Posts Tagged: Young Adult

{Review} Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

March 8, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de CastellTraitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Series: Greatcoats #1
Published by Penguin Canada on March 4, 2014
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that's exactly what's happening...

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they'll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

Disclosure:I received this book for free from NetGalley, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Cover Talk

I hate the first cover, but I love the one on the rerelease (that’s the one pictured above).  I think the first one is boring and plain, and the imagery that is there is kind of cheesy. However, I do like the second one much better–I love the symbolism of the blade, the map, and the coins, and I think it’s much more unique. I do think it looks a little younger, which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

Expectations

Even though I had heard some buzz about this book being an edge-of-your-seat, dashing and daring adventure in a fantastically-built fantasy world, for some reason I was pretty hesitant to dive into this one. (I think because I can be really picky about fantasy novels, even though I love them, which makes me tentative to try new fantasy series.) It’s safe to say I was unexpectedly blown away by this book, though, and I will definitely be following up with the rest of the series when the time comes.

My Thoughts

One of the best things about this book–for me at least–was the tone of this novel. A lot of times I find medieval fantasy to have a more serious tone, but this book was light and funny. It’s witty and smart, but doesn’t feel heavy-handed or overly serious. It was this tone that reeled me in within a matter of pages. (If you’re interested in being sucked in–which you should be–you can check out an excerpt here.)  Here’s the first paragraph of the novel, so you can see what I mean:

“Pretend, just for a moment, that you have attained your most deepseated desire.  Not the simple, sensible one you tell your friends about, but the dream that’s so close to your heart that even as a child you hesitated to speak it out loud.  Imagine, for example, that you had always yearned to be a Greatcoat, one of the legendary sword-wielding magistrates who travelled from the lowliest village to the biggest city, ensuring that any man or woman, high or low, had recourse to the King’s Laws.  A protector to many–maybe even a hero to some.  You feel the thick leather coat of office around your shoulders, the deceptively light weight of its internal bone plates that shield you like armour and the dozens of hidden pockets holding your tools and tricks and esoteric pills and potions.  You grip the sword at your side, knowing that as a Greatcoat you’ve been taught to fight when needed, given the training to take on any man in single combat.”

I think de Castell achieves this effect in two ways 1) Falcio’s narration is charming, endearing, and cunning, which makes for an attractive and smooth-flowing read, and 2) the pacing is quick and zippy which kept me feeling engaged and hooked on finding out the next twist in the plot. Falcio’s winsome character really made the novel for me, because while he definitely has his flaws, it’s very easy to sympathize and understand him because he is completely honest and transparent in his narration.

There were some problems for me–mainly Falcio’s omniscient narration, some lacking worldbuilding, and a predictable conclusion–but I guess it ultimately became a matter of the good far outweighing the bad. Sometimes, for me, a book can be immensely enjoyable even when I really don’t like certain aspects of it, just because it’s so fun to enjoy the good parts. If you are someone who enjoys the fight scenes in Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, Beka Cooper, or Kel series or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, I think you will definitely love this book. (It was also kind of reminiscent of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.)

Overall: it’s action-packed, it’s witty, everything moves at lightning speed, and the banter and relationships between characters pulled everything together beautifully. Sebastien de Castell did pretty much everything right in my book.

Share Your Thoughts – Leave a Comment!

Have you read Traitor’s Blade? If so, what did you think of it, and will you be continuing the series? If not, is it on your TBR list? What are some of your favourite medieval fantasy books? (I’m always looking for more recommendations, as it’s my favourite genre!)

4 Stars

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{Review} Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

January 10, 2014 Review 4 ★★★★

{Review} Scarlet by A.C. GaughenScarlet by A. C. Gaughen
Series: Scarlet #1
Published by Walker Childrens on February 14, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 292
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift
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Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin -- whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her -- that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

// COVER TALK //

I like this cover a lot. I think the font looks great and the choice of red is very striking on a dark cover. I really like that the author’s name doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. The cover model fits my imagined image of Scarlet, though I do think her smoldering stare is a little bit weird. The nod to her skill with knives is also neat!

