Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Published November 8, 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: A girl who has a talent for cooking magical confections that can alter a person's emotions catches the eye of the King of Hearts, who wants her for his bride. She will do anything to avoid this fate, particularly as she finds herself falling in love with the mysterious new court jester...

I've only read the first 3 books of the Lunar Chronicles (I'd like to re-read them before I finally move onto the final book) and I found the series really creative and unique. So, I was excited to hear about Marissa Meyer's latest release, Heartless, an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland re-telling. I have never read Lewis Carroll's original, but I'm a big fan of the Disney version (I know, I know, that doesn't count!)

Unfortunately, Heartless didn't work for me. It is in no way badly written, it's very detailed and cleverly created. It had a great fairy tale atmosphere and at first I was enchanted. Lady Catherine Pinkerton, daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove, lives in luxury. But she yearns for a different life. She loves to bake and dreams of opening a bakery with her maid, Mary Anne. Unfortunately, her mother, the Marchioness, has other plans such as catching the attention of the King.

I didn't feel much for Catherine and that's probably where my problems began. I admired her love of baking - the story involves lots of descriptions of baked goods, but there wasn't a lot more to her. She is unhappy with the path her mother is trying to force her onto, but she rarely spoke up, and when she did, she was easily quieted.

I wanted to like the romance between Catherine and Jest, but there wasn't a lot to go on. Catherine has been dreaming of a yellow-eyed boy and when the new court joker appears, she's sure it's him. They fall for each other, but nothing really happens between them, other than talking about how they can't be together.

There's a lot going on in the background, and I'm sure it was meant to build mystery and suspense, but it to me it felt like a lot of scenes that went no where. Jest is hiding a secret and refers to it but then repeatedly tells Catherine he can't discuss it. Peter and his wife were obviously up to no good but they felt very one dimensional.  I thought perhaps the King was hiding something, but ultimately there wasn't any more to his character other than what's described. All of this became repetitive and the plot moved too slowly.

Ableist language: usually this section of my review is just a list of words used by the author, but in this case I take issue with a main character. I know Wonderland involves a lot of talk of being mad but the portrayal of the King was a bit harsh. He's almost never referred to without being called a name such as dim, simple, simpleminded. Other words used frequently: doltish, fool, idiot, loon, dumb, twit.

I got to the final 150 pages and decided to skim-read the rest because I just couldn't see myself finishing any other way. It seems like the pace picks up considerably only to lead to quite an abrupt ending. I think perhaps some of the middle could have been edited out to leave room for a more developed ending.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for. Nothing else.
For Nemesis, that person is Sidonia, heir to the galactic Senate. The two grew up side by side, and there’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the Imperial Court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.
She must become her.
Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced Senators’ children, and Nemesis must find within herself the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have—humanity. With the Empire beginning to fracture and rebellion looming, that could be the one thing that saves her and the Empire itself.

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid is set in a futuristic world where the majority of humans now live in space. Humans that remain on Earth are referred to as the Excess and they rely on the space-dwelling elite for survival. All new technology has been banned and people must exist with old technology. The only new things to be developed are human-like beings in the form of servants and Diabolics. High ranking families purchase them to guard their heirs. One such Diabolic is Nemesis, purchased to protect Sidonia Impyrean, daughter of a senator.

The idea behind The Diabolic is interesting and the world building was detailed but also quite dense. It was hard to wade through all the different terms for people, their technology, their titles, their religion etc.

I think my major issue with the story was that I never connected with Nemesis. She has a very stilted narration, and I assume this was done on purpose to convey her robot-like nature. But it made for a story that was mostly tell and little show.

Another issue was that nothing was surprising and all of the twists were easy to spot a mile off. Nemesis being intelligent and programmed to protect seemed to miss an awful lot of clues, though perhaps that was because she lacked true knowledge of human feelings and interactions. A lot of the plot points seemed forced, eg. very convenient deaths that seemed to serve no purpose other than creating a reason for Nemesis to act. But, Nemesis would often make a declaration, only to go back on it a chapter later, and each time it was obvious she would change her mind.

