Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Haven by A.R. Ivanovich

"Haven" has been on my to-read list for a long while now, and I'm so glad to have finally gotten around to reading it! Admittedly, I'd expected the book to be a full-blown fantasy novel, the type where they have names that are hard to pronounce and horses and magic and so on, so when I read that there were sandwiches and ferris wheels, I was a little caught off guard. Nonetheless, Ms. Ivanovich takes her readers on a wild, crazy journey in a steampunk world.

From missing socks to missing people, nothing could remain hidden from seventeen year-old Katelyn Kestrel for long, but after locating a forbidden passage out of her isolated country, Haven, she discovers for the first time that there are some things that should never be found. When she helps Rune, a fatally wounded soldier, reach the safety of his home, Katelyn finds herself captured as a spy and placed under the custody of the handsome Lord Dylan Axton. Soon enough, she learns that the outside world is rife with war and controlled by people with extraordinary powers, people who are willing to exploit and kill others--including Katelyn herself--to rise to power. Her only hope is to return to Haven, but can she survive long enough to find her home?

One of the key elements in "Haven" is its setting of a rural steampunk world. Having never been previously exposed to steampunk in books, it took me quite a while to really understand what the world was like. They had mechanized carriages drawn by horses and night vision goggles and swords, and I was just trying to imagine what the heck this world was like... But now it makes sense now that I know that this eclectic, bizarre amalgamation of the old and the new is something called 'steampunk'. All of that being said, I was thoroughly impressed by the world building in the novel. Despite the seeming anachronisms that confused me at first, Ms. Ivanovich has skillfully and subtly woven together a unique world that sucks you in and engages your imagination.

Katelyn was a strong heroine who was enjoyable to follow throughout the book. She definitely wasn't one of those snivelly, "oh no what do I do" characters, and when she did reach an emotional breaking point, she still managed to struggle through and face her problems. I also think that there's great potential for the development of her character, as well as for some wit and humour! Katelyn to me seems like a smart alecky girl, but I felt like she wasn't as bright and engaging as she could've been, especially in the first few chapters when she was dealing with her crummy jerk of an ex-boyfriend.

Which now brings me to the little love triangle going on between Katelyn, Rune and Dylan. I am extremely happy to say that Ms. Ivanovich did a wonderful job of avoiding a cliched, sappy love story between the three characters. Instead, the subtle tensions between the two were hardly noticeable, leaving the main focus on what was actually going on in the story. I quite like the relationship between Katelyn and Rune, though the whole kissing thing was a bit too sudden for my tastes, especially after they hadn't exactly spent that much time together. As for Dylan, he was a pretty complex, interesting character to get to know, especially in relation to Katelyn. He was insidiously smooth and charming in the beginning, and even towards the end I don't know whether I can put my finger on his true feelings. It'll be interesting to see how things turn out in the next book.

The plot itself was extremely engaging, and I liked how it's already building itself up for the events in the sequel. It never got boring throughout the novel, and the pace was fairly quick as well. One thing that could've helped even more would be to cut down a little on descriptions or thought processes. While it was great to be in Katelyn's head so thoroughly, I found myself skimming over a lot of the wordy descriptions to get to the next event.

Overall, "Haven" is a wonderful book with a certainly unique steampunk setting. The characters are fairly engaging and likable, while the plot is fast-paced and thrilling. I'd definitely recommend it to any fantasy-lovers out there, and I look forward to the sequel!

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

I remember visiting Paris a few summers ago with my family during vacation. Sure, there were no buggies that came trundling down the street at the strike of midnight a la "Midnight in Paris", nor were there kisses with mysterious boys on the top of the Eiffel Tower (hey, I was like, fourteen years old then). Gayle Forman's new novel "Just One Day" whisks readers away to the much-adored city of love, where new and exciting discoveries await you in every corner.