// EXPECTATIONS //

I had this book on my to-read shelf on Goodreads but I no longer remember when or why I put it there. My lovely co-blogger, Rachelia, sent this to me as a Christmas gift and as soon as I read the back I was excited to dive into it. After reading the sticky note Rachelia included with her own thoughts, I was even more excited about the book, especially because Scarlet is supposed to be such a kick-ass young lady!

// MY THOUGHTS //

I have always been a big sucker for historical fiction, especially retellings of fairy tales and myths, so it’s no surprise that I was really into this book. I really love the premise and for the most part, I enjoyed Gaughen’s writing and found it an effortless and enjoyable read. (I finished this in a couple hours on Boxing Day!) The plot is very quick-paced and even during the moments with little action, there is always some sort of impending doom in the back of your mind, so I flew threw the pages.

I have heard that a lot of people were really bothered by the way Scarlet talks. She speaks with a lower-class commoner’s dialect, which was a little difficult to understand at first. However, by the end of the first chapter or so I was used to it and able to read without stumbling over her dialogue.

I just love the setting (Sherwood Forest/Nottingham, obviously, if you know your Robin Hood story at all). There’s something about densely thicketed forests and arrows flying through the air that gets me every time. Scarlet’s bandmates — Little John and Much — were both hilarious and adorable, and I loved reading about the relationships between each band member.

Scarlet was a really interesting main character. She actually reminded me of the ever-popular Katniss Everdeen — I think Scarlet shares a lot of the characteristics that have made Katniss so popular. She’s independent, brave, skilled with knives (which reminds me of Katniss’s archery talent), and very smart. She feels alone in the world after losing her family and slowly begins to trust Robin Hood and her band mates. She has a very mysterious, dark past, which is revealed near the end of the book, but I did wish there was more explanation there: I still had unanswered questions about her history at the end of the book. However, I can forgive this since it’s meant to be a trilogy.

While I loved most of the book, there was one pretty big part of the book that I did not enjoy. There is a love triangle, and it plays a pretty big role — another similarity to The Hunger Games. I don’t generally like love triangles at all, as I find them often unnecessary and implausible. A lot of times it feels like the love triangle is an attempt to create conflict between the two main characters, but Scarlet didn’t need this. One of the relationships in Scarlet’s love triangle felt very forced and uncomfortable, while the other felt inauthentic at times. All in all, not the best depiction of romantic relationships in my opinion.

I will definitely be picking up the second book in this trilogy, Lady Thief, as soon as it’s available (its release date is February 11, 2014). Personally, I really liked the ending to Scarlet. I think it provided a pretty great resolution, all things considered, but still leaves a pretty major thread hanging that I’m sure will be picked up in book two. Scarlet kept me guessing for almost the whole read and I loved wondering what twist was going to happen next.

// Share your thoughts… leave a comment! //

Have you read Scarlet? What did you think about the love triangle situation? Have you read any other Robin Hood retellings that you really liked? Do you like to read retellings of myths, fairy tales, legends, etc.? If so, what are some of your favourites?

4 Stars

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{Review} The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

November 26, 2013 Review 3 ★★★½

{Review} The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on March 14, 2006
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 552
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist--books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

//  COVER TALK  //

I like the cover and how it is in muted tones and looks aged. I think the dominoes all set to fall is a very chilling symbolism when you realize the book is about the Holocaust. I do, however, like the cover with Liesel and Death dancing more.

//  EXPECTATIONS  //

 I had not heard one bad thing about this book. Everyone seemed to gush over it and talked about how much they cried while reading it. As a result of the hype, I really tried to keep my expectations in check when I picked this up to read.

//  MY THOUGHTS  // 

The Book Thief tells the story of a young German girl named Liesel during World War II as she comes to live with a foster family, forming bonds that transcend blood, as the family takes in Max, a Jew, sheltering him in their basement. Told from the POV of Death, The Book Thief, is a different kind of book. Death is reading from Liesel’s own account of her life (complete with a picture book that she is gifted) while throwing in his own antidotes and spoilers along the way. I think it is also important to note that this book is classified as crossover fiction – it’s an adult book that has been marketed to YA readers.

