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.