Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: Prodigy by Marie Lu

There's something about dystopian novels that arouses a sort of morbid curiosity within you. After all, you're reading about the world you live in today...gone wrong. And you can experience it pretty much first-hand in the safety and comfort of your own bed! Set in a post-flood, rogue America ravaged by war between the Republic and the Colonies, "Prodigy" by Marie Lu is the highly-anticipated second book in the "Legend" series.

June and Day arrive in Vegas to join the Patriot rebels when the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. The Patriots will help Day rescue his brother and offer safe passage to the Colonies. Their one request: June and Day must assassinate the new Elector. It's their chance to change the nation, to give a voice to a people silenced for too long. But as June realizes that Anden is nothing like his father, she's conflicted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than just anger and bloodshed--what if the Patriots are wrong?

A lot of the reviews seem to just die in excitement and joy over "Prodigy", so I'm a little scared to say... I didn't really get hooked. In fact, it was a little flat in the first half of the book. And I think the main reason why this happened was because the two protagonists weren't super likable or engaging, and there was little character development, which made them a little too stale to be exciting. June is kind of a stick in the mud with analytical/survival skills that would have been impressive had they not been overdone. She doesn't find expressing emotions other than anger and kick-ass-ability very natural, which I think is fine...but she remains like this until the very end. As for Day, he's a little more exciting, I think, because he does grow into more of a leader figure and accepts that responsibility, but he's a little angsty throughout the book, which I guess is natural for a fifteen, sixteen year old boy. Which brings me to another point. I found it a little hard to believe that June and Day are so young! They're leaping across buildings and doing all of these pretty mature things, and they're only meant to be in the ninth grade. It's understandable that they've been forced to act older than they are because of the world they live in, but I feel like had they been a little older it would have been a little more believable. But then again that isn't too big of an issue...I'm just nitpicking.

Having said all of that, the different relationships in the novel are interesting and do make June and Day a little bit more relatable. Tess and Anden do add some tension to the romance between the two protagonists, though I'd wish I'd seen more of a development between Anden and June since it seemed a little sudden and strained. Metias is also one character who makes June more believable and human, because you can see her weakness and longing for her brother. I also liked Kaede's character, who's a kick-ass, wild flyer with a lot of spunk and attitude--a definite contrast with June and Day and a lot more likable.

Having said all of that, "Prodigy" is still an interesting sequel to "Legend". I probably made it seem like I absolutely hated June and Day, but I don't. It's just that they're a little bit unrealistic to be relatable or engaging, which may have detracted from the exciting events that happen in the storyline. I felt my heart racing toward the last quarter of the book, where things definitely picked up and everything was happening quickly. The twists in the plot really added to the tension and set up some unresolved problems and questions that I'm interested to see unfold in the next book.

All in all, "Prodigy" is a pretty interesting sequel to "Legend" and is worth the quick read. I've read a lot of great, extremely enthusiastic reviews about the book, but I don't think it really hooked me in for some reason or the other. I'd still recommend it for those who enjoy dystopian adventures, and I'll still be checking out the next book to see how everything turns out!

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

There's something about fantasy books that puts them on a whole other level of excitement and wonder. It could be the diverse cast of characters who are heroic yet human, or maybe it's the sheer scale of the world crafted by the author, limited only by his or her imagination. Whatever it is, when I picked up "The Final Empire", book one of the "Mistborn Trilogy", I knew I was in for an undeniably thrilling adventure.

For a thousand years, the ash fell. It fell over the Skaa slaved in misery and fear, over the Lord Ruler who reigns with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. The Lord Ruler is God in the Final Empire, the prophesied hero who conquered the Deepness millennia ago. Yet somehow hope survives. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one that depends on the cunning of Kelsier, a brilliant criminal mastermind, and on the courage of the unlikely heroine Vin, a Skaa street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn. Together, the crew seeks to do what has been impossible for centuries: bring down the Lord Ruler and rid the Final Empire of evil.

What I almost always love the most about any epic fantasy novel are the characters. They are, without fail, always diverse, each with their own distinct personalities and stories. First, you have Kelsier, the legendary Survivor of Hathsin, who never fails to wear his signature smile and jaunty air, but harbours something dark and bitter within. His bravery and single-minded determination to defeat the Lord Ruler, as well as his power as one of the few Mistborn, are what drives him on his plans for the uprising. But he's also more than that. Kelsier is an incredibly complex character with layers upon layers of emotion and vulnerability, which he tries to hide under the facade of a foolhardy, carefree leader. Ms. Sanderson reminds us that ultimately, the greatest of heroes are humans with troubles and flaws like us, and Kelsier is the perfect hero to show us this.

