Review | The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

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The Crown’s Game had been on my radar for a while since its description sounded like a YA version of The Night Circus – a book that is easily in the top ten of my #absolutefavourites list. My love for The Night Circus combined with my love for Russian history gave me very high hopes for The Crown’s Game, and I’m sorry to say that it was not even close to meeting them.

Here are just a few of the ways that The Crown’s Game disappointed me:
The characters lacked depth and never really developed
All the instalove = too many forced love triangles
– A lack of worldbuilding, especially as it relates to the magic system
– There are a few neat magic tricks, but the stakes feel far too low despite the whole “duel to the death” aspect

Its redeeming features were that it was a quick, light read that was (mostly) entertaining. I did enjoy the ending, although since there is a sequel, I’m sure that the finality of only one enchanter being able to survive the Crown’s Game will be modified.

Overall, The Crown’s Game had a promising premise but very poor execution. If you want to read a book about dueling enchanters, pick up The Night Circus instead.

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Review | The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

23310763Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix’s own family’s closet tear them apart?

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After seeing that adorable cover, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart quickly found its way onto my wish list. I went in expecting a cute story and lots of banter, and while that’s exactly what I got, I was strangely disappointed.

Since I love lists, here are some things I liked:
– Bex and Jack have open and honest conversations about sex. I loved how the discussion centred around making it comfortable and enjoyable for both parties, and emphasized that you’re not defined by the number of people that you’ve slept with.
Diversity. This book touched on a wide range of topics – from sexuality to mental illness – and the characters located within its pages were just as diverse.
Parents are present. They’re not conveniently absent; they pay attention to Bex and Jack’s comings and goings, and deal out appropriate punishments for breaking ground rules.
The romance is cute. There’s banter and fluff and snark and lots of really sweet scenes.

… & here are some things that didn’t work for me:
– Jack came across as a manic pixie dream boy, both in his descriptions (gorgeous, hipster, rebel with a cause) and the role that he plays in Bex’s life.
The characters aren’t particularly memorable. Sure, their interactions were cute, but a few days later, I find that nothing really stood out to me.
Everything was far too smooth. The main “conflicts” of the story were easily resolved, and centred around secondary characters who weren’t developed enough to make it compelling. To add to this, the “mystery” surrounding Jack was far too easy to solve, and didn’t cause the tension that I had anticipated.

Overall, I really wanted to love this, but unfortunately the manic pixie dream boy-esque love interest & unmemorable characters outweighed the positive aspects.

Review | Fairest by Marissa Meyer

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

4.5 cupcakes

I tend not to get along with novellas, but I just had to make an exception for Fairest – after all, The Lunar Chronicles is one of my new favourite series. While you don’t have to have read the first three books to appreciate Fairest, since any potential spoilers are fairly subtle, it’s more fascinating to learn about Queen Levana’s past when you know who she’s become.

As the title suggests, Fairest encompasses elements of the Snow White story. While there is an “evil queen” with a lovely stepdaughter, I was most intrigued by how Levana’s hatred of mirrors and obsession with beauty were explored. And what Levana looks like under her veil – not really Snow White related, but the reason for why her glamour looks the way it does is just… whoa.

I have a weakness for sympathetic, complex villains, and (surprisingly) Levana fits that bill. She has an incredibly low opinion of herself as a result of her sister’s abuse, and desires attention and affection more than anything else. As a result, she latches onto the first source of kindness that was shown to her: a married guard, Evret Hayle. This is unrequited love at its finest, and through it, we’re shown the lengths that Levana is willing to go to to hold onto her twisted ideas of love, power, and hope. This glimpse into Levana’s head was both sad and slightly terrifying, and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her; while it doesn’t excuse any of her actions, it’s hard not to pity someone who has (mostly) good intentions, but accomplishes them in the most self-destructive ways possible.

Overall, Fairest was a lot darker than the rest of The Lunar Chronicles books, but just as addictive. It painted Levana as a more real character without making her likeable, so I’m interested to see if knowing her backstory will colour my re-read of the series in any way. And, of course, I’m even more excited about Winter after those teaser chapters. Is it November yet?

Review | Winger by Andrew Smith

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

3.5 cupcakes

After hearing a friend rave about this book for the past few weeks, I just had to see if it was that good. Although I had a few complaints, I’m happy to say that Winger is a rather charming coming of age story that I quite enjoyed reading.

One of Winger‘s strongest points is its incredibly compelling narrative voice. Ryan Dean West, a fourteen year old junior and rugby player, reminded me a lot of how my younger brother was at that age: “hot” girls and sex occupy the majority of his thoughts, he tosses the word “gay” around carelessly, and makes a lot of penis jokes. Once I got used to the awkwardness and juvenile nature of Ryan Dean’s thoughts, I realized just how much I liked his narration. His adventures were so absurd and entertaining, and I loved how his own comics and graphs were interspersed in the story to quantify his thoughts and emotions.

The secondary characters were memorable, even if some weren’t particularly likeable. One character in particular stood out to me: Joey, the captain of the rugby team and Ryan Dean’s best friend. He’s sweet, dependable, and consistently the voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s friend group. I also appreciated how he pointed out just how problematic Ryan Dean’s behaviour was, since I frequently wanted to shake Ryan Dean and tell him that his treatment of the other characters (especially the women!) was not appropriate.

My main issue with Winger, though, lies in its ending. The last 40 pages or so take an incredibly dark turn that is completely at odds with the rest of the story, despite the fact that it did receive a bit of foreshadowing. I understood the reason for its abruptness, however the twist wasn’t appropriately resolved, making it seem very emotionally manipulative. All of Ryan Dean’s character growth was shoved into that final portion of the story, and I’m not entirely certain that he changed all that much.

