Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Reess Brennan

Mae Crawford’s always thought of herself as in control, but in the last few weeks her life has changed. Her younger brother, Jamie, suddenly has magical powers, and she’s even more unsettled when she realizes that Gerald, the new leader of the Obsidian Circle, is trying to persuade Jamie to join the magicians. Even worse? Jamie hasn’t told Mae a thing about any of it. Mae turns to brothers Nick and Alan to help her rescue Jamie, but they are in danger from Gerald themselves because he wants to steal Nick’s powers. Will Mae be able to find a way to save everyone she cares about from the power-hungry magician’s carefully laid trap?

Note: This review references Demon’s Lexicon. I try to keep the big reveal a secret, but, proceed with caution if you have not read the first book. 

It took a very long time for me to finish Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan. I should note, however, that this doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good story.

I disliked the character of Mae in the first book - I found her little annoying. I know she was driven by her love for her brother, but she also accosted strangers and then practically threw herself at them and it seemed a little off. Unfortunately, Demon’s Covenant was written from Mae’s point of view. I was hoping I would gain insight into her character and thus, love her more, but that was not the case here and so the book dragged on for me.

Picking up where the Demon’s Lexicon left off, Demon’s Covenant finds Jaime acting strange, Nick and Alan’s relationship tense and Mae in the middle of boy trouble (something she manages to find with practically every male character in this book! Quite an accomplishment). We visit the familiar Goblin Market which is just as rich in it’s description and magic as in the first installation of the story. The Obsidian Circle and Gerald are back with the threat of a new mark that makes them even more powerful. Other familiar characters are back as well and we see a lot more interaction and relationship between Jaime, Mae and Annabel.

I’m not sure if this was because of Mae, however, I found that middle of the book dragged a bit. It seemed as though things were happening, but the plot was not moving forward. The ending, however, made up for what the middle lacked. Action-packed and with several heartwarming moments, I thought it was well executed. I kept thinking that Sarah was going to pull the rug out from under us - especially after the first book - and she did! While not on the same level as the ending of Demon’s Lexicon, (but let’s face it, who saw that end coming?) it came startlingly close and was every bit brilliant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher

Henry Grim is a servant boy at the Midsummer School—until he passes the elite Knightley Academy exam and suddenly finds himself one of the first commoners at the Academy, studying alongside the cleverest and bravest—and most arrogant—young aristocrats in the country. They thwart Henry’s efforts to become a full-fledged Knight of the Realm, but he and two commoner classmates are determined to succeed. In the process, the boys uncover a conspiracy that violates the Hundred Years’ Peace treaty—and could lead to war! Can Henry manage to save his school and country from their enemies—and continue to study at the Academy?

Henry Grimm is an orphan who works in the kitchens of a prestigious boarding school for boys. As a commoner, he is not allowed to take Knighley Academy entrance exam, but, after finding a loophole in the rules, he is admitted as the first commoner to Knightley Academy - a school for Knights. Knightley Academy follows Henry and his friends and the troubles and truimphs they experience during their first year at Knightley.

Initially, you might think that Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher, is just another Harry Potter knock-off. There’s an orphaned boy gaining access to a special school, who is mentored by adults who want him to succeed. A teacher who seems to dislike said boy on sight, a nemisis much like the pointed-chin Malfoy. Even the way the story is written is reminiscent of Harry Potter. However, that’s where the similarities end.

While the stories do share a lot of similar elements, they are not the same. The idea of a young, unfortunate boy finding out that he’s special in some way (or in this case, attending a special school), finding friends in unlikely places and over coming a difficult situation - against all odds - is not a new idea. It’s been written and rewritten for years. It’s the execution of the idea that makes a story stand out.

I’d venture to say that Knightley Academy can stand on it’s own. There were times when I found the prose a little awkward and the situations a little unrealistic. One of the conflicts in the story was related to a political treaty and politics is a main theme that runs through the entire narrative and sometimes reads a bit dry. As the story progresses, it comes into its own, and even though it started slow, the end had me rooting for Henry.