And then you have Vin, a Skaa orphan who's been taught that trust is never real, that everyone, no matter how much you love them, will betray you in the end. As the second protagonist of the novel, Vin undergoes an important change as the story progresses, and it's really interesting to follow her as she grows from a wary, scarred street urchin to a more confident, trusting Mistborn. The relationships in her life play a huge role in her transformation. Kelsier is her mentor who not only teachers her Allomancy, but also teaches her the more important lesson that sometimes, trust and love won't betray you. The crew, with Breeze, Dockson, Ham and Sazed, also help her realize this, and it was really the dynamics between the group that I really enjoyed reading and even almost feeling. And of course, there's Elend Venture, the handsome heir of the most powerful noble house, who, very, very obviously, she finds herself falling for. Being a crazy romantic, I pretty much require that every book has to have some romance in it, and I loved how Mr. Sanderson wove in this thread of love between Vin and Elend.

Another extremely important element of epic fantasy books is the magic. I'm not talking about wand-waving, sparkly, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo magic. No, the magic in "The Final Empire" comes in the form of Allomancy, the power that Mistborns and Mistings possess. I found the concept of each of the metals being connected with a skill incredibly unique and fascinating. For example, burning pewter enhances your physical abilities, while burning iron allows you to Pull on nearby metals. Ms. Sanderson has obviously put in a lot of thought into creating this completely new type of magic (though now the word sounds slightly childish to describe something like Allomancy!), with considerations of the laws of physics and nature. Crafting new, unique powers in fantasy novels is certainly a daunting task for any author, but Mr. Sanderson has definitely done a wonderful job with introducing the world of Allomancy to his readers.

The plot of "The Final Empire" was a journey unto itself. Admittedly, there were some drawn-out, possibly unnecessary parts, as many epic fantasy stories are wont to have, but the novel remained fast-paced and compelling throughout. It also means that there's ample time and space for character development and world building, and I think Mr. Sanderson has taken advantage of this to create an immersive place for the readers to be in. The pace especially picked up towards the end, where so many things happened that I couldn't believe my eyes, and the twists and turns in the plot were just crazy!

Overall, "The Final Empire" is an incredibly exciting, compelling first installment to what promises to be an equally exhilarating trilogy. The camaraderie between the members of the crew and the other relationships in the novel bring human elements to an otherworldly land of Allomancy and Mistborns, and the plot never drops. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good adventure or seeks an escape into a totally immersive, new world. I will definitely be reading the next two books in the "Mistborn Trilogy" to see how everything plays out!

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

I don't know why I put "Through the Ever Night" off for a month. Maybe it's because there's always that trend where a lot of sequels in YA trilogies are really just points of rest and development of more boring aspects for the authors. Or maybe it's because I read the first book, "Under the Never Sky" too long ago to remember what really happened--or it wasn't as memorable. But I finally ended up downloading it onto my Kindle, and found myself pleasantly enjoying it!

It's been months since Aria and Perry were together. Their love is still strong, but their reunion is far from perfect. Perry is now the Blood Lord of the Tides, who don't take kindly to Aria, a former Dweller who's also been charged with the near impossible mission of finding the Still Blue. With the worsening Aether storms threatening everyone's existence and causing tensions to run even higher than before, Aria begins to fear that leaving Perry might be the only way to save them both. Aria and Perry are stuck in lands charged with fear and chaos, but can their love survive through the ever night?

I think the main reason I never really, really got into the first two books of the "Under the Never Sky" trilogy was the two protagonists. Aria is strong, determined and witty at times, but I never felt a real connection to her. Instead, she's a generally likable heroine who does the right things, but there's not a real spark or quirk about her that made me want to meet her in real life. Same goes for Perry. It might be because he's going through a hard time dealing with his new responsibility as the Blood Lord of the Tides, but I found him just serious pretty much throughout the entire novel and slightly boring. This is particularly a bit of a let down because the chapters are told from their points of view, and while it was interesting to see what was happening, it was more the events of the story rather than the characters themselves who kept me flipping through the page. It's a little disappointing because Ms. Rossi has set them up with great backgrounds and they have a lot of potential to be genuinely interesting, compelling characters, but they're ultimately a little bit too serious for my tastes--they're only teenagers, for goodness' sake! I understand that they're dealing with a lot to be carefree, laidback, normal teens, but a little humour or some sort of spark now and then might've helped.

That being said, a couple of characters really picked things up for me throughout the story: Roar and Liv. To me, Roar is the one with that 'spark' I keep talking about, someone who's strong yet vulnerable, funny yet serious, someone who has a lot of layers to him that I enjoyed peeling off as the book progressed. His loyalty for his friends is admirable as well, but it was his undying love for Liv that really clinched it for me--she's the source of his strength and his vulnerability, his driving force. And when I finally met the girl that had remained simply a name and a part of someone's story in "Under the Never Night", everything became that much more real. Liv is a character who actually almost shines in the book, someone whose willpower, strength and love is not only the driving force for Roar, but also for a large portion of the book itself. I loved the romance between Roar and Liv, and one of the things that I look forward to reading about in the final book of the trilogy is how everything (unfortunately must be vague because I don't want to spoil anything!) plays out.