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

In stories like this one, where nothing fantastically extraordinary happens to the protagonist (e.g. dark, brooding boy turns out to be vampire, or a war against enemy soldiers can only be stopped by a single hero), characters are of utmost importance. Allyson is not a particularly extraordinary person, either, but that's what makes "Just One Day" that much more believable and poignant. She may not be the bravest, or most kick-ass heroine I've met while reading, but Allyson is a normal girl trying to find herself--the one journey every single person out there takes at some point in their lives--and this is precisely what drives the story. I like Allyson because she reminds me quite a lot of myself.  In fact, there's something every reader can relate to in Allyson. She's worked so hard at school to come to where she is now, but, in the end, book smarts just isn't enough. As cheesy as this sounds, it's the real world out there that matters, and it's the experiences and mistakes and moments of fate that really make life, life. 

Willem was the perfect person in the book to show Allyson this truth about life, and I couldn't think of a better character to do that. Not only is he an undeniably good-looking fella, but he's so exciting and so dynamic--the ideal foil to Allyson's character. That being said, Willem also has his flaws. He's a player, and harbours an uncomfortable past back in Holland. But all the better to really push Allyson, the sheltered good girl, out of her comfort zone and into the real world. Willem and Allyson really got me thinking, that if every Allyson out there is able to encounter their Willem, amazing things could happen.  And that's the thing about this book: it's so applicable to our own lives, and, in this way, all the more inspiring.

Philosophical musings about characters aside, the setting of "Just One Day" was, without a doubt, magical without idealizing Paris. Ms. Forman has done an incredible job of showing her readers a new side of the much-idolized city, one straying away from the archetypal Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, and one that opens up our eyes to another side of Paris, one with art shacks and unknown channels that are enchanting in their own way. It's obvious that Ms. Forman has done a lot of research into the city and its language, and the acknowledgements at the end of the book reveal the extent of her investigations and work.

Although the first half or so of the book follows Allyson and Willem on their one-day journey in Paris, the latter half covers the span of a year as Allyson trudges through her freshman year in college. I do think that this section was a bit slow at times--there were many moments when I felt like nothing was really happening and it was just "I need to discover myself" sprinkled at the end of each chapter. Having said that, the wonderful cast of characters such as the effervescent Dee and the sweet family of Cafe Finlay definitely made it a lot more interesting, and the pace picked right back up again in the last quarter. My heart was racing as my eyes sped over the last couple of chapters!

All in all, "Just One Day" is an beautifully poignant book about real life and self-discovery. Allyson and Willem were the perfect characters to illustrate this, and Paris--a place of excitement and magic--certainly didn't hurt either. Ms. Forman's books really have a tendency to touch their readers in that way--I remember feeling amazed and at once pensive after reading her "If I Stay" series. I even let out a little squeal when I saw at the end of the book that the story continues, told from Willem's point of view in "Just One Year"!!!! It's so cute how it's a romantic duet of novels. I absolutely cannot wait to see how everything turns out!

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Rift by Andrea Cremer

I'm always a little iffy about prequels. On one hand, they can be whole new adventures with hints of the original book woven through, while on the other, they could be stale shadows of the original. "Rift" by Andrea Cremer is the first of a two-part prequel series to "Nightshade", which I loved despite the fact that I found myself rooting for the other guy who doesn't get chosen! The series is completely different from its original series, with new characters (save our favourite bad guy!) and an entirely new world.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Morrow is promised to a group called Conatus after one of their healers saves her mother's life. Once she arrives, Ember finds joy in wielding swords, learning magic, and fighting the encroaching darkness loose in the world. She also finds herself falling in love with her mentor, the dashing, brooding, and powerful Barrow Hess. When the knights realize Eira, one of their leaders, is dabbling in dark magic, Ember and Barrow must choose whether to follow Eira into the nether realm or to pledge their lives to destroying her and her kind.

I don't really know whether this is a new thing with me, or whether it's a sudden realization that's come to me, but I'm beginning to find these love-at-first-sight romances way too unrealistic and sappy. Unfortunately, the relationship between Barrow and Ember seemed a little too sudden and shallow to be interesting--the development of their romance consisted mostly of Ember staring at Barrow's muscles...yeah. One thing that I will give props for is Barrow's attitude toward Ember and his budding lust/love for her. He remains a gentleman, which I preferred immensely to Alistair's pretty crass what-the-hell-invoking attitude. That guy really needs to get it when he's friend-zoned.