It’s very clear that this book is a work of literary fiction — and actually, while this is what I think has contributed greatly to its popularity, it was also a bit of its downfall for me. The writing is very poetic and at times, abstract. There were absolutely beautiful passages, ones that were either masterfully penned or that captured our humanness perfectly! However, often times, it felt that like the author was deliberately trying to be literary, with deep, haunting writing that really just felt empty in places. Death was an interesting narrator, but he wasn’t a great one. He made it hard to connect at times, and the jumping back and forth chronologically was confusing. As Wendy Darling pointed out in The Midnight Garden’s read-a-long, the omnipresent POV makes it feel very fairytale-like, and with such a topic as genocide it seems problematic (although, I do have a recommendation at the end of this review of a book that does this very well without being problematic). With the famous Dachau concentration camp just down the road from Mochling, the story seemed a bit sanitized, although I do understand that it is largely from a child’s perspective.

What the book does best is capture the essence of the human spirit – our hope, our despair, and our penchant for love, among many other things. There really is no specific plot, as it just meanders on about everyday life during the turbulent years of WWII. There is a lot of symbolism and I expected it all to tie together into some big plot towards the middle or end, but once I grasped how the book was actually laid out, I began to enjoy it more.

The best part of this book are the characters. Liesel with her love for words and books, Papa with his accordion and soft heart, Max with his survivors guilt and affection for Liesel, Rosa with her hard affection for her adopted daughter, and Rudy with his mischievousness. I really really loved Papa (Hans) and Max, and especially their relationships with Liesel. These were the two whom I cried the most over throughout the book – I had such a soft spot in my heart for them!

Overall, while some of the stylistic choices of the book affected my reading experience, I grew to love the characters and the story does give you a lot to think about it in regards to history and life. I think though that I will perhaps like this more as a movie, where Death isn’t narrating and getting in the way. Also, I’d like to recommend one of my favourite books, if you are interested in unique stories set in WWII: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, which is a retelling set in Poland during the Holocaust, and Hansel and Gretel are Jews hiding from the Nazis. It’s creative and heartbreaking and the last lines will haunt you forever!

Oh, and if you want a chance to read The Book Thief and watch the movie, be sure to enter our giveaway – only a few days left!

// Share your thoughts… Leave a Comment! //

Have you read The Book Thief? If so, what were your thoughts? If not, do you plan to? What is your favourite WWII historical fiction book?

3.5 Stars

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{Review} Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

November 13, 2013 Review 4

 

stained cheryl rainfield

//  BOOK INFO  //

Title: Stained
Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Source: Edelweiss *received in exchange for an honest review
Pages: 304
Genres: YA — contemporary

An intensely powerful account of a teen, bullied for her port-wine stain, who must summon her personal strength to survive abduction and horrific abuse at the hands of a deranged killer.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Meadows longs for “normal.” Born with a port wine stain covering half her face, all her life she’s been plagued by stares, giggles, bullying, and disgust. But when she’s abducted on the way home from school, Sarah is forced to uncover the courage she never knew she had, become a hero rather than a victim, and learn to look beyond her face to find the beauty and strength she has inside. It’s that-or succumb to a killer.

//  INTERESTED?  //


//  COVER TALK  //

 I definitely like this new cover a LOT more than the original one with the bound hands. It’s striking, and when you also realize where she is being held towards the end of the story, looking at the cover again will give you chills! Also: PURPLE. Love the colour, but it also ties in with Sarah’s port wine stain.

//  EXPECTATIONS  //

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I have been wanting to read at least one of Rainfield’s books for a while. I always enjoyed her posts on YA Saves and she herself has survived childhood abuse, and often speaks out against rape culture. I loved the tagline for Stained as well, so when the opportunity came along to read it, I jumped for the chance to finally try out one of her books!

//  MY THOUGHTS  // 

Stained is by far not an easy read, what with [trigger warning from here on in] bullying, kidnapping and rape being what drives the storyline. It’s a relatively quick read, as it is fast paced once Sarah has been kidnapped and the tension and fear is ramped up. But it is one that will also make your stomach turn.