One of the greatest things about the "Under the Never Sky" trilogy is its amazing world-building. The whole concept of the Aether and the Realms of the Dwellers is unique. You don't get any of the typical blood-sucking vampires or wars between two different groups of people here. Instead, you have the pods where the Dwellers live, shutting out the outside world in fear and complacency. You have the 'savage' tribes that have to deal with the consequences of the Aether, an almost otherworldly storm that perpetually looms above them, on a daily basis. And then there's the Still Blue--the fabled oasis and refuge that both the Dwellers and the tribes can only dream about. Ms. Rossi has definitely done an incredible job with constructing such a unique and beautiful world--the colours on the cover do it justice!

The plot of "Through the Ever Night", to me, was a lot more interesting and engaging than that of "Under the Never Sky". There's a lot that happens to Perry and Aria, both when they're together and separate, and watching the struggles of the Tides and the journey to find the location of the Still Blue from both of their perspectives at the same time really helped to build up the story. And the ending! The ending of this sequel really upped the ante, and it's the perfect segue into the final book in the trilogy.

All in all, "Through the Ever Night" is an exciting sequel to "Under the Never Sky", with compelling characters, an amazing world and an engaging storyline, despite the lack of a real 'spark' in the characters of the two protagonists. I'd definitely give the novel a go, as well as the entire series if you haven't read it yet and like dystopian/fantasy books! The final book is bound to be an explosion of tension and adventure--I really look forward to it!

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book Review: Becoming by Raine Thomas

Starting a new series is always a little daunting. It's like diving into a pool...blindfolded. You don't know how good it is, how hooked you're going to get, how engaging and exciting the characters are. But in its own way, it's a little bit like going on an adventure to the unknown! I came upon the "Daughters of Saraqael Trilogy" when I was looking at the list of recommended books on Amazon, and it sounded interesting, plus it had some good reviews, so I decided, why the heck not! And dove right in.

Every three years, Amber Hopkins loses control. Her eyes turn gold, and before she knows it, inexplicable pain takes over. She's already worked through five foster placements, and she's doing whatever she can to avoid being blasted into the sixth. As her eighteenth birthday approaches, Amber is exposed to truths about herself and about those she loves that will change her life forever. Amber must Become, transitioning into another plane of existence and risking the loss of the most important relationship she's ever had. The choices she makes will impact the future of an entire race of beings, and will pit her against an enemy who will stop at nothing to take her down. Kind of makes explosions seem like a cakewalk.

One thing that I really liked about "Becoming" was Amber herself. She's one kick-ass heroine who's strong, independent and clever. Not to mention decisive. She doesn't take forever to ponder over her feelings toward Gabriel, her fellow foster and best friend, and has a strong sense of who she is. She also takes all of the changes and life-changing truths that are hurled at her into stride, and never wavers with her decisions. Did I also mention that she knows karate? Despite her strengths in character, however, Amber also possesses flaws that make her more realistic and relatable. She's a little socially awkward because she's constructed a barrier from all the times she's been abandoned and hurt, and it's that vulnerability that makes her real, even if she's not all together human...

I do have to admit, however, that her romance with Gabriel was a little predictable. It was sweet, without a doubt, and definitely enviable, but it just happened really quickly and kind of stayed that way throughout the novel. Not that I'm complaining too much. I'd much rather have a romance that's a bit predictable than a sappy, cliched one that ends up annoying you to bits. Plus, Gabriel sounds like a yum-yum, if you ask me. Gentlemanly, thoughtful and loving? Yes please!

Another thing that wasn't as exciting as it could be was the plot. The entire book felt like it was more of an introduction and lead-up to the trilogy, and it never really reached that point where my heart was pounding and I was reading rapid-fire to see what happened next. There was a little bit of a climax when the inevitable skirmish with the Mercesti occurred, but it ended pretty quickly. And I think that's the thing that doesn't make it as compelling as it could be. Everything is a little too easy for Amber, Gabriel and her sisters. Things just smooth out right after any form of trouble, and it would've been more exciting if we saw them struggle.

That being said, there's also some interesting things going on with the whole idea of Estilorians, a race of long-living beings divided into classes according to powers. And they can fly! Ms. Thomas has some unique world-building in her novel--thank the literary gods that there aren't more werewolves or vampires! One thing that I thought could've been developed a little further was the setting where the Estilorians lived. It seemed a little too normal and human to me, and I was kind of expecting something a little more otherworldly, like magical, shimmering roads or something to that effect.

Overall, "Becoming" is an interesting and unique introduction to the "Daughters of Saraqael Trilogy", with a kick-ass heroine and a sweet romance. The plot was a little predictable and not as exciting as it could've been, and I can already tell that the next two books are going to be about the other two sisters--Olivia and Skye--similarly falling in love with their guardians! I might continue the trilogy, but I'd say "Becoming" is worth a read to see whether it works with your taste.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I remember reading "Between Shades of Grey" by Ruta Sepetys and being keenly affected by the poignant story of Lina, a girl who faces the chance of losing her family and friends during the Genocide of Baltic People. In fact, it inspired me to start writing my own historical fiction story! When I heard that "Out of the Easy" was being released last week, I knew I was in for an exciting adventure set in the past. I don't really know exactly how exciting that adventure was, but it was an adventure nonetheless.