I ended up skim-reading the last third just to get it over with. It seemed as though the end was wrapped up a bit too abruptly, especially compared with the very slow pace of the beginning and middle of the story.

Ableist language: fool, idiot, insane, madness, madman, invalid, imbecile.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for my review copy.

Cover design: Lizzy Bromley
Cover illustration: There is Studio

I used China Glaze White Out and BYS Steel a Kiss for the base. I used acrylic paint and nail polish for the butterfly and details.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Published November 1, 2016 by Random House
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

The Sun is Also a Star is Nicola Yoon's second novel and once I was done I immediately knew I was going to have to read her debut because she writes beautifully.

This is a story of two New York teens who meet on a very important day. For Natasha it's her last day in New York before she and her family are deported. For Daniel it's the day he interviews for college. Neither are happy with the way their day is going, until their chance meeting occurs.

The author has created two very distinct and detailed characters in Natasha and Daniel, and I enjoyed getting to know them over the course of their day. In terms of the timeline we don't get to spend much time with them, but their histories and their current problems are all conveyed seamlessly.

While the romance felt a touch unbelievable, I didn't actually want to be cynical about it because it does happen. There are plenty of people who fall in love quickly, especially teenagers. And, it was nice for the boy to be the one head over heels and for the girl to be reluctant. It was easy to see why Daniel would be so in love with the idea of love at first sight. He's a poet, he's a dreamer, he's optimistic. And learning more about Natasha's parents made her disbelief understandable.

Because of the short timeline there was a sense of urgency with the story, especially with the threat of deportation looming over Natasha. But the story never felt rushed, it simply moved at a steady pace and I found myself easily swept up in their tale.

The topics covered were easy to relate to and timely, especially in regards to Natasha's family. This is the second book I've read this month regarding US immigrants facing deportation and I feel we'll see more stories like this in the future. Daniel's story is perfect for teens who are unsure about their future. It was also wonderful to have two racially diverse main characters, each dealing with their own familial expectations and cultures.

The Sun is Also a Star is a clever, beautifully written story of two teens and their chance encounter. It's endearing, hopeful, and a reminder to make the most out of every day.

Ableist language: dumb, freak, crazy, lame, idiot, insane.

Thank you to Random House Aus for my review copy.

Cover art: Dominique Falla
Cover design: Elaine C. Damasco

Nicola Yoon has such beautiful book covers, and the making of this one is so clever and fascinating. You can check out Dominique's video here.

I used a base of white polish and then acrylic paint for all the lines.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Published December 2016 by Harlequin Teen
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

The Star-Touched Queen is Roshani Chokshi's debut novel, inspired my Indian mythology. Seventeen year old Maya lives in the kingdom of Bharata. She is the Raja's daughter, but she is shunned by the harem. There are rumours that she's cursed, that she brings death wherever she goes. Her father asks her to marry to end the war, but when that plan is foiled Maya finds herself in a whole realm she never knew was real.

I was really intrigued by the premise of The Star-Touched Queen and instantly found the writing beautiful and the world vividly described. Maya seemed distant as a character, there's not a lot of time to get to know her before the action begins, though it was easy to see she was lonely and longed for more.

It wasn't long before the story became quite repetitive and I found it just wasn't holding my attention. In the palace of Akaran, Maya spends a lot of her time roaming the hallways, depicted in multiple descriptions of mirrors and doors. Because of this, her daily life became quite a chore to read about. I'm sure the intention was to convey how Maya herself would have felt living in such a restricted way but it didn't make for entertaining reading.

The writing, while beautiful, also became repetitive. Everything was overly described with some words used far too often, for example their hair was always mussed. Wading through paragraphs of details became tiring.

The last third of the story really lost me. I don't know if it's because I was reading an ARC but scenes seemed to shift with no connection between them. I found myself confused by some scenes which then turned out to be memories or possible memories. It's always hard when a character has no clue what's going on - a plot device that this sort of retelling relies on heavily. It means the reader feels just as lost and confused as the main character, and I certainly felt that way for a lot of this story. It was frustrating to know Maya was making the wrong decisions simply because she couldn't be patient and heed the warnings.

