the country’s most competitive prize for teen journalists - the Bennington scholarship - and winning will ensure her acceptance to one of the best schools in the country. Piper isn’t at Chiswick for two days before she witnesses the intense competition in the journalism program - and the extreme privilege of the young and wealthy elite who attend her school. And Piper knows access to these untouchable students just might give her the edge she’ll need to blow the lid off life at the school in a scathing and unforgettable exposé worthy of the Bennington. The key to the whole story lies with Rafael Amador, the son of the Spanish ambassador - and the boy at the center of the most explosive secrets and scandals on Embassy Row. Rafael is big trouble - and when he drops into her bedroom window one night, asking for help, it’s Piper’s chance to get the full scoop. But as they spend time together, Piper discovers that despite his dark streak, Rafael is smart, kind, funny, and gorgeous - and she might have real feelings for him. How can she break the story of a lifetime if it could destroy the boy she just might love?

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having enjoyed Brodi Ashton’s Everneath series, I was really looking forward to reading her newest book, Diplomatic Immunity. Sadly, Diplomatic Immunity failed to live up to my high expectations for several reasons.

First, Piper was a character I never really warmed up to. I found her to be very judgemental, and thought she could have tried a bit harder to look up some other ways to get into Columbia besides just trying to win the Bennington. As well, even though she claimed to be very serious about journalism, her feelings got all muddled up pretty quickly. 

Secondly, I thought the relationships could have been better explored. I would have liked more insight into Piper’s family’s financial situation for example, and thought it was weird how Piper’s otherwise normal mom decided it was acceptable that Piper drink on Embassy Row (because it’s international soil) and be out all night as long as she came home before the sun rose. Another relationship that felt flat was Piper’s friendship with her best friend, Charlotte, since their conversation seemed to only revolve around Piper’s life.

Finally, the romance lacked chemistry, and I didn’t understand what Rafael saw in Piper (besides the fact that they both had siblings with ASD, which seemed extremely convenient). I also couldn’t fall in love with Rafael because I thought he was very stupid for being so frank with Piper when it wasn’t a secret that she was out for a good scoop and he had already been burned by a previous girlfriend for something similar. 

Diplomatic Immunity will be released by Balzer + Bray today!

Comments About the Cover: I’m not sure why the cover shows a couple kissing since – spoiler alert – very little of that happens until the end. 

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mini Reviews: Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

From Back Cover: Meet Missy Piggle-Wiggle. She is the young niece of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Missy's aunt has gone away unexpectedly (in search of her lost husband) and left Missy in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that, like her aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has both magical and practical ways of solving children's problems. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Inspired by a beloved series published over seventy years ago, Ann M. Martin has written Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure for readers (like me) who know nothing about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. To the parents in Little Spring Valley, Missy, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s great-niece, is a bit like Mary Poppins in that she can cure children of their bad habits. Although younger readers might be amused by the annoying habits of some of Little Spring Valley’s children and relate to them, I couldn’t help but notice how overly reliant the parents were on Missy to solve their problems instead of parenting their children themselves. For example, the Freeforalls are too busy working and have no rules for their kids so it’s no surprise that their kids are rough and tumble. But of course Mr. and Mrs. Freeforall have no idea why their children are so unruly, and think that their kids need to be cured.

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure will be released on September 6, 2016 by Feiwel and Friends. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Inside Jacket: Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty, the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting a long time for Ophelia's help. As Ophelia embarks on an incredible adventure to rescue the boy, everything that she believes is tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world. 

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’ve been trying to read some of my older books lately, and one of the books I decided to tackle was Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. I started Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy way back when it was in ARC form, but put it aside when I wasn’t feeling engaged by the story. I recently decided to give it another chance because the reviews that I’d seen for it were quite positive. Unfortunately, this book and I just didn't click. A tween me would probably have been bored by the writing (which is lovely but doesn’t sound very middle grade-ish) whereas the present me found the plot extremely predictable and was bored by the Marvelous Boy's story. I also felt like the book was trying too hard to stand out, what with Ophelia having a long name, constantly pulling on her braids, and repeatedly using her puffer. 

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy was released on January 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

From Goodreads: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora's throne ten years ago. Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it's too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having loved Stacey Jay’s Of Beast and Beauty and in the mood to read another fairy tale retelling, I decided to read Princess of Thorns. Unfortunately, Princess of Thorns turned out to be nothing like Of Beast and Beauty!

Where I was expecting a fabulous retelling, Princess of Thorns didn’t deliver. Admittedly, this might be more my fault than the book’s because I automatically equated the name of Aurora with Sleeping Beauty and thought “fairy tale retelling.” Aurora in Princess of Thorns, however, is the daughter of Sleeping Beauty and Princess of Thorns is very much not even close to a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I’m not sure why Jay decided to make her princess’ name Aurora instead of giving her any other name, but you can see why I’d be confused, right?

Once I got over that, I was left disappointed by the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is pretty much nonexistent, and literally the only thing that’s clear is that in the world of Princess of Thorns, there are ogres and fairies. Also, the ogres have taken over Aurora’s throne and are trying to kill her due to some poorly explained prophecy that guarantees they’ll stay in power forever if they do so. Basically, it reduced the need for the ogres to be well-developed characters.