It's 1950 in New Orleans, and while the French Quarter is simmering with secrets, seventeen-year old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Infamously known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer, to go to college and escape from the wild cage of New Orleans. She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her own principles, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. With the stakes even higher than before, Josie is caught between her dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld...and the truth behind the Big Easy.

One of the greatest things about reading historical fiction is that it transports you to a whole other world, one that actually existed, for a moment, in our past. To me, New Orleans in 1950 was exciting, raucous and full of adventure and mystery, and I think Ms. Sepetys did a wonderful job of bringing the French Quarter to life. But the real thing that really makes the setting is the people. They're vibrant and bubbling, full of life and joie de vivre. At the same time, though, they're just normal people, just like us. They live normal lives of running bookstores and driving cabs, and this is what makes the human emotions that are so central to the novel all the more poignant and relatable. It also renders the experiences of living in New Orleans at that time more realistic, so we can clearly imagine living in such a time and place even if it was more than half a century ago.

Which, of course, brings me to the characters. Josie is ambitious, clever and undeniably strong at heart. Yeah, she's had a rough childhood, but she's learned to pick herself up, dust herself off, and keep working towards her dreams. She's a pleasant character to follow throughout the novel, but what really makes her a protagonist is the unconditional support she has of her friends. There's sweet, loyal Cokie, who's taken care of Josie ever since she was a child, and Patrick, her best friend who, despite being charming and friendly, harbours his own secret. There's also Jesse, the leather-clad motorcyclist who has all the girls swooning over him, but only really has eyes for Josie. And, of course, there's Willie and the prostitutes at her house on Conti Street. They, almost more than anyone, are like a real, tight-knit family, with Willie acting as the stepmother/fairy godmother figure whom everyone secretly adores. In the end, it was really the amazing cast of characters that made the story, and through them, Ms. Sepetys was able to convey those human emotions that are so crucial to her novels.

One thing that disappointed me a little was the storyline. When I read the synopsis, I'd been led to believe that there'd be some exciting mystery full of danger and adventure. Instead, the whole murder portion of the entire novel was watered down to a single murder that was introduced early on in the book and very lightly, sparingly handled as the plot progressed. In fact, when I got to the end of the book, I thought back to the events of the story and thought to myself, "So what exactly was the point of the plot?" I never felt real tension or a fast pace either, which is a little bit of a let-down considering the incredible setting of New Orleans, which has huge potential for some more danger and mystery.

All in all, "Out of the Easy" is a story filled with a vibrant cast of characters and an exciting, jubilant setting of 1950 New Orleans. Although the plot never really peaked to a climax, nor had real tensions or an end-point to it, the historical fiction is worth a read for its rendering of the human emotions that we encounter in our daily lives.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

Happy Valentine's Day! There's nothing like 24 hours dedicated to romance for curling up in bed (alone, or with that special someone) all warm and cozy. I spent the night before rapidly finishing up "Unravel Me", the sequel to "Shatter Me" by Tahereh Mafi. I recently wrote a review for "Destroy Me", the in-between novella that takes place between the first and second installment, and dove straight into the second book afterwards, right into a whirlwind story of adventure and romance.

It's almost time for war. Juliette has escaped to Omega Point, the headquarters of the rebel resistance. It is a place for people like her, people with inexplicable powers who are ready to use them to take down the Reestablishment. Although Juliette is free from their plans to use her as a weapon, free to love Adam, she will never be free from her lethal touch. Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible. With tensions rising and war approaching, Juliette must break free from her past, so that she can finally discover who she can be.

The one thing that I really have to start with is that inevitable love triangle. You saw it coming! Because it plays such a central role in the novel, the love triangle really had to be executed skillfully. By this I mean no heroine selfishly playing around with both boys, or thinking, "he's so hot, why is this happening, his eyes!" while at the same time telling herself, "no, this is the boy I'm supposed to be with". You catch my drift. Admittedly, there definitely was some of that, but I think Ms. Mafi did a good job in somehow not letting Juliette get overly annoying and frustrating with her complicated feelings towards both Adam and Warner. In fact, when I was reading a particular chapter between Warner and Juliette, I swear my heart was going to burst out of my chest! It was just so, so, so full of emotion and charged with tension--you really have to read it to understand what I'm raving about. I don't know whether it's because I read "Destroy Me" and was able to delve into Warner's perspective and really see the depths of his emotions and his vulnerability, but I kind of found myself straying away from Adam and leaning towards Warner! Adam's kind of too boring for me. That emotionally-charged chapter certainly didn't hurt either... I swear I was going to pee in my pants.

