Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review: The Beast Within by Serena Valentino

The Beast Within is a YA novel from Serena Valentino, which tells the story of how the Beast's curse, expanding on the timeless Disney story we all know and love. If the story isn't enough to lure bookworms in, the book itself is beautiful--the cover image shown here does not do it justice. I love having this one on my shelf!

Summary: A cursed prince sits alone in a secluded castle. Few have seen him, but those who claim they have say his hair is wild and nails are sharp--like a beast's! But how did this prince, once jovial and beloved by the people, come to be a reclusive and bitter monster? And is it possible that he can ever find true love and break the curse that has been placed upon him?

As a huge Beauty & the Beast fan, I adored this book. As the story explores the Prince's transformation into the Beast and his transformation back into a human, the content is darker than what you may expect. Bloodlust is a major factor here as the Beast's humanity struggles against his curse. We definitely don't get much of this in the Disney film!

Content-wise, this is a fairly clean read. Parents and educators can expect violence, Gaston's womanizing and drinking, and bloodlust. It is definitely a story for readers who have grown up loving the Disney classic. While I don't think this is for younger readers, there is nothing shocking or disturbing to be concerned about.

Quite simply, if you like Disney's Beauty & the Beast, you should definitely pick up a copy of The Beast Within. It's a beautifully written story that twists and expands on the beloved film. Well-worth the read!

4 Stars

You can also check out Maleficent by Elizabeth Rudnick (and make it a beautiful set on your shelf!)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Review: The One by Kiera Cass

Teen readers looking for a good romance/dystopian series will love Kiera Cass' Selection trilogy. The One is the final novel in the Cinderella-like rags to riches tale of true love. All three novels are a fast, easy read for reluctant and impatient readers. The series also features the elements of drama, danger, a love triangle, and a dystopian world on the brink of war. Basically, it's everything teens want to read, plus the added bonus of pretty dresses and princes.

Summary: The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of IllĂ©a, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen-and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

Maxon finally declares the winner of the Selection in The One, which from the beginning, we know will be America. Much like the Twilight series, we know who our protagonist will choose, but misunderstanding and bad choices form obstacles the characters must overcome to reach their happily ever after.

The ending includes a few surprising twists as war officially breaks out and a few main characters are killed off. So while all three novels circle around Maxon and America working out their issues so they can be together, The One delivers on a dramatic finale that makes their love story worth it for me.

As for content, this book does have a few intimate moments that would be considered inappropriate for younger readers. Cass does keep a PG-13 rating for her teen readers--Maxon and America never have sex and the violence isn't graphic. Other content flags include objectionable language, death and guns.

All in all, this is a great choice for teen readers. Kiera Cass has crafted a beautiful, light, fun, and sweet dystopian romance series that teen girls will love to return to again and again. I recommend this series to fans of Divergent, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.

3.5 Stars
The Selection                       The Elite 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Soman Chainani's The School for Good and Evil is a YA fantasy novel for fans of twisted fairy tales. Based on the anime style of the cover, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out darker, with more twists and turns than your typical fairy tale adventure. Chainani creates an imaginative story of good vs. evil, and explores what it means to be defined as a villain or a hero.

Summary: With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she'll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil. 

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie's dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are . . . ? 

The School for Good and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

The novel is written for readers ages 8-12, but I think it might appeal better to readers ages 10-14. Coming in at a whopping 496 pages, what this book needed most was a editor with a stronger hand. I work exclusively in the YA book market and I'm a HUGE fan of fractured fairy tales and shows like Once Upon a Time, but I struggled with this book. It's obvious early on where the story is going, but the road to get there is exhausting. There are many scenes peppered throughout of the characters musing on their situation, deciding on their feelings, and wishing for things to be different. Considering how soon the author drops obvious hints about who is good and who is evil, it took far too long (and too much whining and reluctance from the characters!) to get there.

Parents/educators should know that there is some content  to be wary of, including violence, potentially frightening scenes, objectionable language, and mature themes like love, child abduction, and death.

Sadly, this book was a disappointment for me. It lost a lot of its merit with its pace and wealth of unnecessary scenes. However, it does have quite a few positive critical reviews! I can attest to the fact that the book is well-written and the concept is a really good one, but it was a frustrating and exhausting read at times. Sadly, this fairy tale story did not enchant me.

2 Stars

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana is a moving and memorable middle grade novel that centres on one young girl's survival through one of the world's worst natural disasters. I loved everything about this book, from its realistic main character, to the moments that broke my heart, to the exploration of the bonds of family and community in times of emergency.

Summary: Armani Curtis can think about only one thing: her tenth birthday. All her friends are coming to her party, her mama is making a big cake, and she has a good feeling about a certain wrapped box. Turning ten is a big deal to Armani. It means she’s older, wiser, more responsible. But when Hurricane Katrina hits the Lower Nines of New Orleans, Armani realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family weather the storm. A powerful story of courage and survival, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere celebrates the miraculous power of hope and love in the face of the unthinkable.

Armani wants nothing more to grow up, but growing up means having to deal with grown-up things that no person adult (or child) should ever have to face. Her house floods, she loses several members of her family, she is partly at fault for her family failing to evacuate, and she watches everything--her home, her town, her community--destroyed. From the sights, smells, and sounds of suffering and destruction, to the happy ending that leaves you with hope, this is a powerful story about one little girl's bravery, strength, and heroic perseverance through unimaginable tragedy. 

