Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: Angel Fire by L.A. Weatherly

With Christmas fast approaching and the temperature dropping in all its wintry glory, it's really the perfect atmosphere to just curl up in a nice, warm bed with a good book. I was in the mood for some heartwarming romance as well as for some heartstopping action, and, luckily for me, L.A. Weatherly's "Angel Fire", the sequel to "Angel Burn", was ready to read on my new Kindle Fire (!!!). "Angel Fire" picks up right where the first book left off, and hardly ever drops the ball. (Warning: spoilers for "Angel Burn" in the synopsis!)

Willow and Alex are still both on the run, fugitives from their failed attempt at stopping Raziel and the other angels from literally taking over the world. A half-angel and an Angel Killer, or AK for short, isn't the most likely pair, but together, connected by an unbreakable bond of love and trust, they travel to Mexico City to seek refuge. When Alex discovers a group of fledgling AKs, he knows it's up to him to whip them into shape--and fast. The Seraphic Council of Twelve has come to moderate the angels' reckless feeding on the humans, and Raziel is plotting to get rid of them so that he can truly have his way. On top of this, Seb, a mysterious half-angel who's been looking for another of his kind his entire life, shows up one day, and it's only a matter of time before Willow and Alex's life together is put to the ultimate test.

It's always interesting to see how characters change and develop--or don't--in sequels. I do have to admit that I found Willow kind of flat, just like she was in "Angel Burn". Sure, she's nice and likable, but there wasn't anything that made her a particularly awesome or engaging heroine. There's no flaw to her--except for her humanity (wait, that didn't come out right, did it?)--and really she just doesn't change much at all. I think this was one issue I had in the previous book as well. Willow's not too boring, just very static and not very interesting. Alex, on the other hand, was more of a dynamic character than his girlfriend--again, just like in "Angel Burn". I loved how some of the chapters were presented from his point of view, because I felt like I got to know him more as a person rather than simply a strong, romantic hottie from Willow's eyes. Instead, I saw the struggles he faced with all the problems he was presented with: Willow and Seb, Kara, leading the AKs, his past. I definitely think that the person I find myself leaning to more (and this is not because he's male) is Alex, and it's a shame because Willow is a likable character, just boring.

Another character that spiced things up a little bit is Seb. I was a little unsure about how I felt about this obvious love triangle between him, Willow and Alex, but I think Ms. Weatherly did a good job with making sure that their relationships didn't fall into one of those ridiculously annoying triangles where the girl just can't make up her mind and ends up playing with them both. Seb didn't overstep his bounds, and I liked how he's a fresh character--and a half-angel, no less. There were times when his charm and wit did fall flat a little and he became your typical caring guy, but it wasn't too bad.

The plot of "Angel Fire" was quite engaging throughout the entire book, with interesting twists and turns. However, I found myself skimming over a lot of the parts--they simply weren't necessary. There was too much of the characters' thought process, when it would have been a lot more fun and fast-paced if Ms. Weatherly had skipped over or condensed some of this and continued with the next event in the plot. Nonetheless, the storyline wasn't boring, it was just a little slow-paced at some parts. The actual plot was fun and full of action, and I could really visualize what was going on throughout the chapters.

All in all, "Angel Fire" is a decent sequel, with an interesting storyline and cast of new characters that helped spice things up a little. I love Alex and Willow's relationship, which was sweet and believable and didn't fall to the trap of the typical YA romance love triangle. Worth a quick read!

Rating: 3.5/5 (I know I'm being picky with all these half-ratings, but it's what best relays my thoughts!)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Scourge by A.G. Henley

When people find out that a book is self-published, they tend to naturally shy away from it. I guess they think, if a publishing house rejects a manuscript, it's probably not good enough. The truth is that sometimes, the story isn't what they're looking for at the time, or they've already signed a similar story. Whatever the case is, just because a book is self-published, it doesn't mean that it's bad! When I picked up "The Scourge", I didn't even know that it wasn't published by Random House or Penguin or what have you, and it didn't come through at all when I actually read the book either--in fact, it's one you should check out.

Seventeen-year-old Groundling, Fennel, is Sightless, but she knows how to survive in the dangerous forest. When she's called by her people to begin her lifelong task of braving the Scourge--flesh-eating creatures that haunt humans--to collect water for both the Groundlings and the Lofties, Fennel is anything but fearless. But she won't be alone. Fenn's Lofty Keeper, Peree, a boy who smells like summer, protects her from the trees. When the unlikely pair uncovers a secret that shatters the truths they thought they knew, Fenn must decide who and what to protect--her people, her growing love for a boy she thought she'd never fall for, or the elusive dream of lasting peace in the forest.

