Saturday, May 31, 2014

ARC Book Review: Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon

Take Back the Skies

Lucy Saxon

ARC Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way by the publishers to review this book favourably. The review is my own honest opinion (Whether or not it is agreed with).

Publication Date: June 3rd 2014

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Pages: 384

Genre: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Young Adult

Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She’s one of the privileged – she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever.

So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat’s world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all . . .
Take Back the Skies was written for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) when the author was sixteen. That bit of information is enough to make some people want to stay as far away from it as possible and others it causes them to pick it up immediately. As for me, I hadn't found out till I was about halfway through the book, but I personally had no trouble judging this without needing to involve her age in it.

The book has an intriguing world, a mixture of Disney's Treasure Planet and fantasy. It's got a pretty unique base. I can see bits of adventure, bits of contemporary, bits of fantasy, bits of historical and bits of science fiction. However, when it all comes to down to it, for me this book screams ADVENTURE.

And I have to say that's what Saxon did best in the book, the adventure. Even when things didn't make sense, or seemed rushed, or not exactly realistic (which did happen a few times) I found myself unable to get annoyed, because I was dragged right along the adventure of the story. I found myself rooting for them, holding me breath and wishing everything ended up okay.

The characters were a bit of a mixed bag. I didn't dislike any of them, and none felt terribly written or anything like that, but only some of them did I truly connect with, like they were missing something. It's hard to explain. At times it feels like this book is somewhere between professional and amateur. There are some parts to the writing that are absolutely brilliant, and other parts that feel unnatural or forced. The ending especially felt that way.

I guess if I judged it on the level of the author being young and thus lowering the bar then it's absoultely amazing. As it stands, I'd be very surprised if Saxon doesn't continue to improve. She is hands down an author to watch and I will certainly be picking up her future writing. There is just something about it that ensnared me.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read an Adventure story in the YA voice. There are definitely Treasure Island vibes during parts of the first half of the book. And, while this book might not be for everyone, I did enjoy the read quite a lot.


Friday, May 30, 2014

A NaNoWriMo Review Challenge?

I was indeed a 2013 Participant (and Winner) for National Novel Writin Month back in November. I wrote a bit of a coming of age New Adult story that is in serious need of some editing if it ever wants to see the light of day.

What's amazing honestly is the amount of great writng that has seen the light of day from NaNoWriMo, those books that have been published that were originally entries. Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon is one that is coming out in a few days and it got me wondering.... does anyone ever host a NaNoWriMo Challenge? One where you have to read and review a bunch of NaNoWriMo novels?

I think it would be pretty cool thing to do.

So if there isn't already one out there, if anyone else thinks it would be interesting maybe I could make a simple one.

Writing one's NaNo project is honestly the easy part I have come to find out, so I have so much respect for those who were able to go all the way, I'd like to show a bit of support.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Review: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Lies Beneath

Anne Greenwood Brown

Publication Date: February 7th 2012

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Pages: 303

Genre:  Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans and absorb their positive energy. Usually, they select their victims at random, but this time around, the underwater clan chooses its target for a reason: revenge. They want to kill Jason Hancock, the man they blame for their mother's death.

It's going to take a concerted effort to lure the aquaphobic Hancock onto the water. Calder's job is to gain Hancock's trust by getting close to his family. Relying on his irresistible good looks and charm, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter Lily. Easy enough, but Calder screws everything up by falling in love--just as Lily starts to suspect there's more to the monster-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined, and just as the mermaids threaten to take matters into their own hands, forcing Calder to choose between them and the girl he loves.

One thing's for sure: whatever Calder decides, the outcome won't be pretty.
Okay, I'm not going to lie, I went into this book truly afraid I wasn't going to like it, that I would want to throw it across the room because the characters were angsting too much. You could say that I'm very wary when it comes to YA Paranormal, especially if I'm not an angst "Oh! I cannot be with you!" fan (just my personal preferences). I also am wary with male perspectives (that's pure personal bias that I'm not one-hundred percent proud of). So needless to say I started reading it with the lowest expectations. Thus, when I ended up with my eyes attached to the book and enjoying it, I was happily surprised.

Yes, Calder does seem a bit melodramatic for my taste, and Lily plays the part of sacrificial lamb. Yes, they cannot be and it is very dramatic, but there are a lot of other things that were more up my alley. Their love developed slowly, with Calder trying to charm her pants off because he's supposed to and Lily pretty much ignoring him. Calder's sisters are top notch villains with interesting and different personalities, and the idea and mythology of the mermaids is so well done. This idea is unique and actually had made me nervous to take my backpacking trip up the edge of Lake Superior a few months after I had finished it.

The writing has a rather poetic, dramatic (like stage play dramatic) tone to it that I like, and most of the side characters seem to have their own direction and depth to them that is unusual in a lot of books that worked to add a layer of realism to a paranormal tale.

