Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

The most incredible thing about books, I think, is their ability to transport you to places far, far away--even if it's through hyperdimensional time and space. "These Broken Stars" takes us aboard the Icarus, a vast spaceship traveling across galaxies, bedecked with holograms and pods and all that fancy pants space stuff. I have to admit that I'm a little skeptical of sci-fi novels based in space, since they tend to veer toward the same generic storyline, but trust me when I say that Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner whisks you away in a galactically thrilling adventure that'll leave you starbound.

The Icarus was never meant to fall. Built by the powerful LaRoux Industries, the massive luxury spaceship is equipped with the most advanced technology available. No one expected that the Icarus would be yanked out of hyperspace and sent plummeting toward a planet, leaving only two known survivors. Lilac LaRoux is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver Merendsen comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. The two are loath to work together, but when they find themselves haunted by chilling whispers, Lilac and Tarver know that their only hope of survival is each other.

I don't know if I've made it very clear in my little synopsis, but let me tell you now that the storyline in "These Broken Stars" is creepily awesome. Sure, at first you get the Titanic-esque fall of the spaceliner, leaving two survivors stranded on a seemingly deserted planet, but as the story progresses, the tension creeps higher and higher until you get perpetual shivers running down your spine. Nonstop. Seriously, the plot of the novel is one heckuva thriller, complete with strange, indecipherable whispers and illusions taken from your memories. Not to mention rotting corpses and freaking ghosts pointing toward some place. How creepy can that get? Ms. Kaufman and Ms. Spooner definitely do an excellent job in weaving together a compelling storyline, one that propels you from start to finish. There are lots of elements that create both physical and emotional tension in the storyline, from the development of Lilac and Tarver's relationship to the two's trek across the strange planet. You'll be getting your fair share of the heebie jeebies with this one.

Speaking of Lilac and Tarver, the two main characters of the novel were really great characters to follow throughout the novel. Lilac is a rich heiress, but one with a backbone and little care for the false niceties of societal life. Tarver, on the other hand, is a soldier from an ordinary family, one who's relied on instincts and wits to get to where he is now. I thought that the portrayal of the two protagonists was not only believable but also exciting, especially with the way the two's differences played against one another in a way that ultimately leads to the best sort of dynamic and symbiotic relationship. The development of their romance was especially done very well, beginning with natural attraction, then barely contained disgust, to reluctant tolerance, and...well, the rest is history!

It seems like "These Broken Stars" is the first novel in a trilogy, with three different worlds and three different love stories (which means no more Lilac and Tarver?). I think this is probably a pretty good move, as it'll give readers a glimpse into different lives and make it all the more exciting. I do have to admit that while I found Lilac and Tarver really interesting to read about throughout the novel, I don't think I ever reached that point of "oh my goodness I love these people, let me be with them forever and ever" like I have with some other characters in other novels. Maybe there could've been a little more oomph to their characters and back stories, to make them more captivating to read about.

Overall, "These Broken Stars" is an intergalactic thriller of a novel, with an exciting storyline and a pair of characters who are enjoyable to follow throughout. I definitely recommend this novel for anyone looking for a good adventure, you won't regret it!

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Book Review: Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

There are some books out there that make you feel, upon cracking open the cover and having your eyes land on the opening words, as if you've discovered a treasure trove. Ever since finding myself being utterly--and unknowingly--enchanted by Humbert Humbert's narrative voice in "Lolita," I've always wanted to discover more of Vladimir Nabokov's work in the anticipation of more intricate language that will weave a dewdrop web around my imagination (his ornate language is obviously having an effect on me!). I finally picked up a copy of "Pale Fire" sometime last week--and, lo and behold, was spellbound.

I find myself at a loss in trying to think of my own synopsis for "Pale Fire"--I don't think I can do it justice by trying to capture the essence of the novel in my own words--and so instead offer you the one given on the back of my copy: In "Pale Fire" Nabokov offers a cornucopia of deceptive pleasures: a 999-line poem by the reclusive genius John Shade; an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade's self-styled Boswell, Dr. Charles Kinbote; a darkly comic novel of suspense, literary idolatry and one-manship, and political intrigue.

After reading that blurb at the bookstore when I was buying my copy of "Pale Fire," I was a little unsure of what the novel was. A poem? A commentary of a poem? And that's what makes this novel--and Nabokov--so ingenious. For those of you who are just as confused as I was prior to reading the book, "Pale Fire" presents a foreword and commentary by the fictional Dr. Charles Kinbote, who the rather peculiar main character we accompany throughout the pages. Sandwiched between his foreword and commentary is the eponymous poem "Pale Fire," which was written by John Shade, Dr. Kinbote's neighbour. Even after reading the first few pages, I was still a little confused by what the novel was meant to be, but as I continued reading Dr. Kinbote's notes in his commentary, I found myself piecing together the puzzle pieces of this strange novel until I got a clearer picture of what Nabokov is doing. It's extremely clever, what he does, even to the point where I'd say that he's creating his own genre, or, at the very least, his own distinct literary form. I've never encountered a book like this before, and the journey that you embark on as you read the novel is such a unique and exciting experience!

Another thing that makes "Pale Fire" such an incredible read is Nabokov's rich and intricate language. Reading the words of the novel was like stepping into a candy shop for book nerds like myself--whimsical, magical and so alive! The purposefully obscure and fancy diction works enticingly well with the atypical syntax of the sentences, capturing the peculiar character of Dr. Kinbote and stamping the novel with Nabokov's trademark writing style. Not only is the language hypnotizing, but the images that they create are breathtakingly beautiful as well. I'll give you an example, the opening couplet of John Shade's poem: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure of the windowpane." The waxwing, knowledge that Dr. Kinbote eagerly supplies to us, is a type of bird, and those two rich lines describe a bird flying into a glass window, thinking it was the sky. Such a simple image is captured in intensely ornate language, and it's just truly captivating, is all I can say! What's also exciting and clever is the way Nabokov makes allusions to his other novels, like when he mentions Hurricane Lolita, referring to a certain nymphet I've met in his arguably most famous book. Nabokov, you cheeky master of words!

The character of Dr. Charles Kinbote, of course, must not go unmentioned when talking about "Pale Fire." Just like I did with Humbert Humbert in "Lolita," I found myself at once being drawn to and repelled by the dark yet twistedly charming hero (or, perhaps, antihero?) of the novel. You learn a great deal about him not only through the way he speaks in his commentary, but also through the things he reveals in it. He's indubitably narcissistic and passionate, not to mention sly and obsessive. I do think, however, that he puts a sort of distance between himself and his readers, unlike Humbert Humbert, who makes a deliberate attempt to appeal to his audience. It's really interesting, the way Nabokov crafts his main character through his voice and his language, and it's honestly something you have to see for yourself--or, more correctly, he's someone you have to meet for yourself.

Overall, "Pale Fire" is yet another one of Nabokov's darkly whimsical and tantalizing novels, abound with rich, ornate language, a unique novel structure, and, of course, a twisted yet alluring main character. In his novel, Nabokov reminds his readers of what exactly being a reader means, enticing us with undeniably beautiful words and wacky, sly puns. I highly recommend exploring Nabokov's works--it is a trip to a candy shop, or treasure trove, that you cannot miss out on!

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Review: Pawn by Aimee Carter

There's always something thrilling about dystopian stories. The authors give us a glimpse into the possible futures of our world, highlighting things about the society we live in today that are, on second glance, more disturbing that they seem on the surface. Aimee Carter's "Pawn", the first book of "The Blackcoat Rebellion" series, takes us into a world of twisted family politics, a confining hierarchy system, and a dangerous game of lies and secrets--the perfect combination of a killer dystopian novel (and literally at that, too!).

