July 24, 2014

Review: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone
by Leigh Bardugo

Release Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Series: Book 1 in The Grisha series

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.

My Review:

Cover: I really like the covers for this series. So much effort was put into them. I especially like the antlers on either side of the palace.

The book also included a nicely drawn map:


I also really like the chapter title illustrations:


A lot of effort was put into the book's design. I can definitely see why though. YA lately are the same thing over and over, at least this one had something slightly different with the Russian and fantasy setting. 

Writing: (3/5) The writing was clear and very easy to get into. I definitely found the writing better than most YA books. I really liked the prologue and the epilogue's writing, probably because it was written in third person. The rest of the book is written in first person and Alina is such an annoying narrator. She was so much more tolerable from a third person narrative. I really wish the whole book was in third person, it would have been so much better.    

Setting: (2/5) The setting was medieval and it felt like it was spray painted with a "Russian" setting. On one hand, the setting was fun and I did enjoy it to a certain extent and there were one or two original things. But on the other hand, it was flimsy and more importantly, beyond cliché.

Plot: (4/5) Ordinary girl finds out she has power. Taken away by organization and trained. You wouldn't believe how overused this plot line is in fantasy. Despite this, Shadow and Bone threw in a couple of surprises and it was really fun to read. After I finished reading the book, I didn't understand why it was so popular. But looking back, I was way too harsh. I really enjoyed it and it was such a fun read. Most YA books (maybe you can say like all YA books) focus on romance. Let's not pretend it's not true. It's romance with a dabble of plot and fantasy. I sort of felt like Shadow and Bone was the opposite, it was plot and fantasy with a dabble of romance (mind you I didn't really enjoy what romance it had and just wish the author would have cut it).

Main Character: (1.5/5) Alina...where do I start? Well, let's start with her name. I don't really care that her last name is inaccurate in Russian (although a quick Google search could have remedied that). My problem is her first name...Alina. What is wrong with authors and choosing the whitest sounding name? I wish her name was Lyudmila or even Olga or Miroslava. That would have made me like her so much more. God, I hate these names in fantasy books...I really don't feel like ranting so let's just move on.

Alina is an orphan. And by orphan, I mean her parents are conveniently gotten ridden of. How original!! Especially for a fantasy!

Alina is ugly. I would consider her plain but no, she's ugly. She's described as sickly and you could have actually worked with that, if she actually looked sickly. But no, it felt like she was just one of those brown haired and brown eyed heroines, because anybody with that combination is doomed to be ugly or plain (whatever, YA books act like it's the same thing). It's downright disgusting how much Alina whines about her looks. I actually was counting and that was amusing until I lost count.

I don't like assuming things about authors, but considering the author of Shadow and Bone was a make-up artist, maybe that says a lot about Alina...I'm just saying...

I did like the whole sickly thing but it was executed so terribly and, at the end of the day, I don't like females being defined by their looks.

There's just so much to complain about and I don't feel like getting into it. There are so much reviews on people hating Alina that I don't think I'll be adding anything new.

The only interesting thing about Alina was probably her power. It was kinda neat. Everything else was ugh!?

Villain: (3/5) I liked the villain. I think everyone likes him. He's probably my favourite character. It has to be that contrast with Alina being so useless and him being so much more competent. She's like a fat friend.

Other Characters: (2.5/5) The characters were meh. I enjoyed some of their interactions. They weren't brilliant nor terrible, just meh. Though I hated "Mal" (ugh another white sounding name), Alina's childhood friend. I hate him more than Alina and that's saying something. And before anyone starts, it's not because I want Alina to be with the Darkling. I hate the romance. The book would have been so much better without it. Anyway, back to Mal...I really don't understand what the point of him is. He's also such a poorly constructed character. One second he feels like an egotistical bastard that can't be bothered with Alina and next he's all moody and extremely annoying. I hope he dies. PLEASE, someone tell me he dies. 

Overall: (16/30) Shadow and Bone has an annoying main character and the setting and plot is pretty cliché. But it was a very fun read and I still enjoyed it. There were also a few original things here and there. I'll be picking up the sequel.

