Mini Review Round-Up: April-May 2016

I haven’t had time to write full reviews of all the books I’ve read recently…actually, I haven’t had a lot of time to read in general! But here are some mini reviews for the last couple of books I read (and didn’t talk about on Mind the Gap).

The Archived – Victoria “V.E.” Schwab

As you may know, I’m obsessed with V.E. Schwab’s Shades of London trilogy (here are my reviews of ADSOM and AGOS), so now I just want to read ALL THE THINGS she’s ever written. I loved the premise of The Archived, and even liked the characters (any love interest who wears guyliner is fine by me), but it took a while to really get going and there were moments where I felt like I had missed something. There was also a plotline that seemed predictable to me, but I liked how it was handled, and I found myself tearing up during some of Mac’s remembered conversations with her beloved grandpa. Even though her writing in this book is still a million times better than mine on a good day, it’s interesting to see how an author’s command over words can change over the years/books. (Rating: 4 interrobangs)

Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People – Douglas Coupland and Graham Roumieu

I decided to read this one because Douglas Coupland was going to be at my work and I figured I may as well give his writing a shot in case I ended up becoming his biggest fan. Spoiler alert: I did not become his biggest fan. I’ve always sort of suspected that I wouldn’t be into his style, but it was a quick read so I didn’t dwell on it for too long – just long enough to know that Sandra the babysitter was my favourite story. He’s one of those authors where I get the feeling I’m missing a deeper meaning (heavily veiled satire is not my jam at all). I did like the (occasionally gory) illustrations by Graham Roumieu – they have a Quentin Blakes-meets-Tim Burton vibe which is definitely something I’m into. (Rating: 3 interrobangs)

The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand – Jonathan Stroud

This was the first Jonathan Stroud book I read (13 years ago!! Literally half my life!!) and I remember being floored by how amazing it was. Thankfully, it lived up to my memories (this is the first time I’ve reread it in ages) and reminded me of why I became a Stroud fangirl in the first place (you may recall that I gush about his Lockwood & Co series all the time). Personally, I love how sarcastic Bartimaeus is, and Nathaniel’s cold detachement makes him an interesting – if not always likeable – protagonist. I’m just about done the second book now, so maybe I’ll do a full series review in a month or so. (Rating: 5 interrobangs)

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

This book has won eleven billion awards and is super hyped up in the YA book community, but I was so underwhelmed. It took over 100 pages for anything good to happen…and, in this case, “good” is relative. I didn’t love the style (phonetic spelling in books will always drive me bonkers until it’s being used to denote an accent…and even then it can get old quickly), I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and, while I find a dog talking about poo as funny as the next person, after the seventh time Manchee said “Poo, Todd?” it stopped being entertaining. I know people love this book, but I was so disappointed, possibly because it’s dystopian (aka my least favourite genre). With a series name like “Chaos Walking”, I expected something so much more epic. (Rating: 2.5 interrobangs)

ARC Review: The Dream Engine – Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

The Dream Engine – Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

25894470When Eila Doyle first hears the strange boy calling from somewhere deep in her sleep, she begins to question her sanity. In the gleaming steampunk world of Waldron’s Gate, citizens aren’t meant to dream — and those who eschew their daily Crumble and dare to do so anyway face madness … and imprisonment in Joffrey Columns, the asylum of towers.

And yet, “Dreaming” of a very specific sort is what Eila does every day at the Ministry of Manifestation with her mind hooked to the great engine, called the Blunderbuss. She’s accustomed to using her thoughts to Build all that the city needs … but never before have her thoughts been so dark, so laced with demons and shadows. Now those nighttime visions hint at dark conspiracy, a millennium of lies, and a fathomless secret hiding beneath the quiet streets.

As Eila follows the boy down the rabbit hole, she discovers secrets that were meant to remain hidden. She discovers an unknown caste of underlings, an unknown place underneath the city. And she learns of her terrible destiny as her own dreams and reality blur, as “what is real?” becomes something uncertain.

