Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals #1) by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Details

Release Date: October 13th, 2009
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: 4 Stars

Buy: Amazon|Barnes & Nobles


“There’s a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings.”
Sophie FitzOsborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you.


A Brief History of Montmaray is a lovely, romantic story with a fantastical setting and a spectacular array of characters. What I liked most about this book was the fact that the novel’s heroine, Sophie, is not particularly pretty, athletic, nor bookish, but still manages to be a kick-butt girl with a lot of wit and humor. She demonstrates to us that, it is, in fact, okay to wear dresses and be a strong, feministic woman at the same time. The history is rich and subtly weaved into every inch of the novel, and the characters especially are really thorough and lovable in their own way (even Mad Uncle John, who likes to throw around his chamber pot). Like I said, Sophie is extremely funny (I’m seriously considering her as my new fictional BFF) and her writing touches on a lot of heavy topics in a very relatable way, including things like war, sex, and even homosexuality. I think the biggest reason I enjoyed A Brief History of Montmaray is that Sophie doesn’t end up slobbering over a tan, muscular, Very Hot Guy in the first 10 pages. And, for cereal, guys, this isn’t just historical fiction: Sophie’s struggles are very relevant to contemporary readers, especially girls, and there are even a few paranormal/fantasy elements going on in here. My only complaint is that I procrasti-read this book, so I forgot a lot of important details as I picked it up and put it down again. (Which is entirely my fault.) Let me tell you that this is not your typical YA book-there’s not a lot of action until the last few pages, there’s little to no romance, etc., etc., but it’s certainly a lot more worthwhile than some I’ve been reading lately. I’m very excited to start the next in the series.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Showcase Sunday (1)

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme created by Vicky over at Books, Biscuits, and Tea. This is a post in which I blabber about all the books I've received this week. Let's see what I've got, shall we?

A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals #1) by Michelle Cooper

[Status: Borrowed From Library]

There’s a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings.”

Sophie FitzOsborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you.

Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

[Status: Borrowed From Library]

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

Well, there it is! My librarian recommended A Brief History Of Montmaray, so I felt obliged to read it, as librarians are all angels. And I get embarrassingly ecstatic over books in third person, so I'm very excited to start Raven Boys. What's in your showcase this week? Comment and leave a link! 

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

Publishing Details

Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
Publisher: Dutton Junvenile
Genre: Fantasy
Age Group: Middle Grade
Rating: 3 Stars


An enchanting—and twisted—tale of two sisters’ quest to find their parents.

When their parents disappear in the middle of the night, young sisters Summer and Bird set off on a quest to find them. A cryptic picture message from their mother leads them to a familiar gate in the woods, but comfortable sights quickly give way to a new world entirely—Down—one inhabited by talking birds and the evil Puppeteer queen. Summer and Bird are quickly separated, and their divided hearts lead them each in a very different direction in the quest to find their parents, vanquish the Puppeteer, lead the birds back to their Green Home, and discover the identity of the true bird queen.

With breathtaking language and deliciously inventive details, Katherine Catmull has created a world unlike any other, skillfully blurring the lines between magic and reality and bringing to life a completely authentic cast of characters and creatures. (Goodreads)


I have mixed feelings about Summer and Bird. It took a while for me to get into, in part because of the very flowery, almost dreamy prose, in part because it takes its time getting to the action. It’s a story about two sisters, yes, but it’s also a story about love, abandonment, jealousy, home, and so many other themes that it would probably take up a whole other book to list them all. It’s definitely not just for MG/YA readers, and it’s definitely the kind of story you don’t really understand the first time you go through it.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it. I LOVED the world-building. The land of Down collects many pre-existing bird-related folklore (swan maidens, phoenixes, etc.) and gives them a very unique twist, so that Summer and Bird feels oddly familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. There is also a lot of original magic and characters: a woman named the Puppeteer who swallows birds, which then enables her to understand their language; crane maps; the World Tree, etc. What impacted me more than what Catmull wrote about was how she wrote about it. Here are a few lines from the book:

"Sleep opened its dark mouth and swallowed her."

