On Thursday, April 25, 2013, Kobo launched what they’re calling a “re-imagined” eReader: the Kobo Aura HD. It’s being marketed as “the only premium eReader on the market,” offering an enhanced eReading experience, which improves the onscreen reading clarity by 20% from that of any other HD eReader. More importantly, it’s been designed specifically for avid readers. On the same day that it was launched, I began reading my first eBook on this very same device, which was given to me by Kobo in exchange for my honest opinion of it. Does it live up to the hype? Keep reading this eReader review to see if it’s worth picking up one for yourself or adding it your wish list for an upcoming gift opportunity.
Now, the Kobo Aura HD isn’t my first experience with a dedicated eReading device. Before it died last summer, I’d been using a Sony eReader Pocket Edition for a few years, which doesn’t have touch screen technology. Since December 2012, I’ve been regularly reading for a Kobo Mini, which like this new option, does. I happen to enjoy the Kobo Mini with its cute size and soft body texture, but the Aura HD is a cut above any other eReading experience I’ve had while reading a book from my Kobo Library. Many eInk eReaders have an obvious delay when you turn the “page” until the new page appears, usually with an accompanying flash on the screen that is semi-disruptive. With the Aura HD, however, you move from page to page without any of the typical lag time of other eReaders. I guess that has something to do with the speed of the 1 Ghz processor with which it’s equipped, so while you might get used to a slower processing time of other products and/or settle for physical copies to avoid the annoyance, you can rest assured that this time, the difference between reading a book and an eBook won’t be noticeable.
One aspect of this eReader that is highlighted in the product literature is just how much crisper the text looks on the Kobo Aura HD screen than it does on any other eReader available as of March 2013. The truth is that with my pretty excellent vision, I didn’t notice much of a difference between my other eInk technology experiences and this one…at first. It was easy to read, and it didn’t strain my eyes in normal lighting conditions, but if I hadn’t compared the screen to my other eReader, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But then I did, and I quickly realized my mistake.
First, I noticed that the quality of the cover image was like night and day. Image shading is of the highest quality without any obvious gradations between one level of grey and the next and complicated images, such as those details on the cover of Kiera Cass’ The Elite, are rendered beautifully. Since you don’t spend much time on the cover, this might not seem like a big deal. However, I did my own side-by-side comparison between the text clarity on both the Kobo Mini and the Kobo Aura HD and the results are worth noting. Not only are the letters crisper, whether you select a smaller or larger sized font on the screen, but also they seem to be a darker shade of black with thicker lines making up each of the letters. If you worry that reading on a device will cause more eyestrain than a physical book, then you don’t need to worry anymore, and if you tend to seek out larger print books, then a quick adjustment makes your favorite eBook any size that you want the letters to be. Can’t say the same about a standard book from the local bookstore or library.
So now you know what I think about this eReader in normal conditions, but what about in low light conditions? With most other eReaders, you have to keep either the main light on while reading or stop reading when the lights go out. (Yes, there are some models that have a light function, but none of the one’s that I’ve ever tried do.) Now that I have this new eReader, I no longer have to worry that I’m keeping my significant other awake when I want to read well into the night, move into another room to let him sleep, or use the flashlight app on my iPhone while also holding the book or eBook I’m reading, which can be kind of cumbersome and eats up my iPhone’s battery life pretty quickly. (Yes, I’ve actually done all three of these things when I couldn’t put a book down in the past. None of which were ideal.) Moreover, you can adjust the amount of light emitted from the screen, so you can read easily in a pitch-black room or even when the sun has just begun setting and you just want to finish one more chapter before you turn on the light.
Finally, for those of you who want to make your reading life more social or might want to put the book down without letting go of this eReader, the Kobo Aura HD does the trick. You can turn on a function that automatically shares your reading life on your Facebook profile, surf the web on it’s black and white web browser, or play any one of a few different preloaded games. Personally, I haven’t tried any of these aspects, so I can’t comment on them, but you probably want to know that they’re there if you need them.
Clearly, there are a lot of positives about the Kobo Aura HD, and overall, I do think it’s worth not only the hype, but also the price. That said, there is one negative that I’ve experienced since trying it out. As a book blogger, I sometimes receive eBooks rather than physical copies for review. While the Kobo Aura HD supports EPub, PDF, and even DRM EPub or PDF files if you authorize Adobe Digital Editions and your device, it doesn’t mean that all of these files will run as well as a book you bought via KoboBooks.com. In fact, I recently had to resort to reading a PDF on my computer via Adobe Digital Editions because it’s heavy design and image based aspects made the Kobo Aura HD slow down to a snail’s pace. Perhaps EPub files from other sites or PDFs that aren’t as image dependent in the design will work better for you though.
All in all, I have to say that I’m happy to have a Kobo Aura HD now, and I bet that despite the issue I had with one PDF, you will, too.
Buy a Kobo Aura HD today!