There is some mature content for teachers and educators to consider from language to mature themes of death and loss. Armani loses many people she loves, including half her family, and these deaths may be upsetting to younger readers. However, Lamana's writing is eloquent, purposeful, and ringed with fact and honesty. Any content that might be objectionable to sensitive younger readers is not present for shock value, but it is a sincere effort to help the reader understand what people actually lived through.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is a beautiful and unforgettable novel, and it has definitely earned its place on my favourites shelf! I truly believe that this is one of the best pieces of fiction for young readers on the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys inspiring stories or survival tales. 

4 Stars

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Review: William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

The title alone was enough to make my reading list come to a grinding halt. I had to have this book. I don't consider myself a big Star Wars fan, but throw William Shakespeare into the mix, and this book becomes a must-read. And no surprise, I loved it! 

Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope is reimagined in the language of the bard, incorporating key passages from some of Shakespeare's most well-known plays including HamletMacbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, As You Like It, Richard III, Julius Caesar, and various sonnets.

Summary: Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearstome stormtroopers, signifying...pretty much everything.

What I love most about this book is its potential to help young adult readers with Shakespeare. The Shakespearean unit has garnered a reputation as being extremely difficult, so much so that it's become a type of mental block for students; I was the same way! Even the name Shakespeare was intimidating at that age.

But most kids have seen, or at least heard of, Star Wars. They know about the Force. They know Darth Vader. Heck, they may have even heard iconic lines such as "These aren't the droids you're looking for" and "Han shot first!" If kids understand, are amused by, and are interested in the plot, they aren't held back by language. This novel is an extraordinary tool for teachers and parents to help students with the Shakespearean unit by providing a fun and well-written introduction to the language, iambic pentameter, and to several plays and sonnets! 

Star Wars in Shakespearean language is witty, fun, and fantastic. Elizabethan-style drawings of key scenes are an added bonus throughout the text. My favourite moment was a little joke for Star Wars fans after Han shoots Greedo: "[Aside] And whether I shot first, I'll ne'er confess!"

William Shakespeare's Star Wars is a must-have for home and classroom libraries! Ian Doescher has done something extraordinary and his bridging of two timeless properties is certainly something to be celebrated!

This book was published by Quirk Books in July 2013, and is available wherever books are sold. You can check out the hilarious book trailer below!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where She Went is the sequel to Gayle Forman's touching YA novel, If I Stay. I'll admit I was hesitant to read the sequel. What if it ruined everything I loved about If I Stay? How could the story even go on? But I'm so glad I finally decided to give it a chance. But Gayle Forman has written something beautiful to follow up to Mia and Adam's story; something that every teen who has ever felt pain and heartbreak and loss will be able to appreciate. And those who haven't will still feel the power of this tearjerker. 

Summary: Picking up several years after the dramatic conclusion of If I Stay, Where She Went continues the story of Adam and Mia, from Adam's point of view. Ever since Mia's decision to stay - but not with him - Adam's career has been on a wonderful trajectory. His album, borne from the anguish and pain of their breakup, has made him a bona fide star. And Mia herself has become a top-rate cellist, playing in some of the finest venues in the world. When their respective paths put them both in New York City at the same time, the result is a single night in which the two reunite - with wholly satisfying results.

This is a novel about fate and of what's meant to be. It's a story about loss, learning to cope, moving on and, of course, of true love. Adam and Mia's story does end with this novel and you won't be disappointed. In fact, you'll be hooked on every word as Adam and Mia are unexpectedly reunited in a moment of fate and are given a second chance to fix the massive rift between them.

Teachers and educators: Where She Went contains several content warnings including: swearing, sexual situations, and mature content. Before adding this novel to your classroom, you should be aware of the darker subject matter than that of If I Stay. However, the content is handled with purpose and care. Adam's fallout after the accident allows readers to explore tough issues such as psychological trauma, depression, unhealthy relationships, and anxiety.

Gayle Forman is an incredibly talented author. Her duet of novels are unforgettable and will resonate with teen readers everywhere. I loved both of these books and consider this YA series to be one of the best available to teen readers today. 

4 Stars

You can check out my review of If I Stay by clicking here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Review: Grimmtastic Girls #4: Rapunzel Cuts Loose by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

I love this series so much! Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams are the authors behind the popular Goddess Girls series and have brought their charm and talent to writing stories about fairy tales! 

Grimmtastic Girls is a series written for readers aged 8-12, who love fantasy, fairy tales, mystery, and adventure! The story is set at Grimm Academy, where most of our beloved heroes are students or teachers, and the iconic villains we love to hate are lurking within the school borders. The series is very age-appropriate and centres on four best friends: Cinda, Snow, Red, and Rapunzelall of whom who are positive role models for readers in many ways!

Summary:  Rapunzel's magical fast-growing hair can be a nuisance, especially when an accidents gives it magical powers she can't control! But Rapunzel can't let her grimmiserable hair woes distract her — she and her friends, Cinda, Red, and Snow are trying to save Grimm Academy from the E.V.I.L. Society. Once Rapunzel tracks down her magic charm, she won't let a bad hair day get in the way of stopping E.V.I.L.!

