Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014 Book Releases!

To me, summer holidays have always been synonymous with lazy days lounging under the sun (or in an air-conditioned room, if that's more your thing) with a good book in one hand and a cool, refreshing drink in the other. I mean, they don't have a whole genre dedicated to the season--summer reads--for nothing! For those of us seeking an adventure to be whisked away on this holiday, there are quite a few exciting reads being released this month, and not a moment too soon! (As always, click on the book cover to read more about it on Goodreads--you're welcome. (: )

"The Truth About Alice" by Jennifer Mathieu
Release date: June 3

"Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King
Release date: June 3

"(Don't You) Forget About Me" by Kate Karyus Quinn
Release date: June 10

"Ruin and Rising" (The Grisha Trilogy #3) by Leigh Bardugo
Release date: June 17

"Otherbound" by Corinne Duyvis
Release date: June 17

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

It's been a while since I last wrote a review, and I couldn't think of a better book to muse over to kickstart myself back into the habit. Everyone by now knows George R.R. Martin's much-acclaimed "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. Everyone. If you don't, you've been living under a rock. And I don't mean the Casterly Rock of the Seven Kingdoms (see what I did there?). "A Feast for Crows" is the fourth installment to the fantasy series, continuing the story of strife, war and death.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces--some familiar, others only just appearing--emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests--but only a few are the survivors.

I'll just come right out and say it--I was pretty disappointed with this one. I couldn't shake the feeling that Mr. Martin has slowed down the pace considerably with "A Feast for Crows," which primarily has to do with the fact that the entire novel is only told from a selected few of the characters. The novel jumps around between the points of view of Brienne, Cersei, Jaime, Arya, Sansa, Samwell, and a few other, more minor characters. Where was Daenerys and her kick-ass dragons, and Jon Snow, and--his absence was most prominently felt--Tyrion? I mean, these missing characters, at least to me, are the most exciting, and instead, we were left with only a handful of them. What made the previous installments so thrilling despite their mammoth lengths was the vast range of characters and Mr. Martin's ability to seamlessly dip into all of their perspectives. He does so in "A Feast for Crows," but on a much smaller scale. While it is understandable that a series of this scale isn't so easy to handle--that's what makes it so incredible, after all--and that Mr. Martin had to split the characters' stories into two books, it was still a little bit of a bummer, and cost this novel its original excitement.

The thing is, that even if the readers are only made privy to the perspectives of some of the characters, their stories could still be compelling. I had to push myself through the pages with this one, and ended up skimming over quite a few parts as well. The separate stories of Brienne, Cersei, etc. just weren't as gripping to me, and didn't seem to add much to the larger picture of the clashing of the Seven Kingdoms. While it does give us insight into the aftermath of the events of the previous book, "A Storm of Swords," it didn't do much to advance the bigger storyline. Instead, "A Feast for Crows" seemed to focus on the more individual stories, such as of Brienne trying to fulfill her oath to Jaime by searching for Sansa, or of Samwell journeying from the Wall with Maester Aemon. There just isn't that same heart-pounding thrill and feeling of holy-moly-the-crap's-hitting-the-fan in this novel, and I was left with the overall impression that the novel as a whole is a filler for the series, rather than a proper installment in it.

Having said all of this, where "A Feast for Crows" drops the ball on the storyline, it redeems itself a little with Mr. Martin's consistently incredible writing. There's no doubt about it--it takes a vast amount of creativity and imagination to concoct such a story like this one, and Mr. Martin has it. Not only is there a great deal of world-building going on, adding to the ever-expanding universe of the story, but there is also some convincing character development. As I said earlier, the different chapters seem to focus a lot more on the individual stories of each character rather than the larger scheme of things, and, while this might not advance the overall storyline much, it does allow for the readers to gain a deeper understanding of each character and their emotions. The relationships of many of the characters, like that of Brienne and Jaime, and Jaime and Cersei, and so on, are given the spotlight throughout the novel, and it's also very interesting to see when they interact.