I recommend this book to people who love mermaid stories, but wants something a bit different, for people who love Lake Superior and for people who enjoy good villains. I am very happy that despite my reservations I chose to read this book.


Feature and Follow Fridays: Good Writing VS Good Plot/Characters

Question of the Week: How important is good writing to you? In an ideal world, a book would be beautifully written AND have great character development, plot, etc. But in the real world, which do you prefer: (1) Great characters and plot with lousy writing or (2) Middling character development and plot but gorgeous writing

It's gotta be number one for me. Of course there is a point where the writing becomes too distracting if it's really bad, but I've always been more focused on characters, plots and the world of the book than the prose itself (in fact I prefer simpler prose to anything that might be considered beatiful).

This probably stems from the fact that when I write myself, those are the places I know the best and are my strengths. I am terrible at grammar (I was once both the queen of run on sentences and fragments, much to my teachers' dismays) so I never feel comfortable critiquing stuff like that.

And of course when it all comes down to it, why would I read a book in the first place if the characters are non-connectable and the plot doesn't interest me or make sense?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

Into the Wild

Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Date: June 21st 2007

Publisher: Razorbill

Pages: 272

Genre:  Fairytale, Urban Fantasy, Middle Grade

Twelve-year-old Julie has grown up hearing about the dangerous world of fairy tales, The Wild, from which her mother, Rapunzel, escaped.

Now The Wild wants its characters back. Julie comes home from school to find her mother gone and a deep, dark forest swallowing her hometown. Julie must fight wicked witches, avoid glass slippers and fairy godmothers, fly griffins, and outwit ogres in order to rescue her mom and save her Massachusetts town from becoming a fairy-tale kingdom.

Sarah Beth Durst weaves a postmodern fairy tale that's fresh, funny, and sweetly poignant.
So, I picked this book off the shelf solely because it was Durst writing in the realm of fairytales, and I loved Ice. What is pretty funny, however, is this book is really nothing like Ice. It is way closer to the style of Enchanted Ivy (another Durst book I've read) instead.

This is another book that reminds me a lot of a TV show out right now, and that show would be ”Once Upon A Time". The idea is that these fairytale characters are living out in the real world. Of course the main difference is that they know they are the fairytale characters, they escaped the "Wild" where all their stories took place and defeated it down and now it is living under Julie's bed. Julie is the daughter of Rapunzel, who was lucky enough to have been born and raised in our world, though without a father since Rapunzel's Prince hadn't made it out with the rest of them.

Suddenly, though someone makes a wish and POOF the Wild is back and it is taking over the city causing people to be sucked into the fairytales, bad and good.

I really like the whole idea of characters being forced to fulfill "fairytale" events. There's a feeling of being desperate, afraid and needing to escape. It's scary and provides several very interesting plot twists once Julie is traversing them.

The prose is very lighthearted, but there's a feeling of depth underneath it that I enjoy. There is betrayal, possession, the fear of losing those you love. The stakes are big for Julie and as the reader you're not always sure who to trust.

I recommend this book to lovers of fairytales taken in a very unusual light, or when they are smashed all together. It isn't like Ice much at all, so don't go in reading that instead, but it is a well-written MG Contemporary Fantasy book that I am glad to own.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ARC Book Review: The Girl With the Blood Red Lips

The Girl With the Blood Red Lips

V.B. Marlowe

ARC Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way by the publishers to review this book favourably. The review is my own honest opinion (Whether or not it is agreed with).

Publication Date: April 25th 2014

Publisher: All Night Reads

Pages: 182

Genre: Fairytale, Contemporary, Young Adult

Neva is different. Aside from having a phobia of mirrors and an unquenchable desire for apples, she harbors a dark secret. She's been cursed to repeat the same three years of her life over and over again. Unfortunately, these three years happen to be Neva's sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school, and high school's not that easy when everyone considers you a freak. To break her curse, Neva must accomplish a grisly task that she can't bring herself to complete. Will Neva break her curse in time, or will she be bound by it forever?
Thanks to Netgalley and All Night Reads for allowing me to read and review this.

The Girl With the Blood Red Lips is a unique take on Snow White. Neva (as she currently calls herself) was once the Snow White of tales, but instead of falling asleep after biting the apple, she is cursed by her step-mother to relive the last three years she'd had over and over again, along with several curses in relation to that original tale (such as craving apples, not being able to look into mirrors and having the kiss of death).

I found the prose for the book enjoyable to read, and I found the world unique and interesting (though a little bit confusing which may fix itself in the future books). It mostly suffered in pacing. It started a nice speed, with characters being introduced and mysteries and issues being introduced at a good pace, but everything went way too fast. I think the second half of the book could have stood to be much longer in length, with some things being dragged out longer.