Speaking of which, I found Warner's character development to be pretty excellent and fitting for this phase in Juliette's story. To see his real vulnerability and love for Juliette, as well as his twisted relationship with his father, really allowed me to empathize and feel for him. It's also important to note that this development wasn't sudden, since Ms. Mafi had previously woven in these threads of Warner's other side, the side that isn't power-hungry and calculating. Instead, it was very natural and very believable, which is what made the whole love triangle business all the more exciting! Now for Juliette. In the beginning, I kind of found her a little too snivelly, too caught up in her own worries and her past to really do anything useful. But Kenji--witty, brutally honest, kick-ass Kenji--finally brings her out of it, and from that moment onwards, I really saw the change Juliette underwent as she tried to accept herself and her power, and to actually deal with her problems head-on rather than worrying about them.  I definitely think that there's huge potential in the next book for Juliette to become an even stronger heroine, one who learns to gain confidence and independence and take matters into her own lethal hands.

A unique element of the "Shatter Me" series is Juliette's narrative voice. Instead of perfect clauses and perfect sentences, the narrative kind of rambles in long, run-on sentences. I feel like I'm in Juliette's mind, or maybe reading something Juliette's really written herself, especially with the crossed-out sentences where you see her pushing away a thought or a truth or a feeling. I also feel like I've really gotten to know Juliette a lot better through her narration, which is also perfect for building up tension through incomplete sentences and short phrases.

As for the storyline, "Unravel Me" remained fast-paced and compelling throughout its entire length. The stakes are high from the very beginning of the novel, and became even higher at the end. There's a lot of action, especially with the war between the resistance and the Reestablishment, and what creates tension more than fighting? There's also a lot of emotional tension as well, which keeps the pace up and running throughout. The plot also had so many twists and turns that came as huge shockers to me as they were unveiled! The truths that are revealed kind of feel like puzzle pieces falling in place, and everything makes so much sense now.

Overall, "Unravel Me" is not to be missed with its intensely personal narration and compelling storyline, not to mention the crazy love triangle enhanced by the realistically portrayed character development. It's an emotional thriller of a roller coaster, and I just cannot wait until the next installment to see how everything plays out!

Rating: 5/5

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

I usually don't get too excited over in-between novellas. The real action and meat happens in the full-length novels in the series, and I find that novellas are usually small stories about one character and one event that do add to the story, but aren't completely necessary when reading the series. I bought "Unravel Me", the second installment to the "Shatter Me" series by Tahereh Mafi, yesterday (check out the review here!), and came across "Destroy Me", a novella that's #1.5 in the series. When I read that it's told from the perspective of Warner, the supposed bad guy in the story, I decided to give it a go--it's always juicy to see things from another point of view!

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal gunshot wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any hint of rebellion in his sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of the two traitors who helped her escape, Adam and Kenji. Especially Adam. The one Juliette fell for. But when Warner's father, the Supreme Commander of the Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son's mistakes, it's clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

There's something about a story told from a male perspective. Maybe it's because so many YA books out there are single-handedly narrated by the female heroine, but seeing things from Warner's point of view was exciting and different. Not to mention the fact that he's the villain in the series, which gave Ms. Mafi plenty to play with in terms of character development. I was surprised to see the real depth of Warner's feelings toward Juliette. In "Shatter Me", I thought he was a slightly deranged, power-obsessed, manipulative spoiled boy wanting to exert his dominance over a girl who's different because of her defiance. But after reading "Destroy Me", I felt like I really got to know another side of Warner, one that's vulnerable and honest. It's one of those cases where once you learn more about the antagonist and his background, you empathize with him and maybe even care for him a little.

I also liked the difference in the narrative voice. Since "Shatter Me" and "Unravel Me" are both told from Juliette's perspective, I've grown accustomed to her style of narration. But with Warner, everything's different. It's more ordered and straightforward, but at the same time it still reveals his emotions and thoughts in his own, unique way. He seems a lot more human to me now, someone with real troubles and flaws and worries, despite his facade of perfection and order.

Reading "Destroy Me" also gave me a little more insight into what's in store for Juliette, Adam and the resistance. And this comes in the form of the seriously cold and callous Supreme Commander. He's just a total buttwipe, and I could really see why Warner's the way he is now. Because of his father and his background, Warner's become a truly complex character with layers to him that are exciting and interesting to peel off and discover one by one.

Overall, "Destroy Me" is definitely worth reading right before reading "Unravel Me", exposing the vulnerable, raw nature inside Warner and revealing to the readers another side of the calculating villain that they saw in "Shatter Me". I finished the short novella in a little less than an hour, so it's a quick read that's worth the time. In fact, it's really made me even more interested and excited for the sequel, so that I can see how their little love triangle unfolds!

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Review: City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

I'm just going to come right out and say it... I was hooked from the title. Seriously. When I was scrolling through the list of new releases this month, "City of a Thousand Dolls" just popped right out at me. It sounds beautiful and magical and mysterious, but a little creepy at the same time. And boy, it really is the perfect title for this book. Miriam Forster's debut novel weaves a story of murder and adventure, with threads of romance (of course!), and of self-discovery.

