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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: Origin by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I have to admit, when I first picked up Jennifer L. Armentrout's "Lux" series, I wasn't expecting too much. I thought I'd be in for a possibly whiny, slightly pathetic heroine who falls head over heels in love with the mysterious hottie who makes her heart flutter and head swoon and yadda yadda yadda. Instead, I found myself blown away. There's something about the characters and the plot of the entire series that you can't help but go gaga over, and "Origin", the fourth and latest installment that I, admittedly, drooled over. And in the good way, at that.

Daemon will do anything to have Katy back. After the disastrous raid on Mount Weather that got Bethany back but Katy captured, all Daemon can do is think about the book-blogging, crazily stubborn girl he's in love with. Everything becomes about finding her, and he'll stop at nothing to rescue her. All Katy can do is survive. Trapped in Daedalus's headquarters with enemies, Katy knows that she has to adapt and play along--or she'll be subject to torture. But the group's goals don't seem entirely crazy, and some of their truths are frightening. Who are the real enemies? Daedalus? Mankind? The Luxen? With the walls closing in, Katy and Daemon know that time is running out.

One of the main reasons I so thoroughly enjoy reading the "Lux" series is that I absolutely, positively, 100% love the characters. With each book, I find myself becoming more and more obsessed with them. Seriously. There's just something about them that makes them endearing and exciting. Take, for example, our heroine Katy. What I love about her is that she's compassionate, but at the same time, strong, not to mention doggedly stubborn! And did I forget to mention that she's a total book nerd--just like me and probably like you! There are just so many things that the average reader can relate to in Katy, whether it's her personality or quirks or actions, and it's what makes her character so real. The same can be said about Daemon, especially since we get to see his point of view from the chapters told in his perspective. Daemon has always been an awesome character from the start: He's snarky in a way that makes me snort and giggle, but at the very core is sweet, protective and selfless. The other characters, like Dee, Dawson, Beth, the Thompson siblings, Archer and Luc (the list goes on!) are great as well; the way they interact with each other just screams 'dynamic relationship', and it's really just plain awesome.

But going back to Katy and Daemon, just wow, they are one super sexy pair! I was utterly enraptured by the development of their relationship in "Origin". There's no more denial or resistance between the two, like there was in the previous books, and now it's just all-out, fierce devotion to one another. It's especially telling that the two aren't even physically together in the first third of the story, yet you get an extremely clear picture of how they feel about each other. And when they are together--damn. The chemistry that Ms. Armentrout creates between Katy and Daemon is amazing, from the sexual tension to the sweet protectiveness, not to mention their tongue-in-cheek banter! They just work together so well, and in a way that makes their romance real. What I mean by this is that you don't get that typical sappy love story, where the sudden urges to claw at each others' clothes seems forced and almost laughable. Instead, what Katy and Daemon have is natural and believable. Which is probably why I want to be a part of their relationship. And that's not creepy at all.

The plot of "Origin" was simply breathtaking. There was never a dull moment, and everything was just fast-paced and exciting, even when there wasn't any actual action in the chapter. There's always something happening, whether it's physical or emotional, and that's what made the storyline so compelling. The twists and turns in the plot certainly help, too! My heart was racing as each of the characters unearthed all of these revelations and dealt with so many shocking things (I dare not say more lest I spoil it for you!); just trust me when I say that there's some crazy stuff going on, and you don't want to miss out. What did kind of catch me off guard, though, was the ending. It seemed a little sudden and out-of-the-blue, like, "What's going on??" I think it might've been a little less so had Ms. Armentrout orchestrated it somewhat more smoothly by creating more build-up to the final scene. Other than that, however, the storyline was intense and exciting!

All in all, "Origin" is an exhilarating continuation of the "Lux" series, jam-packed with endearing characters, a seriously sexy romance, and a thrilling plot that swept me off my feet. I strongly recommend checking out the series--I daresay it's one of my favourite YA series! It just kind of sucks big time that the next book won't be out until next year...what am I going to do with my life.