Sarah, for most of her life, has been subjected to the cruel stares and words of her classmates for a very obvious port wine stain that covers her cheek. As a result, she has very little confidence and self-worth. She wants to have surgery to remove the stain, but unfortunately, that falls through. Sarah is devastated, but she doesn’t realize that things are only about to get worse as she is kidnapped on her way home from school and taken to an abandoned location where she is regularly raped and then left in isolation for days at a time. Living in her own personal hell, she has plenty of time to reflect on her value as a person and what is happening to her, and comes to the realization that she is the only one that can save herself in this situation, and so she begins a concentrated effort to escape.

Throughout all this the narrative’s POV switches to Nick, a love-struck classmate of Sarah’s whom shares her plight of being bullied, although for him it is because of his weight. He see’s in Sarah what his fellow classmates don’t: a beautiful, smart girl. Nick becomes dedicated to trying to find Sarah, helping the family put up posters, and badgering the police to do more. He won’t stop until Sarah’s home safe.

Honestly, I almost didn’t finish this one, as the first part of the book really wasn’t working for me. Sarah and Nick seemed to be shells of characters — Sarah with her intense focus on her lack of self-confidence and her stain and Nick with his love for Sarah. There wasn’t much else to them. The writing wasn’t drawing me in either, but fortunately, the story had, and I decided to keep going. I wanted to find out if the skeezebag that took Sarah (seriously, who it is is super creepy) was going to be caught, and if/how Sarah was going to escape. Thankfully, towards the middle-end of the book, Sarah and Nick began to evolve as characters and they became richer depictions, and more life-like. By the end, I had fallen in love with Nick! He was such a kind-hearted kid who had such absolute faith in Sarah!

There were also quite a few good observations about self-esteem and body image. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the book came across as a bit preachy, and you could really see from the start the message that it was intended to send. Not that these are bad messages — I wholeheartedly agree with being your own hero, learning to love your body as it is, etc. It’s just that I would have liked a little more subtly. I did, however, really enjoy the comic book aspect to the story. Sarah and Nick rant about female characters in comics books, commenting on one character “It’s like her superpower is in her looks. She’s like a pin-up for guys to drool over. Not a serious character like Batwoman”. I also liked how comic books were used as tool of empowerment: for Nick to confess his love of Sarah through comic book creation, and Sarah to imagine herself as strong and courageous as Diamond to be able to deal with rape and captivity.

While I liked Stained more and more as I read, it still came off a bit too preachy and I would have liked to see more character development right from the start. All in all though, it was an OK read, and I still think it is an important one, for the messages it sends and the topics it addresses. It’s a quick, terrifying read with a few twists and turns to keep you on your feet, but also can be a very emotional read as well.

// Share your thoughts… Leave a Comment! //

Have you read Stained? What did you think? Or have you read any of Rainfield’s other work? What other YA books talk about or make use of comics?


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{Review} Picture Me by Lori Weber

October 7, 2013 Review 0

 

picture me cover

//  BOOK INFO  //

Title: Picture Me
Author:  Lori Weber
Publisher: James Lorimer & Company
Release Date: September 20, 2013
Source: NetGalley *received in exchange for an honest review
Pages: 168
Genres: YA — contemporary

When a well-meaning English teacher has overweight student Krista read aloud a poem about body image titled “Barbie Doll” in class, she ignites a simmering bullying event based on Krista’s appearance. Krista’s best friend, and witness to the event, Tessa, is suspended for fighting to defend her friend. The girl who bullies Krista seems unaffected by the incident at school and more concerned with what an older guy thinks of her. But as the three characters’ paths intersect, their inner lives are revealed. Each emerges as a much more complicated individual than their simple bully, target, and witness labels. 

//  INTERESTED?  //


//  COVER TALK  //

 The cover is what originally attracted me to the book. I just liked the look of it. Unfortunately, after reading the book, it really has no connection to the story.

//  EXPECTATIONS  //

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t heard about the book, so I had no preconceived notions going into it.  

