Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: Flunked

Info: 
Title: Flunked
Author: Jen Calonita
Series: Fairy Tale Reform School #1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:
Would you send a villain to do a hero's job? An exciting new twisted fairy tale series from award-winning author Jen Calonita.

Full of regret, Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she's not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its sweet mission. There's a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?
 

Review:
Flunked was a cute, fun read that was ultimately kind of forgettable. This book follows the adventures of Gilly, a girl who has turned to stealing in order to make a bit of extra money to feel her family. Gilly doesn't live just anywhere, she actually lives in Enchantasia, a kingdom inhabited by fairy tale creatures and ruled by a committee of fairy tale princesses. In my mind, it basically looked like the kingdom of Far Far Away from Shrek.

One day, Gilly slips up and is sent to reform school, which is run by reformed fairy tale villians. There she makes some friends, unearths some schemes and learns how to put the needs of others before herself (and her family).

Thief characters are usually my favourite, but I didn't really connect much with Gilly. She was sassy and snarky and I don't think it quite rang true for me. I think one issue is that Gilly is only 12 and her immaturity shows through in the writing somehow. I think this probably wouldn't bother younger readers, but for me it wasn't great.

Flunked felt a bit immature all around, but it was still fun and entertaining and I did find myself wanting to uncover the mystery of what was going on.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Info: 
Title: The Whisper
Author: Aaron Starmer
Series: The Riverman Trilogy #2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary has washed up on shore. But where? It seems to be Aquavania, the magical realm where children create entire worlds from their imagination. There’s something wrong, though. The creators have disappeared and the worlds are falling apart. 

All Alistair wants is to find his friend Fiona Loomis and go home. Easier said than done. Animals made of starlight, a megalomaniacal boy king, and astronauts who peddle riddles are hard enough to outwit, but they’re only the beginning. 

To find Fiona, Alistair must travel from world to world. He must confront the mistakes of his past. And he must face countless monsters, including the soul-stealing stalker that some people call the Riverman, the merciless but misunderstood servant of Aquavania who refers to himself as the Whisper.

Review:
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this book, making it a bit tricky to rate and review. Like the first book in the trilogy, I found it pretty dark for middle grade. But it is quite unlike other books in the genre, so it definitely stood out and overall I did enjoy it.

The Whisper picks up right after that crazy ending of The Riverman. I'm going to do my best to avoid any spoilers for book one, but it's pretty tricky, since the entire storyline of The Whisper stems from what happens in the last chapter of The Riverman.

This is not a cheerful children's book. We see communities decay. We see the length an obsession with revenge can take someone. We see grey areas and question our point-of-view. While the book lacks in the cheeriness department (which is not necessarily a bad thing), it definitely does not lack in imagination. The author takes us on a wild journey through many highly interesting places.

And the ending! Aaron Starmer knows how to do endings. Each book has ended with a huge "oh s**t" moment. I love cliff-hangers, so I am super excited for the final book after that ending!

Overall, The Riverman Trilogy is in a league of it's own when it comes to middle grade fiction. And what a very dark, wildly imaginative league it is.


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Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Stone in the Sky

Info: 
Title: Stone in the Sky
Author: Cecil Castellucci
Series: Tin Star #2
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:
In this thrilling follow-up to Tin Star, Tula will need to rely on more than just her wits to save her only home in the sky.

After escaping death a second time, Tula Bane is now even thirstier for revenge. She spends much of her time in the Tin Star CafĂ© on the Yertina Feray—the space station she calls home. But when it's discovered that the desolate and abandoned planet near the station has high quantities of a precious resource, the once sleepy space station becomes a major player in intergalactic politics. In the spirit of the Gold Rush, aliens from all over the galaxy race to cash in—including Tula's worst enemy.

Review:
I remember having mixed feelings after finishing the first book, Tin Star. I had really enjoyed the first 75% of the book, but then felt like the author decided to cram in an insanely rushed romance at the end. I have mixed feelings after finishing this one as well, although for different reasons.

The rushed romance at the end of book one is remedied here, replaced with something more slow and rather awkward. My issue with is that at times it focused too much of feelings and not enough on action. This might be an entirely personal gripe, since I definitely prefer action-packed stories over ones that involve a lot of personal reflection/romance/thoughts/feelings. Don't get be wrong, some exciting stuff happens, but there were a few sections where I got a bit tired of Tula worrying about how inhuman she feels or how lost and alone or how doomed her plans feel. 

A few characters from book one that were not in Tula's life at the end reappear. There is one particularly sad bit, but I wasn't emotionally invested enough for any tears.

I do want to come back to the romance in this one. I hated the romance in book one, but it does improve in this one. I'll be honest, it does get rather love-triangle-y, but it kind of worked and one side of the triangle was so awkward and weird and I loved it.

Overall, I have enjoyed this series, but it would have been even better with a bit more action or world-building or something.





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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: Fairest

Info: 
Title: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3.5Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Source: Purchased.

Synopsis:
In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?


Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. 