Overall, "A Feast for Crows" is a rather disappointing installment to the otherwise incredible series, rendering it more of a 'filler' in the overarching storyline. However, it still must be read, especially if you're planning on reading the entire "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga, given its focus on a few of the major characters of the series. I just hope this means that the next book, "A Dance of Dragons," will grab me by its claws and blow my mind away.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

It's amazing what you can do with a pinch of imagination and a sprinkle or two of creativity. Just take a look at the shelves upon shelves of retellings of classical tales, and you'll realize just how much power authors have. Their ability to take something old, then completely transform it into something of their own is awesome in its own right, and it never ceases to amaze me! Marissa Meyer does just that in the "Lunar Chronicles", reimagining traditional fairytales and giving it a sci-fi spin. "Cress" is the third and latest installment to the series, introducing a twist on the time-old story of Rapunzel (I mean, the hair on the cover is a dead giveaway).

Cress can't let down her hair--or her guard. Trapped in a satellite since childhood with only her computer for company, Cress has become a master hacker, and is determined to escape Thamaturge Sybil's clutches. Her only hope of freedom lies with Cinder and her friends--especially her handsome accomplice, Captain Thorne-- though things aren't exactly easy when Queen Levana orders her to track down the fugitives, fearing that Cinder will destroy her plans to takeover Earth. But when the rescue mission goes awry, the group is separated. With Queen Levana and Emperor Kai's marriage drawing closer and closer, Cress, Cinder and Scarlet know that they may be the only ones who can save Earth--before it's too late.

What I especially love about the "Lunar Chronicles" series is that despite the fact that new characters are constantly being introduced with every book, the old characters still play central roles in the story. Cress is the newest addition to the lively cast of characters as a re-embodiment of Rapunzel. What struck me about Cress is that she seems incredibly young, especially given her petite size (the mass of hair doesn't exactly help her height either). Admittedly, it took me a little while to get used to the idea of Cress being a teenager rather than an eight-year old, but her naivete does make sense given her solitary confinement throughout her entire childhood. In fact, her awkwardness and zeal makes her a pretty adorable character, especially her infatuation with Captain Thorne. Thorne, of course, is as charmingly arrogant and witty as ever, and I was delighted to see him play a larger role in the book. It was really interesting to see their relationship develop, and what made it even more enjoyable to read was the fact that it was developed believably. While we did have Cress already head-over-heels "in love" with the dashing Thorne, Ms. Meyer took their relationship into unexpected directions, away from the gag-worthy insta-love cliche, which added a very realistic dimension to their budding romance.

The rest of the characters in "Cress" were just as exciting to follow in this latest installment to the series. Cinder is, as always, a strong, determined heroine, one who really has developed a lot throughout the series so far, and is still struggling to come to terms with her newfound identity and the responsibilities that come with it. Though Scarlet and Wolf aren't as central to the story as they were in the second book, they are still notably part of the team, and it was endearing to see their relationship in the aftermath of "Scarlet." Kai, Dr. Erland, and the rest of the gang were also present, and it really is like seeing old friends again! Ms. Meyer's decision to have the chapters told from all these different characters' points of view really added dimensions and layers to the story, and gave readers the time to really be with all the characters they've become so familiar with over the course of the series, which I appreciated a great deal.

The plot of "Cress" is exciting and compelling throughout, picking up from right where we left off in the previous book and catapulting through adventures and complications with an appropriately fast pace. The stakes are high from the onset, and the tension remains up and running throughout the entire novel. A lot of things happen in the story, especially the big revelation with Dr. Erland (you'll have to read it to find out what it is for yourself!), and what really strikes me is that I still remember all that's happened, despite the fact that I finished reading the novel about a week ago. And that's when you know you've read a really good book--when it's memorable!

Overall, "Cress" is an intergalactic adventure that is not to be missed. The newest addition to the "Lunar Chronicles" series is jam-packed with a dynamic cast of characters and a stellar storyline. I highly recommend this series for anyone looking for a good read--I already can't wait for the next installment, "Winter" (you're up next, Snow White).