Rating: 5/5

P.S. I don't know about you, but the book trailer had shivers running down my spine!!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

It's incredible what a good book can be for you: A refuge during times of change or stress; a companion when you're just plain bored; or a window into others' minds and thoughts and emotions. Needless to say, these aren't the only forms books can take. Its magical, really. When I found out that "Crown of Midnight", the sequel to Sarah J. Maas's thrilling novel "Throne of Glass", was finally coming out near the end of last month, I knew I'd find all of those things in this one book, with Celaena whooping people's butts with her knives and undeniable wit!

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien has finally become the King's Champion, dispatched to assassinate threats to the kingdom. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown--a secret she keeps even from those who are closest to her heart. Keeping up such a dangerous charade could mean life or death, not just for Celaena herself, but for her dearest friends. But when the King tasks her with killing someone from her past, Celaena finds herself caught up in an increasingly tangled web of lies, secrets and deceit--including one that could alter the fate of the entire kingdom. Where do the assassin's loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

If I loved Celaena in "Throne of Glass", then I completely bonded with her in "Crown of Midnight". What I mean by this is that I found myself seeing her as more than a totally bad-ass assassin, as a girl who's really the same age as I am and deals with issues that any teenager has to deal with. It was through these moments of empathy and understanding--like awkward encounters with exes or the utter feeling of devotion toward a pet--that made Celaena a truly relatable protagonist. Even the problems normal kids usually (and hopefully!) don't have to deal with, such as having to assassinate potential threats to royalty, become believable and understandable. This is because we see Celaena grow as a person and as someone who's human, just like the rest of us. So it's easy to imagine what we'd feel if we were put in the same situation. And that's what Ms. Maas does extremely well--crafting a unique and powerful heroine who, at the same time, is just like us.

The same can be said about the other main characters in the series, like Chaol and Dorian. I really liked how some of the chapters were told from Chaol's and Dorian's perspective, since it really helped to heighten the tension and give us juicy looks into their thoughts and emotions. (And by this, I especially mean thoughts and emotions regarding the love triangle! Who doesn't love some good romantic tension?) Seeing things from their points of view also makes them more dynamic characters, since they become somewhat more real as you experience their worries and discoveries alongside them. There's also some great stuff going on with the other, more minor characters. Nehemia, of course, remains the wise, statuesque princess--not to mention Celaena's best friend and guide. She's definitely a shining beacon in the story, and you can see why Celaena regards her as her soul-friend. There's also Archer, the strikingly beautiful courtesan who grew up with Celaena when she was training to become an assassin. I think Ms. Maas does a great job with depicting his character and shifting our perceptions of him as the story progresses. Handsome men can't always be trusted, eh?

Luckily for us, "Crown of Midnight" doesn't succumb to the 'sequel syndrome', where sequels end up...well, sucking. Instead, the storyline of the novel starts off exciting, and ends up all the more so! The twists and turns in the plot as Celaena discovers more and more things about the mysterious Wyrdmarks and magic really keep tensions running high, and I found my heart thumping rapidly in the really intense scenes (and trust me, there are lots of them). What I especially like about the storyline is that despite all of these revelations, they're never introduced too suddenly; Ms. Maas cleverly weaves in hints into the plot that build up to these turning points in the novel. And that ending! I don't know whether I can say for sure that I saw it coming, but talk about a cliffhanger!

Overall, "Crown of Midnight" is a compelling second installment in the "Throne of Glass" series, with an awesomely butt-kicking heroine, well-developed characters and an exciting storyline that hooks you in and never lets go. If you haven't read the first book, I urge you to go pick up a copy now--it's worth it!

Rating: 5/5

Monday, September 2, 2013

September '13 Releases!

It's crazy how time passes by so quickly; summer's almost officially over! The nights are turning a little crisper, the days a little breezier. The upside to the shifting weather is, chilly weather is perfect for snuggling up in bed with a good book! And luckily for us, we have a slew of great books coming this month. Remember to click on the cover to be taken to the Goodreads page!

"The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" by Holly Black
Release date: Sep. 3

"Antigoddess" (Goddess War #1) by Kendare Blake
Release date: Sep. 10

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell
Release date: Sep. 10

"More Than This" by Patrick Ness
Release date: Sep. 10

"The Dream Thieves" (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
Release date: Sep. 17

"Steelheart" (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson
Release date: Sep. 24