Review: Katya's World

Katya's World (Russalka Chronicles #1) by Jonathan L. Howard
Release Date ~ November 6, 2012
Strange Chemistry
ISBN13: 9781908844132
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised environments and take what they need from the boundless ocean. It is a hard life, but it is theirs and they fought a war against Earth to protect it. But wars leave wounds that never quite heal, and secrets that never quite lie silent.
Katya Kuriakova doesn’t care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career.
There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.

In a story reminiscent of 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jonathan L. Howard has written a YA book that is very different from the rest. From the setting to the character dynamics, Katya's World is an entertaining read.

  1. An uncommon setting:

    Katya lives in Russalka, which is an entire community under the water. Russalka is actually a colony from Earth which has settled on this planet covered in water. Katya has trained as a navigator for submarines (which is how most travel takes place on Russalka).
  2. Complex relationships:

    The most striking feature of this book was how it showcased relationships that are often ignored in YA. Katya has been raised by her uncle since she lost her parents - while an orphaned protagonist isn't uncommon in YA, it is unusual for that adoptive relationship to take such a prominent role in a story. But most intriguing was Katya's relationship with the mysterious Kane; it develops into something unexpected but this happens naturally. 

It's interesting that this is a YA book that doesn't have any romantic plot line - while I can easily enjoy a story without romance, you might want to pass on Katya's World if romance is a must for you. Personally, I thought this was a strength of the book and I found that the story was exciting enough without a love story.

In some ways, the plot wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste. For such a precarious plan, everything worked out rather conveniently. And while I thought Katya was an interesting character, she felt more like a narrator than an active participant in the story.

But the inclusion of submarines and some underwater warfare was fascinating. There's a lot of politics surrounding the events which take place in Katya's World, but the setting gave it such a fresh feel.


Review: What Happens Next

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton
Release Date ~ October 9, 2012
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN13: 9780316198684
ARC received from HBG Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
How can you talk about something you can’t remember?

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still...), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect... or so she thinks.

Witty and poignant, Colleen Clayton’s stunning debut is a story about moving on after the unthinkable happens.

The are some books that leave a mark on you. Those are usually the messy stories.

What Happens Next is exactly that kind of YA book. It's messy because it the characters are put in difficult situations where they ask hard questions. It's a book that challenges the readers preconceived notions of what we believe and we value. Colleen Clayton's debut novel is the kind that turned me upside down and inside out.

  1. How to deal with consequences:

    Sid is young. She's young and she's growing up. And she makes some choices. Those choices lead to heartbreak and pain beyond compare. There are a lot of books out there that have characters who go through incredibly trying circumstances, so this isn't new. But what is different here is that Sid is absolutely determined to fight her way through this. Importantly this a story where the characters learn not only to face consequences (fair or unfair) but how to deal with them which just isn't addressed nearly enough.
  2. Another look at sexual assault:

    I'm grateful that more authors and readers are engaging in discussions on sexual assault. Our perception of sexual assault has changed drastically in recent decades. I believe that's a good thing. And I'm also thankful to have books like What Happens Next that explores the story of a girl who, in retrospect, made a poor choice and was deeply harmed. Sid has to wonder if she's to blame for what happened to her (which is tragic, truly). Sid also struggles with how to work out the pain of an event that she doesn't even remember, a different kind of pain altogether.
  3. An uplifting story:

    Sid's story isn't picture perfect, Colleen keeps it realistic for her readers. Sid's story, however, is inspiring and an encouragement to all of us. The story of a girl who triumphs over the harm done to her and struggles with herself is beautiful. It's remarkable, just like every individual who is ever sexually assaulted and comes through it. And the relationship development is so lovely and sweet! 
There are definitely a number of issues and problems that this book brings up and deals with; it can be overwhelming at times. There's a lot going on here for one little book, and there's just so much to say about these various issues (rape, eating disorders, self-esteem, bullying, drugs, etc). 