For Kitty Doe, the choice seems simple at first: spend the rest of her life as a III, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or become a VII as a member of the most powerful family in the country. What she doesn't expect is that her decision sends her tumbling into a world of deceit and secrets, and strips her of who she used to be--for good. Kitty is now Masked as Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece who died under mysterious circumstances. The price for a life of luxury: her identity, and her freedom. Kitty is forced to stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed and one Kitty finds herself believing in. Caught in this twisted game of manipulation, Kitty must consider her moves carefully--or she'll lose everything she's ever held dear to her heart.

First off, how thrilling does that plot sound? I was hooked from the blurb of "Pawn," and I knew I had to get my greedy, grubby hands on a copy--and I sure as heck wasn't disappointed! Ms. Carter weaves a story full of intrigue and surprise, one that grabs hold of you from the first page and never lets go. The storyline is, without a doubt, fast-paced throughout the entire novel, with tensions escalating as the story progresses and buried secrets are exposed. The entire idea of being Masked--surgically altered to look like someone--may not be entirely novel, but the real focus remains on the messed up family politics. The Harts are the governing family of the District of Columbia, but they are far from the kind of family who'll dress up in matching ugly sweaters during Christmas and pose for a geeky photo. Instead, they're cutthroat, and will do anything--even murder their own family members--to retain power. The extents to which the Harts go to really help to up the ante, building up the tension and engendering readers' disgust at the society the people are forced to live in.

This, of course, also helps to make Kitty, the heroine of "Pawn," all the more likable. Kitty is an undeniably strong protagonist, one who has her priorities straight and will do anything to protect those she loves. She's also compassionate and clever, and the way she deals with all the obstacles thrown in front of her is admirable. I especially liked her relationship with Benjy--it's clear as day how much she cares for him, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that he's safe, even if it means letting herself become a pawn for the Harts' ruthless games. Really the only thing I can say about Kitty is that she is definitely a great character to follow throughout the book, one we become invested in and root for.

The other characters also help to create a thrilling and engaging story. Augusta and Daxton make the perfect villainous duo, and can I just say here that I am so grateful I don't have a cutthroat grandma. No apple pies and warm cookies baked out of grandmotherly love here. Daxton is also an evil, manipulative sleaze with no redeeming qualities to him whatsoever--which, of course, is perfect in a villain. On the other side of the good-vs-evil battle (though admittedly some of these so-called good guys aren't very good themselves either), are Knox, Grayson and Celia. Celia, Lila's mother, was definitely one of those people you can't classify as entirely good, since she's forced to become just as ruthless as the other Harts to secure her own safety and power. It was interesting, though, to see how she dealt with Kitty as her 'replacement daughter.' Knox, Lila's fiance, is one of those charming fellows every girl swoons over, but what made him more of a dynamic and exciting character was his seriousness in the cause. I do want to mention Benjy, who's just sweet and cute and a good match for Kitty! Love their relationship.

Overall, "Pawn" is a riveting first installment to what promises to be an exciting series, packed with gripping events in the storyline, a great heroine and a dynamic cast of characters. I actually might want to check out Ms. Carter's other series, "The Goddess Test," because I so enjoyed this book! I highly recommend this book--it's an adventure you don't want to miss!

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: World After by Susan Ee

The end of the world isn't something that anyone really looks forward to (at least, I sure hope not). Yet it seems like many creative minds are entertaining the idea, crafting different ways in which the apocalypse comes crashing down on us puny, fragile mortals. Susan Ee's "Penryn & the End of Days" series gives us a glimpse into a world where Earth is used as the battleground for a war between angels, and humans are collateral damage. The second book in the series, "World After," was released last month--and holy moly (pun intended), it's one heckuva adventure!

Penryn should be dead. At least, that's what everyone--her mom, her sister Paige, and Raffe, the angel with demon wings--thinks. After being stung by a monstrous scorpion creature, Penryn wakes up from her paralysis, and is ready to continue surviving in a world overrun by angels. But when Paige is captured by a group of people thinking she's a monster and disappears, Penryn scours the streets of San Francisco to find her. Her search brings her deeper and deeper into the angels' secrets as she discovers that their plans might be even more malicious--if that's possible--than they were led to believe. Entangled in a complex net of angel politics, survival and longing for a certain angel, Penryn knows she has to act fast, and make the most impossible of choices.

I think I'll start off by talking about "World After"'s thriller of a plot. The storyline of this sequel is fast-paced and exciting throughout, with hardly a dull moment. There's always something happening, whether it's escaping the inescapable Alcatraz or penetrating the angels' twisted, decadent parties at the aerie. There's a lot that happens emotionally too, especially between Penryn and Paige as Penryn learns to truly see her little sister as the girl she is, trapped in the body of a monster thanks to the angels' experiments. I also feel like the plot in the sequel has escalated since the first book. To be honest, I don't really recall the storyline of "Angelfall" very clearly, maybe because it wasn't too memorable, but I definitely feel like Ms. Ee stepped it up in "World After," concocting shocking revelations about the angels' plans and upping the stakes in their deadly and dangerous war.

Penryn as a main character is a pretty butt-whooping heroine, one who's clever, brave and undoubtedly has a good head on her shoulders. What I especially like about her is that, despite the fact that she's dealing with a freaking angel apocalypse, unwarranted feelings for an angel, and a little sister who is thirsty for blood, she keeps her calm. Penryn's the type of girl who knows what she needs to do, and understands that no amount of whining or melodrama can change her situation. At the same time, though, she isn't 100% stoic and invincible--Penryn is still a seventeen-year old girl, young and vulnerable, and that's what makes her relatable as a main character. What made me roll my eyes a little, however, was how she expressed her undeniable attraction to Raffe. Sure, he's beautiful and all--he's an angel, for heaven's sake--but the amount of times she described him as "Adonis-like" was a little too much for me.

Speaking of Raffe, his and Penryn's romance in "World After" kind of left me wanting more! Their relationship definitely underwent a lot of development throughout the sequel, with quite a bit of carrying-in-the-arms and blush-worthy moments between the two. I also thoroughly enjoyed their witty banter, which helps to define their relationship in subtle and amusing ways. I do wish that there was a little more of Penryn and Raffe together, though, and I can't wait to see how their romance develops in the next book!

All in all, "World After" is an exciting sequel to "Angelfall," with a fast-paced storyline, likable heroine, and an enticing romance. If you're looking for an apocalyptic adventure, or, for some reason, like angels and the like, I'd recommend checking this series out for a good read!

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Champion by Marie Lu

I don't think there's a way around it: dystopian is the new black. Ever since the trilogy about a certain girl sporting a braid and a bow and arrow hit the shelves, the number of dystopian books have skyrocketed--and aren't we lucky! Marie Lu's "Legend" series garnered its own diehard fans with the story of June and Day that began two years ago, and, just last month, came to a close with "Champion." Luckily enough, the finale for this dystopian trilogy ended with a bang, keeping the stakes high and the tensions even higher.

Day is the legend, the hero and voice of the Republic's people. June is the prodigy, the strongest and smartest soldier who gained the Elector's trust from a young age. Both June and Day have sacrificed much for the Republic--including, perhaps, each other--and now their nation is on the brink of change and new development. The Colonies and the Republic are finally about to sign a peace treaty, reuniting what had once been America and relieving the tensions that had held reign for years. But when a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, war threatens the Republic cities. The only way to resolve the conflict is for June to ask the boy she loves to give up his own brother, to give up everything. Difficult choices have to be made: peace or love? Who will be the champion?

