Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin

Spooky twists and soaring prose make this foodie update on Hansel and Gretel an unforgettable must-read.

Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy–Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?

It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones–and might even pick them clean!

Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.

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Nikki Loftin’s The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is a deliciously creepy middle grade novel. Imparting lessons about friendship, eating well, and believing in yourself, Loftin’s debut is sure to find fans among young and old readers alike.

I especially enjoyed the bits of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy that were creepy and bore a strong resemblance to Roald Dahl’s novels. In fact, this novel feels very much like an updated version of Dahl’s novels The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Readers who like these types of novels will definitely enjoy Loftin’s style as well!

Lorelei is a wonderful main character; she’s caring, curious, and believes in herself. I was so happy to see her befriend Andrew, a boy who isn’t always so sure of himself. Not only did they make a great team, they provided a fantastic example of the benefits of looking beyond outside and initial appearances to the person within.

The novel is packed with magic and mystery, making it more fantastical than realistic, but it still leaves readers with an important message about eating well and being healthy. In the real world, there (probably) isn’t a witch who’s trying to fatten you up so you make a better meal, but they are still definite negative consequences to bad eating habits and lack of exercise and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is the perfect novel to start this discussion with young readers.

Razorbill, August 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781595145086, 304 pgs.

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Review: Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction edited by Carrie Ryan

Have you ever been tempted to look into the future? To challenge predictions? To question fate? It’s human nature to wonder about life’s twists and turns. But is the future already written—or do you have the power to alter it?

From fantastical prophecies to predictions of how the future will transpire, Foretold is a collection of stories about our universal fascination with life’s unknowns and of what is yet to come as interpreted by 14 of young adult fiction’s brightest stars.

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I’ve always been fascinated by the theme explored in Foretold: prophecy and prediction. I remember various instances throughout my childhood when my mother told me that, for better or worse, something was meant to be. Later, in middle school, I fell in love with the epic tale of a boy fulfilling a prophecy in David Eddings’ The Belgariad. Then, in high school and college, I was intrigued by the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy I studied in my psychology course. So, when I picked up this collection of short stories, I was curious see what others would connect to the mysterious concepts.

In addition to my initial curiosity about the theme of this collection, I was interested in the concept of a collection of short stories. Though I’d glanced at them before, I’d never actually sat down and read a collection of short stories… or any short stories at all apart from those assigned in my literature seminars. I found it curious that many readers appeared to have purchased or read this collection specifically for Richelle Mead’s short story, Homecoming, which centers around Rose and Dmitri the Vampire Academy books, which was worrisome to me because I never finished that series and hadn’t picked one up in years. 

The anthology begins with Laini Taylor’s Gentleman Send Phantoms, which I immediately adored. For me, that story set the tone for the entire collection. Whimsical with gorgeous imagery, this story set the tone as anything is possible. Each story had an entirely different feel and tone, yet they were all connected by thread extending from Taylor’s story.

The anthology ends with the Richelle Mead story based in the world of the VA books. For me the story didn’t shine as bright as it might have if I still read the VA books or had read them recently. I remember really loving Rose and her world, but the details were hazy and I didn’t feel as invested in Rose and Dmitri’s story after being away from it for so long. 

Unless you are a diehard fan of their story, I can’t imagine buying an entire book and never reading the other stories. Because they are amazing. Even the ones that wasn’t entirely captivated by were interesting. I have read full length books by many of the authors in this anthology, so I’m familiar with their writing, but I was blown away by what I read in Foretold. The style of each author was present, but shaped in a completely new way. 

I was particularly drawn to the stories that featured magic and fantasy than those that were more science fiction or realistic… Still there were a couple in the latter categories that ended up being favorites as well:

Laini Taylor Gentleman Send Phantoms
Malinda Lo One True Love
Heather Brewer Misery
Saundra Mitchell The Chosen One
Margie Stohl Death for the Deathless
Simone Elkeles Fate
Diana Peterfreund Burned Bright
Carrie Ryan The Killing Garden
Lisa McMann The Angriest Man

Many of the stories that ended up being on of my favorites felt very connected to other things I’d read by them, like the stories by Laini Taylor, Malinda Lo, Richelle Mead, and Michael Grant. Others, however, showed side of some of my favorite authors that I wasn’t as familiar with, like Saundra Mitchell, Simone Elkeles, Diana Peterfreund, Carrie Ryan, and Lisa McMann, and I wanted more. Plus, I experienced some writers for the first time, like Matt de la Pena, Margie Stohl, Kami Garcia, and Heather Brewer.