Ember herself was an okay character to me. I liked that she had a kick-ass side to her, but she was honestly kind of boring at times. There was no self-struggle save for her inner battle against the lust/love she feels for her handsome, brooding mentor. When the only really dynamic thing or huge problem that the heroine herself faces is romance, there's just not much to work with to make her character compelling. In fact, I found myself enjoying the chapters told from Eira's point of view rather than those told from Ember's. At least Eira had some dark flaw that kept things juicy.

I am, however, fairly interested in the potential development of the plot. The big bad Bosque Mar is here (for those of you who haven't read the "Nightshade" series, he's there too!) and ready to take over the world. I liked how Ms. Cremer brought in a character from the original series--it's like an inside joke that only readers of "Nightshade" share with the author. There's a lot of potential with how the storyline could go in the next book, and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

Overall, "Rift" is a fairly okay prequel to the original "Nightshade" series, with potential for both character and plot development in its second installment. I'd definitely recommend reading the original series first if you haven't done so already, but I'm a little iffy about the prequel series. I'd say read a couple of chapters to see whether it clicks with you, and if it doesn't, just skip it.

Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Review: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

I remember when I first read Brent Weeks' "Night Angel Trilogy" a couple years ago. My fantasy-loving friend (the one who recommended "The Name of the Wind" to me a while back!) lent me the first book of the trilogy, "The Way of Shadows", and I devoured the entire series in a couple of weeks--even downloading the PDF file (I know, I know, it's illegal...oops) because I just couldn't wait to read the next book! When I found out that Mr. Weeks had written another series, however, I don't know why I didn't immediately grab the first book and begin another journey when I'd loved his first trilogy. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you're so accustomed to the first world and its characters that moving onto another totally different world is something of a betrayal. Or maybe I had some sort of premonition that it just wasn't going to be as good. Unfortunately, I think I was right...

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals. But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he's willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

I hardly ever not finish a book. I hate it. Never knowing what ends up happening in the world or how the characters develop is akin to treachery. That's doing the book an injustice. But I don't know what just didn't do it for me in "The Black Prism". It just didn't pull me through its pages. I think it could do with the fact that the chapters jumped around different characters' viewpoints a little too much. It was hard to really become invested in the characters despite the fact that they were interesting and had their own backstories that unfurled as the book progressed, and, to me, a compelling narrative is a must for any book. It's disappointing because I think that the characters all have potential to be great, interesting people who change and do amazing things throughout the story, but I just never became interested in them, at least in the first half of the book that I did read.

Another thing that didn't quite cinch it for me was the slow pace of the plot. Maybe it again has to do with the fact that we jumped around too much from one point of view to the next, but too many things happened one after another, and the things that did happen didn't interest me much. Even now I'm not 100% sure what the overarching storyline is, without which the plot falls flat.

Don't get me wrong. "The Black Prism" does have a lot of potential, but I just never got hooked in the first half of the book, which is dangerous for any story. Who knows? Maybe it really does get better and super fun in the last half! I just felt like I was on this book for too long and wanted to move onto the huge stack of books that were recently released (on my birthday, no less!). I've read some good reviews on "The Black Prism", though, so maybe this is just me. My friend also remarked that this book is just "okay", but I'd check it out for myself and read the first few chapters--it just didn't really do it for me!

Rating: 1.5/5

*Please remember that I have really shamefully not finished the book! This is a review of only the first half--I've heard great things about the book overall, like the intense plot twist towards the end. This should not be read as a wholesome review!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book Review: Avow by Chelsea Fine

When I first picked up the first book of the "The Archers of Avalon" trilogy, "Anew", I expected a modern retelling of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. I was wrong. Instead, I found myself sucked into a small town in Georgia called--you know it--Avalon, where a couple of hot immortal boys and an amnesiac blue-eyed girl named Scarlet live. "Avow" is the final installment in the trilogy, and, boy, it's really been a fun ride! There's something about the last book in any series--it's always bittersweet since you're closing the covers for good on characters you've followed throughout their journey. Now, before I jump right into the synopsis, for all those new readers of "The Archers of Avalon": spoiler alert!