Sixteen-year old orphan Nisha lives in the City of a Thousand Dolls, a secluded estate where unwanted girls in the Bhinian Empire are trained as musicians, healers, courtesans, and--if the rumours are true--assassins. Her closest companions are the mysterious cats that trail her shadow and Tanaya, the perfect girl trained in all the Houses, chosen to be the wife of the High Prince. Only through a forbidden flirtation with the city's handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside of the walls. Until one by one, girls around her begin to die. Nisha begins to uncover the secrets that surround the deaths, but by doing so, jeopardizes not only her own future within the City, but also her own life.

One thing that I think needs to be mentioned first is the setting and background of the story. There's some incredible world-building in "City of a Thousand Dolls". While it may not have a huge, expansive world like those you find in a lot of heroic fantasy novels, the City itself is a really ingenious idea--an estate where you send unwanted girls because of the two-child rule (kind of reminds me of China's One-Child Policy), where they're taught in Houses to become assistants, apprentices, mistresses and wives for those outside the walls. Ms. Forster also brings in elements of what I pictured to be something akin to Indian culture, with draped assars, rubied slippers and kohl-rimmed eyes. There's also the concept of the caste system, with the nobility at the top and the wind caste--the wandering nomads--at the bottom. If anything, you should read the novel for the setting alone--it's magical and so all-encompassing that it feels like you really are there.

As for the heroine herself, I found Nisha to be a generally strong protagonist who's compassionate and determined. Plus she can talk to cats, sort of. Looking back on the book though, I realize that there wasn't anything too excitingly different about her--no quirk or flaw, or strong personality to really make her stand out among the sea of kick-ass or interesting heroines in the world of YA literature. Nisha to me was a protagonist who was easy to follow throughout the book as the events unfolded, but the person herself wasn't someone I'd like to meet in real life--and that's a biggie with main characters in YA novels. It's a shame because she's actually quite a likable character, and there's nothing I found annoying about her. She just unfortunately didn't have that special something that made her an excellent, engaging heroine.

The rest of the characters were diverse and really added to the story. Tanaya and Zann were two of the more complex characters that I felt for over the course of the novel, and it's interesting to see how these people interacted with Nisha in the past and in the present. As for Devan, the young noble courier Nisha has the forbidden flirtation with, at first I was a little dubious towards his true intentions and feelings for Nisha. I'd thought he was only using her for a casual relationship before ditching her for a noble born girl and formed a bad impression of him, but I must be a little skeptical and suspicious about hidden intentions right now... I have mixed feelings towards this young noble! And last but most certainly not least, the cats! When I read in a review that there were talking cats, I kind of wrinkled my brow and went "what? Talking cats?" But then I read about Jerrit and Esmer and everything (trying not to spoil things!) and it's not too bad in the end. So long story short, give the talking cats a chance.

When I was scrolling through the reviews on Goodreads, I was a little surprised that quite a few people remarked that the novel was a little bland and unsophisticated. I was pretty darn engulfed in the story and the murders that I sped by the chapters with speed and fluidity! I do see a little bit of cliche with the whole forced marriage business going on in the novel, but it wasn't such a big thing that it hindered my appreciation of the compelling plot.

All in all, "City of a Thousand Dolls" is an exciting debut novel with a magical, exciting setting that drops you right in the middle of the Bhinian Empire. While the characters weren't as unique and engaging as they could've been, the compelling plot doesn't let you down. I'd definitely give this novel a go--you might find yourself falling under its spell!

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Once upon a time... That's how most fairytales start, don't they? I remember the stories I used to listen to when I was young. Cinderella and her glass slipper, the little mermaid pining for a prince on land... I admit, I don't ever recall obsessing over them; they were more of these stock tales that's an inevitable part of a child's life. Fast forward a few years, and I find myself devouring retellings of old-fashion fairytales! One that I found particularly exciting was "Cinder" of "The Lunar Chronicles" series, which revamped Cinderella with cyborgs, spaceships, and people living on the moon. When I saw that "Scarlet", the sequel to "Cinder", was released a few days ago, I immediately pre-ordered it on my Kindle, and gobbled it up like a rabid wolf (get the reference?)!

Cinder is trying to break out of prison. Even if she succeeds, she'll be on the run as the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her seemingly normal gardening grandma. When she encounters a street fighter named Wolf who may have information about her grandmother's whereabouts, Scarlet has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own. As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Earth hers.

One of the most important elements in a retelling of any story are the characters. You don't want the same, boring Little Red Riding Hood from the original fairytale. You want someone who's like her, but better, with a twist. Ms. Meyer does just that! Scarlet is a brave, spunky eighteen-year old you can really relate to, despite the whole missing grandmother/falling for a street fighter thing. I loved that even though she was dealing with all these things in her life, she never floundered or whined. She kept her wits about her and faced her problems one by one--occasionally releasing her pent up stress by throwing tomatoes at walls. But hey, who are we to judge?