I imagine it must be pretty tough to juggle two different perspectives in a single book, jumping to and fro from each characters' voice, personality and thoughts. Yet Ms. Lu does a terrific job with June and Day's points of view, with alternating chapters from the two protagonists' perspectives. By giving us an in-depth look into the two main characters' thoughts and actions, she's not only able to make her readers invested in both of them equally, but also create tension and what a lot of people call the 'feeeeels.' And feels there were! Seeing the other person through the other characters' eyes really helped to develop June and Day's relationship in nuanced and complex ways, while at the same time making it incredibly believable and exciting to read about. In fact, their romance took leaps and bounds in "Champion," maturing in ways that allow them to grow as individuals as well.

Which, naturally, brings me to June and Day as characters. In the previous two books in the trilogy, June, to me, has always been a sort of foil character for Day, someone who kind of exists to make things more exciting for the 'real' main hero of the novel. But as I read "Champion," I felt like June definitely became more of a protagonist of equal standing. This is not to say that she used to be a faded side character. She has always been a kick-ass soldier, but she felt a little too stiff to me. In this novel, though, I definitely think that June develops a great deal emotionally, embracing her love for Day and her deceased brother, while struggling with not only the politics of being a Princeps-Elect, but also Anden's unrequited feelings for her. As for Day, he remains a dynamic and interesting character to follow throughout the novel, especially now that he has to deal with the possibility of his own death. Things have undeniably changed for both characters, forcing them to grow in ways that wouldn't have been possible without the pressing circumstances they face as important figures in the Republic.

The plot of "Champion" definitely does the trilogy justice, never letting the stakes drop and the story fall flat. Unlike a lot of dystopian series, where the finale ends up boring and stale, "Champion" remains exciting throughout the novel. When there isn't some punchy action going on, whether it's fighting enemy soldiers or jumping off of ridiculously tall buildings, there's always some emotional tension with June and Day's thoughts and the decisions that they have to make. The ending, especially, was original and fresh, and the epilogue kind of left things a tad bit hazy in a way that wasn't frustrating, but rather left things to the readers' hopeful imagination.

Overall, "Champion" is a thrilling finale to a great dystopian trilogy, with a pair of compelling main characters and an exciting storyline that remains that way until the final page. There's a reason the "Legend" series is so popular--I would definitely recommend the trilogy to anyone looking for an adventure!

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review: Teardrop by Lauren Kate

I've been asking myself these days why exactly I love reading YA novels so much. Admittedly, they're not as "deep" or "philosophical" as the so-called "real literature" novels (bear the excessive air quotes with me), yet there's something about that them that's enchanting and invigorating about them. After finishing up Lauren Kate's new book "Teardrop", I think I found the answer to that question. YA novels, in the simplest and most exciting manner, give us hope. They remind us that things like love, loss, friendship and self-discovery are things that everyone has gone or will go through--even if you're not a kick-ass soldier in a corrupt government or a seemingly ordinary girl who possesses otherworldly powers. That, I think, is the most powerful thing any book of any genre can do: provide mirrors for us to see into our the possibilities in our own lives from the comfort of our beds. I mean, what could be greater and more magical than that? Now, for lack of a smooth segue, let me just move on to the book itself (oops).

For seventeen years, Eureka has grown up without crying. Never, ever cry. After her mother was killed in a freak accident, the things and people she held dear to her heart hold no more meaning, and the last thing she will ever do is let anyone close enough to feel her pain. Eureka will do anything to escape, save for one thing that holds her back: Ander, the mysterious boy with turquoise eyes that speaks of the ocean who seems to be wherever she goes. And when she uncovers an ancient tale of romance and heartbreak, about a girl whose tears drowned an entire continent, Eureka knows there's no escape, no disappearing. Suddenly her mother's death and Ander's appearance seem connected, and her life threatens to slip under dark undercurrents that will change her forever.

Eureka is a pretty awesome protagonist to follow throughout "Teardrop"--I mean, come on. Her name says it all. She's definitely a somewhat grittier main character than your average YA heroine, exemplified by the fact that she tells us from page one that she attempted suicide because of her mom's death. Putting the macabre aside, Eureka also has a hard time trusting people, even her own dad, who had remarried someone else after he and her mom got divorced. It was really interesting to see their relationship develop throughout the novel, in ways that were both sweet and sad at the same time. I think it's these weaknesses which make Eureka not only an interesting heroine, but a real one, one who struggles with her shortcomings and all the other sucky things in life, and, because of this, one you can relate to. Yet despite her tougher side, she's also undeniably compassionate, vulnerable and independent, a complex mix of different aspects to her personality which make her all the more real. Her loyalty to her best friends, Brooks and Cat, and her love for her twin half-siblings and dad really capture her strength in character, and I think Ms. Kate has done an amazing job in creating such an awesome heroine.

I did, however, feel like Eureka almost crossed the annoying "holy moly this guy is cute, but ooh the other one is really hot too" line at times with Ander and Brooks. Almost. Luckily, though, she never actually crossed that line, thanks to her believable explications and thoughts that we see through her first-person perspective. It also probably has something to do with the characters of these two prospective contenders-of-love themselves. On one hand, you have the mysterious, ocean-eyed Ander, whose sudden appearance in Eureka's life definitely shakes things up and makes her question her undeniable attraction to this stranger. On the other, you have the familiar, best friend (but maybe more?) Brooks. Brooks, more so than the pretty perfect Ander, was an interesting, but at times frustrating, character to read about for me, with his complicated portrayal with mixed signals (all will be revealed...in the book!). While there was, and maybe still is, definitely some risky potential for the love triangle to fall into the tropes of most YA romances, I think--and can only hope!--that Eureka has a better head on her shoulders than that.

Just as she did in her "Fallen" series, I think Ms. Kate has created an exciting and unique storyline in "Teardrop". By taking the age-old legend of Atlantis and putting her own spin on it, she creates a world that I can't wait to jump into in the next book, since all of "Teardrop" is firmly rooted in the human world for now. The idea of the prophecy of the girl whose tears have the great power to change the fate of the world was the main driving force for the tension in the novel, and I don't think I've flipped through the book so quickly in a while! The plot is, without a doubt, compelling, with new developments popping up in a great pace, and there really never was a dull moment. I think it's also gruesomely great that Ms. Kate isn't afraid to tinge her stories with a little gore here and there, which helps to elevate the stakes of the characters' actions and decisions.

Overall, "Teardrop" is an exhilarating story with a strong heroine, an awesome cast of characters, and an intriguing plot that keeps you hooked throughout. I highly recommend this book to any "Fallen" fans, or any reader looking for a fresh YA novel to sink their teeth into. Now all that's left is to wait for the sequel...

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I've come to the conclusion that there's something about dystopian trilogies that inevitably leads to the same conclusion: The existing government is overthrown by the rebel-led insurrection, but something always is amiss. Maybe it's just me, but the finales for a lot of dystopian trilogies tend to fall flat (Ally Condie's "Matched" series comes to mind here), and leave you feeling a little disappointed at how an exciting beginning can end almost lifelessly. "Allegiant", the third and final book to Veronica Roth's riveting "Divergent" trilogy, left me feeling that way, bringing what could've been an unputdownable series to close.