Rating: 5/5

P.S. See my review for the previous book in the "Lunar Chronicles" series, "Scarlet," here!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book Review: Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

I've put off writing this review for a while, and I just can't place my finger on why. After crossing off busyness (I lolled about watching TV when I had free time this week), sickness (a little runny nose never hindered writing), and laziness (I really did want to write about something, anything), I've come to the conclusion that I didn't really feel like there was much to say about this book. "Into the Still Blue" is the finale to Veronica Rossi's "Under the Never Sky" trilogy, bringing Aria and Perry's journey to an end. But was it as fresh and exciting as its two predecessors? I can't say I know for sure.

The race to the Still Blue has come to an uneasy stalemate. Sable and Hess have taken Cinder, the only person who can control the deadly Aether storms, but to no avail. The Dwellers and Outsiders, who are united only in their fear of their desperate situation, are confined within a cave they are using as their makeshift refuge. With Roar blinded by grief and loss, Perry and Aria know that it's up to them to do something. Out of options, they assemble an unlikely team for an impossible rescue mission, one that will test their loyalties, courage and love. With time running out, can Perry and Aria help those they love--and keep their love for each other intact?

Let me start off with the characters. The entire novel alternates between Aria and Perry's points of view, which I think was a good decision since it gives us a more holistic perspective of what's going on in the story and allows us to make connections as readers. Not to mention it provides ample excitement with lots of potential for dramatic irony! To me, both Aria and Perry are fairly interesting and engaging protagonists to follow throughout the entire trilogy. They come from two very different backgrounds, have different personalities and face different responsibilities. They're both mature at this point in the story, and I really liked the way they worked together as a couple in the face of such enormous responsibilities to lead the Dwellers and Outsiders to a safe haven. But what kept me from becoming really invested in these two characters was that they didn't entirely stand out to me. They kind of lost the "spark" that made them unique individuals in the first two books, though I guess given the great deal of character development in the previous books, it's understandable. This is not to say that they were flat, boring characters--they just weren't as exciting as they were before.

One of the characters I did find exciting, though, was, as always, Roar. What happened in the last book in the trilogy obviously has a huge impact on Roar, and the way he struggled with these feelings of loss and grief was really believable and saddening to read about. Yet what makes Roar, well, Roar, is his ability to still be himself, even if he's lost in anger and thoughts of revenge. Take, for example, his interactions with Sable's son (I can't for the life of me remember what his name is--sorry!). There's some humorous banter going on between the two, which reminds us of Roar's wit and dry humour. And that's what I love about Roar--he's such a three-dimensional character, with layers and layers of thought and emotion to him. I'm sure if you were to read this trilogy, you'd fall for him, too.

What I think ultimately let me down when I was reading "Into the Still Blue" was the plot. I just don't think it's all that memorable. Admittedly, Ms. Rossi does a great job with tying up loose ends and giving us a satisfying ending, but the storyline itself wasn't as compelling as it could've been. Sure, quite a few things happen, but they just didn't excite me as much as they could have. The climax, for example, wasn't as great of a climax as it could've been. From my recollection of the story, it was a lot of running around and shooting people. Don't get me wrong, the story was most definitely not boring nor did it induce yawns out of me--it just wasn't as scintillating, and didn't get me hooked.

Overall, "Into the Still Blue" is a fairly good ending to the "Under the Never Sky" trilogy, though I wouldn't say that it was the most memorable way to end it. I would still give it a read, especially if you've read the first two books, since you may find it more exciting!

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March '14 Releases!

Spring is almost here! With the chilly days and the endless grey slush bordering the sidewalks, winter's becoming a bore. Now I'm yearning for bright, blue skies and sunlight that gently kisses your face--see, I'm getting all poetic now. To make the long days seem just a little bit shorter, we, of course, have the help of new books being released this month. So hibernate the rest of the winter away and snuggle in the warmth and coziness of your bed with a book!

"Panic" by Lauren Oliver
Release date: Mar. 4

"The Winner's Curse" (The Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Release date: Mar. 4

"Words of Radiance" (The Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson
Release date: Mar. 4

"Nil" by Lynne Matson
Release date: Mar. 4

"Half Bad" (Half Life Trilogy #1) by Sally Green
Release date: Mar. 4

"The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender" by Leslye Walton
Release date: Mar. 25

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Everyone loves a good fairytale. What's not to love? Sweep-you-off-your-feet romances, titillating magic and undeniable adventures (will she get back by midnight?!) are all inextricable elements to any classic fairytale--in fact, they've even found their way into books of other genres as well. When I picked up Rosamund Hodge's "Cruel Beauty" and saw that it was a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," I have to admit I was pretty darn excited. Good retellings require a vast amount of creativity and imagination, and I'm always curious to see how authors add their own spin to classic tales--though whether they're fresh and exciting is whole other story (pun totally intended).