I also really liked what Ms. Meyer did with the wolf in the original fairytale. In "Scarlet", Wolf is a rough-and-tumble street fighter with a secret he harbours inside. It may sound slightly cliched, but I promise you it is anything but that. I love the vulnerability and almost naivete he has about pretty normal, simple things, like tomatoes and food, but at the same time is fierce and protective. I especially really liked the relationship between Wolf and Scarlet. I was a little skeptical in the beginning because I could just see that the two were going to end up falling for each other, but the way their romance developed was very realistic and relatable--and that's one of the things I love about this series! I feel like I can relate to what's happening to the characters, even though they live way into the future and have ID chips embedded in their wrists and hopping onto hover trains to Paris in order to save their grandmothers. The dynamics of Scarlet and Wolf's relationship are layered with all these different emotions, and I liked how there was definite attraction between the two from the onset but it took its time to bloom into a believable romance.

Also, there's nothing like revisiting old characters from previous books! I can kiss Ms. Meyer's feet for giving us chapters told from Cinder and Kai's point of views. I loved how they were still important characters in the sequel, despite the fact that the first book already revolved entirely around them. Cinder, as always, is an amazing character to follow, and I especially liked the development of her character as she deals with her newfound responsibilities. Same goes for Kai. The emotions and thought processes of the two characters are so palpable, and I just cannot wait until the two are reunited! And just a little shoutout to another character who made everything extra interesting: Captain Carswell Thorne, the slick, self-proclaimed casanova. I loved the banter between him and Cinder--he makes such an amazing sidekick!

The storyline of "Scarlet" is so fast-paced and so exciting that it feels like you're on one of those spaceships from the future--smooth, fast and thrilling. From page one, the plot hooks you in and doesn't let go. Despite the fact that there's so much going on, from prison breaks and wolf attacks, you never get confused or overwhelmed with what's happening. Ms. Meyer definitely made full use of her various characters and their viewpoints to weave a complex, compelling storyline that's a blast to read.

Another thing that I think cannot go unmentioned is the setting. It's a no-brainer that the entire "Lunar Chronicles" series is set in the future. But the locations that the story takes place in--New Beijing and France--are still so intimately familiar that it doesn't jar readers into really thinking, "this is in the future and it's weird". This also goes to show Ms. Meyer's skillful descriptions of the setting--you really feel like you're there, like a movie in your head.

Overall, "Scarlet" is a wonderful, exciting second installment to "The Lunar Chronicles" series. The relatable, engaging characters, the compelling, fast-paced plot, and the vivid setting of the novel all work together to create an all-encompassing novel that's hard to put down. I strongly urge you to read this book, or, if you haven't even read the series yet, to go pick up "Cinder" from a bookstore ASAP! It won't let you down.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

Immortals seem to be the next big thing in YA literature. I remember reading "The Immortal" series by Alyson Noel a few years back, not to mention the exciting "The Archers of Avalon" series by Chelsea Fine more recently (check out my review for the final installment, "Avow"!). When I kept seeing Jodi Meadows's "Incarnate"popping up on my recommended list, I decided to give it a go--after all, who can't resist a stunning cover like that? I especially love the iridescent butterfly mask, which you'll see plays a symbolic role in the story!

Ana has always been told that she's a nosoul, a nothing. Even her own mother has kept her away from society, ashamed and disgusted by her daughter's abnormality. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from past lives. When Ana was born, a soul vanished forever, and no one knows why. Eighteen years later, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are afraid of what her presence means. Only Sam believes that Ana's new soul is good, but will the two alone be able to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else's life?

One of the major elements of "Incarnate" is the romance between Ana and Sam. In fact, the entire first half of the book--maybe even the first three-quarters--revolved around the development of their relationship. I don't know whether this is because I finished the book fairly quickly, but I felt like their romance happened a bit too suddenly, and stretched on for ages. It was literally at the moment Ana realized who Sam was that things immediately jumped from 'tentative, nice stranger who's actually nice to me' to 'wow he is one attractive fella, his lips, his touch!' This is not to say that their relationship was sweet--I definitely saw the connection between the two--it was just way too quick, and that made it seem a little unrealistic to me. I think if there was some more development of that connection, and maybe if the whole focus on their relationship didn't drag on unnecessarily for so long, the depths of their feelings for one another would be more believable and poignant.

Ana herself was a fairly interesting heroine to follow throughout the book, given her unique circumstances of being the only new soul among thousands of other people. Her emotional journey of finding confidence in herself despite being shunned by everyone else as a nosoul made her a strong, likable character, and she's generally brave and strong-willed. That being said, other than her strength in character, I didn't find Ana a particularly compelling character. I wish Ms. Meadows had brought us deeper into Ana's mind and thought process rather than using Ana as a means of narrating the story.