While I haven't yet read Snow White's story, this book is the darkest yet. Rapunzel's villain (the witch who wants to lock her in her infamous tower) kidnaps her pet cat (the cat is released unharmed), immobilizes the girls in vines, and there's a VAGUELY chilling scene where the man behind the EVIL Society makes his first appearance. Nothing in the book is frightening or disturbing per se, but there was some real zing to the plot that I hadn't seen in books one and two.

It's notable that the series is aimed at female readers who, like Rapunzel and her friends, are beginning to realize their romantic feelings for boys. Fortunately, this series encourages readers to develop healthy attitudes about self-esteem and self-worth (girl power!). When Prince Perfect reveals he doesn't find Rapunzel pretty with short hair, she coolly tells him he's being shallow and superficial, and then shrugs it off and moves on, recognizing this boy isn't worth her time. Love the positive life lessons for impressionable preteens!

This is a charming series for readers who like girly, happily-ever-afters. A light and easy read for those new to chapter books, this series is a great choice for educators, too. Readers are exposed to a wealth of folklore, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and literary figures. There are plenty of opportunities for discussion and further reading! 

4 Stars

This book will be released on October 1, 2014! 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Review: The Iron Trial: Book 1 of the Magisterium by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Calling all Potterheads!

Clear off the books stacked on your bedside table. The next book you NEED to read is The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, published by Scholastic Inc. While the book is targeted for readers ages 8-12, much like the Harry Potter series, it is one that people of all ages can enjoy. It's a timeless story of strength, growing up, identity, and of course, magic, fantasy, danger, and darkness. 

Summary: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. 

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst — and fails at failing. 

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and sometimes I had to repress my ridiculous loyalty to Potter whenever I found plot comparisons. And there are many. But I also appreciate the book for its differences, and for the world that Black and Clare have created. This is a well-written story, especially due to the fact that it's impossible to tell it was written by two people. Clare and Black are powerhouse YA authors in their own right. Together, they have given young readers an extraordinary fantasy novel to be enjoyed again and again. 

Magic. Danger. Secrets. A shocking twist. Murder. There's nothing NOT to love about this book. You can revisit your love of Potter and magic with this book. It's exciting, action-packed, and quite addictive. It's certainly one of the best YA novels out there right now. 

Check out Scholastic' The Iron Trial series page for games, extras, and more content!

4 Stars

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Review: A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius by Stacey Matson

A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius is possibly one of Scholastic Canada's best in recent years. Written for readers ages 10-14, this wonderful novel is told from the point-of-view of a young boy who struggles with a wide range of typical middle school problems, including girls, grades, and bullies. The entire story is told through Arthur's emails, letters, journal entries, assignments, and drawings. This is an easy, enjoyable, and fast-paced read with a charming main character and an endearing story.

Summary: Arthur Bean, soon-to-be a rich and famous author, has set two goals for himself: to win the school writing contest and to win the heart of his secret crush, Kennedy. But his life has had some major twists and turns lately, and the recent loss of his mother definitely complicates things. Arthur is in turns outrageous, defiant, and unintentionally hilarious as we peek over his shoulder at his reading journals, notes from his long-suffering teachers, his offbeat articles for the school newspaper — even the emails he sends to writing partner Kennedy. A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius is a fresh and funny story about a boy whose bad luck can't dampen his spirit — or his love of writing.

Arthur is witty, honest, and sometimes a little too bold. He makes plenty of mistakes, including taking claim of another boy's story for the writing competition. The reason for such an error?: pride, procrastination, and Arthur's having yet to come to terms with recent loss of his mother. Despite his faults, the reader will root for Arthur, but also reflect on his choices, behaviour, and his struggles at school. A big plus for teachers: Arthur's actions make for great classroom discussion on plagiarism, bullying, and more!

There is very little content to concern parents and educators. Arthur is bullied by a classmate, but it's made obvious that Arthur is also not an innocent party. Getting along is a two-person job! One great life lesson to take away is that you don't know what other people are going through. Arthur learns that his bully is mean partly because of what's going on in his life. When the boys admit to their own personal problems, they realize they have quite a lot in common after all.

Overall, this book is well-worth the read and is a great addition to classroom and personal libraries. Arthur's middle school woes are felt by every child at one point or another, and although his faults get him into some trouble, his intentions, heart, and spirit make him an admirable and memorable character for young readers. Funny and witty, Stacey Matson's novel is a great choice for readers who enjoy books such as Jeffrey Brown's Jedi Academy, Lincoln Peirce's Big Nate books, or L. Pichon's Tom Gates series.

4 Stars

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Review: Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman

Is It Night or Day? is a beautifully written and touching story for YA readers set during World War II. Fern Schumer Chapman tells mother's story of how she was sent to America by her parents to have her best chance at life. This novel is an excellent choice for students studying World War II, particularly because it brings to life America's One Thousand Children project; a virtually unheard of, but heroic and extraordinary humanitarian effort to save German children during the Nazi regime.

Summary: It’s 1938, and twelve-year-old Edith is about to move from the tiny German village she’s lived in all her life to a place that seems as foreign as the moon: Chicago, Illinois. And she will be doing it alone. This dramatic and chilling novel about one girl’s escape from Hitler’s Germany was inspired by the experiences of the author’s mother, one of twelve hundred children rescued by Americans as part of the One Thousand Children project. 

Edith's story, like all wartime stories, is tragic. But the story is told through the eyes of a little girl with hope, strength, and an inspiring resilience. The language and content is clean, though the novel does mention suicide. Edith's mother becomes depressed early in the novel and is caught by Edith stringing a rope in the attic. Ultimately, this is not how her mother dies, but this moment in the plot is a notable content flag.