Similarly, the main characters were lacking in character development. Aurora was supposed to be this kickass heroine, but she just exasperated me with her attempts to pretend that she wouldn’t develop feelings for Niklaas. Niklaas was even more annoying though because he was constantly bragging about all the women he had slept with. I could never swoon over a guy like that! I didn’t buy the chemistry between him and Aurora, and thought they’d have been better off as friends.

A poorly written fantasy, Princess of Thorns was released in December 2014 by Delacorte Press. 

Comments About the Cover: Um, what’s the model supposed to be doing?

Monday, August 08, 2016

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

From Goodreads: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price - and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone ...  A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first. 

My Rating: Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo was a book that I waited so long to read because I didn’t want to get sucked in by the hype for it and because I typically avoid reading novels where there are more than two POVs. I shouldn’t have doubted Bardugo’s ability to write an entertaining story, however, since I ended up enjoying Six of Crows.

Although I wish some of the characters were older – I find it hard to believe that a cast of characters that can break into highly guarded places only consists of teenagers I did like the characters and the fact that we got all of their backstories, even though it resulted in the plot taking some time to get going. My favourite characters at this point are Nina and Inej because I love that they’re two strong girls that are just as capable as the guys they’re surrounded by. I also really like the friendship that developed between them - probably even more than all the potential romances.

Finally, I enjoyed seeing the expansion of the Grisha world. In The Grisha series, we learn about Ravka, but little about its neighbours. In Six of Crows though, we get to see how Grisha abilities are perceived in the other countries.

A great start to a new series by Bardugo, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to Kaz and his gang in Crooked Kingdom. Six of Crows was released by Henry Holt and Company in September 2015. 

Comments About the Cover: It kind of reminds me of the covers from The Grisha series because it too features a creature and a building.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Review: Vicious by Victoria Schwab

From Goodreads: Victor and Eli started out as college roommates - brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find - aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge - but who will be left alive at the end?

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’ve never been into comic book superheroes or watching movies about them, but I love reading stories where characters have superpowers. I also really enjoy books that feature psychopathic characters or serial killers. So, it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved Victoria Schwab’s Vicious.

Told through a narrative that switches between the past and the present as well as between characters, Vicious explores a complex friendship between two very similar men obsessed with power. It’s got plenty of twists, and will leave you wondering if you should even root for Victor to stay alive since he’s pretty much as mentally unstable as Eli but just does a better job of hiding it. 

Vicious was released by Tor in September 2013. 

Comments About the Cover: I wish this was a little darker in style to reflect the mood of the book. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

From Goodreads: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions. Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. 

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: We all know about the plight of Jews under Nazi Germany, but the suffering of people from the Baltic states (i.e. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) during Stalin’s regime is one that most people probably aren’t aware of. So, kudos to Ruta Sepetys for writing Between Shades of Gray and giving voice to those people who were silenced. 

I find it shocking that more than twenty million people died in Soviet prisons or as deportees in Siberia; and that those who survived had often spent as many ten to fifteen years in forced labour camps. These survivors and their descendants were considered criminals by the Soviets until 1991!  

Lina’s story was hard to read; but amidst that horror, Sepetys shows our ability to be resilient even in the worst of circumstances. I also liked that the Russians featured in the book were portrayed as human – some were terrible, but others were capable of kindness.

A historical fiction that should be read, Between Shades of Gray was released in March 2011 by Philomel Books. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s such a striking image – the plant has managed to survive despite the harsh environment.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mini Reviews: The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson and In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

From Goodreads: When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? 


My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I haven’t had much time to read due to school ending and then deciding to take a course over the summer, but I did finish The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson recently. I didn’t know much about the book before beginning it, and only picked it up because of its cover and the fact that I wanted to see how a Caucasian, former CIA officer would deal with the subject matter. While I would have liked Laila to have been forthright about where she was from – all we know is that she’s from the Middle East, a region composed of many countries, each with their own customs and traditions – I understand why Carleson chose not to limit herself in such a way (as she explains in the back). Similarly, although I didn’t agree with all of Laila’s thoughts, her attempts to reconcile her old way of life with her new one were relatable. Overall, I think Carleson did a good job of portraying another culture’s way of thinking respectfully and showing how different American life can be to others.

Inspired by real events, The Tyrant’s Daughter was released in February 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. 
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From Goodreads: Take caution ahead - Oversize plant life, eerie amphibious royalty, and fear-inducing creatures abound. Lest you enter with dread. Follow Jack and Jill as they enter startling new landscapes that may (or may not) be scary, bloody, terrifying, and altogether true. Step lively, dear reader ... Happily ever after isn’t cutting it anymore.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I love reading retellings because it’s always fun to see authors put their own twist on something familiar; and with its dark humour and some bloodshed (as a nod to the original Grimm tales), Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly is definitely one of the more memorable fairy tale retellings I’ve read. Gidwitz takes the stories of The Frog Prince, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Jack and the Beanstalk among others and combines them into one over-arching story where Jack and Jill are the main characters. It wasn’t until I was done reading that I found out that In a Glass Grimmly was the second book in the A Tale Dark and Grimm series - perhaps I should have looked at the cover more carefully since it does say In a Glass Grimmly is a companion novel ... oops! - but now that I know there’s another book in the series, I’ll be sure to read it too.

In a Glass Grimmly was released by Dutton Children’s Books in September 2012.
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