I ended up skimming the last 100 pages. So, on the whole, this wasn't my cup of tea, and reviews online certainly seem to be split between utter love and similar opinions to mine. It's definitely worth giving it a go because you might fall into the former category.

Ableist language: fool, dumb, insane, mania.

Thank you to Harlequin Teen for the ARC.

Cover design: Danielle Christoper

This is a really beautiful cover and I couldn't resist turning it into a manicure. I started with a base of black nail polish. I sponged on white polish, followed by Savvy UFO. I dotted the stars using Barry M Blue Moon and sponged on some glitter using Orly Shine on Diamond. For the fiery sky I sponged on white polish followed by Zoya Creamy, Zoya Maura, and Orly Ablaze. I used Orly Purple Crush for Maya's sari. I used acrylic paint for the city.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Hexenhaus, Becoming Aurora, and Daughter of Nomads

It's always sad when I don't enjoy and AussieYA book, but today I thought I'd share some mini reviews for a few books that haven't just haven't worked for me.

Hexenhaus by Nikki McWatters
Published Oct 31, 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: In 1628, Veronica and her brother flee for their lives into the German woods after their father is burned at the stake. At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Scottish maid Katherine is lured into political dissent after her parents are butchered for their beliefs. In present-day Australia, Paisley navigates her way through the burning torches of small-town gossip after her mother’s new-age shop comes under scrutiny.
Hexenhaus is Nikki McWatters' second YA novel. It's told over three different time periods, involving the witch hunts of 1628 in Germany and 1896 in Scotland, as well the present day in Bundanoon, NSW.

At first I found myself intrigued and horrified by the stories set in the past. In Bamberg,  seventeen year old Veronica's parents have both been burnt at the stake and she must now flee with her younger brother, Hans. In Renfrewshire, nineteen year old Katherine has also been made an orphan. She falls in with a crew of Jacobites, while working as a housemaid. And in the present day, Paisley must defend her mother when she's accused of bewitching a boy after he visited her new age store.

Unfortunately I found it hard to connect with the characters. This probably stemmed from the extremely short alternating chapters, especially in the beginning of the story. I was never fully able to immerse myself in any of their lives because before I could it was onto the next character.

It's clear this is a topic the author researched well, but sometimes the chapters sounded as narrative purely written to share said research, this was especially the case in Veronica's chapters.

I was 200 pages in when I realised this just wasn't holding my attention and I found myself not wanting to continue, I ended up skim reading to the end.

I have no doubt this will work for other readers as on the whole it was an interesting and well researched story.

Ableist language: nuts, lame, psycho, dumb.

Thank you to UQP for my copy.

Becoming Aurora by Elizabeth Kasmer
Published September 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-old Rory is at a crossroads in her life. While her gang plans its next move in a racially motivated turf war, Rory is sentenced to spend her summer at an aged care facility. She's proud of taking the rap for a crime her gang committed and reading to a feisty old boxing champion isn't going to change that.But what happens when Rory's path intersects with migrant boxer Essam's and she becomes the victim, not the perpetrator? Can she find the courage to face her past and become the girl her dad called Aurora?

Becoming Aurora is Elizabeth Kasmer's debut novel. Aurora, better known as Rory, lives in a small Queensland town and is part of a small gang of teenagers. They target businesses owned by immigrants. When we first meet Rory, it's clear she's taken the wrap for something the gang did and now has to do community service. At first she feels proud, she's cheered on by the gang and gets their tattoo, but she starts to form new opinions when she meets two people: Jack Sanford, a retiree, and Essam, an Iranian boy.

Becoming Aurora is a slip of a book and sometimes that is just perfect because I know it's going to be a succinct story. But in this case, I felt like someone had taken to the manuscript with shears, cutting out a lot of information. At the start of the story we learn that Rory went to court over the incident, but it's not clear what the gang did. We also learn her father died and again there's mystery surrounding that, but it takes a while for each event to be described.

