Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Once in a while, you'll find in your hands a book that transports you so completely into another life that you don't want to come back out. Every emotion, every thought becomes your own, until you begin to wonder where your feelings end and where the characters' begin. Reading "The Sea of Tranquility," Katja Millay's debut novel, is just like plunging yourself into a pool of inextricably complicated emotions of angst and love and hope and hate, and, at the same time, is like inhaling the freshest of air. I could go on and on about how amazing this book is, but, if I had to sum it all up in one word: breathtaking.

It's been three years since Nastya Kashnikov lost everything: her music, her voice, her identity. Now, she only wants two things. First is to get through high school anonymously. The second is to make the boy who took away her life pay for what he did to her. Josh Bennett's story is no secret: every person he has ever loved was taken from him until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Everyone leaves him alone--everyone but the new girl at school, Nastya, who keeps showing up at his garage and won't go away until she has insinuated herself into every part of his life.

There are so many things to talk about with this novel that I don't know where to begin... but I guess I'll start off with the storyline! The plot of "The Sea of Tranquility" is at once haunting and sweet, while remaining compelling throughout the novel. Ms. Millay packs a lot of punch in the 450ish pages, seamlessly combining realistic fiction, thriller and romance into a story that pulls you in and never lets go. From the very first page, you're introduced to Nastya's unusual and unfortunate predicament: she's been almost murdered by a boy, and she's bent on finding him and making him pay for what he's done to her. While, at first, it may seem like it could go in a purely thriller direction involving guns and revenge, the novel is really about the emotional journey a girl who has lost all her meaning in life goes through. "The Sea of Tranquility" is really an emotional sucker punch, one so rich and evocative that, even without the action movie-esque chase scenes and such, draws you in completely and utterly.

I think now's a perfect place to talk about the main character of the novel, Nastya. Can I just say here, wow. Nastya is not your typical female protagonist. She's gritty, sarcastic and intentionally wears the tightest and shortest clothing, yet, under all of the black eyeliner and devil-may-care attitude, vulnerable, compassionate and, above all, broken. The complexity of Nastya's character is developed and fostered so intricately throughout the novel, opening your eyes to the truths in her emotions and thoughts. Her narrative voice is undeniably compelling, and Ms. Millay's incredible writing perfectly captures Nastya's tumultuous mental experiences while revealing things between the lines. One small critique I have is about a little quirk that Nastya's meant to have: her fascination with names and their meanings. This was revealed early on in the novel, but I felt like it was a little too forced and was kind of put there to make her even quirkier. I think if Ms. Millay had brought up names more throughout the middle portion of the novel, it would seem a lot more natural, but it can't be said that she definitely ties the whole name thing in nicely toward the end--very cleverly done!

Josh Bennett is the other main character of "The Sea of Tranquility," one who is equally as compelling as Nastya. What makes the whole novel so interesting and so hauntingly real is how messed up both of them are. In fact, I'd say that pretty much all of the characters are, in some way or another and in varying degrees, just like how, in real life, nobody is perfect. Everyone has flaws. But back to Josh. Because of the aforementioned messed up-ness of the two characters, it's no challenge to see how Josh and Nastya are drawn toward each other from the start. But what really makes their relationship so refreshing and so intriguing is the way they both complement each other and become the other person's beacon of light and of salvation, yet resist each other and push love away. In fact, it's this that really makes the development of their relationship so real and so believable. You don't get any of that flash-bang insta-love here. And thank the heavens for that! Even after they finally get together, you don't get the perfect boyfriend-girlfriend romance between the two. Oh, no. I unquestionably adored reading about Nastya and Josh's relationship as it unfolded throughout the novel, even through its ups and downs.

Even though we don't hear from the perspectives of the other characters in the novel, they are just as complex, dynamic and interesting as Nastya and Josh. Drew Leighton, Josh's best friend and the school's "man whore," is undeniably one of my favourite characters in the novel. At first, I admittedly thought he was just a flirty playboy, and I kind of dismissed him as simply that. But as I continued reading the novel and discovered more about his character, I ended up becoming invested in him as well, and really sympathized with the misconceived golden boy. I'd say more about him, but I want you to experience that change in perception of his character for yourself! There are many, many other characters in the novel that I could talk about, like Clay, Sarah, Tierney, Margot, Nastya's parents, etc., but this post would never end. Just trust me when I say that the characters are, in a word, amazing. Take my word for it!