//  MY THOUGHTS  // 

Picture Me tells the story of an overweight girl, Krista (the target), Tessa (her best friend), and Chelsea (the bully), providing the reader with alternating POV from each girl’s perspective. The book shows that everyone goes through tough times as we learn more and more about each young woman and that people aren’t clearly good or bad but often shades of grey. Trigger warnings (for both the book and review ): fat shaming, body image issues, eating disorders, grief over a parent, and (POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING!) sexual assault.

I liked that this book provided numerous POVs, from all the young woman involved in the bullying as it made for a much richer exploration of how and why people (particularly young girls) bully & its effects. We are introduced to characters by way of Krista, a shy, overweight girl who has been constantly tormented by her classmates, led by her main bully, Chelsea. Reading a poem about body image aloud in class sets off a new firestorm of attacks against Krista, while her best friend, Tessa, tries to support her through the hard times. Krista has struggled with her weight from a young age, and the bullying has triggered a lot of self-hatred towards herself. She sees herself through the eyes of her tormenters: as disgusting, unlikeable, a waste of space, etc. The latest incident (a picture of her is PhotoShoped as a fat monster is plastered around school) begins a chain of events that leads to her taking diet pills and spiralling into an eating disorder. While I started out emphasizing with Krista, as I could relate personally to her body image issues, her characterization quickly went downhill. After a little introduction to Krista, which didn’t really develop her past “the fat girl with body image issues” trope her thoughts became an almost incoherent rambling of body image issues, self-hatred and physical pain. It just seemed too stereotypical for me, and her story in the end was resolved way to fast.

While Tessa supports Krista as best she can, and stands up to Chelsea at school, she also had a story of her own, and actually was the most developed character in the book, with the most interesting storyline. Her family is struggling, financially and mentally, as they are still grieving the loss of their father, a soldier killed in the line of duty. Tessa is a very caring, empathetic person and she was always wanting to do what was right, even going so far as to call teacher’s out on being a bystander to Krista’s bullying! I loved the moments when Tessa was taking care of her little sister Annie and her family bonded together to deal with Annie’s grief. From Tessa we also experience classism, which she usually offers a critique of, which I liked.

Then there is Chelsea, the bully. Chelsea is a very complex character. She doesn’t come from a loving home environment – in fact, her mother ignores her – and it seems that what she craves is attention and love. Chelsea also becomes involved in a manipulative relationship with an older boy who is dealing drugs. At school she is the head of a pack and calling the shots, but at home or with her boyfriend she is often insecure and dreams of a better life for herself. However, Chelsea is also spinning out of control, and (spoiler!) in the end, it is implied that her boyfriend has pimped her out, and that she has been sexually assaulted. That’s where Chelsea’s story ends. It’s very unsatisfying, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Since Krista and Tessa both have fairly happy endings, it could be interpreted as Chelsea got what was coming to her because she was a bully. This is never a good message to send regarding sexual assault! I don’t think it was the author’s intent, but rather to show that bully’s can be victims themselves, but I’m not if youth reading this book will hear that message?

I read a review of this book and one of the main critiques was that it wasn’t realistic, that these things don’t happen to thirteen year-old girls, and that infuriated me. Bullying, eating disorders, and sexual assault can and DO happen to girls (and boys) this age, or even younger. Perhaps they weren’t dealt with in the best way, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen, and to think so is to turn a blind eye to the world and live in a state of privilege. Overall, I think the strength of this book is showing a situation from multiple POVs and realizing that everyone is dealing with their own hardships in life. However, the book, due to its format,  reads as very messy although the writing is fairly good, and the character arcs seemed rushed and at times stereotypical. While I liked all that this book dealt with, I didn’t like HOW many of the topics were addressed or wrapped up. For a book on very serious issues, at times, it didn’t take the character’s problems seriously enough. This book had a lot of potential, but that potential wasn’t seen through to the end of the book, unfortunately.

 

// Share your thoughts… Leave a Comment! //

Have you read Picture Me? If so, what did you think? Is it on your TBR list? Any recommendations for books that deal with bullying in a complex way (asides from the popular Thirteen Reasons Why)?


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