"She was only half Bird now, and the other half song."

"Bird said Summer was being stupid, that their mother obviously talked in poems, and poems were always true."

The poetic-ness of it created a very magical atmosphere, but at the same time it discouraged me from getting into the story. I’m usually a fan of lyrical writing, but this time it just felt so … thick. For me, it Summer and Bird very emotionally heavy, almost angsty, and gave little room for the plot to move forward at a reasonable pace. The book was told in the POV’s of the two sisters, irregularly switching from one to the next, and there was constantly an effort to add more background details all the way to the end of the book.

The issues that Summer, Bird, and their family deal with are all very real, however, and makes up for the book’s weak points. Catmull doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat anything. Their adventures are deep, dark, and sometimes (a lot) twisted. Every character is a bit flawed, a bit cracked. The ending is not exactly happy. The story’s honesty, though, is the real winner. So, although I know this is definitely not the perfect book for every type of reader, I have a feeling that Summer and Bird will resonate in some way with everybody. But this is the kind of book that you can’t take someone’s word on. I recommend you read it for yourself. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1) by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter, #1)

Publishing Details

Release Date: January 29th, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Historical Fiction/Science Fiction
Age Group: Young Adult 
Rating: 2 Stars


In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect. (Goodreads)


The Madman’s Daughter was basically a sappy, formulaic YA love triangle sloppily disguised as a gothic thriller. Of course, it had some shining moments: Shepherd opens the novel with an intriguing look into a gritty 19th Century London, complete with beautiful Victorian language and an interesting peek into society of the time era. (Don’t flash those ankles, ladies.) Early on in the story, the main character, sixteen year old Juliet Moreau, witnesses a vivisection, which, gross, is a dissection of an animal while it’s still living. (The gore in this book didn’t have much of an effect on me-I think I’ve been reading too much Ken Follett- but if you have a weak stomach, you might want to prepare yourself before jumping into this book.) This vivisection, Juliet knows, is clearly a remnant of her father’s work, who was London’s best surgeon until he was banished years ago for participating in scandalous experiments. Before this point, Juliet wasn’t sure if her father was still alive, but after following his trail, she ends up on a ship with her childhood crush, Montgomery, (appropriately muscular, tan, and swoon worthy) on her way to an island off the coast of Australia, where her not-dead father has taken up shop with Montgomery as his assistant. 

After this, the “OMG, Montgomery is totes attractive, but this castaway Edward shows up, and besides the fact that I know next to nothing about him, he is just sooo freaking hot,” love fest kind of turned me off. If the blood and guts didn’t kill you, this might. It’s not that I have a hatred for love triangles (Peeta and Gale in The Hunger Games was fine) but this was so contrived and silly it was just embarrassing. Montgomery and Edward both had zilch personality, and after reading more than a fair share of pages over how Juliet just couldn’t decide who she was more attracted to, I was beginning to wonder if Montgomery and Edward had lost their brains as well for “falling in love” with someone who was so unequivocally boring. 

The plot pretty much went overboard at this point in time as well. The biggest problem was that the synopsis of the book covered ideas in the story in a few split seconds in what it took Juliet maybe half the book to figure out. And once she did figure it out, the scientific explanations for her father’s work was too oversimplified for a novel based on a classic sci-fi. 

The thing I might hate the most, however, were the characters. Juliet’s daddy was too purely evil/mad scientist for me. Juliet’s own personality dilemmas were interesting at first, but the constant complaints of her “animal nature” without any further development about it got kind of annoying. What was especially irritating was the fact that Shepherd had built up such a strong-willed and independent heroine in the first few chapters of the book, but once the love interests came into view, Juliet became a simpering girl who stayed at home while everyone else went into the jungle for an adventure. At one point in the book Juliet gets jealous of a thirteen year old girl named Alice who seems to have a thing for Montgomery, and spends a few paragraphs having a seething internal dialogue about this really pathetic insecurity. Juliet spends way too much time worrying over her love life, and way too little time exploring the moral and scientific implications of her father’s work. 