Not only did I love the stories in this collection, I closed the covers with a hunger to read and reread a number of these authors. It felt like a nice little snack to help decide what I wanted for my main course: whatever full length novel I chose to read next, perhaps by one of the authors in this wonderfully imagined collection. 

Delacorte BFYR, August 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780385741293, 368 pgs.

   

      Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction
   

 
 
 


   
 
 
 



Reasons to Read: Every Day by David Levithan + Giveaway

Reasons to Read (R2R) is a new feature at The Hiding Spot. This weekly post will give readers reasons to read (or pre-order, if the case may be) a specific title I’ve read and loved.   A giveaway of the weekly title may also occur.

Every Day by David Levithan

August 28,, 2012/Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

  1. A, the novel’s main character, doesn’t have a gender, as every day brings a new body (sometimes female, sometimes male). A is always A, but has access to the individual’s thoughts as well. This added incredible depth to the ideas discussed in the novel.
  2. There’s a love story, made unique by the fact that A is without gender. A loves, period. Love is not defined by gender.
  3. At one point, A is in the body of a girl that is severely depressed and self-harms. A feels the depression and must fight it: depression is due to chemical and physical imbalances. Not all depression can be willed away with positive thoughts and chocolate. As someone who has struggled with depression, I was impressed and appreciative of this distinction.
  4. A only has one day in a body and will never land in the same body twice, which begs the question: How large (or small) of an effect can one day have on an individual’s life? 
  5. A falls in love with Rhiannon when he spends the day in her boyfriend’s body. Rhiannon’s boyfriend doesn’t treat her well, but she insists her loves her deep down. I could definitely identify with Rhiannon and felt for her, especially after knowing how her boyfriend truly feels for her, courtesy of A’s access to his thoughts.
  6. A experiences all walks of life… each new day offers an incredible look into something completely different from the day before.
  7. Levithan’s writing is, as always, fantastic… Every Day has a plot that sounds impossible, but he somehow pulls it off.
More about Every Day:

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl. 

Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere. It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

Win an ARC of Every Day by filling out the form below! 
Don’t forget to comment and let me know whether I should keep Reasons to Read as a weekly feature!


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Review: The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

“With every fiber of my being, I yearned to be normal. To glide through my days at Iverson without incident. But I’d have to face the fact that my life was about to unfold in a very, very different way than I’d ever envisioned. Normal would become forever out of reach.” 

Lora Jones has always known that she’s different. On the outside, she appears to be an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Yet Lora’s been keeping a heartful of secrets: She hears songs that no one else can hear, dreams vividly of smoke and flight, and lives with a mysterious voice inside her that insists she’s far more than what she seems. 

England, 1915. Raised in an orphanage in a rough corner of London, Lora quickly learns to hide her unique abilities and avoid attention. Then, much to her surprise, she is selected as the new charity student at Iverson, an elite boarding school on England’s southern coast. Iverson’s eerie, gothic castle is like nothing Lora has ever seen. And the two boys she meets there will open her eyes and forever change her destiny. 

Jesse is the school’s groundskeeper—a beautiful boy who recognizes Lora for who and what she truly is. Armand is a darkly handsome and arrogant aristocrat who harbors a few closely guarded secrets of his own. Both hold the answers to her past. One is the key to her future. And both will aim to win her heart. As danger descends upon Iverson, Lora must harness the powers she’s only just begun to understand, or else lose everything she dearly loves. Filled with lush atmosphere, thrilling romance, and ancient magic, The Sweetest Dark brilliantly captures a rich historical era while unfolding an enchanting love story that defies time.

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I’ve been a fan of Shana Abe’s adult romance novels for years, so when I discovered she was writing a Young Adult novel along the lines of her Drakon books, I was intrigued. So far, every YA novel I’ve read written by a adult romance novelist has been fantastic. I’ve noticed that many of these authors are able to tone down the sexiness enough so that it’s appropriate for younger audiences, while still smoldering. In addition, many of these crossover authors write romance with a plot, so they’re actually able to write a good story, despite the lack of sex. Abe is no exception and I’m definitely a fan.


