Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Books I've Read in 2014

With the end of 2014, I'm going to take a look back at the top ten books that I've read this year. Here's my list (in no particular order):
  1. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner [my review]
  2. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers [my review]
  3. This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner [my review]
  4. Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker [my review]
  5. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey [my review]
  6. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand [my review]
  7. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor [my review]
  8. Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens [my review]
  9. Cress by Marissa Meyer [my review]
  10. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson [my review]

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

From Goodreads: Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom - all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him. With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people. But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle - a shifting maze of magical rooms - enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love. 

My Rating: 4 hearts for the first 3/4 of the book; 3.5 hearts for the last 1/4 

Thoughts on the Novel: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was a book I wasn’t planning on reading until I searched through my Kindle, looking for a fairy tale retelling. Remembering that Cruel Beauty was based on Beauty and the Beast, I decided that this retelling might be worth a try.

As a retelling, Cruel Beauty is a very loose one; and Nyx is definitely nothing like the sweet Belle. Instead, Nyx is full of anger and hatred, yet surprisingly easy to like and understand because she has grown up her whole life knowing that she is to be sacrificed for her father’s bargain with Ignifex. 

I also liked Ignifex because he wasn’t at all how the other characters portrayed him as. Like Nyx, I thought he would be this scary demon; but, he turned out to be a charming, witty character who embraced his role as the liaison between the Kindly Ones and the people of Arcadia (which I had no problems with because if you’re going to be evil, why not embrace it?). The other characters in Cruel Beauty, however, were quite one-dimensional, and when there was an attempt to make them more complex (e.g. as in the case of Astraia, Nyx’s twin sister), their motives remained rather unclear.

The romance, though, would have to be my least favourite aspect of Cruel Beaty. Not only did I think that Nyx fell for Ignifex kind of quickly, but there was an unexpected love triangle as well. It should be noted, however, that the love triangle does make sense later on.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding, which incorporated a lot of Greek mythology and Roman culture. Unfortunately, the worldbuilding did become more confusing towards the end, and the book concluded with an ending that I just didn’t understand. 

Cruel Beauty was released in January 2014 by Balzer + Bray.  

Comments About the Cover: I’m not really a fan of the rose being interwoven with a bunch of stairs.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

From Goodreads: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead - to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse - though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven't forgiven? It's not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was - lovely and amazing and deeply flawed - can she truly start to discover her own path.

My Rating: 1.5 hearts only because the final 1/4 of the book was kind of okay; otherwise, this would have been a solid 1 heart

Thoughts on the Novel: Way back when Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead was released, I saw a few glowing reviews for it, and got a copy, which I then promptly forgot all about. So, when I saw Wendy Darling’s review for Love Letters to the Dead a few days ago, and noticed that she compared it to Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which I loved, I bumped Love Letters to the Dead to the top of my TBR pile. Sadly, I had a very different experience reading Love Letters to the Dead than Wendy.

There were multiple reasons why I couldn’t connect to Love Letters to the Dead, but the greatest reason why would be Laurel, the main character. For most of the novel, she was just one of those characters that follows the crowd because she’s so desperate to be liked. Within weeks of entering high school, for example, she’s skipping class, smoking and drinking because that’s what the girls she decides to be friends with are doing. I hate weak-willed characters, and Laurel is definitely one of the worst I’ve encountered! I also found it really annoying how she buried her head in the sand and refused to acknowledge that May, her sister, was less than perfect. While May was alive, Laurel never bothered telling her parents that May might have issues (e.g. creating the dead game, having a much, much older boyfriend, etc.), and then once May died, Laurel created this idealized version of her sister and tried to be more like her. Another reason why I had trouble connecting with Laurel was due to her inconsistent voice. For the most part, she came off as very young (which isn’t surprising because she’s only in Grade 9), but then she’d randomly start sounding like an adult. 

The romance in Love Letters to the Dead wasn’t great either. As an aside, I found it very creepy that all these high school girls were hooking up with college-aged or older guys. Focusing on Sky and Laurel’s romance though, their situation was total insta-love. Like literally, after a couple of extremely brief conversations, they decide to become a couple. The conversation when Sky decides he’s a boyfriend kind of guy was so clich├ęd and made me roll my eyes because I couldn’t fathom why this relatively popular junior would be interested in a loner freshman. Later, Sky explains to Laurel why he thought she was so interesting initially, and I was like, “Oh, that makes so much more sense.” After the explanation he gave her though, I would have dumped him, but Laurel, of course, continues to like him (probably because no other guy would be interested in her what with all the random bouts of crying she does).

Besides the issue of grief, Love Letters to the Dead also explores a variety of other issues such as divorce, trying to figure out one's identity, sexual abuse, physical abuse, etc. To me, none of them were handled with as much depth as they could have been; and I think I would have liked Love Letters to the Dead more if it had taken a less is more approach and dealt only with the related issues of grief and identity.

Love Letters to the Dead was released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April 2014. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the background, but not the font or the girl randomly sitting in the sky.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson

From Goodreads: Step on a crack, break your mother's back, Touch another person's skin, and Dad's gone for good ... Caddie has a history of magical thinking - of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings - but it's never been this bad before. When her parents split up, "Don't touch" becomes Caddie's mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person's skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn't make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama's humidity, she's covering every inch of her skin and wearing evening gloves to school. And that's where things get tricky. Even though Caddie's the new girl, it's hard to pass off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who's auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she'll have to touch Peter ... and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter - but the other part isn't sure she's brave enough to let herself fall.