While I wouldn’t call it original, I think that it is a fun read for young readers. I’m looking forward to seeing how this story develops.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Lips Touch by Laini Taylor

Everyone dreams of getting the kiss of a lifetime… but what if that kiss carried some unexpected consequences? A girl who’s always been in the shadows finds herself pursued by the unbelievably attractive new boy at school, who may or may not be the death of her. Another girl grows up mute because of a curse placed on her by a vindictive spirit, and later must decide whether to utter her first words to the boy she loves and risk killing everyone who hears her if the curse is real. And a third girl discovers that the real reason for her transient life with her mother has to do with belonging — literally belonging — to anther world entirely, full of dreaded creatures who can transform into animals, and whose queen keeps little girls as personal pets until they grow to child-bearing age.

From a writer of unparalleled imagination and emotional insight, three stories about the deliciousness of wanting and waiting for that moment when lips touch.

I only heard of Laini Taylor this year, and the first book I read was Daughter of Smoke and Bones - which I loved. When I saw Lips Touch in the bookstore I thought I’d give it a try. I’m so happy I did!

Written in usual Laini style, Lips Touch Three Times is an anthology of three short stories, all dealing with that scary yet wonderful thing - the first kiss. Each story is completely different from the next.  Each story takes you to a different part of the world, to a different time and to a different myth.

The first story is about Kizzy, a girl whose loneliness seeps through the pages and makes you feel sadness for her, a girl whose longing attracts the worse kind of fae. While this one was my least favourite - I didn’t like the abrupt ending - Laini’s descriptive writing allows the reader to feel all that Kizzy feels and, in a way, understand why she does the things she does.

The second takes the reader to India and the underworld and introduces an Englishwoman, Estelle, who is working with a demon - bartering for the souls of children. This short story has complex, three dimensional characters and was intriguing from the beginning - when Estelle delivers a curse on a baby - to the end - when that baby, now a young girl, wonders if she should push the limits of the curse. In my opinion, the ending was wonderfully thought out and executed.

The final story - and my personal favourite - introduces you to the dark world of the Druj, where human feelings are longed for, but never understood. This is the longest story in the collection; it is also the darkest. Mab, a prisoner of the Druj from childhood, manages to escape with her daughter and has been hiding from the Druj since. When a Druj she trusted enters her life again and tries to take her daughter away, the reason isn’t what Mab - or the reader - expects.

Lips Touch Three Times is just a sampling of Laini’s beautiful writing and promises to leave the reader wanting more.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

Nina, Mel and Avery have been best friends since they were tiny. But one summer can change everything. When Nina goes away for a month, she comes back to find the world has changed. Mel and Avery have their own secret: one Nina can’t be part of.

After reading 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, then being thrilled by her newest novel, The Name of the Star (not to be confused with her pal John Green’s novel, The Fault in our Stars), I decided to pick up some of her other works, which lead me to The Bermudez Triangle.

The story begins with three friends going out for dinner, simple enough. It’s the last time they will all be together until Nina, returns from her summer course at Stanford—Avery and Mel will be staying at home, working.

The bulk of the story really centers around relationships - from Nina and Steve, Avery and Mel to Nina, Avery and Mel, each relationship is different and complicated and I thought that Maureen managed to capture the emotions of each of her characters with perfection. As a reader, I felt the butterflies when Steve admits that he’s been trying to get Nina to notice him, the hesitance as Avery tries not to put labels to her relationship with Mel, the betrayal that Nina feels in the changing room when she walks in on Mel and Avery kissing, and so much more.

The great thing about this story is that it explores the fact that relationships can be messy. It doesn’t necessarily tie things up in a neat bow, but it explores the complexity of friendships, dating relationships, and even a bit of family dynamics - all in a very realistic manner.

The one flaw for me was that the story dragged a little in the middle, however, the relationships kept me intrigued enough to push through.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bookish Haul (#11)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.
Each post shows a list of books that were bought/borrowed/received for reviews for this week.
It's always fun to see what other people are talking about and what's coming out soon!
I've decided to call my weekly round-up My Book Haul due to the fact that many times these books don't come from my mailbox, but other areas. =)

This week's haul comes from "the box", an online win and the bookstore (thanks to my reading challenge reward).  