Is It Night or Day? offers readers a unique view into the effects of the war on German and Jewish people. I very much enjoyed reading this novel and recommend it for both educational and personal uses. My copy of the book includes bonus material, including a discussion guide and a real story of how Edith and another emigrant child are reunited after the novel was published.

4 Stars

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson

Steven Arntson's The Wrap-Up List is a sweet story about a girl whose life is coming to a tragic early end. Set in a world on the verge of war, this is a place where Death selects people at random, accounting for a small percent of fatalities. An interesting concept to say the least, but what I really like about The Wrap-Up List is its diverse cast of characters and inclusion of sensitive subjects into a modern story of friendships, family, kindness, and acceptance. 

Summary: In this modern-day suburban town, one percent of all fatalities come about in the most peculiar way. Deaths—eight-foot-tall, silver-gray creatures—send a letter (“Dear So-and-So, your days are numbered”) to whomever is chosen for a departure, telling them to wrap up their lives and do the things they always wanted to do before they have to “depart.” When sixteen-year-old Gabriela receives her notice, she is, of course devastated. Will she kiss her crush Sylvester before it’s too late? Friendship, first love, and fantasy artfully mesh in this magically realistic world that ultimately celebrates life. 

Although the book is about death and dying, the book isn't heavy-hearted or tragic. Gabriela's story focuses on the celebration of life in the now, in accomplishing her wrap-up list, and largely helping others to find love, happiness, and hope regardless of whether or not she earns a Pardon from Death.

However it is the characters that interested me most. Gabriela learns her best friend is gay and feeling confused, speaks to her priest about it. The priest tells Gabriela that it is less offensive to God for a woman to be gay than it is for a man. And while my hackles were raised at these archaic opinions, Gabriela's definitive decision that her priest was wrong suddenly changed everything. Well done, Steven Arntson. Thank you for having a modern teen disagree with such an outrageously offensive statement.

Other sensitive subjects include racism (Gabriela has never met her mother's parents as they shunned their own daughter for marrying a Mexican man), and the book's heavy use of religion. Gabriela attends Mass, prays, and God comes up quite often. 

Although some of the content may be objectionable for some parents or educators, I quite enjoyed the story. It was refreshing to see sexuality, religion, race, etc. all bound up in a story about life and death. Gabriela's "wrap-up list" is enormously generous to others and her choices and actions are self-sacrificing, brave, and kind. In the end, there is only kindness, love, and generosity. 

This is a great novel for middle grade readers and an excellent choice to spark some discussion about character, the world, and the nature of life, death, and the afterlife. 

3.5 Stars

Monday, 11 August 2014

Review: A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey

From the author of The Last Dragon Chronicles comes a new middle grade fantasy series. Chris D'Lacey's Ufiles #1: A Dark Inheritance was published by Scholastic on June 1, 2014.

Summary: When Michael Malone discovers his supernatural ability to alter reality, he is recruited by an organization dedicated to investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. He joins in hopes of finding his father, who mysteriously vanished three years earlier. 

Michael's first task is to solve the mystery of a dog he rescued from a precarious clifftop — a mystery that leads him to a strange and sickly classmate and a young girl who was killed in a devastating accident. Stakes are high as Michael learns to harness his newfound ability and uncover the deadly truth about his father's disappearance. 

This new action-adventure series will appeal to a wide range of readers. Chris D'Lacey writes a captivating story of a boy who possesses an extraordinary, but dark talent, who is unexpectedly dragged into a chilling mystery. Don't be dissuaded by the book's use of the word "UNICORNE" as I originally was. I can assure you there's nothing frilly or girly about this story. There are zero unicorns running around in the story. 

I liked this book more than I expected I would. The synopsis seemed interesting enough, but the summary doesn't really do it justice and I don't like to fill my reviews with spoilers about all the twisted, cool, exciting, and suspenseful moments that kept my eyes glued to the page. Bestselling author Chris D'Lacey hasn't let us down yet! The book is a fast-read with a great fantasy hook for readers like me who don't particularly like mysteries or feeling nervous when I read. 

A Dark Inheritance is a well-written and captivating story that will keep you guessing throughout. I'd recommend this one for pre-teen boy readers who enjoy fantasy/adventure novels and who can handle a more mature middle grade read. A great back-to-school choice to get kids away from the TV and back into reading!

3.5 Stars

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

35 Girls. 1 Crown. The Competition of a Lifetime. 

Kiera Cass' The Selection series is a romance/drama/fairy tale story with a reality show premise. The first book is called The Selection and was published in 2012 by HarperTeen. Aimed at teen readers, this three book series now has a companion novel and is sure to charm teen fans who like a girly romance that will unconditionally end with a happily ever after.

Summary: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. 

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks. 

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I'm not particularly fond of America Singer, but the colourful cast of girls and handsome Prince Maxon make up for America's sometimes irritating quirks. Regardless, the books are a bit of delicious treat. An easy, no-stress read of an average girl who is given the chance to marry Prince Charming. The premise of the series is an interesting one—it's why The Bachelor still thrives on TV!