Want a cheesy chick lit with uber hot guys and steamy romance(s)? Go for The Madman’s Daughter, sure thing. If you’re looking for something a little deeper, this book is not it. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker #2) by Paolo Bacigalupi

Publishing Details

Release Date: May 1st, 2012
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: 5 Stars


In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool--who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.

This thrilling companion to Paolo Bacigalupi's highly acclaimed Ship Breaker is a haunting and powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure. (GoodReads)


Don't know if there are any words in the world to help me describe this book. Like Shipbreaker (which I can't remember any of) Bacigalupi creates a dark, grisly world that appalls and disgusts. It's so creatively enhanced by the dystopian/post-apocalyptic elements he writes in-bioengineered animals, like coywolv (coyote wolf hybrids) are a predominant part of the story. Though not as scientifically explicit as the part of the Wind Up Girl I managed to get through, his descriptions make the story immediately otherworldly. I was especially excited by the use of multi-cultural characters-Mahlia, the main character, is half Chinese. (Yay!) The moral and social implications in this book are huge-child soldiers, war, corrupted government, and survival vs. love all play a part in the story, which flies by fast. Warning: The ending may be closer (and more tragic) than it appears. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Return To Me by Justina Chen

Publishing Details

Release Date: January 15th, 2013
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Group: Young Adult/Adult
Recommended For: Readers who enjoyed The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen or Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler


Nothing is going as planned for Rebecca Muir. She's weeks away from starting college--at a school chosen specifically to put a few thousand miles of freedom between Reb and her parents. But her dad's last-minute job opportunity has her entire family moving all those miles with her! And then there's the matter of her unexpected, amazing boyfriend, Jackson, who is staying behind on the exact opposite coast.

And if that isn't enough to deal with, mere days after moving cross-country, Reb's dad drops shocking, life-changing news. With her mother and brother overwhelmed and confused, Reb is left alone to pick up the pieces of her former life. But how can she do that when everything can change in an instant? How can she trust her "perfect" boyfriend when her own dad let her down? Reb started the year knowing exactly what her future would hold, but now that her world has turned upside down, will she discover what she really wants?

Justina Chen, the acclaimed author of North of Beautiful, has created a moving and powerful novel about the struggles that arise from betrayal, the uncertainty of life after high school, and the joy that ultimately comes from discovering what's truly in your heart. (GoodReads)


Okay, so I went in not thinking a lot about it. My expectation hovered somewhere around a frou-frou chick lit of the Sarah Dessen variation with a positive message and an inspirational coming of age story. (Mind, those kinds of books aren't bad, but I'm not usually a fan.) But Return To Me was kind of unusual, and not exactly in a good way.

For starters, Rebecca Muir, also known as Reb, is a daddy's girl who is nineteen, fresh out of high school, and awaiting an architect internship in New York City. It's hard to see this book appealing much to teens who aren't hard core fans of Justina Chen. I know I kind of had (and still have) misgivings. I couldn't relate to Rebecca as much as I wanted to, especially because of the age and situation gap. However, Reb deals with a lot of heartfelt situations that occur in life after high school that really contribute to her character. I could see this doing well as a literary adult fiction, but young adult? Not so much.

Second thing: Yes, you may be surprised (because there's no mention of it in the synopsis) but Rebecca has visions. Yep, you heard me right. I was a bit confused, too, when the idea is introduced early on in the book. Reb is part of a long line of women who have visions of the future-and are also victims of a curse, one that says that every one of them will die single. I'm probably kind of stupid or something, but this confused me to no end, trying to register whether Return To Me was a realistic fantasy novel or a fantastical realistic novel.

Although at times confusing, however, and at others filled with lengthy, wanting-to-be-philosophical prose, it has promise.Return To Me is beautifully written, and Reb is a strong female character in a weak and scary situation that many can relate to. Her coming of age is a great self-help in a novel form, though not exactly flawless.