Wyldcliffe Abbey School for Young Ladies, housed in a Gothic mansion on the bleak northern moors, is elite, expensive, and unwelcoming. When Evie Johnson is torn away from her home by the sea to become the newest scholarship student, she is more isolated than she could have dreamed. Strict teachers, snobbish students, and the oppressive atmosphere of Wyldcliffe leave Evie drowning in loneliness.

Evie's only lifeline is Sebastian, a rebellious, mocking, dangerously attractive young man she meets by chance. As Evie's feelings for Sebastian grow with each secret meeting, she starts to fear that he is hiding something about his past. And she is haunted by glimpses of a strange, ghostly girl—a girl who is so eerily like Evie, she could be a sister. Evie is slowly drawn into a tangled web of past and present that she cannot control. And as the extraordinary, elemental forces of Wyldcliffe rise up like the mighty sea, Evie is faced with an astounding truth about Sebastian, and her own incredible fate.

Gillian Shields's electrifying tale will dazzle readers with suspense, mysticism, and romance.
Sea Change
Bestselling author Aimee Friedman is back, with her signature combination of warmth and humor. And with this book, she adds a touch of fantasy. . .

Sixteen-year-old Miranda Merchant is great at science. . .and not so great with boys. After major drama with her boyfriend and (now ex) best friend, she's happy to spend the summer on small, mysterious Selkie Island, helping her mother sort out her late grandmother's estate.

There, Miranda finds new friends and an island with a mysterious, mystical history, presenting her with facts her logical, scientific mind can't make sense of. She also meets Leo, who challenges everything she thought she knew about boys, friendship. . .and reality.
It was called the New Badlands, home to the survivors of a cataclysm that altered the entire nation. Then the vampires arrived, and it was rechristened the Bloodlands. Not because of the vampire, but because of the gun-for- hire who'd decided to slay every monster in the country by any and every means necessary.
Blood Rules
After the man named Gabriel came to the Bloodlands, Mariah Lyander was forced to face her true nature, and the horrible things she had done. To redeem herself, she embarks on a quest to find a rumored cure for her were-creatures hoping to recover her own humanity-and Gabriel's love.
Every Thing On It
A spider lives inside my headWho weaves a strange and wondrous webOf silken threads and silver stringsTo catch all sorts of flying things,Like crumbs of thought and bits of smilesAnd specks of dried-up tears,And dust of dreams that catch and clingFor years and years and years . . .
Have you ever read a book with everything on it? Well, here it is, an amazing collection of never-before-published poems and drawings from the creator of Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up. You will say Hi-ho for the toilet troll, get tongue-tied with Stick-a-Tongue-Out-Sid, play a highly unusual horn, and experience the joys of growing down.

Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime.  In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Tangled Tides by Karen Hooper

Yara Jones doesn’t believe in sea monsters-until she becomes one.
When a hurricane hits her island home and she wakes up with fins, Yara finds herself tangled up in an underwater world of mysterious merfolk and secretive selkies. Both sides believe Yara can save them by fulfilling a broken promise and opening the sealed gateway to their realm, but they are battling over how it should be done. The selkies want to take her life. The merfolk want something far more precious.
Treygan, the stormy-eyed merman who turned Yara mer, will stop at nothing and sacrifice everything to protect his people-until he falls for Yara. The tides turn as Yara fights to save herself, hundreds of sea creatures, and the merman who has her heart. She could lose her soul in the process-or she might open the gateway to a love that’s deeper than the oceans.

When I first heard of Tangled Tides, by Karen Hooper, my mind immediately went to Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”. However, to say that Tangled Tides is just a fun story about mermaids would be doing it an injustice. Yes, it is a story where the protagonist is a mermaid, but there are other mythical sea creatures weaved tightly into the tale making it more than just another mermaid story.

Tangled Tides follows the story of Yara, as she is transformed from human to mermaid and the complicated web of family secrets that follow. There is mythology, betrayal, mystery and a splash of romance. Written using three different points of view, the reader gets a complete look from all parties involved.  