I flew through the first two novels and am about to start on the third. It's not my favourite series, but Kiera Cass is a fantastic author who appeals to teen girl readers who love a good love triangle and a match-up of a girl who could be you, who ends up marrying the perfect guy. As a YA fan, this is more of a guilty pleasure for me and my dislike of the heroine pulls down my overall rating. However, I can certainly attest to the fact that preteens who like this type of story will enjoy this series!

A well-written series choice for teens!

3 Stars

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Review: Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

It was a long wait for Veronica Roth's Four but I feel like it was worth it. This collection of short stories gives you a little more insight into Four's character, the Dauntless compound, and other characters such as Tori and Eric.

Summary: Two years before Beatrice Prior made her choice, the sixteen-year-old son of Abnegation’s faction leader did the same. Tobias’s transfer to Dauntless is a chance to begin again. Here, he will not be called the name his parents gave him. Here, he will not let fear turn him into a cowering child. 

Newly christened “Four,” he discovers during initiation that he will succeed in Dauntless. Initiation is only the beginning, though...

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth comes a companion volume to the worldwide bestselling divergent series, told from the per-spective of the immensely popular character Tobias. The four pieces included here—The Transfer, The Initiate, The Son, and The Traitor—plus three additional exclusive scenes, give readers an electrifying glimpse into the history and heart of Tobias, and set the stage for the epic saga of the Divergent trilogy.

Simply put, if you enjoyed Divergent, you will enjoy Four. It gives you some background into Tobias' life before Tris and allows you to appreciate and understand his character a little more. My personal favourite of the short stories is the one where Tobias rescues Tris from being thrown into the chasm. I enjoyed reading about their relationship from his point-of-view.

Like the rest of the series, it is a book for teen readers. It contains references to drinking, tattoos, danger-seeking thrills, violence, and romantic relationships. However, there is nothing graphic or disturbing and Roth handles mature content in a way that is appropriate and purposeful for her YA audience.

This isn't a book that needs a lot of publicity. If you like the series, you'll automatically want to read this one. I was excited to read it and for what it was, my expectations are satisfied. It's thrilling simply because Veronica Roth gives you more, but it was nothing special in considerations of writing style, plot, or characters. All in all, a decent read!

3 Stars

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Review: The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein

Lauren Grodstein's The Explanation for Everything is a beautifully-written story, intertwining the opposing ends of the belief spectrum: science and religion. Through its colourful characters and its exploration of the astounding power of belief to empower or even undo us, Grodstein has crafted a fantastic tale of love, loss, and above all, life. 

Summary: College professor Andy Waite is picking up the pieces of a shattered life. Between his research in evolutionary biology and caring for his young daughters, his days are reassuringly safe, if a bit lonely. But when Melissa Potter—charismatic, unpredictable, and devout—asks him to advise her study of intelligent design, he agrees. Suddenly, the world that Andy has fought to rebuild is rocked to its foundations.

Three characters stray from their own frustratingly certain beliefs, finding either science or God leaking through their reason. I enjoyed seeing how the unknown crept up between science and religion, further spurring the endless debate between evolution and creationism. Simply put, there is no explanation for everything. The world isn't black and white. And perhaps for the time being, that this is the explanation for everything. Maybe the best way is to accept both, or at least, keep an open mind when it comes to the unknown. 

This is a very moving story of human values and belief. Andy is a troubled character who engages in an affair with one of his students, who is haunted by his wife's loss, who struggles with his own beliefs. This is a story of finding and losing god, but more importantly, of finding and losing yourself.

Despite the heavy subject matter of science vs. a creator, the book doesn't preach either side, but rather exposes the readers to both as Andy slowly accepts God into his strictly-science world. The Explanation for Everything is an intelligent, charming, and memorable novel for adults. Regardless of your own beliefs, this is a fantastic novel from Algonquin books.

4 Stars

I received a copy of The Explanation for Everything from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Thank you to LibraryThing and to Algonquin Books for this exquisite read!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman will easily be the next great YA page-to-screen adaption. It will have you reaching for the tissues and will have you desperate to talk to others about this book. It is a beautiful story about life and death, about family, love, and about making a seemingly impossible choice. 

Summary: In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, this will change the way you look at life, love, and family. Now a major motion picture starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.

I’m giving this novel 5 stars. I loved it, and I have nothing bad to say about If I Stay. Gayle Forman is incredibly talented writer, crafting a story that is both moving and memorable. It is impossible not to think about the burden of Mia’s choice, and to consider whether or not you would be strong enough to choose. It is a terrible tragedy to think about, but as Forman points out, there is always hope and happiness to be found in life. You just have to be brave enough to want it. Dying is easy—life is hard. 

The story is told in alternating flashbacks in Mia’s life with her family, friends, and her boyfriend. It’s impossible not to lose yourself in the ups and downs of life and to recognize your own problems and worries in Mia’s life before the crash. For a novel that is about choosing to live or die, If I Stay is a surprisingly balanced read. This is an emotional read, but you don’t spend the novel fighting back tears. It’s about far more than the tragedy of the choice. 

Aimed at readers 14 & up, If I Stay is officially one of my favourite YA novels. Unfortunately, it is difficult to put down, which may result in reading this book in public places—which means awkwardly crying on public transit through the final pages of the book. Luckily I had sunglasses on me. Add If I Stay by Gayle Forman to the top of your to-read pile. The movie will be out August 22nd, and you can watch the trailer below! 

5 Stars

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Review: Millhouse by Natale Ghent

Tundra Books has yet to send me something I haven't loved!