July 14, 2014

Giveaway: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

by Candace Fleming
Random House
July 8, 2014

From the acclaimed author of Amelia Lost and The Lincolns comes more nonfiction at its very best—and a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards. 

Here is the riveting story of the Russian Revolution as it unfolded. When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared to do so. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew. 

Deftly maneuvering between the lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s peasants—and their eventual uprising—Fleming offers up a fascinating portrait, complete with inserts featuring period photographs and compelling primary-source material that brings it all to life. History doesn’t get more interesting than the story of the Romanovs.

Giveaway:
Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of The Family Romanov to give away. Giveaway is U.S./Canada only and ends August 8th.

July 3, 2014

Review: In the Shadows

In the Shadows 
by Kiersten White (Text Story) 
Jim Di Bartolo (Art and Art Story)

Release Date: April 29, 2014 
Publisher: Scholastic Press 
Age Group: Young Adult 
Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

From the remarkable imagination of acclaimed artist Jim Di Bartolo and the exquisite pen of bestselling author Kiersten White comes a spellbinding story of love, mystery, and dark conspiracy, told in an alternating narrative of words and pictures. 

Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.

Thomas and Charles are brothers who've been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can't. 

Arthur is also new to the boarding house. His fate is tied to that of Cora, Minnie, Thomas, and Charles. He knows what darkness circles them, but can't say why, and doesn't even know if they can be saved.

Sinister forces are working in the shadows, manipulating fates and crafting conspiracies. The closer Cora, Minnie, Arthur, Thomas, and Charles get to the truth, the closer they get to harm. But the threat is much bigger than they can see. It is strangling the world.

Until one of the boys decides he wants to save it. 

Told in an astonishing mix of art and words, IN THE SHADOWS collides past against future, love against evil, and hope against fear. The result is both a mystery and a masterpiece.

My Review:

Cover: This is a pretty boring cover (not to mention the title doesn't sound noteworthy or have anything to do with the book). I wouldn't have given it a second glance if I didn't see the illustrations in the book. I really liked the art, which makes you wonder why the cover turned out like this. These hand-painted covers by the artist are so much awesomer.

Writing: (1/5) The chapters (the text part of the book) weren't that long. They were 2-6 pages each, but they were so hard to get through. They were so dull. I read a couple of chapters a day, even though they were so short, just because I couldn't stand how boring they were. Was the art so good that they were lazy with the writing? 

Art: (5/5) My favourite part was the art story. I would sluggishly try to read through the text chapters just to get to the art story. It was so much more interesting, probably because the art wasn't as dull as the writing. I really liked the style and the colors. There was just so much more life to it than the incredibly flat writing:


Setting: (1.5/5) Most of the book is set in a boarding house in Maine 1900. The setting in In the Shadows was incredibly lackluster. I wouldn't call it a cardboard backdrop, but it wasn't really good either. Like the writing, it was just incredibly boring.  

Plot: (2/5) The book has two separate storylines that eventually intertwine in the end. One is told in text and the other through the art (without any words). The text story was the most godawful boring thing ever. I'm not sure if any effort was even put into it. 

The art story on the other hand was so much more interesting and the only reason I didn't drop this book. I really liked that there were no words. The separate text story and art story felt like such a gimmick. The artist should have just tried to make his own story, the text only held the book back. 

Main Character: (2/5) The main character is probably the main character in the art story, but I can't really spoil who that is. I did like him, but because there was more emphasis on the text story, we didn't really see his personality play out that much.

Villain: (1/5) The villains were poorly constructed. Their dialogue was trying too hard to be evil and impressive and just ended up being cringe-worthy. They were unmemorable. Not to mention there were just too many of them. 

Other Characters: (1.5/5) The text story focuses on five characters: the sisters Minnie and Cora, the brothers Thomas and Charles, and Arthur. There are chapters from all their point of views.

Minnie was energetic and irresponsible. She was the opposite of her sister Cora, who was nice and responsible. I hate when they have two sisters and give them opposite personalities.