For the most part I enjoyed the characters, even if they were a little one dimensional at times (Mia and Hadley embarrassingly so, for reasons I'll explain in the Spoiler part of my review I really wish we had been able to connect with these two characters).

As a warning, although it is hinted at a few times in the first half of the book (which plays out like a light contemporary supernatural YA), the fact that the book takes a sharp turn into becoming a horror book took me a bit by surprise. It almost felt like two separate books, and although I did enjoy the first half quite a bit, I wish that the story had been the second half of the book and full out horror. This book would have for sure stood out from other fairytale adaptations in a good way if that had been the case.

Oh and I have to mention how much I love the name Neva. That's been one of my back-pocket names forever, and I had known the meaning (snow) so I smiled over that little connection.

I recommend this book for people who want a different kind of fairytale adaptation, one that doesn't involve a castle, fantasy or actual princesses. I also would like to mention that there is a horror twist at the end so be prepared for that, but until then the prose is light and enjoyable. 


Top Ten Tuesdays: Freebie

And here is my other old favourite meme.

This week is a freebie week so I decided to do:

Top Ten Re-Readable Books/Series
In no particular order in this case
The re-readability of a book can greatly increase how much I treasure a book. Of course if a book is not re-readable it doesn't mean that it isn't good. A lot of times if the book was emotional, terrifying (I'm looking at you Don't Breathe a Word), or have a major twist in it (those more emotional twists) I can't bring myself to pick the book up again for a long time.

I guess often books with prose styles that are more "fluffy" and "comforting" are more likely to get this place for me. Many of the authors on this list have a very similar prose style.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Book Review: The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington

The Dead and Buried

Kim Harrington

Publication Date: January 1st 2013

Publisher: Scholastic Point

Pages: 295

Genre: Horror, Young Adult

Jade loves the house she's just moved into with her family. She doesn't even mind being the new girl at the high school: It's a fresh start, and there's that one guy with the dreamy blue eyes. . . . But then things begin happening. Strange, otherworldly things. Jade's little brother claims to see a glimmering girl in his room. Jade's jewelry gets moved around, as if by an invisible hand. Kids at school whisper behind her back like they know something she doesn't.

Soon, Jade must face an impossible fact: that her perfect house is haunted. Haunted by a ghost who's seeking not just vengeance, but the truth. The ghost of a girl who ruled Jade's school — until her untimely death last year. It's up to Jade to put the pieces together before her own life is at stake. As Jade investigates the mystery, she discovers that her new friends in town have more than a few deep, dark secrets. But is one of them a murderer?
I picked this book up strictly because I am a sucker for YA stories with hauntings or other horror elements. And although the horror was a bit of this, it was the mystery of the story that really got me hooked.

I liked the writing better for this than I remember liking Clarity's (by the same author). At first I was wavering a bit as I felt a couple of scenes felt contrived, but in the end the prose won me over.

Kayla, our ghost, made for an interest character study and I enjoyed seeing her compared and contrasted to some of the other characters. There are times where the characters felt a bit flat or forced, but when it comes down to it it was Kayla and the mystery that are the driving forces of the book, so it wasn't a bit deal.

My personal favourite bit was Jade's gemstone obsession. I myself am a huge collector (though I'd never heard them referred to as gemstones, I usually know them as crystals or just stones. I assume that comes from the fact her mom made jewelry), so seeing it used as a device to tie the whole story together with all the meanings behind them was a treat.

Overall, I recommend this book to those who love a good murder mystery and don't mind some ghostly fantastical elements. If you pick up this book looking for horror, there are a few chilling moments, but it's mostly focused on the mystery side of a ghost story rather than the terrifying.


ARC Book Review: Nihal of the Land of the Wind by Licia Troisi

Nihal of the Land of the Wind (Chronicles of the Overworld #1)

Licia Troisi

ARC Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way by the publishers to review this book favourably. The review is my own honest opinion (Whether or not it is agreed with).

English Ver. Publication Date: May 27th 2014

English Ver. Publisher: Mondadori

Pages: 230

Genre: Fantasy, Middle-Grade?

An international bestseller from an extraordinary storyteller—get ready for Nihal and her world

Nihal lives in one of the many towers of the Land of the Wind. There is nobody like her in the Overworld: big violet eyes, pointed ears, and blue hair. She is an expert in swordplay and the leader of a handful of friends that includes Sennar the wizard. She has no parents; brought up by an armorer and a sorceress, Nihal seems to be from nowhere.

Things suddenly change when the Tyrant takes charge. Nihal finds herself forced to take action when she is faced with the most difficult mission a girl her age could imagine.

Fierce, strong, and armed with her black crystal sword, Nihal sets out to become a real warrior. Readers will be riveted as she forges her powerful path of resistance.
Thanks to Netgalley and Open Road Intergrated Media for allowing me to read this.