Millhouse is a charming children's story about a peculiar, yet loveable hairless guinea pig, whose looks and interests make him the target of mockery in the pet store where he lives. Milly is an optimist who continues to hope for the day that someone will love him for who he is. 

Readers will certainly emphasize with this "ugly duckling" character. Milly's eccentricity paired with his deep love for the arts, his gentle soul, and optimism make him an irresistible hero. 

Summary: Millhouse is a faint-hearted, hairless guinea pig. A great lover of all things theatrical, most especially the work of William Shakespeare, Milly longs for the limelight and someone to love. However, after the death of his beloved owner, the great actor Sir Roderick Lord Kingswagger, Millhouse is abandoned to a neglected and dusty pet shop filled with other rodents -- some rude, some odd, some cute and some downright frightening. Finding himself a reviled outcast and a target of the nasty Pepper Brown ferret, Millhouse sets about trying to find a way back to the theater and a happy home, and in doing so experiences more drama than he could ever have imagined.                                      Google image. I do not own this picture.

Millhouse makes for great bedtime reading for older children, but the use of illustrations every few pages can open this story up to slightly younger children, too. This book is recommended for readers ages 
7-10, but Natale Ghent's writing channels beloved children's classics, making this book a perfect and timeless addition to any bookshelf.

Comparable titles include Watership Down and Charlotte's Web. Animal lovers will adore this story, and all kids can relate to Milly's feelings of alienation, of being teased, and of feeling lonely. But everyone has something in them that makes them extraordinary, and Milly teaches young readers that one day the world will see you for who you are. You just have to be brave enough to show them!

A beautiful and slightly heartbreaking story of hope, acceptance, kindness, courage, and bravery. Parents, librarians, educators: there's no content to be wary of, and nothing NOT to love! 

I'll never look at a hairless guinea pig the same way again!

4 Stars

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Review: Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Bethany Wiggins' teen dystopian thriller is currently doing fairly well in the U.S. book market, and I can see why. Stung has it all: romance, danger, horror, some elements of fantasy, and an adrenaline-rush of a plot. Stung is aimed at teen readers, but be warned that there is a lot of content that may be inappropriate and/or disturbing to young readers.

Summary: Fiona doesn't remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered-her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighbourhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right wrist-a black oval with five marks on either side-that she doesn't remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. And she's right. When the honeybee population collapsed, a worldwide pandemic occurred and the government tried to bio-engineer a cure. Only the solution was deadlier than the original problem-the vaccination turned people into ferocious, deadly beasts who were branded as a warning to un-vaccinated survivors. Key people needed to rebuild society are protected from disease and beasts inside a fortress-like wall. But Fiona has awakened branded, alone-and on the wrong side of the wall...

While I can appreciate the gripping and suspenseful story, and while I do not consider myself a sensitive or easily offended reader, Stung did leave a bad taste in my mouth for the sole reason of the heroine's nickname.

Fiona, or Fo, is frequently (and affectionately) called Fotard. At first, I was confused and figured, that this is 2014. No way in hell would Wiggins use a word that is so uncomfortably close to the R-word. I was so convinced that this affectionate nickname couldn't possibly be a play on the R-word until someone else pointed it out. Glass shattered. This is disgusting.

People will always find something about a book that offends them. Some people still won't tolerate these subjects when they are handled in a way to encourage readers to consider real issues. Fine. But it's a problem when the subject matter adds NO value and serves no purpose. It could have easily been cut from the book. Moreover, Fo is already a weak heroine who needs a man at her side to pull her out of dangerous situations. Does she really need to be useless AND show terrible self-esteem by choosing a boyfriend who essentially calls her the R-word? Fiona is officially worse than Bella Swan for setting an example for teen girls.

Moving on...

I did like how Wiggins explores the theme of gender in that it doesn't have to be strictly male and female. This was an interesting theme that played out through the character of Arrin. Arrin is a boy, pretending to be a girl, who is pretending to be a boy. In the end, the mystery of Arrin's gender is moot. Looks can be deceiving, and anyone can be a murderous lunatic.

Overall, the story is thrilling, and there's plenty of action, violence, and disturbing scenes to interest readers who aren't in it for the love story. I'm only giving Stung three stars, because while I can appreciate this book for all its positives, between Fo's nickname and the sad fact that there is not one admirable female character in this male-dominated society of violence, rape, and insanity, I'm tempted to rate it lower.

I will be reading the sequel, Cured, and I'm interested to read anything else by Bethany Wiggins. She's a talented writer and deserves the acclaim she's getting with her highly anticipated Stung novels.

3 Stars

Monday, 16 June 2014

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Ally Condie's Matched is yet another YA dystopian novel for readers looking for another book to cure their Hunger Games hangover. It is a love story set in a society where young girls and boys are matched by "the system." And, of course, this young girl is different from the rest of society. She doesn't fit in the system and her wrong choice will mark her as a threat that must be eliminated.

Summary: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. 

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Matched is the first book in Condie's trilogy and it is a New York Times bestseller. It will do well with teens who like love triangles and love story filled with difficult choices. However, Matched has less adult-crossover appeal than other YA books. It was a light and easy read about following your heart and falling in love, but if the love story doesn't hook you, you likely won't enjoy it. 