Thomas and Charles are boarders at the sisters' family boarding house. Charles is sickly and Thomas worries for him. Thomas was easily the most boring character. I liked that Charles didn't care much about his impending death, but that was about it. I found the brothers to be completely pointless. You could have taken them out and the story would have worked fine without them.


Arthur was probably the best. He's very cliché, brooding, and with a dark past. He was the most interesting though, probably because he actually had some kind of conflict. The brothers did not feel like they should have been in the story and the sisters were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.


There was also the local "witch" Mary, who is one of those poorly constructed crazy characters I loathe. 

And there was the sisters' mother, who runs the boarding house. I liked her motherly personality and it sadly felt like she was the best character...

Overall: (14/35) The book is told through a text and art story that eventually intertwine. While the art story was fun to read through, the text story was so dull and poorly constructed that I can't recommend this book. Not even for the art story, considering it was so intertwined with it.

July 2, 2014

June Haul


Bought:

An art book by one of my favourite artists, Yoshitaka Amano. I've already posted a review with pictures, which you can find here.
I love this edition of Peter Pan. It's the perfect size, the text size is perfect, and the cover is a chalk illustration. I've already read it and I really enjoyed it! I loved Peter Pan and Hook, the Disney movie just didn't pull them off right. My review will be posted soon.

Review:
I've been wanting to read The Princess Bride for such a long time, really excited to start it!
This is the seventh book in the Symphony of Ages series. If anyone has read them, what did you think? 
Fourth book in the Glamourist Histories series. If you've read them, what did you think?
All these sound so good! I'm really not sure where to start. 
  • The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Thanks to Mod Podge Blog Tours and Harpercollins)
A book about Ghost Marriage, which sounds really intriguing. I'm on the blog tour for The Ghost Bride. My stop is on August 14, make sure to stop by if you're interested!

July 1, 2014

Interview and Giveaway with Martina Boone, Author of Compulsion

by Martina Boone
Simon Pulse
October 28, 2014

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse. 

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.

1.  Tell us 5 interesting facts about you? 
  •  I was born in Prague in what’s now the Czech Republic, which is probably the most magical city on earth (just ask Laini Taylor’s Karou or Zuzana). I think that probably explains my love of magical settings. There’s nothing like waking up every morning with a fairytale castle rising on a hillside above you, or going to sleep at night with the lights of a hundred spires wining into the sky to spark the imagination.
  • I love to travel and made it to twelve different countries last year. Well, eleven if you don’t count the U.S. Prague and Austria were, as always, two of my favorites, but I loved Turkey and Thailand, had a ball visiting an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka, and despite my fear of heights, I forced myself to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, and the Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur. I also climbed the 272 steps to the Batu Cave Temple, which wasn't so much a height problem as a distraction problem. I was so busy watching the monkeys sliding down the banisters that I practically took a header. I think my favorite place of all though—because it was completely new to me and full of incredible things everywhere I looked—was India. The Taj Mahal is truly incredible, but I was completely enchanted by the people and the mixture of old and very modern. I also collected the framework of a book I’m dying to write in Bermuda.
  • I’m afraid of heights. (And yes, I know I mentioned that above, but it’s still a fact, unfortunately :D ) 
  • I’m a sucker for a good spooky story. I used to tell Edgar Allen Poe stories at Girl Scout Camp and make people get creeped out. 
  • I have bald eagles in my back yard, which makes me all kinds of happy.

2.  Describe Compulsion in one sentence?

A Southern Gothic about three teens from southern families who own plantations, two wishes granted to two of the families that force them to behave in inconvenient ways, and an ancient curse that ties them all together and makes the romance between two of them very complicated and friendship between two of them unlikely.

3.  Which animals best represent your characters? 

Barrie would be an Arabian horse, very fine boned with big eyes and a lot of intelligence and curiosity, but a little flighty and prone to attacks of nerves. Eight would be a very handsome German Shepherd, driven to take care of the people in his charge, duty bound to be a hero, but longing to play and escape. Cassie would be a sleek, slinky panther, always watching for her opportunity and dangerously beautiful.