The world as Tris knows it has disappeared. The factions have been abolished, fractured by betrayal and violence and replaced instead by a new, problematic society led by Tobias' mother, Evelyn. So when she is offered a chance to explore the world beyond the fence, a world in which she and Tobias can find a simple new life together, Tris is more than ready to go. But when she discovers that her new reality is even more disturbing than the one she's left behind, with secrets that force her to examine her loyalties and discoveries that change the hearts of those she loves. Once again, Tris must fight to comprehend the complexities of human nature--and of herself--while facing impossible choices of courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

I know my introductory paragraph up there hardly left any room for optimism, but trust me when I say that "Allegiant" isn't a crappy book. In fact, Tris and Tobias' character developments were interesting to read about as the book progressed, especially since it is the final book in the trilogy, which means that they will soon reach the crux of their character journeys before the last page. Tris, to me, is an awesome heroine. Not only is she a brave, butt-kicking and stubborn protagonist, but she is also compassionate and thoughtful, which, I guess, is the whole point of her role as a Divergent: Tris is an amalgamation of all these different characteristics which make each and every one of us human, from erudition, dauntlessness, abnegation, candor and amity (see what I did there). Watching her as she deals with conflicting problems and new, life-changing discoveries, as well as with her relationships with her family, friends, and Tobias, reveals the huge amount of change she's gone through since the beginning of the series. Tris is, without a doubt, a great heroine you can't help but become invested in and root for from the start, and I'd even go so far as to say one that you can look up to as a sort of role model.

The same, unfortunately, can't really be said about Tobias. If Tris is the epitome of a teenaged heroine, then Tobias is more of a gritty, 'real' character, with possibly more faults than admirable traits. I understand that growing up, Tobias had to deal with a butt ton of issues that left a lot of emotional, mental and physical scars, but there were times when I just felt like he was kind of annoying. This might be because of the comparison between his perspective and Tris', since the chapters alternated between their two points of view. There was definitely a sort of emotional journey that he goes through, what with his mother and abusive father and Tris and so on, but I still felt like he ended up as a character I lost interest in. On the other hand, he and Tris were generally pretty sweet as a couple, with a strong and believable dynamic between them that allowed them to mature both individually and as a pair. I just wish Tobias himself was a little more likable and strong as a character, especially since he was pretty great in the first two books!

The real disappointment I felt toward "Allegiant" was about its plot. It seemed as if the real action was over in the second book, and "Allegiant" just dragged it on for the sake of having a third book in the trilogy. Like I said before, the storyline is pretty generic for a dystopian finale, where there are post-insurrection problems that make the characters realize that everything is not as they seem. The pace was pretty plodding throughout the entire novel, and there wasn't much of a climax either. In a way, it's kind of like the storyline meanders this way and that, and never skyrocketed in tension or excitement. This may be due to the fact that Ms. Roth was trying to tie up all of the loose ends from previous books, in terms of Tobias' family and Tris' struggles with Caleb and being Divergent, but it ultimately fell flat.

All in all, "Allegiant" is a pretty disappointing finale to what had been an exciting and refreshing dystopian trilogy. It's unfortunate to see such great world-building, strong characters and riveting storylines decline to a dull end, as much as I (really, really, really!) don't want to say it.

Rating: 2/5

December '13 Releases!

Ho ho ho... It's that time of the year again! December has always been an exciting month for me. The beautiful strings of fairy lights, rising buzz of shoppers looking for the perfect gift, warm mugs of milk and soft chocolate chip cookies... What more could you ask for? December also signals endings, and it presents the perfect opportunity to look back at the past and look forward to the future. In the midst of the holiday madness and self-musing, however, there's always time for books! This month introduces us to new and exciting books, from Andrea Cremer's continuation of her delicious "Nightshade" series in the new "Nightshade Legacy" series, to Maria V. Snyder's third installment in the "Healer" series! Everyone, please, contain your excitement. Because I sure can't.

"The World Without a Future" by Nazarea Andrews
Release date: Dec. 3

"Chasing the Star Garden" (The Airship Chronicles #1) by Melanie Karsak
Release date: Dec. 4

"Snakeroot" (Nightshade Legacy #1) by Andrea Cremer
Release date: Dec. 10

"These Broken Stars" (Starbound #1) by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Release date: Dec. 10

"Fireblood" (Fireblood #1) by Trisha Wolfe
Release date: Dec. 17

"Taste of Darkness" (Healer #3) by Maria V. Snyder
Release date: Dec. 31

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa

I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking, faeries? Aren't they tiny, glittery creatures concocted for the imaginations of three-year old girls bedecked in tutus and crowns? Call me a kid, but I've been enchanted by Julie Kagawa's "The Iron Fey" series ever since I read the first book. I think a little piece of me died when I read the final book in the original series, only to be revived when "The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten" series was announced! "The Iron Traitor" is the second book in this sequel series, and was released just last month. And let me tell you, the fey in the books are not your typical frilly faeries.

"Normal" is not possible when it comes to the life of Ethan Chase. Being the younger brother of one of the most powerful fey in the Nevernever wasn't meant to be easy, and, after an unexpected journey to the land of fey, "normal" is out of the question. But when he learns that his nephew Kierran is missing and seeking any means possible to save the summer faery he loves, Ethan finds himself sucked back into magical mischief and fey politics. Now, however, the stakes are even higher. Not only does he have to protect his stubborn girlfriend Kenzie, but Ethan also has to stop Kierran before he does something unthinkable, something that will give rise to the dangerous fey known as the Forgotten, and fracture the human and faery worlds forever.

The characters in "The Iron Fey" series have always, without fail, made me fall in love with them. I remember becoming so invested in the adventures of Meghan, Ash and Puck that I devoured even the in-between novellas in the series--I just needed more! Luckily for me, they make reappearances in "The Iron Traitor", and it really is like meeting old friends after a long time. Puck is as mischievous as ever, and it was thrilling to see Ash show up again (though this may or may not be because I ended up having a creepy fictional crush on the guy). And, of course, you have Grimalkin, the Cheshire Cat-like character, ripe with sarcasm and wry "better than thou". I think I squealed a little when he showed up in the novel! The way Ms. Kagawa ties in the original and sequel series together is both generous and exciting, and builds on the world she'd created previously in ways that continue to astonish you at every turn.

The main characters of this series, however, are Ethan, Kenzie and Kierran. Being in the perspective of a male protagonist is always interesting to me, especially when it comes to YA novels. I love reading about Ethan's emotions and thoughts throughout the novel, especially as he comes to terms with his feelings for Kenzie and letting some of that 'tough guy shield' go as he exposes himself to more vulnerability. The ways in which Ethan's character develops as the story progresses allow for greater reader investment in the novel, not to mention establish a connection between the main character and the reader. I do have to say, however, that I don't quite feel as invested in his character as I did in the original series, though this may not have anything to do with his portrayal! Kenzie, though admittedly a little annoying at times, is still a strong, determined character who is a perfect match for Ethan, helping him crumbles the walls he'd erected for self-defense. The most intriguing character in "The Iron Traitor", however, is Kierran, since the entire novel centers around his actions as he tries to save Annwyl. I loved their tragic romance, and to see him change as he struggles to save the faery he loves was extremely interesting to read about.