Buy All Good Children
Special Price: $15.61 (Regular price: $19.95)
Publisher: Orca books
Reviewer: Melissa on May 14, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Intelligent, graffiti artist Maxwell Conners sees more than the average prankster his age in New Middletown. And as the new school year progresses, he finds that he doesn’t like what he observes. Slowly, the kids in his sister Ally’s first grade class all they way up to the seventh and eighth graders on the football team he helps coach become better behaved. Six year olds, who once played and giggled before school, now line up in single file, waiting patiently for the school day to begin. Twelve and thirteen year old boys and girls, who used to dive to catch an impossible football pass or ardently shout when they make a touchdown, now only try when they have an obvious chance and sit on the sidelines because their isn’t a place for girls on the boys football team respectively. And most of the parents of these non brain-eating “zombies” couldn’t be happier. As Max and his best friend Dallas watch their classmates transform into efficient, model citizens in Catherine Austen’s All Good Children, Max wonders if freedom lies beyond the walls of New Middletown, if in some other city or town creativity might be viewed as a gift, not a liability.
While dystopian literature has been around for 100s of years, dystopian YA books blossomed after The Hunger Games was released. Dystopian novels became the trend du jour to the point where publisher’s catalogues were filled with everything from classic dystopian tales to what can best be described as dystopian lite. It’s not surprising that readers often describe themselves as tired of the trend now and publishers are coming out with less of them. Despite having read tons of dystopian young adult fiction, I’m still into this genre, which is great because otherwise I might have missed out on the sheer brilliance of All Good Children. Set in an unspecified future time in the US where the citizens, including the main character Max and his friends and family, have come to accept constant surveillance as a means to protect their basic safety and security, Max only realizes that there is something wrong with the direction the world is going when New Middletown starts drugging children and teens against their will. And of course, the more Max learns, the more he realizes that resistance is the only natural response to what is happening in New Middletown.
While Max is the lead character, readers soon realize that he isn’t the only well-drawn one in the world Austen creates. Max is vibrant though, and he isn’t created from a cobbled together stereotypes. He’s biracial – his mother is black and his father was white – but he isn’t the best athlete on the football team at his academic school. In fact, he’s only on the team because he can run fast. Rather it’s his white best friend, Dallas, who is the star player. One of my favorite things about this novel is the way Austen creates the friendship between these two boys. Conversations between them often begin with Dallas asking “would you rather” type questions to Max in a way that reminded me of Peeta asking “real or not real” in Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, but was definitely unique. Moreover, Max’s six-year-old sister, Ally, was delightful with her children’s rhymes, giggling, and attachment to a squirrel at the park, who she names Peanut. Then, of course, there are the villains who actually think making their children into something akin to a child-sized Stepford Wife is actually a good thing, but I’ll let you learn more about them when you read it for yourself.
Since Austen has herself admitted that All Good Children was meant to be a Stepford Wives for teens, it shouldn’t be surprising that she uses a number of 20th century dystopian or horror movies to develop some of the overarching themes. Readers will want to debate what the nature of humanity is and what makes someone human. At the same time, Austen develops humor as Max and Dallas compare the drugged children to zombies, not realizing that actual zombies ate people’s brains rather than stand calmly in line or insist on working quietly. Finally, while Max does have a crush on a particular girl, readers may find it refreshing to know that romance isn’t a major part of the book, like the vast majority of dystopian YA novels.
With its mixture of humor, foreboding, and great characters, All Good Children is a book that you won’t regret picking up. Oh…and in case you were wondering…this novel was written as a standalone, and while there is possibly room for another book, it isn’t guaranteed.
Buy All Good Children today and save 21% off the regular price!
Buy Hidden Among Us
Special Price: $9.00 (Regular price: $10.97)
Publisher: Walker Books (in UK; not yet available in North America)
Reviewer: Melissa on May 4, 2013
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
When 14-year-old Lizzy travels on the train alone to Hopesay Edge, she’s expecting to arrive to find her mother furious at her. (It was the first time that she ever traveled on her own and her mother has always been overly protective of her. Or so Lizzy thinks.) However, when the train passes her destination and Lizzy comes face-to-face with a boy who seems familiar, but she’s sure she’s never met, she finds herself feeling deeply unsettled. The boy, Larkspur, is a member of the Hidden, an ancient fairy people, with secrets tied up with her uncle’s manor home, Hopesay Reach. And before she knows it, Lizzy and her brother Rafe are caught up in the Hidden’s powerful magic, trying to escape an inescapable bargain. With Hidden Among Us, Katy Moran has created a fae story that combines traditional folklore with aspects of a fast-paced thriller: all in all, it’s a combination the likes of which you’ve never seen before now.
