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 mâché 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]
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 naïve 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.

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.
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?