As always, Ms. Kagawa does an incredible job in expanding the world of the novel. She takes us to New Orleans, full of mystic and voodoo and all that jazz (pun intended), creepy, abandoned houses, and, of course, Nevernever. It's always intriguing to enter the land of the fey, what with all the court politics, exotic and entrancing creatures, and wickedly beautiful landscapes. And what's all the more intriguing is that Ms. Kagawa evokes this entire, expansive world through words alone! The writing itself is never purple, nor is it simplistic, with just the right balance of descriptions and action to set the novel at a quick and engaging pace. The storyline never really dropped, and always remained exciting until that one heckuva cliffhanger!

Overall, "The Iron Traitor" is an incredibly delectable addition to "The Iron Fey" series, with a wonderful cast of characters you can't forget, a deceptively enchanting world, and an engaging, fast-paced plot. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a good adventure--or to indulge in their childhood obsession with faeries!

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Horde by Ann Aguirre

I imagine that there's a crazy amount of pressure on a writer when it comes around to writing the final book in a series. You've built up a new and exciting world, created characters your readers fell in love with, and woven a compelling plot throughout the series--now what? You're left facing the enormous task of wrapping things up in a way that not only satisfies yourself but also satisfies your readers! Talk about pressure. "Horde" was released toward the end of October, signaling the conclusion of Ann Aguirre's "Razorland" trilogy--and of Deuce and Fade's journey from the enclaves.

Salvation is doomed. The monsters have surrounded the town, and there's no escape from the death and destruction the horde brings with them. But the odds have always been stacked against Deuce, and the Huntress in her won't let them get in the way of beating the Freaks, no matter what the cost. With her knives in her hand and her companions by her side, Deuce is determined to secure peace, even if it means pushing aside the nagging feeling that the monsters are somewhat human. This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost is at stake. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

What I really enjoyed reading about in "Horde" was the character development of Deuce as the story progressed. Sure, she was always pretty badass from the start, but in "Outpost", the second book of the trilogy, you saw her get in touch with her more vulnerable side, the one that finds comfort and love in family. In "Horde", you see her grow as a leader as she faces the responsibilities of saving humanity. Despite the fact that she's only a mere sixteen-years old or so, Deuce has always been a mature heroine who has her feet firmly planted on the ground (except when she's swinging kicks at enemies, of course). Being a leader of an army, no matter how small at first, is no easy task, yet Deuce deals with it in a clever and levelheaded manner, and it's really admirable to see someone so young become someone that strong. In a similar thread, I also, of course, loved the development of Deuce and Fade's relationship in "Horde". Despite the whole issue with Fade having been kidnapped by the Freaks and stuff in "Outpost", their relationship grows in a way that only such hard circumstances can bring about. No matter what happens, they'll always find their way to each other. I just about died whenever they looked at each other and promise that they'll always be together. Just. Died.

The other characters in "Horde" were interesting to read about as well, especially Stalker and Tegan, both of whom were part of Deuce and Fade's original group in the previous book. Stalker's unrequited love for Deuce was a little bit of a bummer, but what was more engaging was his struggle with his past actions when he was part of the gangs. Without giving too much away, I just feel like Stalker's the perfect tragic hero, and it was really interesting to see how his character developed throughout the novel. As for Tegan, what I found most exciting with her was how she strengthened both physically and emotionally, and through that shed the insecurities from her past and took on new responsibilities as a doctor to help others. Of course, you have Momma Oaks, Edmund and Rex, who adopted Deuce and showed her what being part of a family is, and their familial bond grows even stronger in "Horde", which was undeniably sweet to read about. A special mention also has to go out to Morrow, who I really enjoyed reading about! He's such an interesting and exciting character, and I really liked his role throughout the novel.

Having said all of this, I do have to admit that I was pretty disappointed with the storyline of "Horde". This isn't to say that the events in the plot itself were boring--they were actually significant and allowed the characters to develop in new and engaging ways. Instead, it was the way that the storyline was conveyed to the readers that didn't really do it for me. I don't recall feeling the same way while reading the previous books, but I just felt like Ms. Aguirre's writing style was too passive and too descriptive to really capture the great action and emotion going on in the plot. It just seemed to downplay the sheer excitement of the battles and even the climax of the entire trilogy--it was over really quickly, and I felt like I'd missed out on something big. It made it kind of slow to read at times, as well, which is a huge shame considering how great the characters and the actual events of the storyline are!

Overall, "Horde" is a fairly exciting finale to the "Razorland" trilogy, with a truly kickass heroine, an engaging cast of characters and a storyline that does a great job in tying everything together. What dimmed it down a little, however, was its overly passive and slow narrative. Nonetheless, it's definitely worth a read--it's an adventure that's both exciting and beautiful.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Retellings are fascinating--there's no way around it. I mean, taking something old and metamorphosing it into something of yours? It gives us a completely different way of seeing things, like that optical illusion of the pretty young girl/old grandma. It's mind blowing! Rick Riordan's "The Heroes of Olympus" series, as I'm sure everyone knows, takes the gods and heroes of the traditional Greek myths and gives it a modern twist tailored for readers today. "The House of Hades" is the fourth installment to the series, and was released just last month! I'm pretty sure it flew off the bookshelves in no time--there's a reason Percy Jackson is such a big name!

Ever since Percy and Annabeth plummeted into the pits of the Underworld, things haven't been looking good for the demigods. The Greeks and the Romans are gearing up for war against each other, and Gaea's monstrous armies continue to rise. Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank and Leo have to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death and help Percy and Annabeth out of the Underworld, if, that is, they survive the horrors of Tartarus. The clock is ticking for the prophesied Seven--or it might be too late before the giants free Gaea and the world is plunged into the biggest war in millennia.

It's always exciting to see the demigods of Camp Half-Blood again in a way that's like meeting up with friends you haven't seen in ages. I think it comes from the fact that you bond with the characters in a way that's only possible after being with them for eight years--which is precisely how long a lot of readers have spent with Percy Jackson! In "The House of Hades", I loved the development of Percy and Annabeth's relationship as they traversed the pits of Tartarus. You really see them grow more as a couple than individuals in this part of the series, and it's so heartening to see how committed they are to each other despite the crazy amount of hellish (literally!) obstacles they face. There are so many sweet moments--as sweet as being in the gruesome Underworld can get--that really remind readers of how young they actually are, yet there are also moments when you see that their relationship transcends the normal relationships of mortal teens in both depth and maturity. I've always been a huge Percy and Annabeth fan (Pernabeth? Anncy?), and this certainly satisfied my mulish insistence on some sort of romance in books.

The newer demigods are equally as awesome to be with in the series. While they're all part of a team against the dark forces (cue ominous music here), what's really interesting to read about are their individual issues that they struggle with. For example, Hazel knows that she has to face some adversary witch in front of the Doors of Death, and that if she fails, Percy and Annabeth may be stuck in Tartarus forever. She also has to deal with the fact that her father is Pluto, though he's hardly been around for her--oh yeah, not to mention the fact that she's from history! Talk about issues. Another character I liked following throughout the book was Frank, who undergoes a huge amount of development, more so than any other character in "The House of Hades". He really matures as he embraces his responsibility and role as a son of Ares/Mars, but it's also endearing to see him struggle with these changes, since he started off as a pudgy Asian kid who could change into animals. On the flip side of the coin, I have to admit I wasn't really feeling Jason's character. I felt like he was kind of pushed to the side a little, and he ended up as more of a passive, stock character than anything.

As for the plot of "The House of Hades", it remained interesting and fun throughout, which I think was especially helped by the multi-perspective points of view. However, while quite a lot happened to the demigods, both in the mortal world and in Tartarus, I felt like it wasn't as compelling as it could've been. I got the impression that the book as a whole is kind of a filler or detour before the final climax of the series, especially the portions where we followed the other five demigods. I get that the entire point of these crazy heroic journeys and quests is to go from one place to another, and face different foes and overcome different obstacles, but I feel like if Mr. Riordan had condensed it a little more and got to the point a tad more quickly, it would've been much more gripping.