Review: Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare (Truth or Dare #1) by Jacqueline Green
Release Date ~ May 14, 2013
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN13: 9780316220361
ARC received from HBG Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
When a simple round of truth or dare spins out of control, three girls find it’s no longer a party game. It’s do or die.
It all started on a whim: the game was a way for Tenley Reed to reclaim her popularity, a chance for perfect Caitlin “Angel” Thomas to prove she’s more than her Harvard application. Loner Sydney Morgan wasn’t even there; she was hiding behind her camera like usual. But when all three start receiving mysterious dares long after the party has ended, they’re forced to play along—or risk exposing their darkest secrets.
How far will Tenley, Caitlin and Sydney go to keep the truth from surfacing? And who’s behind this twisted game?
Set against the backdrop of Echo Bay, an isolated beach town haunted by misfortune, Truth or Dare is a highly charged debut that will keep readers in suspense from beginning to end.

The description for Truth or Dare immediately brought to mind Pretty Little Liars, of which I used to be a big fan. I love books with a compelling mystery; the more dangerous that mystery is, the better!

Truth or Dare didn't deliver that mystery I hoped for; bland characters and a slow-moving story made it difficult for the book to hold my attention.

  1.  Caitlin's character and struggles:

    Caitlin was easily the most interesting character to me. She was the easiest to relate to, and I thought Jacqueline Green did a great job bringing up some issues with respect to Caitlin's character that are uncommon in YA books, such as her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. I wish that had been covered a little bit  more in the book, because it was a great chance to really address a character trying to handle these difficulties. 
One of the biggest problems for me is I truly didn't like any of the other characters. Tenley seemed far too pretentious, Sydney came across as entirely hypocritical, and I found no redeeming qualities in Guinness. I can appreciate that flawed characters are realistic and an important part of fiction; however, if I struggle to appreciate nearly any of the characters in a book, it makes it that much harder for me to root for them or invest myself in the story. 

For a mystery book, I was anticipating more thrills and suspense. The girls seemed to be entirely focused on their own personal issues (which made the most sense for Caitlin's character) and fixated on mundane details in their lives when something bigger (and scarier) was going on. 

Mostly I felt that the story has been done before, multiple times even. There wasn't much of anything original about Truth or Dare, and it ended up being largely forgettable. 



Review: The Clockwork Scarab

The Clockwork Scarab (Stoker & Holmes #1) by Colleen Gleason
Release Date ~ September 17, 2013
Chronicle Books 
ISBN13: 9781452110707
Review copy received from Chronicle Books/Raincoast Books Canada

Goodreads Synopsis:
Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.

Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don’t unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they’ll become the next victims.

As much as I love the idea of steampunk, I surprisingly haven't really read a lot of books with a steampunk feel. The Clockwork Scarab sounded like it was going to be so much fun, especially because it features a duo of female protagonists basically out to save the world!

And although there were a few plot twists that had me worried at first for how they'd turn out, The Clockwork Scarab delivered and ended up being an enjoyable, clever read for me!

  1. The dynamic duo:

    It's a really neat idea to take Sherlock Holmes' niece (Mina) and pair her with Brams Stoker's younger sister (Evaline); you end up with two very different young women, who don't always see eye-to-eye but figure out ways to compliment each other. I appreciated that the main relationship of the book was about two female characters, as well. They're both spirited, gutsy girls which makes them interesting characters from the start.
  2. Plot-driven story:

    More than anything else, the plot takes the stage in The Clockwork Scarab.  The story moves along nicely, and there aren't any lulls but instead it continues at a steady pace. The mystery isn't overly simplistic, and while we do receive a few answers by the end of the book it's clear that the central mystery will continue throughout the series. 
As much as I liked Mina and Evaline as characters, it's important to note that this story is written in dual-perspectives, with alternating chapters between Mina's and Evaline's voices. The idea for writing this from two points-of-view is great, but I found the execution to be lacking. The narration didn't strike me as two different characters, but instead it felt like the same voice. There was no real difference between them. 