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Since I enjoy reading books that deal with mental issues, Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson was a book that I was looking forward to reading because its main character, Caddie, has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Unfortunately, it took me a lot longer to finish Don’t Touch than I expected due to my difficulty in connecting with Caddie. I suspect part of the reason why is because of how much she kept talking about her similarity to Ophelia – something I honestly couldn’t care about.

I wasn’t a fan of the romance either. Considering that Caddie was always acting weirdly and/oe freaking out around Peter, I didn’t find it very believable that he would be attracted to her. I also find it very surprising that people took so long to notice Caddie’s aversion to touch, and just accepted her wearing gloves and constantly being covered at all times as a quirky habit.

What I did like, for the most part, was the depiction of OCD in Don’t Touch. For example, Caddie is quite aware that the thoughts and deals that she makes with herself are illogical, yet she still can’t help engaging in the compulsions that she has. I also liked that Wilson addresses the fact that OCD often runs in families and that its symptoms can wax and wane.

However, I wasn’t too happy with Wilson’s portrayal of the way that Caddie’s OCD is treated. The book makes it seem like OCD is easily cured by a few conversations with a therapist and making the choice to resist one's compulsions (as witnessed by Caddie’s miraculous ability to suddenly make out with Peter); whereas in real life, OCD is typically treated with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. As well, those who suffer from this mental disorder are never completely cured as stress often re-triggers the obsessions and compulsions. 

Don’t Touch was released in September 2014 by HarperTeen. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the monochromatic look and its simplicity.  

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Best of 2014 Giveaway Hop

The Best of 2014 Giveaway Hop is being hosted by Mary at Bookhounds and Kathy at I Am A Reader.

For the hop, I'll be giving away a paperback copy of any one of some of my favourite books that I read in 2014. This giveaway is open internationally as long as The Book Depository ships to your country.
Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga 
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters 

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Oh, and don't forget to check out the other blogs that are also participating!
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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Review: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

From Inside Jacket: Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own. But across Brittany, the tides of war are drawing ever nearer, with France pressuring the beleaguered duchess from all sides. Annith's search for answers threatens to rip open an intricate web of lies and deceit that sits at the center of the convent she serves. Yet to expose them threatens the very fabric of her existence and an unforeseen chance at love that she can no longer deny. Annith must carefully pick a path and, gods willing, effect a miracle that will see her country - and her heart - to safety.  

My Rating: 4 hearts for the first 3/4 of the book; 3 hearts for the last 1/4 

Thoughts on the Novel: Though I loved both Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph, I was still hesitant to begin reading Robin LaFevers’ Mortal Heart because I knew that it was Annith’s story. While Sybella intrigued me in Grave Mercy, I couldn’t say the same about Annith in either Grave Mercy or Dark Triumph. So, I wasn’t sure how captivated I’d be with her story.

Surprisingly, despite growing up at the convent, Annith turned out to have a quite interesting backstory. Furthermore, LaFevers made me grow to like and admire Annith over the course of the novel because of her determination to serve Mortain and become the best novitiate possible in spite of not being blessed with any gifts. But, I have to say, I still like Ismae and Sybella much better.

I also enjoyed the girls’ romances (in their respective books) more than I liked Annith’s. Unlike Ismae/Duval and Sybella/Beast (who all make appearances), Annith’s romance was very much a case of instant love. Moreover, she was amazingly bold when declaring her attraction; I would have expected someone who grew up in a convent and wasn’t used to interacting with men to be a lot shyer and more nervous around the opposite sex.

A bigger issue that I had with Mortal Heart though was the incredibly disappointing ending. Spoiler alert: The idea of averting a potential war between Brittany and France by hitting Charles VIII with Arduinna’s arrow so that he would fall in love with Anne was just so laughable! In addition, I didn’t get the whole concept of the Nine turning into mortals; it was weird, and not very well-explained – not just philosophically, but also in terms of the plot because LaFevers didn’t address what happened to the hellequin who weren’t killed protecting Annith and Balthazar. 

Mortal Heart was released in November 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: Since Annith’s weapon of choice is a bow, I really like that the model is holding one.  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Thomas Allen & Son) for free.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

From Goodreads: Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival, in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort. The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But to be ready for the bloody battle that lies ahead, Neryn must first seek out two more fey Guardians to receive their tutelage. Meanwhile, her beloved, Flint, has been pushed to his breaking point as a spy in the king’s court - and is arousing suspicion in all the wrong quarters. At stake lies freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk - and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although I personally wouldn’t consider Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell series to be very memorable, I have continued reading it because it’s a solid trilogy, especially if you enjoy slow, traditional fantasy.

The Caller begins with Flint having reached his breaking point after witnessing the events at the end of Raven Flight, and no longer willing to work as an Enforcer for Keldec. Meanwhile, in order to fulfil her quest of becoming the most capable Caller that she can be, Neryn sets off to meet the two Guardians that she hasn’t trained with, the White Lady and the Master of Shadows. On her way to seek the Master of Shadows though, Neryn finds out that Keldec has found a Caller of his own and has started using his Caller to amass an army of fey to fight for him. The task of overthrowing Keldec just became that much harder for the rebels!

In comparison to the previous two novels in the series, The Caller had a much faster pace, which I liked. I also thought Marillier did a good job of making Neryn realize that Keldec’s men and servants aren’t all evil and that many of them don’t approve of his tyrannical ruling. It would have been nice though if the conflict between Keldec and the rebels hadn’t been resolved as quickly or easily; it wasn’t very realistic, and the finale could have been so much more epic in my opinion!

The Caller was released by Knopf Books for Young Readers in September 2014. 

Comments About the Cover: I like the background as it makes it pretty clear that the novel is a fantasy. I have mixed reactions about the model’s pose though; it makes sense because Neryn is a Caller, but it drives me insane that I have no idea what she’s Calling.