Monday, September 30, 2013

"Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo

Release Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 358

From Goodreads: "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."

When I recently found myself on a fantasy kick I KNEW that I had to include this book on my pile of to-be-read books- partly because of the interesting sounding storyline, partly because of the general hype surrounding it (with some of the most critical reviewers I know praising it to the high heavens), and partly because of hearing friend after friend tell me that I would ABSOLUTELY love it. After having finished it, I must admit that I am among the minority, not understanding why so many have flocked to this when, in my opinion, there are so many other books of this nature deserving said praise.

I think that said hype gave me entirely unrealistic expectations of this book- because of the hype, every element of this book was inflated, THE BEST EVER STORYLINE!, THE BEST EVER CHARACTERS!, THE BEST EVER SETTING! and so forth, almost to an unachievable level. In reality, I found the vast majority of characters to be mediocre, no different from any other YA characters that I have read of before (with the exception of Mal that one time, when he was able to pull out the swoon-> I think that fans of Gale and Peeta will love him as he seems to be a combination of their best characteristics), the vast majority of the plot to be predictable (I am admittedly one of the worst foreshadowers when it comes to book plots, however, I was able to foreshadow almost everything in this book, especially that revolving around the Darkling- if I can do this, then you know it's pretty predictable), and the world building to be a bit too "out there", combining an overwhelming number of elements, only a few of which actually fit seamlessly together.

All in all, as much as I had hoped that it would, this book simply did not do it for me. Because of my reaction to this novel, I am seriously debating whether or not to continue on with the series (if I choose not to, something that is almost unheard of for me). That being said, I do think that fans of Sarah J. Maas's "Throne of Glass" series and Andrea Cremer's "Rift" series, will more than enjoy this novel, wanting to start its sequel as soon as they finish this.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"If You Could Be Mine" by Sara Farizan

Release Date: August 20, 2013
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 256

From Goodreads: "In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?"

Admittedly when I first received this book to read and review, I was a fair bit skeptical as it is so far out of my comfort zone (that being primarily YA speculative fiction), however, the longer that the premise of the book bounced around in my head, the more and more excited that I got to read it- it being quite unlike anything that I had ever heard of before, sounding like something that could truly change YA as we know it. However, as I began to delve deeper and deeper into the novel I soon realized that, while it had potential, it ultimately did not live up to said potential.

My largest complaints about this book were it's writing style, the lack of emotions, and it's characters. I found Sara's style of writing to be so flat that it bordered on being juvenile- at times it read as if it had been written by a young person trying their hand at writing (for instance, "I did this and this and this"). Because of the flatness of the writing, I was unable to make any sort of connection to the storyline- not once did I experience any heart pounding moments or gasped aloud, which wouldn't seem unlikely for a book with as heavy of a storyline as this. Furthermore, because of the lack of emotions, I was unable to make any sort of connection with the characters- I would, in fact, go so far as to say that they are some of the most unlikeable that I can recall reading about in some time. There was truly only one or two characters that I liked, however, their actions towards the end of the novel made me reconsider my original opinions of them.

That being said, I do appreciate what Sara tried to do with this book, because, as mentioned, this, in my opinion, is quite unlike anything else I have seen in YA to this point in time. She touched upon so many important lifestyles, situations, and circumstances that I think that the average reader would never experience, let alone consider.

All in all, unfortunately due to the book's simplistic and emotionless writing style and the unmemorable (or memorable for the wrong reasons) characters, I was simply not a fan of this novel. However, I do think that with a bit more time and practice, Sara has the potential to be an instrumental author in YA, especially if she broaches upon similar topics in the future.

Rating: 2/5

I received this book from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was not compensated in any way for said review.

Monday, September 23, 2013

"Crown of Midnight" by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 420

From Goodreads: "An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?"

While I was not a huge fan of the first book in the series (a fan, rather than a FAN), I was still extremely excited to read this book because of both the world and the cast of characters that Sarah crafted, quite unlike any I have encountered in YA before. Within only a few pages of this book, I knew that it was not only much, much better than the first, Sarah truly finding her stride as an author, but one of the best books that I have read this year (which I truly have to thank Sarah for- it has been AGES since I truly loved a book, she was able to crack through where few authors have been able to).

While in the first book I did find myself growing somewhat frustrated by HOW MUCH there was going on in it, in this book, it was the icing on top of the cake for me. I LOVED piecing together all of the various storylines and admittedly gasped aloud a number of times when Sarah entirely twisted the plot on its head.

Another successful component of this book, in my opinion, was the romance. As anyone who knows me knows, I LOVE love- and this book has perchance one of the best love stories that I have read in YA. Ever. While on the one hand I hated how long drawn-out the romance aspect of it was (I legitimately texted one of my fellow reviewer friends with "WHY WON'T THEY KISS ALREADY?"), on the other hand, I do think that that was for the best- that when that aspect of the storyline finally came to fruition, that it made all of the FEELS cometh forth.

The last component of this book that made me fall head over heels for it was the ending- while the ending is technically wrapped up in its entirety, you can't help but feel the need to get your hands on the next book as soon as humanly possible- it has the feel of the cliffhanger ending, without actually being a cliffhanger. (That being said, as a side note, I find myself growing more and more scared about the next book because I can't wonder if Sarah will simultaneously tell two different storylines or only one- in only telling one, one of my most favourite aspects will be lost).