This thrilling young adult dystopian adventure is the first in the Dream Engine series by masters of story Platt & Truant, authors of The Beam, Unicorn Western, and many more. The Dream Engine will have you asking yourself “What is real?” along with Eila’s strong female lead — but watch what you ask for, because the answer may unsettle and disturb you for weeks to come.

Release Date: July 22nd, 2014

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

That last paragraph in the synopsis makes me laugh because it’s SUPER DRAMATIC.

What I liked:

-I suppose Eila was a fairly strong female character, although her thoughts/actions seemed repetitive and boring up until the very end.

-beautiful cover.

-interesting concept.

-the fact that the authors wrote the whole thing (including planning, plotting, outlining, editing, etc) in 30 days.

What I didn’t like:

-this book dragged forever. I felt like I was reading it for months. It got to the point that I actually felt frustrated by my inability to finish reading something that had started off on a good note.

-as I mentioned above, the book was written in 30 days. Yeah, that’s impressive (though, really, if I was being paid to do NOTHING BUT WRITE for a month, I could probably churn out a manuscript too. I – and many other people – have successfully completed NaNoWriMo, and that was WITH a day job!), but I felt like there was little to no editing involved. There was a lot of repetition, a lot of introspection, a lot of explaining, a lot of build up, and not so much action.

I mean, as fascinating as it is to wonder how you’d explain “dreams” to someone who didn’t understand the word, it’s tiresome to read about it for twenty pages.

And it just made me confused, but maybe I shouldn’t have been reading about something as abstract and intangible as dreams first thing in the morning.

Also, if I had a nickle for every time the words “Joffrey Columns”, “Blunderbuss”, and “Crumble” were mentioned, I could have kickstarted their entire project myself.

-this book felt like a combination of Alice in WonderlandThe MatrixThe Giver (and every other dystopian YA novel ever), with a dash of “hey, I had a weird dream last night, I KNOW, I’LL PUT IT IN A BOOK SO THAT EVERYONE ELSE IS JUST AS CONFUSED AS ME”.

All those things individually are great. Put them together though, and you get a weird sense of deja vu (“follow the white rabbit”, was an actual line and I’m not sure if it was an Alice reference or a Matrix reference) (also Crumble seems like those pills that Jonah had to stop taking in The Giver so that he could be open to the real world. Just like Eila!).

-I respect that not all YA books feel the need to push the romance aspect and that’s cool, but if Levi is literally wandering through her dreams, you’d think there would be something going on there. But no. So that was disappointing.

It’s the first book in a series and has an open ending, and honestly, I’m not eager to find out what happens next. The whole thing fell flat for me, and while I’m impressed they could write this many words in a month, I would have probably liked it more if they had taken another week or two to really fine tune it.

That being said, I’m sure there are people who are falling all over themselves about this book. I’m just not one of them.


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ARC Reviews – July 2015

This round-up is a day late because I honestly forgot about it until late yesterday. Either way, this month wasn’t terribly productive in terms of ARCs, but they were all decent. It was also the first time I conducted an author interview, so that was exciting!

  • A Whole New World – Liz Braswell: “It’s YA, but it feels like the young end of YA – more 12-14 than 14-16 – which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but don’t go in expecting something scandalous, even if there are some surprisingly violent scenes.” (3 interrobangs)
  • A Curse of Ash and Iron – Christine Norris: “I felt like it was lacking something. It was a decent story and it had some really fascinating elements, but my inability to connect with the characters made it a hard read.” (2.5 interrobangs)
  • The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl – Ishbelle Bee: “The writing continues to have a lovely lyrical quality to it, even when she’s writing descriptions of a massacre.” (4 interrobangs)
    • I also got the chance to interview the lovely Ishbelle Bee, which you can read here.
  • Placid Girl – Brenna Ehrlich: “I liked the concept, and I think it serves as an excellent cautionary tale.” (3 interrobangs)

ARC Review: A Curse of Ash and Iron – Christine Norris

A Curse of Ash and Iron – Christine Norris

20691458Benjamin Grimm knows the theater is much like real life. In 1876 Philadelphia, people play their parts, hiding behind the illusion of their lives, and never revealing their secrets.