Told in three parts: “The Covenant,” “The Cheat,” and “The Hidden,” and from the perspectives of four characters: Lizzy, her brother Rafe, her mother Miriam, and Joe, the son of her mother’s boyfriend, Moran tells a multi-layered tale that is steeped in traditional folklore about the fae, or elven people, in England. Even the divisions in the novel seem to be derived from the stories passed down and transcribed about faeries, but readers quickly realize that Hidden Among Us isn’t just a verboten reiteration of English mythology through Rafe’s perspective. You see, something happens in the first few chapters that traumatized Rafe as a child and for which he’s still seeking answers fourteen years later and that has driven Miriam to be overly protective of her children, especially Lizzy. Then of course, there is Joe, who, when I find myself describing who he is in relation to Lizzy and her family, seems like an odd choice of narrators, but is important to give readers an outside perspective of the other characters and the setting initially and to play important roles in the plot as the novel continues. Finally, while the novel’s description highlights Lizzy, and rightfully so since she is the central figure around which the actions of other characters stem, it isn’t until the fifth chapter that readers get inside her head. Similarly, the last three chapters are written from perspectives other than Lizzy’s, suggesting that the characters are literally protecting Lizzy through the novel’s enveloping structure. At the same time, Moran adds unexpected threats, car chases, and other plot points that lend an action-packed aspect to what would otherwise be a traditional young adult fantasy novel.
Moran paints realistic emotions and reactions through the multiple, first person narrators and develops a weighty history that is increasingly relevant to explain the various narrative threads. Miriam’s actions fourteen years ago have made her an overprotective mother – at least when it comes to Lizzy – who is more than she may initially seem and who has to make some hard choices. Lizzy, understandably, feels the constraints that her mother has put on her and feels the need to show her independence without thinking of the consequences. Over the course of the novel, she grows into a young woman who may be vulnerable to the same mistakes as her mother, in true Gothic fantasy fashion. Finally, both Rafe and Joe feel the need to protect Lizzy as well, though for different reasons, which become obvious throughout the novel as more information is revealed. Similarly, Moran meticulously depicts how each of the novel’s characters reacts upon meeting the Hidden in consistent ways, giving the latter a power that would otherwise be unbelievable. At the beginning, readers get just enough back story to become interested in the story, but as the book progresses the history of Miriam’s early marriage and the history of Hopesay Reach to give both the humans and the Hidden a history fit for their perspective ages and imbuing the fae with an epic quality that has been missing in some of the other faerie YA novels I’ve read.
While largely positive, I felt that small details and symbolism in Hidden Among Us were, at times, a little too much close to hammering the point home. For example, not only one, but three of the four narrators point out the fact that there appears to be a crucifix removed from the walls of Hopesay Reach. If only one of them had seen it, then it may not have seemed so important, but would still be used as evidence to prove that Moran had set up some of the reveals that happen later in the book, but as it stands, it is something that readers will immediately recognize as important. If these characters, including siblings and outsiders to the family, notice this detail, it made me wonder why the men chasing after Rafe don’t. It’s a small plot hole or maybe just one other thing that could be cleared up in, what I hope, will be a series of at least two books.
Readers of traditional faerie stories and those looking for a fast-paced plot will enjoy Hidden Among Us.
Buy Hidden Among Us today and save 17% off the regular price!
Dystopian YA Fiction
The Elite by Kiera Cass is the ultimate, fast-paced, guilty pleasure read that fans of the first book and even those who were on the fence about The Selection will enjoy.
Dystopian YA Fiction
No, The Selection isn’t a literary masterpiece, but Cass knows how to tell a story, especially one in which the main character happens to be one of lowliest classes in her society with the potential to be one of the most exalted in all of Illéa. And for a someone like me, who loved fairy tales as a child (and still has a soft spot for them), it should be obvious that I was drawn into this Cinderella-esque tale.
Fantasy Books For Young Adults
In A Corner of White, Madeleine retains and recounts the facts of Isaac Newton’s, Lord Byron’s, and Charles Babbage’s lives in the real world, and her understanding of their legacies helps Elliot shape his knowledge of the fantasy world.
Middle Grade Fiction
One of the things that I loved most about this novel is the metaphorical bread crumbs that Hazel leaves throughout the story from her reading experiences. Whereas adults often discuss bringing the interpretative framework of their readings to each new text they approach, Ursu suggests that a creative child, like Hazel, would use her reading as a way to interpret both her own world and that of the alternate one she enters to find Jack.
Realistic Teen Fiction
Maybe readers suspect that Clara will make it through, but Deb Caletti’s use of foreshadowing consistency raises the stakes and makes the reader question what state the main character will be in by the novel’s end, turning the story from a simple contemporary YA novel to a verifiable thriller.
Book Blogger Culture
On Wednesday, April 17 and Thursday, April 18, Jennifer A. Nielsen will be in the Greater Toronto Area in support of the second book in the Ascendence Trilogy, The Runaway King. The question is…will you be there to welcome her yourself or on behalf of the 8-12 year-old readers in your house?
Realistic Teen Fiction
Power Play is compelling look at what happens when the player-coach relationship is abused. Pick it up today, share it with a teen, and spread the word about a book might help teens see through the disturbing power politics represented in the novel if it ever happens to them or their friends because the more we talk about important books like this one, the more likely we’ll see lives saved.
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