Ever since she was born, Nyx has grown up certain about one thing: the sole purpose of her existence is to marry the demonic Gentle Lord, and kill him. After seventeen years of watching her sister be coddled and of being set at a distance by her own father, Nyx finally leaves her home to live in the castle of the all-powerful, evil Ignifex. Nyx understands that she is the only hope for breaking the nine-hundred-year-old curse on the people of Arcadia, but she can't help the resentment she feels for her fate and her family. But Ignifex is not what she expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle--a shifting maze with enchanting rooms--enthralls her. With time running out, Nyx is forced to face a decision with potentially disastrous consequences: to save her kingdom, or to save the man she was never supposed to love.

When I read the synopsis for "Cruel Beauty," I was instantly intrigued. "Beauty and the Beast" was one of my favourite fairytales growing up, and I could only imagine how much more exciting it would be with a butt-kicking heroine. The storyline of the novel presents a fresh take on the classic fairytale, and it was interesting to see how Ms. Hodge wove in her own ideas into the existing story. There's some pretty great world-building going on in the book--just imagine a town with a dark, towering castle, all of which is encased in a sky made out of parchment. No stars, no sky. Talk about a crappy curse, huh? What I also found exciting was the whole concept of the Resurgandi, a group of learned alchemists who are able to manipulate the elements, as it brought a whole new layer of magic to the story.

Having said this, I do think that there were quite a few things about the novel that just didn't quite work for me. One of the first things that come to mind is the whole Greek mythology strand to the plot. While I appreciate what Ms. Hodge was trying to do by merging fairytale and myth into one story, I felt like it was a little too forced at times. For example, there would be sudden mentions of statues of Apollo and Daphne and so on, and it was like it was kind of shoved in there to make the story more ingenious. I do see the connection between these myths and Nyx's whole situation of forced marriage and the like, but I felt like the execution itself wasn't very smooth. Moreover, I didn't feel the tension so much throughout the plot. Sure, there were the multiple tensions between Nyx and her family, Ignifex and her fate, but it just fell a little flat with all of her running around in the castle and kissing two men at once and all that.

Which, naturally, brings me to the characters of "Cruel Beauty." Nyx, as the heroine of the novel, is undoubtedly strong and determined. Quite the feisty lady. But I never felt like her character developed much as the story progressed, and she changed her mind way too quickly about some pretty important things. And what I especially didn't like so much was the almost insta-love going on between her and Shade, and her and Ignifex. Sure, she expresses remorse and some concern about smooching two men at once, but she continues to do so anyway. No biggie. Ms. Hodge does attempt to smooth this whole issue out with the twist in the end, but I felt like it was a little too late, since, by that time, I feel like I lost respect for the heroine of the novel. Ignifex was a pretty alright character--you get your typical bad-guy-but-actually-sincere-on-the-inside business with him, so, yeah. As for Nyx's family, boy oh boy I just hated all of them. A stoic father who doesn't care for his own daughter, an annoying aunt, and a whiny, two-faced sister? No wonder Nyx didn't mind leaving the house so much.

All in all, "Cruel Beauty" is just an okay retelling of a fairytale, with a fairly interesting spin on "Beauty and the Beast." But what really bummed me out was the lack of a truly compelling plot in the novel, as well as subpar characters I never became invested in. I'd say check it out if you're really interested, since this all my opinion, but don't expect a jaw-dropping, heart-racing adventure.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Review: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

I'm still reeling. After an hour of reaching the final page of this book, I'm still feeling the remnants of the sensation of being completely blown away. I swear, I've just been sitting here dumbstruck by what I just read. My heart is still palpitating, and my mind has been firmly immersed in Sector 45 for the past hour. Reading "Ignite Me," the heart-stopping finale to Tahereh Mafi's "Shatter Me" trilogy, was like riding a roller coaster while wrestling a boa constrictor...on fire. It was that absurdly thrilling. Ignite me? Heck yeah, it did.