When he reunites with his childhood friend Eleanor Banneker, he is delighted. His delight turns to dismay when he discovers she has been under a spell for the past 7 years, being forced to live as a servant in her own home, and he realizes how sinister some secrets can be. She asks for his help, and he can’t refuse. Even if he doesn’t believe in ‘real’ magic, he can’t abandon her.

Ellie has spent the long years since her mother’s death under the watchful eye and unforgiving eye of her stepmother. Bewitched and hidden in plain sight, it seems no one can help Ellie escape. Not even her own father, who is under a spell of his own. When she sees Ben one evening, it seems he is immune to the magic that binds her, and her hope is rekindled along with her friendship.

But time is running short. If they do not find a way to break the spell before midnight on New Year’s Eve, then both Ellie and her father will be bound forever.

Release Date: May 21st, 2015

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

I didn’t realize right away that this is a Cinderella retelling because apparently the cover distracted me from actually reading the synopsis.

What I liked:

-the cover!! Gorgeous. It reminds me of the Gail Carriger novels that I really want to read.

-the plot. I love fractured fairy tales or retellings, and, even though I think the best Cinderella retelling ever is Ella Enchanted, I’m always down to read another version.

-it’s not quite steampunk, but I found the inventions interesting, especially the historically accurate description of the Exhibition.

What I didn’t like:

-the characters. I feel terrible saying this, but I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Rebecca, but even she had a sudden personality shift.

I couldn’t understand how she and Ellie spent seven years being indifferent to each other and then Rebecca was all “you’re the best sister ever, I wanna help you”, and I was like “it’s a little late for that, isn’t it?”. But they ended up having a really sweet relationship at the end, which I liked.

-the “love triangle”. I didn’t feel any chemistry between any of the characters. And talk about insta-love: Ellie talks to Hamilton Scott for all of ten seconds before she walks away thinking “I’m in love!!”. No, Ellie, I’m pretty sure that’s just lust because you thought he was hot. Which I suppose is what happens in the original Cinderella story, but one of the reasons I loved Ella Enchanted was because of the relationship between Ella and Char (I still get emotional at the end).

Ben was no better. I didn’t particularly care for him, and I could see where his story was going, but it didn’t stop it from being annoying to watch Ellie toy with him (even if it was unintentional).

-the dialogue. While it was mostly realistic, it sometimes seemed forced and unnatural. It wasn’t so bad that it detracted from the story or anything, and it was a personal quirk, but I preferred the exposition to the dialogue.

Overall, I felt like it was lacking something. It was a decent story and it had some really fascinating elements, but my inability to connect with the characters made it a hard read.


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ARC Reviews – June 2015

This month, half of my ARCs had a musician love interest, which is funny, but also says a lot about me personally.

  • Grunge Gods and Graveyards – Kimberly G. Giarratano: “I was intrigued by the cover, and I’m automatically drawn to books where the love interest is a musician (it was an bonus that he also happened to be a ghost), so I figured I’d give this one a shot. I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would!” (4 interrobangs)
  • The Lady in Blue – Kimberly G. Giarratano: “..since I was intrigued by the Lady in Blue in [Grunge Gods and Graveyards], I was more than happy to find out a little bit more about Lana Bloom.This self-published sequel came out a couple of months ago and it does a fine job of filling in the gaps.” (5 interrobangs)
  • Devil’s Daughter – Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez: “It had a great plot and some interesting moments but, while it had an open ending, I’m not tearing down the house in anticipating for the sequel. Definitely a good change from most of the other angel-based YA out there, though.” (3.5 interrobangs)
  • Fractured Dream – K.M. Randall: “It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read ever, but I couldn’t really get into it (despite finishing it!). I’m certain there are people who will devour this, but I just couldn’t connect with anyone enough to care what happened to them.” (2.5 interrobangs)
  • Date with a Rockstar – Sarah Gagnon: “This was one of those books where part of me was going “wow, this is cheesy/dramatic/over-the-top” and another part of me was going “I LOVE EVERYTHING THAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW”.” (4 interrobangs)
  • The Heartbreakers – Ali Novak: “If you’re in the mood for a fluffy fanfic, then this will be your jam. There are some serious moments (Cara does have cancer, after all), but it veers around truly emotional territories.” (2.5 interrobangs)