All in all, Sarah J. Maas is an evil, evil person- something which I'm sure that she revels in. As mentioned, this book is one of the best books that I have read this year and one that I know that I will pick up time and time again. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all YA readers- from those seasoned YA fantasy fans to those newly minted.

Rating: 5/5

I received this book from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was not compensated in any way for said review.

Friday, September 20, 2013

ARC Review: "Inheritance" by Malinda Lo

Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown
Pages: 480

From Goodreads:"The triangular spaceship hovered motionless in the sky above Reese Holloway’s house, as inscrutable as a black hole. It had seemed like a good idea when they were inside: to tell the truth about what happened to them at Area 51. It didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

Reese and David are not normal teens—not since they were adapted with alien DNA by the Imria, an extraterrestrial race that has been secretly visiting Earth for decades. Now everyone is trying to get to them: the government, the Imria, and a mysterious corporation that would do anything for the upper hand against the aliens.

Beyond the web of conspiracies, Reese can’t reconcile her love for David with her feelings for her ex-girlfriend Amber, an Imrian. But her choice between two worlds will play a critical role in determining the future of humanity, the Imria’s place in it, and the inheritance she and David will bring to the universe.

In this gripping sequel to Adaptation, Malinda Lo brings a thoughtful exploration of adolescence, sexuality, and “the other” to a science fiction thriller that is impossible to put down."

After having finished "Adaptation", the first book in this series, I HAD to read this book- not only to see how the general populace would react to learning that they were, in fact, not alone in the universe (or universes beyond), but to see how Reese would navigate her relationships (if any) with both David and Amber. That being said, once I started reading this book, that initial excitement began to wane, becoming almost non-existent.

My largest complaint about this book was its pacing- I can typically read a book within a couple of hours, however, this book took me near two weeks to read because of it. While I thought that the previous book was too focused on the romance aspect, in this book I thought that it was too focused on the politics and too 'info-dumping' about the Imria. As such, I found that I could only read a few pages before my eyes started crossing, being dragged down by it all.

I further had problems with Reese in this novel- while I understand that her thoughts, feelings, and emotions are probably very true to life for many teens in her situation (questioning their sexuality, trying to find out where they belong in the world, and so forth), I couldn't relate to her in the slightest. It increasingly grated more and more on my nerves about how she was unable to make a concrete decision about anything- forever flopping back and forth.

All in all, while I was not a fan of this book, I do think that many others will be (especially those who were major fans of the first). Furthermore, despite my complaints, I really do appreciate what Malinda has done for the world of YA- not only presenting characters we typically don't see in the genre, but presenting alternative relationships to what we typically see."

Rating: 2/5

I received this book from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was not compensated in any way for said review.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Win a Blog Make-Over!

As some of you may have seen the other day, I recently announced that I have started a blog design service, Avery's Designs. In celebration of its release, I am currently giving away both a both design and installation package! To enter into the giveaway, feel free to head on over to Avery's Designs!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"The Suburban Strange" by Nathan Kotecki

Release Date: October 2, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Pages: 368

From Goodreads: "Shy Celia Balaustine is new to Suburban High, but a mysterious group of sophomores called the Rosary has befriended her. Friends aside, Celia soon discovers something is not quite right at Suburban. Girls at the school begin having near-fatal accidents on the eve of their sixteenth birthdays. Who is causing the accidents, and why? As Celia’s own birthday approaches, she is inexorably drawn into an underground conflict between good and evil—the Kind and the Unkind—that bubbles beneath Suburban High. Plentiful references to music and art—along with the intriguing underworld mythology—make this supernatural series debut a page-turner."

When I saw the cover of this book, coupled alongside an interesting synopsis, I was instantly drawn in. However, after having finished the book my feelings are not unlike they were when I was drawn into another book by it's pretty cover, "Tris & Izzie" by Mette Ivie Harrison.

My largest complaint about this book was how contradictory it was- on the one hand it was extremely sophisticated, with how the characters dressed, what they read, and what music they listened to (in that regard, despite me being older than them, they far surpassed me), but on the other hand, they were sooooooo juvenile in every other way- especially in the way that the spoke and interacted with one another. Unfortunately I feel that this is the result of the author's writing, it felt far too basic than what the storyline called for.

Another complaint that I had about this novel was that it was so BUSY- I couldn't help but feel like the author even went so far as to throw the kitchen sink into the storyline of the novel. Every time I turned around there was another plotline thrown in, each plotline increasingly more and more ridiculous and farfetched than the last.

All in all, this novel was not for me- I will not be continuing on with this series and I will be trading or donating my copy. That being said, I do feel that perhaps younger YA readers might be able to connect to the characters and their situations where I was unable to.

Rating: 2/5

I received this book from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was not compensated in any way for said review. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Presenting Avery's Designs: Blog Packages Starting at $25!

As some of you may know, I recently finished my masters and therefore have a fair bit of free time on my hands. Therefore, taking that into consideration (and my love of design), I decided to create Avery's Designs, a design service which makes making over your blog easy!

For $25 you will receive a blog header, a button with grab box, and an avatar. For an additional $10 I will install the design package, alongside customizing various aspects of the blog, saving you the headache of having to do so! With every design, the text and font is customizable, allowing for it to meet your needs, whatever they may be!

Here are a few examples of the designs that you can purchase:

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