I enjoyed this story immensely, though, in the very end I got a little confused and had to go re-read a few pages. However, the good far outweighed anything else. I loved the way Karen took different pieces of mythology and knitted them together as her own. I loved the world that she created - though I wished we could have seen more of Rathe and life there. I also appreciated the way she worked out communication under water - speaking through eye contact as opposed to voice.

Once I was hooked, I couldn’t put it down. Tangled is a good word to describe the twists and turns that can be found within the pages of this novel. Why do the mermaids want Yara? Why are the selkies fighting for her allegiance? Who is she and why is she important? The story keeps you on your toes, unraveling the secrets of Yara’s past and future.

I can’t wait to see what else lies ahead for Yara and the others. I think anyone who loves mythology and fantasy would enjoy this tale.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the wall and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife, Gaia Stone, who live outside. Gaia has always believed it is her duty, with her mother, to hand over a small quota of babies to the Enclave. But when Gaia’s mother and father are arrested by the very people they so dutifully serve, Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught to believe. Gaia’s choice is now simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.

In my opinion, writing a good dystopian novel can be tricky. First you’re building a world on something that already exists - our world. Next, you have to take a part of our world, skew it, then write about it, but in a way that makes the reader think that this could happen, especially given the current state of the world. This is usually what I look for in my dystopian novels and I found it in Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien.

Birthmarked opens up with a birthing scene - a very gutsy move. Gaia, a young midwife, delivers her first baby; significant because it’s the first time she’s doing it on her own and because it lays the path for the reader to learn about the Enclave, the baby quota and the world that will be explored in Birthmarked.

After delivering the baby to the Enclave, Gaia heads home to find her parents have been taken to the Enclave for questioning. The mystery builds as Gaia questions why her parents were taken, what record the guards were interrogating her about and why her mother hid a ribbon with strange symbols on them.

Caragh does a great job at describing Gaia’s world and situation. Gaia’s home and all the places she travels to are carefully described, giving the reader a three dimensional view of the world. Once Gaia makes it into the walls of the Enclave the action is almost non-stop, like a wild ride with just enough pause for you to catch your breath and the right amount of twists and turns to keep you intrigued.

There is a splattering of biology in the narrative, but it is so well-weaved into the plot that it does not read like a science book. For the shipping enthusiasts there is a bit of romance which, while not necessary to the plot advancement, does a good job at adding layer of charm.

What I liked best about this book was the questions that it raised. It’s a great book to open discussions on prejudices in society, hierarchy and class. It also opens questions about the way we use our limited resources and what might happen if we aren’t careful to care for the world we have. While these are great questions, I appreciated the way that they were subtly intertwined in the narrative. There was no blaring agenda, the questions rose organically from the story and I appreciated this greatly.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bookish Haul (#10)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.
Each post shows a list of books that were bought/borrowed/received for reviews for this week.
It's always fun to see what other people are talking about and what's coming out soon!
I've decided to call my weekly round-up My Book Haul due to the fact that many times these books don't come from my mailbox, but other areas. =)

This week's haul comes from "the box", a literary Halloween party grab bag, Amazon, RAK and ARCs. Thanks Dani from Refracted Light for my October RAK, Nevermore, NetGalley and Random House for The Gathering Storm, LibraryThing and Veronica Breville for A Banshee's Tale and Rhemalda Publishing for Tangled Tides.  

Tangled Tides
Yara Jones doesn't believe in sea monsters-until she becomes one.
When a hurricane hits her island home and she wakes up with fins, Yara finds herself tangled up in an underwater world of mysterious merfolk and secretive selkies. Both sides believe Yara can save them by fulfilling a broken promise and opening the sealed gateway to their realm, but they are battling over how it should be done. The selkies want to take her life. The merfolk want something far more precious.

Treygan, the stormy-eyed merman who turned Yara mer, will stop at nothing and sacrifice everything to protect his people-until he falls for Yara. The tides turn as Yara fights to save herself, hundreds of sea creatures, and the merman who has her heart. She could lose her soul in the process-or she might open the gateway to a love that's deeper than the oceans.
A Banshee's Tale
Catherine Dalry feels like a normal child, growing up in a normal small town, raised by normal, middle-income parents. That is, until she starts school. Children and adults alike look at her with trepidation and scorn. She learns quickly that her version of normal and theirs differ greatly.