Overall, it was an interesting month for ARCs, with a nice mix of hits and misses. What have you read this month?

ARC Review: The Heartbreakers – Ali Novak

The Heartbreakers – Ali Novak

25266817Stella will do anything for her sick sister, Cara—even stand in line for an autographed Heartbreakers CD…for four hours. She’s totally winning best birthday gift this year. At least she met a cute boy with soft brown hair and gorgeous blue eyes while getting her caffeine fix. Too bad she’ll never see him again.

Except, Stella’s life has suddenly turned into a cheesy love song. Because Starbucks Boy is Oliver Perry – lead singer for the Heartbreakers. And even after she calls his music crap, Oliver still gives Stella his phone number. And whispers quotes from her favorite Disney movie in her ear. OMG, what is her life?

But how can Stella even think about being with Oliver — dating and laughing and pulling pranks with the band — when her sister could be dying of cancer?

Release Date: August 4th, 2015

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

I’m waffling over what rating to give this – a 2.5 or a solid 3?!

What I liked:

-the band. They were cute and funny, and, I imagine, realistic (I don’t know, I’ve never hung out with a boy band before, but from what I’ve heard/seen/read, it seems legit). Oliver is the caring bad boy (of course he has a sad past), JJ is hilarious, Xander is sweet, and Alec is the sensitive mysterious one.

-the relationship between Stella, Cara, and Drew (they’re triplets! But the girls are technically identical twins! Which I didn’t know was possible, but it is (Stella explains the medical reason at some point)!). They have a loving, caring relationship, and I could understand Stella’s hesitation to go out and “live her life” while Cara was so sick.

-there were some cute moments between Stella and Oliver. Entirely unrealistic, of course, but still cute. I smiled a couple of times, despite my cynicism (what I wouldn’t give to bump into an attractive band member in a coffee shop and have him fall hopelessly in love with me!).

What I didn’t like:

-Stella was annoying. She was so hot and cold, I wouldn’t have blamed Oliver if he got bored and left her. She went from straight up hating the band to loving Oliver (in the span of a day!), then decided she wanted to be “just friends”, but then got upset when he respected her decision and was all “yeah, I’ll go just flirt with this fan to soothe my broken heart since you’re not interested”. Because really, why wouldn’t he flirt with fans? They’re the reason he’s famous!

-I’m pretty sure this is was just 5 Seconds of Summer fan fiction. Everything about The Heartbreakers screamed 5SOS. I actually enjoy 5SOS, so it’s not an insult, but it really just felt like I was reading fanfic (this was before I realized the author came from Wattpad and NOW IT ALL MAKES SENSE).

-the ketchup eating contest made me feel ill. I like ketchup as much as the next person, but that’s so gross, I can’t even explain it.

-as much as I loved Stella’s relationships with her siblings, I had no idea what her relationship with her parents was like. They were in a couple of chapters, and while they were seemingly supportive (instead of your typical neglectful YA parents), she didn’t mention talking to them before going out on tour with The Heartbreakers.

You’d think her parents would express some concern over their 18 year old daughter touring with the most famous boy band in America. But apparently not.

