mini reviews

Mini Reviews: New Takes on Old Tales

I’m sharing some more mini reviews today as I catch up from my blogging break. The three books featured in this post all offer new takes on old classics: The Canterbury Tales, Prince Dracula, and the common tropes/themes of YA scifi. That last one will make more sense when you read my review of Nyxia. Some were certainly more successful than others, so keep reading to find out which of these I’d recommend!

Feral YouthFeral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Feral Youth is a YA retelling of The Canterbury Tales, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson, so I was incredibly excited to read this. This anthology follows a group of teen delinquents at wilderness camp who are on a 3-day trek back to camp, and have a story telling competition along the way.

The stories in this collection run the gamut of genres: there is folklore, fanfic, creepy, and contemporary. Each character’s story is written by a different YA author, with Shaun David Hutchinson taking the narrator’s perspective to weave it all together. I really enjoyed this premise, and I of course liked some stories more than others, but I still enjoyed nearly every single story. Feral Youth has great representation, both in terms of race and sexual orientation, and it’s a collection fundamentally about knowing that you’re more than your mistakes. This book confronts the treatment of “at risk” kids, disproportionately those who are people of color and often poor, and exposes the ways in which our society doesn’t give them a fair shot, much less an honest second chance.

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad, #1)Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nyxia is the first book in a new trilogy about teens traveling to a new planet who have to decide what they’re willing to risk for the fortune of a lifetime. Our main character and narrator is Emmett, and he and the other teens are competing for spots to mine the mysterious substance called Nyxia on the distant planet Eden. It must be said that Nyxia is pretty typical YA scifi – there’s an evil corporation, teens in space, and the questionable ethics of colonizing planets with a native population.

The world building in Nyxia is super basic, although there will be an entirely new world/planet that we’ll surely learn about in the next book. I thought this would be a rare YA without romance, but nope. About 80% into this book, there is a forced instalove relationship that made no sense other than to create unnecessary angst for Emmett. It was honestly so dumb that I nearly gave up reading at that point. The entire book is just the competition to win a spot on Eden, and as you can probably tell, that was so monotonous. A trilogy is absolutely unnecessary, because this first book could have easily been edited down and combined with the next book. This book was 300 pages of teens repeating the same events in a competition for 200 days, and it was ridiculous. Nyxia was admittedly enjoyable enough, but unexciting and unoriginal.

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

Hunting Prince Dracula (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #2)Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This sequel to Stalking Jack the Ripper follows Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell as they attend a forensics program in Romania, but find themselves in the midst of another investigation when murders occur in a similar fashion to Vlad the Impaler. While I enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper last year, I don’t love this series quite as much as others. That being said, I do adore Audrey Rose and Thomas, and their banter. The best thing about these books, by far, is that they’re so feminist. Audrey Rose makes a place for herself in a male dominated field (as was…every field in the 19th century), and I really enjoy seeing her assert herself in the numerous situations in which she’s discounted for being female. Audrey Rose doesn’t have time for your misogyny. There is a great running theme in this novel, in which Audrey Rose wonders if marrying Thomas will compromise her autonomy, and how she’s unwilling to have any man, including Thomas, speak for her and belittle her. Those great character moments are some of the strongest in this book.

However, the whole Dracula thing was just bonkers. It made no sense and felt very unsatisfying, and I especially didn’t like that it was tied to a certain character. Overall, the Dracula angle just seemed dumb and gimmicky. And that’s really saying something, considering the first book was about Jack the Ripper. It’ll be interesting to see what these two get up to in American for the third book.

Rating: 3.25

*I received an ARC of this from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

View all my reviews

If you’ve read any of the books mentioned in this post, let me know what you thought of them!

 

arc review

ARC Review: The Hearts We Sold

hearts we sold

Title: The Hearts We Sold
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette
Format: ARC*
Goodreads

“When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a devil–her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life–she finds her trade may be more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she ever could have imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something like love grows between them amidst an otherworldly ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: can she give James her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?”

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The Hearts We Sold has a truly unique and fascinating premise, and I was so excited to pick up what promised to be a Faustian tale of epic proportions. Demons have made themselves know to the world, and offer to trade a person’s desire in exchange for a piece of that person. Prosthetic limbs mark those who have made deals for all to see, and our protagonist Dee finds herself in need of a deal. While her motivations (and ultimately what she makes a deal for) seemed a bit underwhelming, the real excitement begins once Dee leases her heart away for two years. Dee becomes a “heartless” and becomes involved with a troop of others with a world-saving task assigned by their Daemon.

Dee comes from a home that shows a more nuanced side to abusive families, and I liked the way that was portrayed. On the whole, however, Dee was a likable enough but fairly vanilla protagonist who didn’t leave a lasting impression. I did love the heartless gang and their missions, and would have preferred to see even more of that explored.

The Hearts We Sold, rather unfortunately, falls into the trappings of most paranormal romance stories, and that made everything else that was great about this book suffer. The love interest (because of course there’s a love interest, these teenagers have given up their HEARTS WE MUST HAVE ANGST) felt like an amalgamation of standard boy tropes, and I ultimately didn’t buy this romance. I would have enjoyed this book so much more without a forced romantic subplot. That being said, there’s a relationship between two female side characters, one of whom is trans, and that coupling worked much better in my opinion.

I definitely wanted more world building from this story – again, that tantalizing premise! This book needed more backstory, more information about the demons and the people who make deals with them. Generally, I just wanted a bit more foundation than is provided. This book is marketed for fans of Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo, but in my opinion The Hearts We Sold doesn’t quite go far enough to earn that comparison. It did, however, make me think about whether I’d ever make a deal with a demon, and what I’d trade.