Personally, I don't like Cassia and I think her feelings for Ky make her rather shallow. She acts every bit the seventeen-year-old girl that she is and compared to other dystopian YA heroines, she's less impressive. Cassia hates the system, but she's still technically inside the system by choosing Ky over Xander. A true act of rebellion (and a more interesting story) would have been where Cassia falls in love with someone she didn't see on the screen. 

And more than that, why can't she fall for Xander? A case wasn't made for why Xander isn't the right choice for her. Xander's characterization makes him the ideal match, but because he's the system's choice, Cassia won't pick him. I'd argue that she's simply at an age where the bad boy is more appealing than the right boy. Essentially, I felt the story was driven more by teen hormones than anything else. And I'm old enough to see that Cassia's treatment of Xander makes her not worthy of either boy's affection. But again, I'm an adult reading a book that was written for a younger audience.

Ally Condie brings a unique twist to the extensive variety of YA dystopian novels out there. Parents, librarians and educators will appreciate that this is a "clean read" for those who like the dystopian genre, but who read more for the love story. I'm not dying to read the next two books, but I am curious to see where the story goes in Crossed and Reached.

3 Stars

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

If you haven't heard of Maggie Stiefvater, welcome out from under the rock where you've been living.

While I love Maggie and I'm ALWAYS recommending her as a go-to fantasy/YA author, I'm not her biggest fan. Don't get me wrong: all her books are good. However, Lament and The Dream Thieves were a little TOO "teen" and fantastical for my taste. I was also more than a little disappointed with Linger when *** SPOILER ALERT *** Grace turned into a wolf. So when I say that Sinner is riveting, addictive, and beautifully written, you know that I'm genuinely praising this novel and Maggie for the exceptional author she is.

Cole St. Clair has come to California for one reason: to get Isabel Culpeper back. She fled from his damaged, drained life, and damaged and drained it even more. He doesn't just want her. He needs her. 

Isabel is trying to build herself a life in Los Angeles. It's not really working. She can play the game as well as all the other fakes. But what's the point? What is there to win? 

Cole and Isabel share a past that never seemed to have a future. They have the power to love each other and the power to tear each other apart. The only thing for certain is that they cannot let go.

While it is a companion novel to the Shiver trilogy, Sinner is strictly about Cole and Isabel. This is a love story about falling for the bad boy, about overcoming life's obstacles, and taking risks for love—and when you're in love with a rock star like Cole, who turns into a werewolf to escape his human problems, there are many risks. 

Sinner is the perfect summer novel for fans of supernatural romance. New readers can step into the series here as you don't have to have read Shiver to enjoy Sinner. Cole is unpredictable, funny, and sexy, with an undeniable magnetism, complete with fatal flaws and irresistible heartbreaker charm. 

Cole and Isabel each have their own personal obstacles to face, along with everything it is to be a teenager in love. Isabel and Cole are like fire and ice, but together, they balance each other. There's several make out scenes and sex is mentioned, but the book is aimed at readers ages 13 & up and therefore it is certainly not graphic (no more than Twilight: Breaking Dawn). 

Sinner is everything I wanted in a companion novel and more. I really like the Shiver trilogy, but I love Sinner. It offers exactly the kind of sexy, addictive, and exciting story the reader has craved since meeting Cole St. Clair in the Shiver trilogy. Maggie Stiefvater continues to deliver YA books that are gripping, full of danger, magic, and mystery, and that are populated by characters who continue to exist long after you've closed the book. 

This must-read novel is available now!

4 Stars

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Review: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

One book that's getting a lot of buzz right now that I couldn't resist reading is Danielle Paige's Dorothy Must Die. And while I've never read or had any interest in Pride, Prejudice and Zombies or any comparative titles, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It's still a great novel and I definitely recommend it for a fun weekend read!

Summary: I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know? Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road—but even that's crumbling. What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe. My name is Amy Gumm—and I'm the other girl from Kansas. I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I've been trained to fight. And I have a mission.

Be warned that while it is categorized as YA fiction, it reads more on the adult side. Graphic violence, extreme language, death, sexual references, and disturbing scenes are peppered throughout the text. It's not slasher/horror fiction, and all of these things are used effectively, but younger readers may find some scenes frightening.

This book has sass, humour, action, suspense, a kick-ass heroine, and a fantastic satiric quality about it. I liked that this is a story where the lines of good and evil are blurred and we get to see characters in a new light, with a different ending to the story. Of course there's also a very bloodthirsty and fearless lion, a scarecrow whose thirst for knowledge has warped him into a psychopath on Leatherface's level, and a Tin woodman who would do anythingand kill anyone—to earn Dorothy's love. It's what happens when power, courage, knowledge, and love can turn you into something... wicked.

This a fun summer read for teens and young adults alike, though the book will really appeal and be appreciated by those who have read Frank L. Baum's original books. Dorothy's past and present, Ozma, Jellia Jam, and the transformation of Oz itself won't mean as much to you otherwise.

Dorothy Must Die already has a prequel novella, and I'll definitely be picking up a copy of the sequel when it comes out! You can check out the book trailer below!

3.5 Stars

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Review: The One & Only by Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin's long-awaited seventh novel is FINALLY here. The One & Only explores love in all its forms: loving the wrong person, loving the right person, loving your job, loving your family, loving your friends, and learning to love yourself.

Let me just preface this review by saying that I love Emily Giffin and I whole-heartedly agree with this review about Emily:

“A modern day Jane Austen.” — Cincinnati Enquirer.