4.  What are some of your favourite books, movies, and TV series?

My favorite books are usually what I’m reading at the moment. Some perennial favorites are Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Scorpio Races, The Sky is Everywhere, Graffiti Moon, Anna Dressed in Blood, Mistwood, Wicked Lovely, The Raven Boys, Madman’s Daughter, What’s Left of Me, Shatter Me, and Out of the Easy. Also pretty much anything by Jennifer Armentrout and Wendy Higgins. My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. I also love The Princess Bride, and the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. As far as TV goes, I am obsessed with Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead. I also love Top Gear, Hart of Dixie, Vampire Diaries, Chicago Fire, and Blacklist. I’m also a fan of Pretty Little Liars and Scandal, but kind of haven’t loved the most recent episodes, so need to take a break.

5.  What are you currently reading and what are you reading next? 

I’m currently reading (and loving) The Taking by Kimberly Derting, after finishing Complicit by Stephanie Keuhn, which was WOW!!!!! Next up are A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray and Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little. I’m also dying to get to Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.



Giveaway

June 30, 2014

Review: The Ring and The Crown

The Ring and The Crown 
by Melissa de la Cruz

Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Series: Book 1 in the The Ring and The Crown series

Magic is power, and power is magic... 

Once they were inseparable, just two little girls playing games in a mighty castle. Now Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the mightiest empire in the world, and Aelwyn Myrddyn, a bastard mage, face vastly different futures.

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second. With the help of her Merlin, Eleanor has maintained a stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. While the enchanters faithfully serve the crown, the sun will never set on the Franco-British Empire.

As the annual London Season begins, the great and noble families across the globe flaunt their wealth and magic at parties, teas, and, of course, the lavish Bal du Drap d'Or, the Ball of the Gold Cloth.

But the talk of the season is Ronan Astor, a social-climbing American with only her dazzling beauty to recommend her. Ronan is determined to make a good match to save her family's position. But when she falls for a handsome rogue on the voyage over, her lofty plans are imperiled by her desires.

Meanwhile, Isabelle of Orleans, daughter of the displaced French royal family, finds herself cast aside by Leopold, heir to the Prussian crown, in favor of a political marriage to Marie-Victoria. Isabelle arrives in the city bent on reclaiming what is hers. But Marie doesn't even want Leopold—she has lost her heart to a boy the future queen would never be allowed to marry.

When Marie comes to Aelwyn, desperate to escape a life without love, the girls form a perilous plan that endangers not only the entire kingdom but the fate of the monarchy.

My Review:

Cover: I love the cover for this book! It's basically the only real reason I picked it up, which I assume is the same for a lot of others. The paint splattered looking background, the flower crown, the typography, I love all of it!

Writing: (2/5) The problem with the writing was that the author would go on for pages and pages to describe the most insignificant things. Anything remotely pretty, the author would go on to describe it. While this did give a better sense of the setting, when this is the bulk of the book, what's the point? 

Setting: (4/5) I did like the setting. It was a mix of arthurian legends, with alternate historical, plus the book would go on to describe tons of things that were basically "pretty" like clothes. Add that with palaces and balls and I'm pretty sure that was the whole point of the book. The setting and how pretty it was was basically what the author focused on.

Plot: (1/5) Ha ha, plot. What plot? "The plot" kicks in around 340 pages later. The most hilarious part is that it tells you all the plot points: so and so was evil, I did such and such to stop them, this was their plan, etc. Wow, I don't recall ever reading a book where the whole plot was done behind all the characters' backs and it was explained to me in the last chapter of the book!?

The whole book is about the pretty setting, add a bunch of rich teenagers and their love lives, and we got a soap opera that goes nowhere. And I really mean it goes nowhere, not even the rich teengers' love lives.

Oh, and if you read the synopsis of the book, that basically goes nowhere. The whole: Two girls. Which one rules? thing.