-it had a happy ending, which was sweet, but holy smokes, it felt rushed. Almost like the author ran out of steam right near the end so she threw together the most logical ending. Which is fine, and it happens to the best of us, but to actually publish it like that? It could have been fleshed out more.

-I also don’t get how Cara was so cool about her sister befriending her favourite band, especially since Stella couldn’t stand The Heartbreakers at the beginning. If my sister ever showed up and told me she was dating John O’Callaghan from The Maine, I’d probably cry. I’d be happy for her, eventually, but first there would be tears and screams of “WHY COULDN’T IT BE ME?!” But Cara’s all “that’s soooo cool, OMG, you’re sooooo lucky, tell me everythinggggg”. Which rang a little false for me.

Having written the review, I’m going to say that while I was initially going to give it 3 stars, I think I’ll drop it down to a 2.5. If you’re in the mood for a fluffy fanfic, then this will be your jam. There are some serious moments (Cara does have cancer, after all), but it veers around truly emotional territories.


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ARC Review: Fractured Dream – K.M. Randall

Fractured Dream – K.M. Randall

22553270Have you ever wondered where fairytales go once they’re created?

It’s been eight years since Story Sparks last had a dream. Now they’re back, tormenting her as nightmares she can’t remember upon waking. The black waters of Lake Sandeen, where her Uncle Peter disappeared decades before, may hold the secret to Story’s hidden memories, or a truth she’d rather not know. On a bright summer afternoon, Story and her two best friends, Elliot and Adam, take a hike to the lake, where they dive into the cool water and never reemerge. What they find is beyond anything they’ve ever imagined could be possible, a world where dangers lurk in the form of Big Bad Wolves, living Nightmares and meddlesome witches and gods.

Now Story must remember who she really is and somehow stop two worlds from ultimate annihilation, all while trying not to be too distracted by the inexplicable pull she feels toward a certain dark-eyed traveler who seems to have secrets of his own. The fates of the worlds are counting on her.

Release Date: June 21st, 2014

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the right mood for this or what, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.

What I liked:

-the fairy tale elements. As I’ve mentioned many times, I enjoy fractured fairy tales (which is why I jumped at the chance to read this one). I liked how there is a Red Riding Hood in every generation, enjoy the different types of Thumbelinas, and, of course, love the Pegasus family (I’m not a huge horse fan, but who doesn’t love a FLYING horse??).

-Elliot. He’s gay and a psychic?! What a stellar combination! He was probably my favourite character.

-there was a death that I saw coming pretty much from the moment that character showed up, but I respect (and liked!) that the author actually made it happen and didn’t shy away from killing off people readers – and Story – liked.

What I didn’t like:

-I couldn’t connect with Story. I also found her to be slow on the uptake – there were many plot points that took her ages to figure out when they were pretty obvious (to me, anyway), especially anything having to do with Nicholas (who else saw those plot points coming?).

She also came across as younger than 20 (not that I was very mature at 20), so sometimes I forgot she was college-aged.

-on the same note: it was only a minor part of the book, but it drove me bonkers that they were interrupted FOUR TIMES when Nicholas started to tell her who he really was. FOUR TIMES! And since I had guessed his secret as soon as they met, the actual reveal wasn’t very satisfactory.

-I’ll be completely honest, by the time I hit 40%, I started skimming. There was a lot of exposition, a lot of telling me about feelings rather than showing them, and the perspective changed every so often, which I didn’t think was necessary. I respect the decision to have multiple POVs, but since I wasn’t a huge fan of Adam or Nicholas, I didn’t particularly care for getting stuck in their heads. Now, an Elliot POV, I could get behind, but alas, there were none (unless I accidentally skipped them).

I waffled between giving this 2 or 3 interrobangs, so I’m gonna go with 2.5. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read ever, but I couldn’t really get into it (despite finishing it!). I’m certain there are people who will devour this, but I just couldn’t connect with anyone enough to care what happened to them.


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