Rating: 3.25 stars (yeah it’s a silly rating I know but that’s what we’re going with)

 

*I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

arc review

ARC Review: Defy the Stars

defy the stars

Title: Defy the Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown/Hachette
Format: ARC*

“She’s a soldier.

Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything–including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.

He’s a machine.

Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.

Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.”

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While Defy the Stars sounds like a high stakes joy ride through space, and it is, this book is also about so much more than Firefly-inspired intergalactic shenanigans. Claudia Gray’s latest novel is fundamentally about the relationship between humans and robots, and questions what it means to be human, and to have a soul. Defy the Stars also takes a critical, theoretical look at space colonization, and what happens when Earth is dying and has to find other planets for humanity to call home. This far-flung attempt at colonization causes the ongoing war between Earth and the planet Genesis, Noemi’s home.

Noemi is a soldier prepared for a mass suicide mission to dismantle Earth’s main access gate to Genesis in order to stall for time against future attacks. She’s ready to die for her home, and is willing to do anything to prevent Earth from ruining Genesis. I admittedly felt lukewarm about Noemi over the course of this novel, largely because I felt like her personality and characterization were a bit erratic. Abel, the other, AI protagonist, is by far my favorite part of Defy the Stars. He is hilariously passive aggressive and sassy, and his character development over the course of this book was incredible. Abel definitely came across as the standout character, and seeing him grapple with these new “developments” was wonderful. However, in terms of the romance (that you know, you just know was bound to happen) between them, I felt meh at best. In fact, I think I might have enjoyed this novel more if there was no romance at all.

Visiting each of the different planets in the Loop was another favorite part of Defy the Stars, and it provides the reader with a great foundation of the world and the dynamics on each planet. I’m sure this will come in handy in the sequel, but it was also just interesting to collect those little nuggets of world building along the way.

While Claudia Gray creates an interesting perspective in Defy the Stars with Noemi’s faith, this book is still comprised of the same recycled scifi themes and tropes we’ve all seen before – Earth needs a new planet, a tense human/robot dynamic, and the evil of corporations and people who refuse to grow old and die like the rest of us. Unfortunately, I found the overall story to feel a bit…done. I knew pretty much exactly how this would play out as soon as the major conflict was presented. Also, if you follow me on Goodreads then you’ll know I had a major problem with one aspect of the writing: the use of present tense. I’ve read plenty of books written in present tense, but for some reason it bothered me so much in Defy the Stars. This is something that I recognize is purely my personal preference, but apparently I’m one of those people who has strong opinions on present v. past tense. Who knew.

I did, however, love the ending. It may not be satisfying to some, but I felt like it was the best possible way to finish out this first book, and I’m now very intrigued to read the sequel. I feel like the black sheep compared to other early reviews, but although I enjoyed Defy the Stars, it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and definitely didn’t feel new. I’d still recommend this novel if you’re into scifi, especially if you’re new to the genre. Claudia Gray does an excellent job of creating fraught and philosophical human/mech dynamics, while calling into question the very idea of what makes us human. A good balance of space travel shenanigans and self-discovery, Defy the Stars is definitely worth checking out on April 4th.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review. Thanks again to Little, Brown/Hachette!

arc review

ARC Review: Seven Days of You

seven days of you

Title: Seven Days of You
Author: Cecilia Vinesse
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown (Hachette)
Format: ARC*

“Sophia Wachowski has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States for her senior year of high school. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city she’s called home for years, to eat at every ramen shop she can find, to sing endless karaoke with her wild best friend, and to finally tell her crush she’s in love with him. Seven perfect days….Until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Three years ago, Jamie left for boarding school in the States, but not before he crushed Sophia’s heart, and she hasn’t spoken to him since. Now the last thing she wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. But hating Jamie is a lot harder than it used to be. For starters, he’s a lot less awkward than she remembers…and a lot cuter. And as the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her, Jamie is the one person left for her to lean on. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?”
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Towards the end of last year, I went through a phase of watching JVloggers, or people who live in Japan and document their lives on YouTube. I’ve since realized there’s a lot of discussion and controversy regarding that community, but for a couple of months I gleefully watched hours and hours of other people’s experiences in Japan. It was with that fondness for a country I’ve never visited that I picked up Seven Days of You.

The draw of a YA book set in Japan is really all that compelled me to read this book. The premise of a weeklong hate to love romance with all the trappings of a YA contemporary cliché had me a bit concerned, but I figured that at least the infusion of Japanese culture would carry my interest. Well, I was wrong.

In terms of YA contemporary, Seven Days of You is just fine. You know exactly how this book plays out: girl hates boy, girl hates boy less, girl ultimately falls for boy despite all of the outside forces working against them, and there are some very serious professions of love after only spending a handful of days even liking each other. Plus the requisite family drama, friend drama, and TWO love triangles.

As you can tell, I did not enjoy Seven Days of You. Aside from a handful of references to Tokyo landmarks, this book could have taken place anywhere. Sophia doesn’t even speak Japanese, despite living there for years, and to the best of my memory there are no actual, native Japanese people represented. Further, Sophia is one of the most annoying protagonists I’ve come across in quite a while. The constant whining, selfishness, and choices that made me want to physically shake her were just too much. Why does Jamie, by all accounts a nice but bland white boy of the standard YA caliber, even like her? By the end of the book, I didn’t even want them to end up together, and thought Jamie was stupid for forgiving Sophia’s ridiculous behavior. Unfortunately, Seven Days of You was a reminder of why I’m distrustful of YA contemporaries. Too sickly sweet, too unrealistic, this simply didn’t work for me.

ALSO, Sophia’s “friends” call her Sofa. This is a small detail in the overall scheme of things, but it annoyed the ever-loving crap out of me. Sofa. SOFA.

Rating: 1.5 stars

*I received an ARC of this from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free and honest review.