All in all, "The House of Hades" is a great fourth installment to "The Heroes of Olympus" series, with a lot of exciting character development both in individual and in relationships. I can't wait to get my hands on the fifth book, "The Blood of Olympus" (talk about an ominous title), though it's absolutely killing me that I have to wait a whole year for it!

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

November '13 Releases!

Whoah. How is it November already? It's already the penultimate month of 2013, and it's crazy to look back on the year and see how much has happened and how much has changed. What's always unchanging, though (and luckily for us book nerds in search of a good adventure to keep us sane and alive!), is the slew of incredible books that are released every month! Now that's something to be thankful for.

"Champion" (Legend #3) by Marie Lu
Release date: Nov. 5

"Shock and Awe" (Sidewinder #1) by Abigail Roux
Release date: Nov. 11

"World After" (Penryn & the End of Days #2) by Susan Ee
Release date: Nov. 19

"Pawn" (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1) by Aimee Carter
Release date: Nov. 26

"Angel Fever" (Angel #3) by L.A. Weatherly
Release date: Nov. 26

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: Just One Year by Gayle Forman

I think it's safe to say that nobody really hates love. Sure, some people might find over-the-top, ooey gooey declarations of how the mere sight of one's beloved sends their spirits soaring through the air and all that a tiny bit sickening. But no one actually hates love. Love is perennial, timeless. It's been there since Adam and Eve, to Romeo and Juliet, to Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr. In Gayle Forman's "Just One Year", we have Willem and Allyson. This sequel to "Just One Day", which, I kid you not, had me squealing on the edge of my seat, was released just last week, and I, hopeless romantic that I am, naturally had to grab it. ASAP.

Rewind one year. When Willem wakes up in a hospital, he doesn't know where he is, or why he's bruised and battered. All he knows is that he's alone once again, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. He remembers that one day they shared together in Paris, just one day in which Willem begins to wonder whether he's met the girl he's not going to fall in love with--but stay in love with. Determined to find her, Willem travels all over the world in an attempt to chase fate, from Mexico to India. But as a year passes by with no sign of Lulu, Willem begins to lose hope--and the belief that they were fated to be together.

While I absolutely loved both Lulu and Willem in "Just One Day", I have to reluctantly admit that I was a little disappointed with Willem's character in "Just One Year". The entire book kind of goes like this: 'Gasp I have to find a girl named Lulu', 'darn, pissed off my ex-girlfriend because I slept with her again (oops) so I can't just wait for Lulu when she comes to pick up her luggage', 'let's go to Mexico', 'let's go to (insert other country here)', 'oooh hot ex-girlfriend, time to sleep with her again', 'sad sad where's Lulu', etc. You catch my drift. I just felt like Willem was such a frustrating protagonist to follow throughout the novel, because there's so much he could do, but he just so easily gives in to his whims and fancies. I mean, this whole thing where he's sleeping with any and all of the ex-girlfriends he stumbles upon, even though he's still pining over the elusive Lulu? Sure, he's nice and charming and good looking and all, but I just couldn't help but feel like he was way too complacent. That being said, there is some character development going on, especially with his family issues and insecurities, and that was definitely one area in which I found myself sympathizing with Willem a little more. And yes, he is the type, because of those issues, to run away from commitment, whether to a girl, or places, or jobs, but I mean, come on, Willem! Snap out of it!

The plot of "Just One Year" was a little diminished by the whole wanting-to-slap-Willem-awake thing, but was pretty exciting nonetheless. Don't get me wrong, Willem isn't a character you end up hating. He's just frustrating, is all. It's really interesting to see things from Willem's perspective, after having spent "Just One Day" in Allyson/Lulu's, and meeting his friends and family and numerous ex-girlfriends coloured his character in a little more as well. What's especially exciting is that Willem, of course, travels all over the world, so Ms. Forman takes her readers across the globe from Mexico to India to Holland. It's like going on an adventure, seeing different cultures and types of people--like taking a little trip through reading. The people that Willem meets on his journeys are diverse and dynamic, and really added dimensions to the story and Willem himself as well.

Frustrations with Willem aside, I thought that the writing in "Just One Year", as always, was beautiful. Ms. Forman is able to create thoughtful, striking prose, with nuances that are both understated and poignant at the same time. And such incredible and balanced writing is necessary when dealing with Big Themes like love, since you don't want cliched, over-the-top tropes that you hear over and over again and become over-sensitized to. In fact, let me give you one of my favourite lines in the book:
There's a difference between losing something you knew you had and losing something you discovered you had. One is a disappointment. The other is truly a loss.
Like, wow. There's nothing flamboyant or crazy about those three short sentences. But the words capture such a powerful truth in the most perfect way, one that hits you right in the heart and makes you think, Exactly. It is really through Ms. Forman's prose that I found myself really being drawn into the story, seeking moments of connection and realization of so many truths in life, ones that you don't really notice until you see them written out just like that.

Overall, "Just One Year" is more of an okay sequel to "Just One Day", largely because of how frustrating Willem is throughout the novel! Nonetheless, there is some interesting character development going on, as well as some exciting adventures, and, of course, the beautiful, striking writing. I'd definitely recommend checking out the first book out--and maybe checking out "Just One Year" if you really want to hear more about Allyson and Willem.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

I think it's no big secret that I am absolutely in love with Brandon Sanderson's books. Ever since I read the first book of the "Mistborn Trilogy", "The Final Empire", I knew that the most beautiful fangirl love was blossoming within me (yes, my love knows no bounds, even if it calls for flowery language). I eagerly lapped up "The Rithmatist" and "The Way of Kings", and nearly fell out of my seat when I discovered that Mr. Sanderson was releasing a new YA book last month! I might have even kissed the floor and cried a little. But I digress.

It is now 10 A.C., a whole decade after Calamity came. When a huge burst in the sky erupted and gave select men and women extraordinary powers, the people were in awe. What they didn't know was that these Epics are no friend of man. With incredible powers comes the incredible urge to dominate, even if it means oppression and murder--including that of David's father. David is out for vengeance ever since he saw Steelheart, the most powerful of all Epics, ruthlessly massacre everyone in a bank--everyone but him. But nobody fights the Epics, nobody except for the Reckoners, a shadowy group of ordinary humans bent on assassinating Epics. David wants in. He has something they need, knowledge no one else has. He's seen the invincible Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

One of the (many) things I love about Mr. Sanderson's novels is the incredible world-building that goes on in each and every one of them. Every series has its own unique universe, whether it's the mysterious world of Allomancy or the magical, almost Harry Potter-esque world of Rithmatics. In "Steelheart", Mr. Sanderson concocts a dystopian period in which Epics maintain a tight control over their domains. To me, Epics are kind of like superheroes. Or I guess they're more like supervillains. Their powers are pretty awesome, like moving the earth and creating illusions. But what makes Mr. Sanderson's worlds that amazing is that they involve a certain degree of complexity in them, like in the way every Epic's powers can be organized into categories. It seems like Mr. Sanderson definitely likes organization--looking back, there are always hierarchies and sub-levels and such in all of the worlds he builds! It adds extra oomph and dimension into the story, and it's just mind-blowing how such intricate worlds can pop out from someone's head like that.