Just as Catherine is preparing to turn sixteen, she is forced on a journey that will change her life in ways most only dream of. An ancient book teaches her of the connection between her freaky eyes and the secretive ranks she is now forced to join by matter of inheritance. She is a Guide, or in the old country, a Banshee. As far as the masses are concerned, Catherine’s destiny is to be the wailing spectral woman that wanders the land lamenting and signaling the impending death of a loved one. As her life is pulled in countless directions, she leans on her best friend and psychic, Will; her beloved aunt, teacher, and fellow Guide, Lucie; and her attractive and terminally arrogant Caomhn├│ir or protector, Zane.

The world of myth, mystery, and fairytale monsters engulfs Catherine and sets her on a course of self-discovery and life altering responsibility.
The Gathering Storm
St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn. The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?
A page-turning psychological mystery that is equal parts horror, humor, and romance, Nevermore is the story of Varen—a Poe fan and Goth—and Isobel—a cheerleader and unlikely heroine. When an English Lit. project pairs the two, Isobel finds herself swept into Varen’s world, one that he has created in his notebook and in his mind, one where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel slowly learns that dreams and words can be much more powerful than she’d ever imagined. As labels of “Goth” and “cheerleader” fade away, Isobel and Varen slip into a consuming romance, braced against the ever-clearer horror that the most chilling realities are those within our own minds. When Isobel has a single chance to rescue Varen from the shadows of his nightmares, will she be able to save him—and herself?
In the wake of Karen Holly's tragic death, many people believe that her boyfriend, Jason, is responsible, and when Jason takes a new girlfriend, newcomer Cindy, she and her friends must return to the scene of Karen's murder. Reissue.
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town
The red words painted on the trailer caused quite a buzz around town and before an hour was up, half of Antler was standing in line with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the world.

Toby Wilson is having the toughest summer of his life. It's the summer his mother leaves for good; the summer his best friend's brother returns from Vietnam in a coffin. And the summer that Zachary Beaver, the fattest boy in the world, arrives in their sleepy Texas town. While it's a summer filled with heartache of every kind, it's also a summer of new friendships gained and old friendships renewed. And it's Zachary Beaver who turns the town of Antler upside down and leaves everyone, especially Toby, changed forever.
What Is He Thinking??
In WHAT IS HE THINKING??, Rebecca interviews a range of men from high-profile types to the guys next door, men that every woman can relate to. Although the interviews focus on single guys ages 20-35, Rebecca also includes words of wisdom from older mentors she respects who have been successfully married for years, such as her dad, life coach, and pastor.

The men share their thoughts on topics like how women can respect themselves and the men in their lives, modesty, purity, taking it slow, friendship, letting guys lead, and more. This book gives them the floor to say what they would really like women to know.

The men respond candidly to questions like:

What is the most attractive quality to you in a woman?
Is modesty truly attractive?
Is neediness a turn-off?
What do you find beautiful?
How can we be dependent on God for our identity, not on you?
How can we help you with boundaries physically?
Rebecca also discusses her own dating life, speaking openly about the single life, her struggle with loneliness, and her hope for the future. She challenges women to see the men in their lives as brothers in Christ and to trust God with their dating lives.
The Hematoi descend from the unions of gods and mortals, and the children of two Hematoi-pure-bloods-have godlike powers. Children of Hematoi and mortals-well, not so much. Half-bloods only have two options: become trained Sentinels who hunt and kill daimons or become servants in the homes of the pures.Seventeen-year-old Alexandria would rather risk her life fighting than waste it scrubbing toilets, but she may end up slumming it anyway. There are several rules that students at the Covenant must follow. Alex has problems with them all, but especially rule #1:Relationships between pures and halfs are forbidden.Unfortunately, she's crushing hard on the totally hot pure-blood Aiden. But falling for Aiden isn't her biggest problem--staying alive long enough to graduate the Covenant and become a Sentinel is. If she fails in her duty, she faces a future worse than death or slavery: being turned into a daimon, and being hunted by Aiden. And that would kind of suck.