Main Character: (2/5) This book has more than one main character and storyline, like all great soap operas. I would consider plain and sweet Marie to be the protagonist though. Marie-Victoria is the heir to the Franco-British Empire. Marie was OK, her kindness felt genuine. Considering there was no plot though, I didn't really buy any character development that happened with her. I also don't like how the "plain" one has the largest role. Why? So all us ugly girls (or plain, whatever, books act like it's the same thing) can relate to her or something?

Villain: (1/5) As I said in the plot section, who the villain was was told you. You never witnessed them being a villain or anything. You didn't even know they were a villain until the end. This had to be one of the most poorly constructed plot twists.

Other Characters: (2/5) 
Aelwyn Myrddyn: The bastard child of Emrys (Merlin). For her being one of the two girls from the synopsis, it's funny how much we barely saw her.
Ronan Astor: An American who wants to marry rich to save her family from decline. Another character that basically goes nowhere.
Isabelle of Orleans: Ex-fiancée of Prince Leopold, who wants him back after his sudden engagement to Marie. Her whole plot was stupid to begin with and she had such a horrible and unfair ending.
Leopold: Heir to the Prussian Crown. His character got sleazy and then it got beyond stupid.
Wolfgang: Second Prince of Prussia and Leopold's brother. He probably had the best ending, but his whole plotline in the book was pointless.

The characters had entertaining personalities and they could have been really good if they had a plot or even a point!?

Romance: (1/5) There's tons of romance and pairs but, like the rest of this book, they all go nowhere.

Overall: (13/35) The highlight of The Ring and the Crown was the pretty setting and that's what the book focused on. There was no plot to speak of. It's not like I didn't enjoy reading it, and I did like the setting, but it was one poorly constructed book. It was a royal teenager soap opera that went nowhere.

June 29, 2014

Review: White Cat

White Cat 
by Holly Black

Release Date: May 4, 2010
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Series: Book 1 in the Curse Workers series

Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers - people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn't got magic, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail - he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

My Review:

Cover: I liked the old cover, but I do like this one better. It's really neat how the whole illustration is drawn from a bunch of circles. I like how this one had the female lead, the second one has the main character, and the last one has both of them.

Writing: (3/5) The book is really easy and smooth to read through, which is probably why I read it so easily and in one sitting. The only thing I didn't like was that the author would sometimes add a reference to something gross or random swearing to make the book, I don't know, more "gritty". It was plain pointless and could have been done without. 


Setting: (4.5/5) The book is set in alternate world where there are people called Curse Workers. About 0.001% of people are Curse Workers. By touching people they can take or give luck, memories, emotions, etc. Everyone in this world wears gloves as a precaution to that. There's a lot of hate towards Curse Workers for what they can do. 

With the Curse Workers and the Mafia, the book had this really dark and sombre feel, but it was very light which I really liked.

The only problem was that I felt an alternate world where there are Curse Workers and everybody wears gloves was slightly, lame? Funny? Basically, the setting was really fun and I liked the tone, but I don't think much thought was really put into it. 

Plot: (4/5) I read the whole book in one sitting. It was easily one the funnest books I've read. It was light and a really fun read and very easy to get through. The only problem was that I basically guessed all the plot points very early on. Despite knowing most, if not all the plot points, the book was still surprisingly very enjoyable. Also, this book has several plot points which makes it more interesting than hinging on one huge plot point. 

Main Character: (1/5) Cassel Sharpe comes from a family of Curse Workers (who work for a Mafia), but he's the only non Curse Worker in the family. Cassel was really, well, nothing. For some reason, male protagonists in YA tend to be not even flat, they're just nothing. But he really didn't annoy me, I read the story fine enough despite this. 

Villain: (3/5) Who the antagonist was, was probably the only plot point I didn't guess (or at least not completely). 

Other Characters: (3/5) The other characters are definitely more interesting than Cassel. They weren't amazing, but they were very fun and I enjoyed reading them. 

Overall: (18.5/30) The main character had no personality, but White Cat was a fun read with a sort of light somber and dark feel that I really enjoyed. I'll be picking up the sequel.