Nihal of the Land of the Wind was originally written in Italian and published and Italy (as Nihal della terra del vento). This makes for a very interesting problem while reviewing, especially when it comes to critiques since it's not just the original author's writing, but also how well the translator was able to mimic the style of the author in another language. Sometimes the prose ends up becoming stilted and unnatural in the new language and it's no fault of the original story.

On the other hand, the style of writing may be different in the original country as well, it might just not translate well at all and there's nothing anyone can do about that.

I thought, when I started this book, that that was the main issue I was facing. The prose was indeed stilted and dialogue often felt unnatural, but I soon realized that I had many issues with the actual story itself.

Now, before I say anything else, I did finish this book. I almost shut it many times, but I felt obligated to finish it and give my review.

My main problems all revolve around the main character, Nihal. Pretty much for the entire book Nihal acted like a spoiled seven year old. Of course it didn't feel like the other characters handled her very well either (seriously that first fight with Senner? That was totally unfair to her, he used magic in a fight and everyone knew that was implicitedly not the point, but everyone told her it was her own fault, including her father, what?).

The biggest example of this is the... romance? of the story. Basically she decides at a young age that she's in love with the love of her aunt's life and after discovering that he and her aunt are in love, decides to WAIT FOR HIM TO FALL OUT OF LOVE WITH THE AUNT WHO HAS TAKEN CARE OF HER SO HE CAN FALL IN LOVE WITH NIHAL INSTEAD. Seriously? Who acts like that?

Her behavior becomes more and more abhorrent as the book continues. I have never had such a hard time trying to connect with a character as I did with Nihal. By the second half of the book, she was being utterly cruel to everyone who took an interest in her.

On top of her attitude is the fact that she is written as a "God-Character". I guess I could say she's a Mary Sue instead, but her traits aren't quite "Mary-Sue" enough in my opinion and instead she fits into that mold for role play characters where the character can do absolutely anything and always wins.

Somehow Nihal is the strongest fighter ever, despite not having any official training for the longest time and then when she does it's like once a month for a couple of years. She defeats ten warriors in a row who have all had serious weapons training. She's oh so talented and can overcome anything that's her way.

There is also an issue with the writing being contradictory with itself. Within one page Fen is described as being very predictable with his moves and then it goes on to say how enjoyable the fight was because Fen was unpredictable. Another time Nihal wakes up sees it's raining and the day is ruined and terrible, then a few pages later Nihal is looking at the rain outside and waxing about how much she loves it because it cleans the world.

Okay. I do have some praise now.

I really like the world that has been created here for the most part. I like the idea of the Tyrant and the different kingdoms, and I like their names. I like that there is an Overworld and an Underworld, I want to learn more about this.

I also enjoy Senner. Except for a bit in the very beginning where he pretty much makes a fool out of Nihal for selfish reasons, I liked him as a character and as a point of view. If the writing improves I'd be able to keep reading the series if he was the main character instead of Nihal.

I.. can't say that do recommend this book to many people. I understand that it was pretty popular in Italy? Maybe it's much better written in the Italian version. Maybe for younger crowds who haven't read hundreds of Young Adult books like I have won't notice the faults that I did? The problem is that as it is now I wouldn't have even made it past the first few chapters reading it for free on fictionpress or some other online site. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Enchanted (Woodcutter Sisters #1)

Alethea Kontis

Publication Date: May 8th 2012

Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books

Pages: 308

Genre: Fairytale, Fantasy, Young Adult

It isn't easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past - and hers?
I have a hard time resisting a fairytale adaptation, this is a well known fact.

It's even harder for me to resist when more than one fairytale is woven into a story, as is the case with Enchanted. This book sets up as a retelling of the "Frog Prince" with the mention of a rhyme (the sisters' names) and the adventurous eldest brother, Jack, who is the hero of so many tales, but as since disappeared (assumed dead).

But, where the "Frog Prince" ends is where the real story begins.

What I really enjoyed about this tale the most is how simple and one-dimensional things started, only to watch the characters and plot develop and become something deeper, something more. Everything happened in this story for a reason, every scene, every character trait. I am impressed by how non-wasteful the writing is.

The characters are all unique, enjoyable and memorable. I had no trouble telling them apart while reading despite the amount of them (7 Sisters, 2 Brothers, Parents, Godmothers, Royalty...).

A couple of less than perfect things: Rumbold, our male protagonist, does seem to be quite a bit more developed than Sunday. I wish she had a bit more to her, but then again she's rather young and he's been through quite a bit more. The other thing is the romance. The fact that they fell in love over more than just one fairytale helped, but sometimes I felt like the two of them were a bit awkward about their reactions, especially Sunday.

I highly recommend this to lovers of fairytale adaptations. I also recommend it to lovers of good world building and layered storytelling. A warning I have is not to stop if things are too fluffy and simplistic at first, it gets complex, I swear.