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 was 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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mini Reviews: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen


From Goodreads: In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point - he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well. As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With a clever thief who has a knack for getting in trouble as its narrator, it’s hard not to see the similarities between Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Sage and Gen from Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief. Nielsen is no Turner however; and where Gen is subtle, Sage’s hints are blindingly obvious when read from adult eyes. Moreover, The False Prince’s plot is a little far-fetched. As a book in its own right that’s intended for middle graders though – unlike The Thief – The False Prince is a pretty enjoyable read and will especially appeal to boys. 

The False Prince was released by Scholastic in April 2012. 
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From Goodreads: Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged. In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings - Peculiars - and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them. One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley - Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed. First he's noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish ... and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann is a book that I’d describe as well, peculiar. It was written by Bachmann when he was in his teens, yet reads likes it’s been written by a more experienced author. It’s classified as a MG novel, yet has an adult as one of its two main characters and features steampunk and politics, topics most middle graders aren’t really interested in. Personally, I felt emotionally disconnected from the characters; and while the worldbuilding was imaginative, I would have liked it to be better explained.

The Peculiar was released in September 2012 by Greenwillow Books.