Abe’s Drakon novels feature characters that look like humans, but have the ability to shift into the shape of dragons. Fans of Sophie Jordan know that she is also a crossover adult romance author that writes YA novels featuring dragon shapeshifters. While these two sets of novels feature distinct similarities, the history and paranormal aspects definitely different. Abe’s Drakon lore is firmly established due to her adult Drakon novels, so I doubt that readers will find the similarities troubling. Instead, I hope that fans of other shapeshifter novels, like Jordan’s, will embrace The Sweetest Dark.


I will admit, The Sweetest Dark is a bit slow, but, since I genuinely enjoyed the characters, I didn’t mind that the action was a bit lacking. Plus, this is only the first book and I fully anticipate the next to take things to the next level, especially after the intensity of this installment’s ending. And, while Abe only touched on the paranormal aspects and the powers of the Drakon in this first book, having read her adult series dealing with the Drakon, I know that we can expect some pretty amazing things in the upcoming books.


Another aspect that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the love triangle… primarily due to the fact that I wasn’t a fan of one of Lora’s possible matches. Armand is not my type of guy, but, with any luck, readers will see another side of him in book two. I feel like this is a very likely scenario and I look forward to seeing how Abe spins his sour disposition from book one.


Part of me wants to recommend that those of you are interested in reading The Sweetest Dark when it releases in August check out Abe’s three adult novels that focus on the Drakon. Though I did enjoy this novel and I’ll definitely reading any subsequent books, I don’t know if it showcases just how strong Abe’s writing can be. And, if you’re interested in more of the history regarding the Drakon, you can find it in The Smoke Thief, The Dream Thief, and Queen of Dragons.


I’m glad to see another romance novelist try her hand at the YA genre… I think readers will enjoy this latest shapeshifter novel with it’s historical elements and romance.

Random House Publishing Group, August 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780345531704, 352 pages.

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. 

Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. 

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best. 

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

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I can say, without reservation, that I love this book. The beautiful-yet-deadly heroine, political intrigue, magic, mystery, and romance present combine to create something wonderfully epic and compulsively readable. I truly could not put down Throne of Glass… not that I wanted to. There was never a dull moment and, even though I was well aware the book wasn’t going to disappear if I took a few hours to sleep, I couldn’t tear myself from Celaena’s adventures. 


I often find that a trilogy’s first installment can be a bit slow due to world building, introductions, etc. Thankfully, Maas finds a way to subtlety weave the large amounts of background information necessary for a well-rounded fantasy novel in without sacrificing the flow of the story or leaving the reader to sift through a huge influx of jumbled information. Determined readers might not have an issue sorting through details and recollecting pertinent information, but I liked the accessibility of Maas’ writing. I felt like I could easily hand Throne of Glass to someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy and they wouldn’t be overwhelmed.


I liked Celaena from the start of the novel, but I came to enjoy her voice even more as the novel progressed. She’s a strong heroine: independent, motivated, and deadly smart. And, though she tries to hide it at times, desperate for companionship and understanding. Though to some, maybe even Celeaena herself, this could be construed as weakness, but to me, it only made her stronger. And a much more relateable character. 


There didn’t seem to be any extraneous characters in Throne of Glass. Each character had a distinct purpose and I found myself forming attachments to those with recurring appearances, especially Captain Westfall. I was a bit surprised when I wasn’t a huge fan of Prince Dorian. I’m not sure what it is about him – or if it’s just my stubborn mind believing I can only like either the Captain or the Prince – but I found him annoying. It seemed like he often tried to coddle Celaena, who, to me, is much more capable than he could ever dream of being. I like Westfall much better for many reasons, including the fact that he challenges Celaena.


I always thought I’d enjoy Throne of Glass, but I really wasn’t expecting the depth and reach this novel would have. Every time I thought “Wow. I can’t believe that just happened!” something new and equally intense would occur. Epic is the only word in my vocabulary to describe the scope of Throne of Glass.


I could probably go on and on about Throne of Glass, but I won’t. Simply put, I have a new novel to list among my favorites. As I read, I was reminded of Maria V. Snyder’s books and, interestingly enough, the video game Oblivion. I love, love, love the idea of these two things merging and that’s exactly how Throne of Glass feels to me. Maybe I’m one of the few who are excited by this concept, but it’s definitely how I’ll be pitching this novel to my friends.

Bloomsbury, August 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781599906959, 416 pages.


And don’t forget to check out the trailer below!