I couldn't quite connect to Rory, she often talks about what she used to like, but we only know her as the girl she is now. She's racist, rude, and naive. But once she meets Jack via community service, and Essam because of the gang violence, she really started to grow as a character, and that was heartwarming.

Ableist language: maniac, demented.

Thank you to UQP for the review copy.

Daughter of Nomads (The Tales of Jahani #1) by Rosanne Hawke
Published June 2016 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars

From the blurb: First Moon of Summer, 1662: Fourteen-year-old Jahani lives peacefully in the village of Sherwan. But havoc is brewing in the Mughal Empire with tyrants and war lords burning villages in their quest to rule the northern kingdoms.
After an assassin strikes in a bazaar, Jahani discovers her life is not as it seems. Before long, she is fleeing with her mysterious protector Azhar.
Will their journey to the Qurraqoram Mountains lead Jahani to danger or to her destiny?

It's lovely to discover authors I haven't read yet and to read YA/Kid Lit that is unique, so I was intrigued by Daughter of Nomads. Unfortunately I was unable to connect with the story or Jahani herself. It was clearly well researched but there was a lot going on. I found myself reluctant to keep reading, but upon receiving the sequel, I forced myself to get to the end via skim reading.

I think this could be excellent for some readers and there are reviews that much more positive than mine so I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from giving this a go.

Thank you to UQP for the review copy.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

Miss You by Kate Eberlen
Published August 2016 by PanMacmillan
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb:Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven't met properly yet. And perhaps they never will . . . Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can't get it out of her head, even though she's in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Her life is about to change forever - but not in the way she expects. Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to be a dutiful son, but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be. For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England.Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there's no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there?

I don't read a lot of adult fiction these days, but when Miss You by Kate Eberlen was sent to me, I could not ignore the adorable cover and the interesting premise: what if you never meet the person meant for you?

I started this after spending a week trying to read another book, a book that left me underwhelmed. So when I finally started this it felt like pure reading bliss. Told from alternating perspectives, I was completely captivated by the lives of Tess and Gus. The author has perfectly crafted two main characters and I was equally invested in both of them.

It's 1997 and Tess Costello has returned home from Italy ready to start university, only to find out her mother's cancer has returned. After her death, Tess is left to care for her younger sister, Hope. It becomes clear that Hope is different to the other children and it takes years before she's tested and diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Tess' older brothers are both overseas and her father spends more time at the pub than at home. She puts her future on hold and stays home with Hope.
Angus, nicknamed Gus by his first college friend, has recently lost his older brother to a skiing accident. He feels to blame and thinks his parents blame him as well. He enrols in medicine to make his parents happy and starts making a life for himself in London.

The story follows Tess and Gus over the course of the lives, with the end of the book taking place in 2013. Each of their stories was fascinating, something I always think is hard to do in a contemporary book. An author has to work hard to make day-to-day life interesting, and in this case it worked perfectly. Each of them come of age in different ways, making and losing friends, embarking on their first sexual experiences, starting jobs, pursuing passions and then abandoning them.

I won't say whether they do or don't end up meeting, but I know I would have been happy no matter the outcome as each of their stories worked on their own as a realistic look at life, love, and fate. In a typical romance book, the story follows one couple with a predictable ending, but this novel had so much more depth and honesty to it. No love story is as simple as often portrayed in fiction, and I felt a gamut of emotions while reading, culminating with a lot of crying at the end.

I adored Tess' love of reading and Gus' interest in art, running, and cooking. I loved the nod to the title by featuring a Rolling Stones concert. The scenes in Italy were beautiful and vivid, as were the descriptions of their childhood town and London.

Miss You is a compelling love story that's very much true to life. Covering death, grief, family, and destiny, it's a book that will captivate you from beginning to end.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my copy.

Cover design: Joanna Thomson

I love the adorable simplicity of this cover. I used white nail polish as a base and acrylic paint for the design.