I don't know whether this sounds strange or whatever, but the fact that the protagonist is blind just made the story all the more interesting. It presented all sorts of challenges, but Fennel deals with them in a way that makes her likable and extremely believable. Rather than presenting her readers with a two-dimensional, archetypal 'strong' heroine with a single weakness she has to overcome, Ms. Henley weaves in layers to Fenn's character that make her anything but boring. There were times, however, when her blindness wasn't entirely believable in some of the descriptions--they were almost too visual, and it would've been interesting to craft images in your head while reading relying solely on smells, sounds and textures. Nonetheless, Fenn is a unique heroine that I enjoyed being with throughout the book, and I definitely see potential for development in sequels!

Another aspect that was helped by Fenn's blindness is the romance between her and Peree. In a lot of YA books, you'll see the protagonist madly falling head over heels for a super hot boy with piercing eyes, and sometimes it makes me wonder whether it's more of a physical attraction than a deep, real love. And that's something that really bothers me, since romance is a huge element to the YA genre. If the relationship between the so-called star-crossed lovers comes across as shallow, it just ruins it. But in "The Scourge", because Fenn can't just fall for Peree because of his looks, but instead ends up being attracted to him because of his actions and his personality, their romance adds another layer of sweetness and believability to the story. I liked the way their relationship developed, though maybe it could've been stretched out a tad longer.

That being said, I think one thing that put me off just a little was the plot development. The ways the twists in the storyline were introduced to the readers were clumsy and way too sudden, and it just didn't seem too realistic to me. If Ms. Henley had dropped a few hints that led up to these surprises, the plot would've run a lot smoother. Towards the middle of the book, it was pretty much twist after turn after twist, and it was just too much and too out-of-the-blue to work really well.

Nevertheless, "The Scourge" is definitely worth reading, especially if you love realistic romances, or a believable, unique character. Peree and Fenn really tugged on my heartstrings, and I look forward to the sequel to see how things unfold.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: Outpost by Ann Aguirre

Reading a good book is just like being whisked away to a whole other world, full of adventure and romance and goodies you can't seem to tear yourself away from. With all the college craziness going on in your typical senior's life, an awesome book is something of a magic portal. Seriously, I think it's the one thing that helped keep me sane these last few months! "Outpost", the sequel of Ann Aguirre's riveting "Enclave", helped me do just this, and I could crawl into Deuce's skin and enjoy being free (or as free as she can be, given her circumstances!). Though I--and Deuce!--had to face flesh-eating Freaks besieging your foster hometown, threatening to kill and devour everyone you've grown to care about into shreds. But hey, beggars can't be choosers, right?

Deuce's whole world has changed. Not only is she the odd one out in the ultra-conservative town of Salvation, being far from a feminine young lady a girl ought to be, but her hunting partner Fade is keeping her at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven't changed, but his cold attitude confuses and hurts her. Frustrated, Deuce jumps at the chance to join the summer patrol, protecting the planters from the Freaks. But the Freaks are changing, watching, waiting and becoming smarter and smarter as the days pass. Salvation can't survive for much longer, and it may take a girl just like Deuce to save them all.

There's really not much that can beat a kick-ass heroine. Being exiled from the only home you've known? No biggie. Annoying conservatives who viciously blame you for all their troubles? Piece of cake. Cutting down flesh-eating mutants? All manageable! Deuce is such a likable character because she's strong, determined and just plain kicks butt, but at the same time is compassionate and righteous. You just cheer for her whenever she bests a bad guy, and reach out to her when she's feeling hurt or angry or sorrowful. Deuce's narrative voice remains engaging throughout the entire story, and I became so invested in her that I almost felt like I became her. Such a compelling narrator is crucial to any novel, and Deuce was what really drove the events and the emotions throughout "Outpost".

Another thing that blew me away and warmed the cockles of my heart was the relationship between Deuce and Fade. The nuances and complexities of their romance made it all the more believable, and there were incredibly sweet moments that made me long for something just like what the two have between them. Nothing was too cloying, but was so realistic that you can't help but become invested in their romance. I liked the way their relationship developed both throughout and since "Enclave", and in "Outpost", Ms. Aguirre weaves in layers to their relationship that just fascinated me as I saw their romance morph into something so beautifully real.

The other characters in the novel are diverse and distinct in their own ways. I loved Momma Oaks and Edmund so much. They make the perfect foster parents for the battle-hardened Deuce, and the ways they each showed her what familial love in their own ways is were sweet and endearing. Deuce's developing love for her foster family also added to their relationship as well. As for Stalker, I liked how he added a little bit of tension for Deuce and Fade's relationship, but at the same time so, so, so thankful to Ms. Aguirre that she didn't turn it into a typical love triangle where Deuce is confused between the two boys and ends up unwittingly playing with both of them. Please, please don't change that in the next book, Ms. Aguirre!