Juliette's been shot in the chest. Anderson, the cold, calculating leader of the Reestablishment, is still alive. And, even worse, Omega Point--and all of her friends, as far as she knows--has been destroyed. But Juliette won't be stopped. Now she knows that she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment, even if it means turning to the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew--about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam--were wrong.

One of my favourite aspects of the entire "Shatter Me" trilogy is Ms. Mafi's phenomenally evocative writing style. Every single word and phrase and sentence are used with meaning, packing deliberate punches both emotionally and physically to the reader. It's clear that Ms. Mafi is incredibly tuned to her reader's potential reactions, using her writing to play to those emotions and really capture his or her attention in a personal manner. And what's all the more astonishing about this is that all that intense, emotionally-charged writing never, ever feels over the top. In fact, it fuses seamlessly with Juliette's character and the events of the story, and enhances the plot rather than bogs it down. And because I have just fallen completely head over heels in love with the writing and want so desperately for you to understand what I'm blathering on about, I'll give you one of my favourite quotes from the novel:

And we are quotation marks, inverted and upside down, clinging to one another at the end of this life sentence. Trapped by lives we did not choose.
It's time, I think, to break free.

There's nothing overtly fancy about the language, but the images and the language used are so, so powerful, conjuring up the bittersweet, tragic, yet liberating undertone to the story.

The characters of "Ignite Me" are just as equally spectacular, and I guess the best place to start would be with, of course, Juliette. The transformation that she undergoes throughout this final book in the series is done remarkably and realistically, and to see her character develop into a strong, courageous and, above all, self-aware heroine was a thriller in and of itself. And let me tell you, she's one butt-kicking protagonist. What really had me squealing, though, was her relationship with Warner. Call the fire engines. Seriously. The tension between the two was so palpable and so freaking sexy in so many ways, I just wanted to crawl into the book and never come back out. What makes their relationship so real lies in the fact that you don't just get volatile passion, but also unbearably sweet and sincere moments that solidify their intense romance as more than physical attraction. On a side note: if you love Warner just as much as I do, you must read the novella "Destroy Me," which was told from his point of view. That was the moment I fell in love with him. Uh huh. 

Of course, the other characters in "Ignite Me" cannot go unmentioned. Kenji, the flirty smartass who is also Juliette's best friend, was, as always, so lovable. The banter between him and Juliette, as well as his one-liners, lent so much humour to the entire story, balancing out the intensity that permeates the novel. We also see a more vulnerable side to Kenji, one that's hidden behind a jocular, devil-may-care mask, and this is what makes him such a three-dimensional and believable character. Adam, too, is more complex than I thought him to be in the first two books of the trilogy. The change in his character was done very cleverly, and allowed Ms. Mafi to stray away from the cliches and conventions of YA love triangles, which I love, love, love!

And, finally, for the plot. As I mentioned endlessly before, the storyline of "Ignite Me" is so intense and charged that I could not put it down. The tension remains up and running throughout the entire novel, creating a fast pace that had me flipping through the pages in a speed that would make the Road Runner jealous. As the conclusion to the trilogy, the novel also wraps things up in a way that leaves the readers more than satisfied, leaving us with that inexplicable sensation of hope and contentment. One small criticism that I have with the plot, however, is that the climax was a little too short, too easy. The final confrontation with Anderson, the villain of the entire trilogy, ended just a bit too quickly, though this might be because I was reading that rapidly since I was so caught up in everything. Nonetheless, I think if we saw more of Anderson in the novel, it would've given the climax and the ending a lot more oomph, but, other than that, I've no complaints.

Overall, "Ignite Me" is the breathtaking finale to a riveting trilogy, one that is complete with beautifully evocative writing, an amazing cast of characters, intense romance that'll have your heart palpitating, and a fast-paced plot that won't let you go. I highly, highly recommend the "Shatter Me" trilogy to every single reader--it's seriously an adventure you do not want to miss.

Rating: 5/5