I loved her books before she was popular and I frequently recommend them to my friends. Her books are charming, well-written, and easy to sink into. I'd even say that her books are cathartic! Better yet, she's truly talented; she doesn't need to write sex to sell books. She writes romance with substance, filled with relatable, memorable characters and masterfully writing the moments that make us ache, and smile, and laugh.

But sadly, The Only & Only did not stand up to her other books. Not even close. And it wasn't just that it's about a woman who falls in love with a man who is twenty years older... who is also her best friend's father... and a man who JUST lost his wife. It's because Shea is a painful protagonist to deal with. She's weak-willed, foolish, selfish, and a bad friend. She doesn't seem to know what she wants for herself in life, and she's never willing to think about the future in much detail. I found myself reading desperately through the book, hoping she wouldn't end up falling for her friend's father. But in the end, Lucy's deep, moral (and RATIONAL) beliefs actually meant nothing at all. Lucy very suddenly gives her friend her blessing, cuing the happily-ever-after for the reader. Ugh.

Emily's stories are so powerful BECAUSE of the realistic qualitiy to her books, specifically her characters. She is really good at writing about love, loss, and everything in between. But the relationship between Coach Carr and Shea doesn't feel real anymore than it feels right. A REAL happy ending (and a redeemable one at that) would have had Shea end up alone and starting fresh, dealing with her own personal issues and figure out how to love herself. THAT'S a happy ending!

I'm heartbroken to give such a low rating to one of my favourite authors. Emily Giffin is extraordinary and I'm looking forward to an eighth book from this talented author. But this story about a small-town girl with Daddy issues is something I'd like to forget.

2.5 Stars

Friday, 16 May 2014

Review: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Take a Bow is my third Elizabeth Eulberg novel and it will certainly not be my last. I recommend Elizabeth Eulberg's books to anyone looking for quality teen chick lit or for a sweet summer read. Eulberg is an incredibly talented author whose stories combine social issues, romance, friendships, and drama for a charming, yet addictive story that comes with a satisfying happily ever after. 

Summary: Chasing fame. Chasing love. Chasing a future. Emme has long lived in her best friend Sophie's shadow. She writes songs, and Sophie sings them. It's always been like this, and feels like it always will be. Sophie will stop at nothing to be a star. Even if it means using her best friend and picking up a trophy boyfriend, Carter. Carter is a victim of a particular Hollywood curse: He's a former child star. Now all he wants is a normal life. But being normal is about as hard for him as being famous. Ethan has his own issues — a darkness in his head that he just can't shake. He's managed to sabotage every relationship he's ever been in. Emme's the only girl he's ever really respected . . . but he's not sure what to do about that.

Take a Bow is told from the point of view of four characters who attend a highly competitive arts school. There's plenty of struggling to find one's identity, but there's also a slightly painful, but delicious 'unrequited love' dynamic that's built up throughout the novel. Be warned that this book may disrupt your life. I had a hard time putting it down towards the end as I needed to know if Emme and Ethan would end up together, if Carter will finally be able to do what he wants, and if Sophie will get what she deserves. 

I love that Take a Bow features musically talented characters with realistic musical ambitions. It's not a book about a group of teens who form a doomed rock band. It takes a look at all the hard work required of a student perusing a career in music, at ambition, and at what it takes to make or break your dreams for the future. Moreover, teens can relate to the pressures of being accepted into post-secondary education, and about the fears about the future that accompany the end of one's high school career. 

Take a Bow is a charming, heartfelt, and surprisingly powerful story that could only come from the brilliant writing of Elizabeth Eulberg. Elizabeth Eulberg is my go-to recommendation for YA novels for girls, and one of the top chick lit authors for girls ages 13 & up. 

4 Stars 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Runaway King is the sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince  — and the second book in the wildly popular Ascendance Trilogy. Aimed at readers ages 10-14, I've heard lots of great reviews, including positive feedback from teachers who read The False Prince with their class and due to the insistence of the students, ended up reading the entire trilogy! Kids love it. It's that good! 

Summary: Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumours of a coming war have spread through the castle and Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom? 

I truly believe Nielsen proves her talent as a writer with this book. It topped The False Prince in every way. You can just feel Nielsen's love and belief in the story, and the result is a much more powerful and well-written book.

Jaron's adventures in The Runaway King are action-packed, extremely thrilling, and full of wit, daring, and danger. For most of the novel, readers will remain on their edge of their seats. Good luck to teachers sticking to a strict reading schedule. I had trouble setting this book down. I'd hate to face a classroom full of kids eager for more when Jaron is duelling pirates or rescuing friends from certain doom.

My only criticism is the same as what it was for The False Prince. I struggle a little with the believability of Jaron's resilience and abilities. I do realize that I am an adult reader and this fictional story requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. But sometimes, Jaron's survival, his ability to conquer his enemies, and his ability to escape any means of confinement borders on the ridiculous. Nevertheless, young readers will love the action and suspense. Jaron's character is incredibly stubborn, impulsive, and a little reckless, which makes him interesting and exciting. 

The False Prince is great. The Runaway King is even better! Jennifer A. Nielsen belongs in the hall of fame of "medieval"/fantasy/adventure writers like George RR Martin and Christopher Paolini. The Runaway King will leave you breathless. Thank god I read it after the release of The Shadow Throne. I don't think I could have waited for the follow-up to this amazing middle grade novel!

4 Stars