The same can be said about Mr. Sanderson's characters, and especially about his protagonists! His main characters always go through some intense and believable development throughout the course of the story, and it's always so interesting to see them grow with each obstacle they encounter. David, to me, is a pretty exciting character to follow in "Steelheart", but I think I'm going to have to say that I didn't love him as much as I did his other protagonists. Don't get me wrong, David's incredibly clever (just don't call him a nerd), determined and brave--all qualities any great hero should have. But I just felt as if I never reached that point of true connection with him, like I did with Vin from the "Mistborn Trilogy". I think this feeling arises from the impression I got while reading the book that Mr. Sanderson was trying a little too hard to make him into a goofy, yet likable and strong character. For instance, there were many times when David would use a really bad metaphor then go on to talk about how bad he was at making metaphors. It's a definite quirk, but I felt like it was a little too forced and too awkward. The same can be said about his crush on Megan. Having said all this, I may be being a little bit too harsh, since I'm probably comparing him to Mr. Sanderson's other characters from his other novels.

The other characters in "Steelheart" were pretty awesome, and definitely added to the story's dynamics and relationships. Prof is an especially interesting character to me. He's that kind of leader who's aloof yet passionate in the inside, with dark pasts that he's reluctant to share with others. Plus he has a cool black lab coat and science goggles--can you spell super cool superhero? The other Reckoners in the team, like Tia, Abraham and Cody, really helped to create that group vibe within their team, each bringing their own personalities and styles to add to the family. And, of course, the apple of David's eye, Megan. I quite liked her character as well. She's tough and passionate, and she definitely has some serious issues going on in her life, but there's also a vulnerability in her. After all, she's just a teenager. And the twist at the end--let me just say here that I knew it! But of course, no spoilers!

Overall, "Steelheart" is a fun read that's almost like a comic book, filled with action and super cool pew pew powers and all that. I wouldn't say that it's the greatest of Mr. Sanderson's books, but it's still worth checking out--it's a fun ride!

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October '13 Releases!

I can't believe this slipped my mind! With college life, things can get pretty hectic, so bear with me. October officially marks autumn territory, with leaves falling from their branches and the air becoming crisper and cleaner. Grab your boots and sweaters! And also maybe take a trip to the bookstore; there are a ton of amazing books that are being released this month as well--perfect for keeping you warm in bed on chillier days. Gah, at this rate, I don't know how I'll be able to read all of these books!

"The House of Hades" (The Heroes of Olympus #4) by Rick Riordan
Release date: Oct. 8

"Just One Year" (Just One Day #2) by Gayle Forman
Release date: Oct. 10

"Revealed" (House of Night #11) by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
Release date: Oct. 15

"Across a Star-Swept Sea" (For Darkness Shows the Stars #2) by Diana Peterfreund
Release date: Oct. 15

"Teardrop" (Teardrop #1) by Lauren Kate
Release date: Oct. 22

"Allegiant" (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth
Release date: Oct. 22

"Desert Tales" (Wicked Lovely) by Melissa Marr
Release date: Oct. 22

"Horde" (Razorland #3) by Ann Aguirre
Release date: Oct. 29

"The Iron Traitor" (The Iron Fey: The Call of the Forgotten #2) by Julie Kagawa
Release date: Oct. 29

It's kind of ridiculous just how many amazing books are out this month. Let me just...

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I just want to start off by saying, how gosh darn cute is that cover? Not that I'm too surprised by it, especially after reading Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor & Park", which was ridiculously cute. And I don't mean 'cute' in the belittling, patronizing way. Oh no. What I love about Ms. Rowell's books is that sure, they're cute, but they have a darker undertone in them, one that tells her readers about the unpleasant realities in life. And that's what life is: at times, it can be gushingly cute, and in others, it can be a real slap in the face. "Fangirl" was released just last month, and of course I had to get my grubby hands on it. And when I did, I found myself sucked into yet another fantastic story about real, human life.

Cath is sure of three things in life. First, she doesn't know what she'd do without her twin, Wren. Second, starting college stinks. And third, she is irrevocably, undeniably a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her entire life--and she's really good at it. In fact, her Simon Snow fan fiction has won her a more than a few fans of her own. But when the time to start freshman year in college hits, and Wren begins to move away from fandom, Cath finds herself entirely on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. With only her laptop as her sole constant companion, Cath needs to face huge changes ahead. The question is, can she do it? Is she ready to start her own life, write her own stories? And does she even want to, if it means having to leave Simon Snow behind?

I think I can confidently say now that I love Ms. Rowell's characters. They're not perfect--not even close. They can be awkward, self-conscious, not the prettiest person on the street... you get the picture. But this is precisely what makes them so undeniably real. You could probably tell this already from the synopsis, but Cath is most definitely not the perfect girl. She prefers the fiction world to the real world, and finds a lot of difficulty in adjusting to changes. And in this, I found a little bit of myself in it! Having started my own freshman year in college, I was really able to relate to what Cath was going through. Finding your niche, homesickness, settling into a completely different lifestyle--these were all things I'd experienced, and still am! It's this moment of connection between a character and yourself, when you go, "Hey, she's a little like me!", that you truly begin to relate and become invested in. You can even begin to learn from Cath's story and become inspired to do something in your own life--just like how I got a little kick in the butt to get writing, just like how Cath was. There's just something almost magical about these kinds of deep connections with a character in a book, and for that alone, I'm actually grateful to Ms. Rowell--and Cath!

The rest of the characters in "Fangirl" are just as equally as amazing, I don't even know where to start! Wren is the perfect complement to Cath. Sure, they're twins, but Wren's always been the more outgoing, confident one in the pair. When she begins to put herself out there more in college, she becomes a great foil for Cath, and it's intriguing and heartbreaking all at once to see how their relationship changes throughout the course of the novel. You also have Reagan, Cath's surly roommate who oozes sexuality and a devil-may-care attitude, and I loved seeing their friendship/roommateship develop as well. Then there's Cath and Wren's dad, who's loving but fragile after their mom left them. It is so sweet to read about the bond between Cath and her dad, how the filial dynamics aren't quite what we're used to seeing in our own lives or even in other books. They're protective of each other, and it just makes me miss my own parents more (dammit, Ms. Rowell!). There's also Nick, Cath's writing partner in her Fiction-Writing class. And then, of course, you have Levi, Reagan's charming, perpetually-smiling boyfriend who's always hanging out in their room. Lemme just say that this is one amazing cast of characters--one you'll fall in love with and shake your head at and laugh with, all at once.

Ms. Rowell has done a wonderful job in creating a great storyline that remains compelling and exciting throughout, even if there are no blood-pumping action scenes or anything of that sort. Everything is so fluid and smooth, it's like you're just there with Cath the entire time as the story progresses, no bumps that jerk you out of the story. I think this is a really important aspect of any realistic fiction, this fine balance between boring and unbelievable, and Ms. Rowell is awesome at keeping her readers engaged. I did feel like some parts, especially toward the middle, were a little dragged on, but it never did so to the extent that I got bored. I also love, love, love the way the chapters of the novel alternated with little excerpts from Simon Snow books or Cath's writing--they tie in together in such subtle ways and enhance the novel as a whole! Not to mention that ending. Just, wow. It floored me.