The storyline of the novel was compelling and fast-paced throughout the entire novel, even when, in retrospect, some parts don't seem like they're action-packed (not complaining--every story needs some breathing time!). Which just goes to show how fun "Outpost" was to read--I swear I devoured it in a day, tops! My one complaint is that the climax could've been a little more climax-y. It just felt like it was over pretty quickly. Other than that, though, I was hooked.

Overall, "Outpost" is an extremely compelling, wonderful sequel that makes me want to crawl in between the covers and just live with Deuce and Fade. It's a definite must-read for lovers of romance, action or kick-ass characters. And if you haven't read "Enclave" yet, what are you doing still staring at the screen? Get at it!

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Happy December! I can't believe it's finally one of my favourite months in the entire year. I just love the cozy, festive atmosphere--not to mention it's the perfect season to curl up under fleece blankets, a cup of warm milk and a couple of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies by your side, and read a good book! And what better way to start the most magical holiday than an equally magical fantasy novel? One of my friends, who goes through fantasy books in impossible speeds, recommended "The Kingkiller Chronicle" series to me, saying that the narrative voice is unique and compelling. He sure wasn't wrong there! "The Name of the Wind", despite its daunting length, sucks you in and keeps you engaged through each and every page.

Kvothe the Kingkiller, Kvothe the Bloodless, has always had a talent for Sympathy--drawing on the energy of the surroundings and transforming it into magic. Now an innkeeper in a small, out-of-ways village, he calls himself Kote and lives a secluded, quiet life. When the famous Chronicler stumbles into town, bloodied from an encounter with demon creatures, the silent peace the world-renowned Kvothe had constructed for himself is disturbed, and the mysterious innkeeper finds himself conjuring up memories that had been pushed away into the deep crevices of his mind: memories of his childhood in a troupe of travelling actors, of his years spent as a broken, near-feral orphan in a corrupt city, of his daringly brazen bid to enter the legendary school of magic. And, above all, memories of seeking revenge upon the infamous, legendary creature who had ruined his life: the Chandrian.

One of the most compelling elements of "The Name of the Wind" is, without a doubt, its narrative voice. The majority of the book is told in Kvothe's voice, and readers are presented with an intimate narrative that draws them in and weaves an enchanting web around them. The fact that we see Kvothe as a character from a third-person point of view as well as from his own first-person point of view creates a whole other layer to our understanding of him, and you end up bonding with him even more. On top of that, it feels as if Kvothe is telling his story to you directly, as if you're sitting there in the inn, listening rapturously to his words and watching him animate his tale. One thing that maybe would've helped the narrative voice is a little humour, so that you get a little more of his character. Sometimes I completely forgot that it was narrated by Kvothe and instead we had a more objective narrator.

The other characters were fairly interesting, though they tended to be more of stock characters rather than characters who developed and changed as the book progressed. For example, Ambrose Jakis was ever the snobby, evil bully, while Wil and Sim were the jocular buddies who had Kvothe's back. Denna was pretty intriguing, with her complicated life and the challenge she presents to Kvothe. The relationship between the two is sweet and at the same time complex, and I'm interested to see how it unfolds in the sequel. Another thing about the characters that bugged me a little was the fact that many of them didn't make many appearances after a while. This could do with the fact that the entire novel is pretty much about Kvothe's childhood and memories, and, like in real life, sometimes you don't see someone who had been a part of your life once any longer.

The language used by Mr. Rothfuss can be beautiful. I particularly loved it when Kvothe brings Auri salt, he said that it was made out of "the dreams of fish and sailor's songs". It's just incredibly whimsical and lends a magical undertone to the story. The prose is flowing and eloquent, and, while not something outstandingly breathtaking, helps to transform a boy's coming-of-age story into something of a fantastical adventure.

Because "The Name of the Wind" consists mostly of Kvothe recounting the events of his childhood, there's a lot that happens, and it's no wonder that the book is this huge. Despite its formidable length, though, I enjoyed most of the story, though I did end up skimming some parts that went on longer than they needed to. Nonetheless, the plot remains engaging throughout, and doesn't get too boring.

Overall, "The Name of the Wind" is a great fantasy novel with a protagonist you learn to understand and become invested in, and other characters who help to enhance our understanding even more. Admittedly, the story can get a little too long, but it's still an enjoyable read throughout. I'd recommend it for readers who love fantasy books and a good journey.

Rating: 4/5