It also seemed that there were too many different ideas introduced for one little book, but I'm hoping that we'll see more of these sub-plots will be better explained in later books of the series. 

I mentioned earlier that The Clockwork Scarab has some steampunk aspects to it, but it's definitely fairly minimal for a steampunk book. The setting is still fascinating and a lot of fun though; Colleen Gleason was able to incorporate some neat details about steampunk gadgets or society. 


Review: Prodigy

Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu
Release Date ~ January 29, 2013
Putnam Juvenile ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9780399256769
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Injured and on the run, it has been seven days since June and Day barely escaped Los Angeles and the Republic with their lives. Day is believed dead having lost his own brother to an execution squad who thought they were assassinating him. June is now the Republic's most wanted traitor. Desperate for help, they turn to the Patriots - a vigilante rebel group sworn to bring down the Republic. But can they trust them or have they unwittingly become pawns in the most terrifying of political games?

Legend captured my attention with its action-oriented story line, and likable characters that I couldn't get of; Prodigy delivered all of that and more in this exceptional sequel.

  1. Flawless plot continuity: 

    Prodigy perfectly builds on the story first introduced in Legend; there's no lull, and importantly Marie really expands on the plot lines and twists revealed in the first book of the series.
  2. Strong world-building:

    Legend stands out among other futuristic YA books for its impeccable world-building, and this only improves in Legend. We get to see a bit more of the world that June and Day live in, and experience new places at the same time as the characters do.
  3. An action-oriented book:

    I love books that are bursting with action and thrills, and Prodigy is exactly that. June and Day are both tough characters, in their own way, but their courage puts them in trying situations (which means that the reader gets plenty of excitement and action)!
  4. A romance you can root for:

    One of my favourite things about June and Day's relationship is that they're working for it. This rarely comes up in YA books, and I'm so pleased to see characters that try to communicate with one another, and while they aren't perfect you can easily see that their relationship doesn't just magically work out. It's a refreshing take on a love story, and one that is realistic too.
I also love all the details and attention Marie pays to the secondary characters and their stories, and it comes across so well in Prodigy (Metias will forever and ever be my favourite). That being said, at times it almost feels like there's a little too much going on for me to really understand and appreciate all the side stories that are happening. It can take away from the overall story, although I understand that this is hard when you have such a large fictional world and only three books. You just can't fit everything in.


Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Release Date ~ September 3, 2013
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ~ Hachette Book Group
ISBN13: 9780316213103
Review copy received form HBG Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The vampire trend in YA books seems to be dying down, but I'm still interested in reading books that have a creative twist on an old favourite. The synopsis for Holly Black's new release initially drew me in, particularly because of the Coldtowns introduced in the book.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite get the creepy, intriguing book I desired and was left feeling a bit disappointed with the story.

  1. Coldtown is a great setting:

    The Coldtowns are a main focus of the story, and easily the most fascinating aspect. There's so much mystery and eccentricity stemming from Coldtown; I couldn't help but want to know more about the place and I was eagerly awaiting the characters' arrival in Coldtown. I also thought that was a great approach to take in a story where vampires are real and the world is trying to learn how to handle that reality. 
The beginning of the book had me hooked very quickly, but unfortunately that just didn't last. The pace slowed down considerably early on, and I found it dragged on for a while. Much of the story seemed to revolve around Tana's internal thoughts and feelings about the events taking place around her. As a result, she didn't seem grounded in the story at all. 

On top of that, I couldn't connect with any of the characters in the slightest. I was indifferent towards them, at best. They never really grew on me, as much as I wanted to be invested in their lives. Their personalities weren't consistent, and the ending didn't feel like a natural result of characters' decisions but simply because the plot demanded it. 

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is well-written, but I found it difficult to be excited about the story or care about the characters. 

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