All in all, "Fangirl" is a fantastic coming-of-age novel that you have to go pick up at a bookstore now. With an incredibly relatable protagonist, a dynamic and exciting cast of characters, and some amazing storytelling, it's a read that's not to be missed.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Stumbling upon new books by authors you've already read is always exciting. There's that glimmer of hope that arises from expectations of how great the last book you've read was. But there's also that tiny speck of wariness--what if this book just sends my high regard of the author crashing down? What if I end up disappointed? I remember reading Holly Black's "The Spiderwick Chronicles" when I was a wee ten-year-old and becoming utterly enchanted by its darkly magical world. Fast forward a few years, and I discover that the very same author had released "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" just this month! And gee, things were just as darkly magical as I remembered.

When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up one morning after a perfectly ordinary party, everyone around her is dead. The only other survivors are her exasperatingly charming ex-boyfriend, infected and thirsting for blood, and a chained-up, mysterious, red-eyed vampire. Shaken but determined, Tana knows what she has to do to ensure their survival and that of her loved ones: by going straight into the wickedly opulent heart of Coldtown, where quarantined monsters and humans mingle in bloodlust and terror. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown's gates, there's no leaving. But Tana is bent on having a way out, no matter what the cost.

Okay, I'll come right out and say that I only figured out that the book was about vampires a couple of chapters into it. In my defense, the blurb didn't say anything about vampires! When I did get around to this revelation, I kind of rolled my eyes a little. I mean, another vampire book? Aren't vampires kind of a dying YA sub-genre by now? Luckily for me, Ms. Black most certainly proved me wrong. The vampires in Coldtown are cunning and bloodthirsty, but what sets them apart from a lot of the vampires I've encountered in other books is that there are shades of humanity coloured into their predatory nature. That is to say, they're undoubtedly twisted and ruthless, but they exist in their own working society. They're sophisticated. The macabre grandeur of Lucien's balls clearly exemplify this, and what's all the more interesting is that vampires are regarded as sophisticated and awesome enough that a whole bunch of humans actually want to become one. In the world Ms. Black has created, vampires are such a norm that there's nothing too shocking about seeing one down the street. It most certainly is a richly dark and enchanting world, and that's one of the things I love about the book! If anything, read this for its amazing world-building. It's tantalizing.

Having said this, I was a little on the fence about the characters, particularly Tana. Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing really dislikable about her. She's tough and has a good head on her shoulders, and she doesn't whine about all the misfortune that's fallen onto her. But there were times when I felt like she was a little too strong, like having to leave her sister and dad and venturing into a vampire-infested town aren't such big deals. She just kind of numbs herself, picks herself up and keeps on going. It's like she ends up becoming a little bit twisted as a result of all the poop thrown at her in life--and maybe that's what makes her a more interesting heroine to read about. I just didn't feel like I could empathize with her, not completely at least. That could be because I'm not kick-ass enough, too. I'd be terrified if I found myself in Coldtown, not to mention with an ex-boyfriend who wants to suck my blood (in a deathly way, not a sexy one), or psychopathic vampires who chain people up as living bloodbags. So I've come to the conclusion that Tana is desensitized. And it's up to you, readers, to choose whether you like that or not!

The other characters in the novel are juicily complex as well, adding to the manic darkness of the entire story. There's Aidan, Tana's charming douchebag of an ex-boyfriend, who I disliked all the way until the very end, where he does something that sort of redeems himself. He's alright, I suppose. Sniff. And then there's Gavriel, the vampire Tana finds at the party. I really liked reading about his history through the alternating chapters of current plot-other plot (I apologize if that doesn't make much sense, but you'll see if you read the book!). Gavriel is definitely one of my favourite characters in the entire novel--he's dark and twisted and completely mad, but there's a sort of messed up sweetness in him that endears him to you. I'm pretty sure a lot of female readers, maybe even some male ones, end up swooning over him and want him to bite them and everything. Yeah, he's like Cullen 2.0! There are so many other characters, like Lucien, Valentina, Jameson, Midnight and Pearl, all of whom add to the story in different ways. Just trust me, the cast of characters is strangely delicious!

Overall, "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" is a darkly tantalizing novel with great world-building, a complex heroine, and a wonderfully twisted cast of characters. Ms. Black certainly didn't let me down with this one, and it's worth checking out!

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Reaching the final page of the last book in a series always brings out mixed feelings in me. On one hand, you feel like you've just reached the destination of a long journey, but on the other, you can't help but feel like it's a final goodbye to friends you've grown to love (or hate!). "The Bitter Kingdom", the finale to Rae Carson's "The Girl of Fire and Thorns" trilogy, stirred up those bittersweet emotions inside--along with a few other ones, like excitement, joy and, of course, the emotion of holy-moly-what-is-going-on.

Now a fugitive in her own kingdom, Elisa is determined to save Joya d'Arena--and the man she found herself falling in love with. Ever since she discovered the zafira, the ancient power source of all magic, her Godstone has been stronger than ever, along with her own resolve to regain her rightful place as queen. But with tensions between the humans and the Invierno rising higher than ever, Elisa knows that her task won't be a piece of honey coconut cake. With the help of her friends, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined--and make discoveries about herself and her world that could change the course of history forever.

I remember loving Elisa in the first two books, and that certainly hasn't changed in "The Bitter Kingdom". I'll even go so far as to say that Elisa is undeniably one of the strongest, most admirable heroines I've met so far on my YA travails. She's determined, compassionate and confident all at once, but what makes her such a great protagonist is that she's had to develop these traits as she faces the daunting task of being a queen. The development of her character never ceases; instead, it's fluid and dynamic, even until the very last page of the entire trilogy. What makes her all the more likable is that she's super grounded. Ms. Carson doesn't present us with a near-perfect character who's blessed with a pretty face, great personality and brains in a nice, neat package. Nope, instead you get a girl who's a little on the chubby side and struggles with her confidence. Seeing Elisa grow into the wise and strong queen we see at the end of the book is exhilarating and refreshing all at once. Now that's a kick-ass heroine!

The other characters in "The Bitter Kingdom" were just as fun to read about. I really liked how Ms. Carson gave her readers a few chapters here and there from Hector's point of view--it's always juicy to see what the love interest has to say! Hector and Elisa's romance is so sweet and so real, and never over-the-top-mushy-gushy and all that. The way they interact with one another, both romantically as lovers and professionally as queen and lord commander, works in a way that they become such a great match together. Other than Hector, of course, you have Mara, Belen and Storm, who accompany Elisa on her journey. I love the little romance between Mara and Belen ("Will you marry me now?" "No."), and Storm has always been such a witty, fun character to read about! Also, we're introduced to Mula, a little girl who they pick up along the way, and she's just a bundle of energy who, surprisingly, opens everyone's eyes to truths that only children seem to be able to see.

Having said all of that, though, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the storyline. First, there was the fact that I spent the first couple of chapters having no clue as to what was happening. Sure, it's exciting to start stories en media res, but I feel like had Ms. Carson woven in some backstory into the plot, it would've saved me a lot of trouble trying to remember what had happened in the last book! Second, I found that the plot itself was a little bit on the slow side. There was a lot of traveling and camping going on, especially in the first half of the book, and I felt like all these descriptions of corn cakes and sleeping bags were a little unnecessary. This isn't to say that the storyline wasn't exciting, oh no! There definitely was a lot happening, with revelations and fights and all that, but I just wish the pace had been a little faster to keep tensions up and running.

Overall, "The Bitter Kingdom" is a great finale to "The Girl of Fire and Thorns" trilogy, with a truly dynamic, well-developed heroine, a cast of engaging characters and an exciting (if a little slow) plot. I can't believe it's time to say goodbye to Elisa and her friends, but I can do so knowing that I've just been on one heck of an adventure!

Rating: 4/5