Scarlet remembers everything. Her past lives, Tristan, Gabriel, Nate, everything--including how to get to the Fountain of Youth and save them all. But time is running out. Heather and Gabriel have been kidnapped by Raven, while the curse between Scarlet and Tristan has shifted, putting the star-crossed lovers in a dangerous new situation. Water from the Fountain of Youth can solve everything--but it comes at a price. The clock is ticking, and Scarlet leads her friends on a journey to the legendary Fountain, where eternal life is possible, but death is certain.

When I flipped to the first page of "Avow", I knew for certain that I was in for some seriously witty humour. And it didn't disappoint. The voices of the characters through the narrative were incredibly funny, and got me chuckling in many places. It's just filled with smart-alecky comments and smart remarks that really give life to the characters, and really sucks the reader in. The interaction between them, especially between Heather and Gabriel, is another place where Ms. Fine's humour trickles in, and I just loved reading anything said by Nate, who has got to be the embodiment of clownlike funnies. What's impressive is that despite the abundance of witty remarks in the narrative and dialogue, the humour never gets too overbearing or forced, which is a huge no-no in books with lots of wit. I bet you Ms. Fine is someone who'd be super fun to talk to, too!

The characters themselves were interesting and compelling, and I loved how Ms. Fine wove in each characters' backstory to make them more three-dimensional and realistic. Scarlet and Tristan, as always, are inextricably tied together throughout the novel, and the changed dynamic between the two that's brought around by the shift in their curse made things really interesting. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical by their seemingly 'star-crossed lovers' jibe, but after reading about their history way back in the 1800s in "Awry", the second book of the trilogy, the whole Scarlet-Tristan romance seemed natural and more believable. I also liked the twist in the relationship between Heather and Gabriel (c'mon, you saw it coming too), though I think it was a little too sudden and 'must-wrap-this-up-nicely' for my tastes. And Nate, beautiful, humorous Nate, I just love him to bits. He's such a dweeb with his Star Wars collectibles and Indiana Jones whip, but at the same time has layers to him that made him a tragic-comedic character. And Raven's just a raving (hah) witch...she's crazy.

As for the plot of "Avow", I think Ms. Fine did a good job with making sure all the loose ends were tied together nicely. The climax was definitely up there in terms of pace and tension--I felt my heart pounding as I rapidly skimmed over what was happening! One thing that irked me just a little bit was how there was just a huge section toward the middle where the chapters were set in the past. I liked reading about Scarlet and the boys' history, and how each of her deaths affected them, but it might've been nicer if the chapters were a little more spread out. It was a little sudden, like this huge block in the middle of the events happening in the present. Nevertheless, it was a fun storyline to follow throughout.

All in all, "Avow" is a great ending to a super fun trilogy. I love the humour present in the narration and the dialogue, and the dynamic characters made everything all the more exciting. I definitely recommend the "The Archers of Avalon" series to anyone who loves an action-packed, swoony-romance-filled adventure.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January '13 Releases!

Now that a fresh new year has begun, I've decided to introduce a new element to The Ink Gobbler book review blog. Drumroll please...... New releases of the month! Yay! At the start of every month, I'll post a list of potentially delectable books that will be released. This way, not only can you get all hyped up about all these beautiful upcoming books, but I can also keep track of what books to check out! All you have to do is click on the cover to go to its Goodreads page, where you can read the synopsis and ARC reviews so you can decide on whether the book's for you.

Now enough talking from me. Here are the most anticipated novels of January 2013:

"Through the Ever Night" ("Under the Never Sky" #2) by Veronica Rossi
Release date: Jan. 8

"Just One Day" by Gayle Forman
Release date: Jan. 8

"Rise" ("Nightshade Prequel #2) by Andrea Cremer
Release date: Jan. 8

"The Fairest Beauty" by Melanie Dickerson
Release date: Jan. 8

"Shades of Earth" ("Across the Universe" #3) by Beth Revis
Release date: Jan. 15

"Prodigy" ("Legend" #2) by Marie Lu
Release date: Jan. 29

"The Madman's Daughter" by Megan Shepherd
Release date: Jan. 29

Whooo that got me excited!! Be sure to click back here over the course of the month to read reviews of any books that caught your eye!