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

Review:
While Fairest was a fun extra installment, it lacked some of the magic found in the other books. The biggest reason for this is because it focuses on Levana, a character readers (myself included) can't stand. While it was interesting to see her side of the story, it does not make her any less of a psychopath. Ok granted there were some hardships in her life, but the way she reacted to them shows how insane she really is.

So basically the book is Levana's backstory, starting with the death of her parents when she was a child and ending with her as queen of Luna with designs on Earth. While it was interesting to see the other side of things and get explanations for things like Levana's obsession with glamours and why she wants Earth so badly, it never really made me sympathize with her. Well, perhaps a bit in the beginning, before she starts doing things that were completely insane and honestly creepy.

Fairest also lacked some of the adventure and excitement of the other books, as it is a prequel and we already know how things end up. But the author's writing still maintains the same quality as the previous books.

Fairest certainly is Levana's story. It follows her development from lonely princess to tyrannical ruler. While not as good as the books in the main series, it's still worth reading for fans who can't wait for Winter.
 



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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review: Beastkeeper

Info: 
Title: Beastkeeper
Authors: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis:

Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from. 

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive. 

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.

Review:
I was a kid who grew up on fairy tales and Disney movies. As I got a bit older, I found myself drawn to darker fairy tale, like the Roald Dahl retellings or the original tales. Beastkeeper reminded me of the original tales, but voiced by a modern young narrator.

Sarah has had an odd childhood. Her parents moved around a lot and she gave up on bothering to make friends. However, when her mother walks out on Sarah and her father, things go from bad to worse to weird. Suddenly, Sarah's dad is eating raw meat and dropping her off to live with her grandparents in a castle in the forest.

Beastkeeper is a wonderful, bittersweet fairy tale filled with magic and witches and curses; with talking animals and transformations and where nothing is as it seems. I really enjoyed following Sarah through her journey to understand the curse affecting her family. Early in her journey, she meets a strange young man named Alan, who starts off strange and only becomes stranger as the story progressed. 

All of the characters in the story are flawed. Some are shallow. Some are cruel. Some are scared. Most are desperate. I felt like these flaws added depth to the story. There was no black and white good and evil, just grey area.

In the end, Beastkeeper is, at least in part, a story about what it means to be human. It's also a story about some very human weaknesses. It's a story about forgiveness. Like any good fairy tale, I found there were some very profound themes contained in this little book about a girl fighting a magical curse on her family.




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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Alex as Well

Info: 
Title: Alex as Well
Authors: Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: January 20, 2015 (Originally published January 1, 2013
Source: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis:

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.

Review:
This book was a step out of my comfort zone. Not only was it a contemporary read, but it dealt with subject matter I don't have much experience with. However, this year I want to push myself a bit with the books I read, plus increase the diversity of the main characters in the books I read.

This book deals with growing up and being different, specifically with gender identification. Alex was raised as a boy, but recently has begun to identify more strongly as a girl. The book is written as if there are really two Alexes, a boy and girl sharing the same body. It was an interesting way to read and, while I don't know if it is accurate, I did enjoy how different it was. However, I found I didn't like boy Alex, as I was happy when he faded more and more into the background. Girl Alex was a likable character and I really felt for her. She dealt with the same insecurities other teenagers do, only on a larger scale than most.

However, Alex's parents sucked, especially her mom, who was actually crazy. I liked having blog posts from her mom's point of view, which gave a tiny bit of insight into her mind. But she really was a terrible parent and clearly insane. And Alex's dad was mostly just absent. I understand how it would be difficult for Alex's parents to deal with her situation, but I really felt like they were selfish and should have had much better communication with Alex.

Alex as Well was a different sort of read for me and I really ended up enjoying it, despite the writing style of the two Alexes taking some time to get used to. It showed me how good it can feel to step outside of my fantasy/dystopian comfort zone and try something new.
 


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review: The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence

Info: 
Title: The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence
Authors: Stan Lee, Stuart Moore and Andie Tong
Series: Zodiac #1
Publisher: Disney Press
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Source: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis:

Stan Lee presents a brand new, magical, super-powered adventure! 

When twelve magical superpowers are unleashed on the world, a Chinese-America teenager named Steven will be thrown into the middle of an epic global chase. He'll have to master strange powers, outrun super-powered mercenaries, and unlock the mysterious powers of the Zodiac.

Review:
I chose this book for review because, well, Stan Lee. And while it was a fun read, I didn't find it all that memorable and the found the characters a bit flat.

Steven doesn't really fit in at school. He loves comic-book-movies and doesn't get along with his cold (frigid even) parents. Steven's world gets turned upside down when he stumbles across a weird ceremony in a secret room of a museum in Hong Kong and becomes infused with the power of his zodiac sign: tiger.

Steven is generally a good kid. However, he does have some hardcore whine-y fits. I found a few times the characters had weird overreactions to events (not just Steven) that left me a bit confused.

One thing I wished was that the characters had a bit more depth. I found Jasmine probably had the most depth, but characters like Liam and Duane were lacking a bit. However, since this is set up to be a series, I'm hoping they will be further developed in the next book.

There was lots of action in this one, so, while I found it not that memorable, it was a lot of fun to read. I think this one would also appeal to both boys and girls, as it has kickass characters of both genders.


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