Likewise, there were a lot of redeeming qualities to Sam. He's kind, caring and passionate, yet he still has one fatal fear that makes him a little more of a three-dimensional and believable character. Despite this, to me, he wasn't an especially exciting character. He seemed more passive and besides from the beginning part when he first rescues Ana, Sam just kind of became a boring character. Even his fear wasn't something all too deep, I think. It was pretty simple and almost shallow. It's just a shame because he started off as a character who stood apart from the rest of society, but as the book progressed he kind of faded.

One of the biggest disappointments for me in "Incarnate" was the storyline. There's such huge, amazing potential for the plot to be incredibly exciting and engaging, with sylphs and dragons and reincarnations, but it just dragged on and on, and the climax, when it did come, wasn't very 'climaxy' at all. Like I mentioned before, a large portion of the book was based on Ana and Sam's romance that showed its buds way too suddenly and took a crazy long time to actually bloom; it was pretty unnecessary. As for the climax--just what?! It wasn't much of a climax at all. If the climax were a shark in the water, it literally surfaced for a breather, then submerged itself in the ocean again.

Overall, "Incarnate" wasn't such a big hit for me. While the two main characters were fairly likable, they weren't compelling enough to keep the story going in the face of a slow-paced plot. The book definitely has great potential, but it just fell flat. I probably wouldn't recommend it, though I may give the sequel, "Asunder", a shot to see if things pick up.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, February 3, 2013

February '13 Releases!

It's that time of the month again...the most anticipated book releases for February 2013!

"Scarlet" (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer
Release date: Feb. 5

"Unravel Me" (Shatter Me #2) by Tahereh Mafi
Release date: Feb. 5

"City of a Thousand Dolls" by Miriam Foster
Release date: Feb. 5

"Pivot Point" (Pivot Point #1) by Kasie West
Release date: Feb. 12

"Out of the Easy" by Ruta Sepetys
Release date: Feb. 12

"How to Lead a Life of Crime" by Kirsten Miller
Release date: Feb. 21

Book Review: Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Happy February! We're already into the second month of the new year--can you believe it? I feel like time is passing by so quickly, despite the fact that January was pretty hectic and stressful and exciting all at once for me. With the end of the first month of 2013 brings the end of an amazing YA sci-fi trilogy: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis! "Shades of Earth" came out earlier in January, and takes readers on one final journey where humanity is at stake.

Amy and Elder have finally left the confining walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They--along with a thousand others--are ready to start afresh, build a home on Centauri-Earth, a planet that they have travelled 25 trillion miles across the universe to reach. But when both the newly arrived shipborns and earthborns are brutally and mysteriously being murdered, Amy and Elder know that this isn't the planet they've dreamed about. Together, they must find whatever--or whoever--is bent on killing their struggling colony. Or everything they have sacrificed--friends, family, life on Earth--will all have been for nothing.

What I really liked about the "Across the Universe" trilogy is that Ms. Revis immersed her readers in the perspectives of both of her two protagonists: Amy and Elder. By being in both of their minds, I really felt like I was not only getting to know the two most important people in the book a lot better, but it was also interesting and exciting to see all of these different events happening concurrently from two different people. Despite the use of first-person narration in both perspectives, Amy and Elder each had their own unique voices and characters. Amy is a strong, determined heroine who was enjoyable to follow throughout the novel, and I felt that her emotions of love, sorrow and confusion were all palpable without being overwrought and overwhelming. One thing that almost annoyed me, though, was her momentary confusion about her feelings toward Chris. I mean, seriously? You love Elder!

Speaking of which, I really enjoyed seeing the struggle Elder encountered trying to be the leader he wants to be (wait, that sounds a little sadistic), and his desire to protect the girl he loves. I admit that when I learned in the very first book that Elder was younger than Amy, I was a little put off because I imagined him as an immature, whiny little boy with an infatuation for a strange girl with red hair. However, as the story progressed throughout the trilogy, I found that Elder's really developed into a strong, mature leader who is willing to do anything for his people and for Amy. He's a really turned out to be an admirable character, and I think Ms. Revis has done an excellent job with all of her character development.

As for the plot, "Shades of Earth" delivered and delivered good. There wasn't a moment when it got too boring that I had to force myself through the pages. In fact, the storyline was fast-paced and exciting, especially towards the middle when things on Centauri-Earth began to go awry. The inclusion of an element of mystery and horror really helped with the tension, not to mention those gory and grisly descriptions of the victims! There were quite a bit of plot twists that made things incredibly exciting, and the way Ms. Revis orchestrated them was skillful and very well done. The ending itself was a little bittersweet, considering what had happened to Amy and Elder throughout the entire book, but, as it should, it ended with hope and love, and that's more than anyone can ask for.

All in all, "Shades of Earth" is an incredible final installment to the "Across the Universe" trilogy, with strong and engaging characters and an exciting, compelling storyline. If you haven't read the first two books, I highly recommend it, especially for all the sci-fi lovers out there! This is a trilogy not to be missed.

Rating: 5/5