Book Review: Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Happy new year! I can't believe 2012 is finally over, and we have 365 days ahead of us in the new year to do whatever we want with them. Being in my last year of high school, I definitely want to really carpe diem it up in my last few remaining months before summer, and the beginning of 2013 is a perfect way to just get that kickstarted. The new year also marks a fresh start, a new beginning. But that doesn't mean that existing problems will magically be erased--a new year is a force that gently pushes you to solve those problems yourself so you can have the best months of your life. Wow that was pretty philosophical. But I digress. Without further ado, I present to you the first review of the year: "Scent of Magic" by Maria V. Snyder, the sequel of "Touch of Power".

Avry of Kazan, the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, is supposed to be dead. After hearing of her supposed death from the Plague, friends and foe alike believe her to be gone. Luckily for Avry, this works to her advantage. On top of stopping the megalomaniacal King Tohon--who also seems bent on winning her heart--from seizing control of the Realms with his armies of the walking dead, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she has to do all of this alone--Kerrick, her partner and sole confidant, returns to his kingdom to assist Prince Ryne in amassing support against Tohon. War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible...again.

One of the things I absolutely love about Ms. Snyder's novels are the romantic relationships she creates (although this is probably not surprising). I remember when I read the "Study" series, which is the first of Ms. Snyder's works, Yelena and Valek's romance really blew me away. Instead of the sappy 'love at first sight, OMG his piercing eyes just melt my heart and oh lord those muscles, I can't stop myself, this is destiny' romances you see in a lot of books, Yelena and Valek's relationship was incredibly natural, mature and real. In the "Healer" series, Avry and Kerrick's romance is exactly that. You can easily tell that what they have between them goes beyond lust and attraction--it's a bond that's created from real love and friendship and mutual respect. They both just go so well together, and, despite the fact that they weren't physically with each other throughout most of the book, you can see that real bond between the two. If anything, Ms. Snyder's utterly believable romantic relationships are one of the many things that really sent me on a crazy fangirl phase. Who doesn't want true love?

Outside of her intimacy with Kerrick, Avry is a heroine who's hard to dislike. I was a little surprised at first by the fact that she's pretty old at 21 years old in comparison to the rest of the protagonists in other books, but despite this Avry is still relatable. She's very down-to-earth and is a realist, and has an incredibly witty sense of humour to boot. She also has flaws and fears that she struggles with, which makes her all the more believable and relatable. It was also interesting how Ms. Snyder decided to alternate chapters that were from Avry's point of view and Kerrick's. I feel like I got to not only learn more about the two characters, but also see more of the Fifteen Realms and the rest of the world.

The other characters in the novel were unique and added a lot to the plot. As always, I loved the group dynamics between Avry, Kerrick, Belen (aka Poppa Bear), Flea, Quain and Loren (the latter two nicknamed 'the monkeys'). Just like Avry and Kerrick's romantic relationship, the relationships within the group are natural and even amusing at times to read about. King Tohon is a pretty interesting character as well--particularly now that Ms. Snyder has woven in his twisted feelings toward Avry and his willingness to win her over the 'proper' way. Though this doesn't change the fact that he's an ass.

The storyline of "Scent of Magic" remained engaging throughout the entire novel, and I flipped through the pages in avid interest to see what would happen next. There were some moments when the jumping around from different events at the end of a chapter, as well as the alternating point of views, confused me for a millisecond or two, but the storyline remained fluid throughout nonetheless. The pace did slow a little during the middle, but it never got wholly boring either. In fact, a lot happens that really interested me--especially the potential of romantic tension between Avry and Tohon. It'll be fun to see how things unfold in the next book.

Overall, "Scent of Magic" is an amazing sequel to an amazing book, with a wonderfully real romance, a great cast of characters and an interesting storyline. I really can't wait until the next book to see how Ms. Snyder develops the existing relationships and events. I highly, highly recommend that you check out all of her books, especially the "Study" series, which I just fell in love with!

Rating: 5/5