Overall, despite its faults, Winger was a very enjoyable read. If it weren’t for the ending, this would have received a 4-4.5 star rating.

Review | Hope Is A Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

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“Hope is a Ferris wheel, because you can be far away from something, really wanting it, and the wheel can bring you closer. And sometimes you can step right off, but sometimes the wheel doesn’t stop spinning, and you keep moving around and around in a circle. But you never lose sight of what you want.”

Hope Is A Ferris Wheel is an absolutely charming, yet incredibly honest, read. I was worried at first that it would be a bit too young for me (“heavenly donuts!” is an expression that the main character uses, after all), but Star’s sweet naiveté quickly won me over.

Star’s voice was incredibly authentic. She’s innocent, witty, and many of the things that she said (or, in the case of her vocabulary sentences, wrote) reminded me a lot of the children that I used to babysit. It isn’t easy being the new kid at school, especially if you don’t conform to their idea of “normal,” but Star showed remarkable resilience, determination, and optimism in spite of that. I also really liked Star’s relationship with her sister, Winter; they both love, respect, and rely on one another, despite their age differences.

Despite it’s light and humourous tone, Hope is a Ferris Wheeltouches on quite a number of heavy topics. There was one scene, in particular, that I was definitely not expecting… though, in retrospect, there was enough foreshadowing that I really shouldn’t have been surprised. These scenes completely broke my heart, as the heaviness was both alleviated and compounded by the fact that it was told through the eyes of a ten year old.

My favourite portion of the story, though, involves the poetry club that Star starts. I fully believe that there is a song, story, or poem for every moment, so I loved seeing how one poem could make such a difference in Star’s life. It generated so many wonderful, thought-provoking discussions, and I especially loved reading all of the metaphors about hope that they came up with.

Overall, Hope Is A Ferris Wheel was a charming, thought-provoking read. If I were a middle grade teacher, this would definitely find its way onto my class reading list.

Review | The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve read The 5th Wave, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Infinite Sea. As a result, I found the first ~2/3 of The Infinite Sea to be rather confusing, especially since nothing seemed to be happening in terms of plot progression. Thankfully, the latter portion captured my interest a bit more, if only because of the many twists, turns, and promises of desolation and desperation that it contained.

The Infinite Sea consists of multiple shifts in perspective, including Cassie, Poundcake, and Ringer. I wasn’t a huge fan of Cassie – her infatuation with Evan Walker was more annoying than it was in the first book, as it seemed to plague her every thought, so I was glad that her narration only took up a small portion of the story.

Ringer’s narration, on the other hand, took up the majority of the book. At first, I wasn’t too fond of this switch: she was very straight-forward and distant in The 5th Wave, so I loved seeing the reasons for this coldness. Ringer is determined, intelligent, and very, very angry, so I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

My favourite POV definitely belonged to Poundcake, even though it was absolutely heartbreaking to read about his backstory and the reasoning behind his nickname.

As with The 5th Wave, I loved the themes that Rick Yancey chose to explore. Over the course of the novel, I found myself thinking intently about the importance of hope, the nature of humanity, and the instinct to protect the young against all costs. More than that, though, I loved how these philosophical musings were tied into the aliens’ grand plan, even if they did raise more questions than answers.

Overall, I’m incredibly conflicted about The Infinite Sea. Although there were several aspects that I really enjoyed, it felt rather unfocused and seemed to contain more filler than substance. Here’s hoping that the next book is much better.

Review | No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige

After returning to Kansas, Dorothy Gale has realized that the dreary fields of Kansas don’t compare to the vibrant landscapes of Oz. And although she’s happy to be reunited with Aunt Em, she misses her friends from the yellow brick road. But most of all, Dorothy misses the fame and the adventure. In Kansas she’s just another prairie girl, but in Oz she was a hero. So Dorothy is willing to do anything to get back, because there really is no place like Oz. But returning to the land she left comes at a price, and after Dorothy is through with it, Oz will never be the same.

Perfect for fans of Alex Flinn, Marissa Meyer, and Gregory Maguire, No Place Like Oz is a dark reimagining of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Building off of its rich mythology, Danielle Paige creates an edgy, thrilling story for teens that chronicles the rise and fall of one of the literature’s most beloved characters. This digital original novella is a prequel that sets the stage for the forthcoming novel Dorothy Must Die.

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“This wanting itself was a kind of magic—one that I’d had since I was just a little girl. Since even before I’d been to Oz. Even before I’d had a pair of magic shoes, silver or red. I had always wanted more.”

No Place Like Oz takes place shortly after the events in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s previous adventures are briefly referenced and readers are reintroduced to several famous characters and landmarks, so one does not need to be an Oz connoisseur to appreciate this story. Those who are familiar with either the movie or Baum’s stories, though, will appreciate the subtle nods to each that are placed throughout the story (like creating an explanation for why Dorothy’s silver shoes in the book were replaced with the red shoes that she’s more commonly associated with).

This glimpse inside Dorothy’s head made me a lot more sympathetic to her character than I had thought possible. I understood why she desperately wanted to get back to Oz – after all, going from all that glitter and recognition to your normal, monotonous routine would be hard – so I was able to forgive her selfishness and unkind thoughts towards her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry… at first, anyways. She’s power-hungry and wants more for herself (both in terms of material items and future prospects), and as the story progresses, these help push her further over the edge in her transformation to powerful “villain.”

Overall, No Place Like Oz was a rather addictive read. I enjoyed seeing how the twisted version of Dorothy that we were presented with in Dorothy Must Die came about, and am interested to see how this information will colour my read of The Wicked Will Rise.