Overall, "The Sea of Tranquility" is an incredible breath of fresh air, with a gritty and compelling storyline, hauntingly beautiful writing, and a cast of complex, dynamic characters you'll end up falling in love with, flaws and all. This is undoubtedly one of the best books I've read in a while, and I know you'll enjoy it just as much as I did! Highly, highly recommended. Like, now.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: Angel Fever by L.A. Weatherly

Vampires and werewolves are so last year. Nowadays, angels and demons appear to have dominated YA bookshelves, from Laini Taylor's "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" to Susan Ee's "Penryn and the End of Days" series. One of the most thrilling paranormal series I've read in a while is L.A. Weatherly's "Angel" trilogy, which is chock full of romance, action and excitement--what more could you ask for? "Angel Fever" is the climactic finale to the series, whisking us away for one last angel-butt-kicking adventure.

Things don't seem good for the Angel Killers. Millions of people live in Edens, "refugee" camps set up by the angels who use them as feeding grounds. Raziel is more powerful than ever, tightening his hold on angels and humans alike. Yet in the face of these hellish odds, Willow and Alex aren't giving up, recruiting and training new Angel Killers for the perfect moment to strike the angels and rid humanity of the parasitic creatures forever. But when a game-changing revelation sends Alex on a separate journey, one that leaves Willow bereft and confused, each of them must face the consequences of their own choices. With the end of the celestial battle drawing near, the stakes are higher than ever--but will love and humanity survive?

Clearly one of the most important things an author must do when writing the final book of a series is wrap things up, tie loose ends and leave nothing dangling--yet, at the same time, keep things fresh and exciting, so it's not all about checking off the things that had been built up in the previous books. I think Ms. Weatherly does a great job with this in the storyline of "Angel Fever," giving her readers a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy while maintaining the excitement until the very end. She does this by introducing new challenges and revelations for Alex and Willow, allowing for the developments of both the plot and the characters. I especially loved seeing more of Willow's mom, since she'd kind of been a rather quite character in the first two books. That being said, however, I do think that the middle parts of the novel were a little too static in terms of the storyline, but luckily not enough to make me lose interest completely and yawn and stuff my Kindle under the covers. Another thing that strikes me in retrospect was that the storyline was a tad bit predictable. I mean, it's quite obvious that Alex won't die--it was just a matter of when he was going to pop back up. Another example is how Willow saved the world (again, this much is obvious). Okay, maybe it wasn't predictable, but it wasn't as dramatic as it could be. Other than that, though, a definitely satisfying conclusion!

Moving on to the characters in "Angel Fever." Let's start off with Willow. As the heroine of the novel, I think Willow's a pretty good protagonist in that she's not the whiny, annoying type. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands, and, on a more personal level, finally completely accepts her identity as a half-angel. What's more, I found that I kind of respected Willow in the novel. Even when she's dealing with confusion and heartbreak in the aftermath of Alex's supposed death, Willow remains honest with herself for the most part, and I found myself going "you go girl" with the way she handled Alex's reappearance. As for Alex, I had pretty conflicting feelings for him. Sure, his love for Willow is clear and sweet without being overly cloying, but he was kind of a coward, breaking a pretty important promise to Willow, which made me question just how much he trusted her as an equal in their relationship. But I suppose the plot wouldn't have been as exciting or emotionally driven if it hadn't been for his jerk move. So I guess you're off the hook, Alex.

The rest of the characters were fairly great as well. Seb is a pretty likable guy, and his unrequited love for Willow makes him a sympathetic character. I'm glad Ms. Weatherly gave him a happy ending though, because, I mean, it's about time! Raziel, in my opinion, was just an okay bad guy. Yeah, he's undeniably evil and cruel and all that, but I felt like he was just that--evil and cruel. Nothing more. He does seem to show some kind of longing or nostalgia for Miranda, Willow's mom, but not enough to make him become one of those bad guys you sort of empathize with. All I'm saying is that he could've been a much more interesting antagonist had be had more dimension to him. Speaking of Miranda, I really found her character interesting to read about, as I'd said before, since she'd been a side character for the first two books. I just wish we had seen more of her, maybe through more interaction with Willow.

All in all, Ms. Weatherly fulfills her readers' expectations for a good conclusion to her "Angel" trilogy, giving us an exciting storyline and dynamic protagonists. I'd recommend this series for anyone looking for a fun, celestial read--it's worth it!

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Book Review: Taste of Darkness by Maria V. Snyder

I remember reading Maria V. Snyder's "Study" series a couple years ago and finding myself completely enraptured by the crazy adventures the butt-kicking heroine went on. Which, of course, led me to devouring all of her other books with a speed faster than the Road Runner--beep beep. "Taste of Darkness" is the finale to the "Healer" series, bringing Avry's fight against Tohon and the Skeleton King to a close. Forgive me if I'm sounding a little lukewarm; I hate to say it (trust me, I really do), but I was so relieved when I finally hit the last page because the book was just so slow! Disappointment is a big, fat jerk.

Avry of Kazan has fought death and won. She survived the plague and defeated King Tohon, but when she wakes up one morning to find Kerrick gone from her bedside, Avry knows only fear. But that's not all that she has to deal with. The Skeleton King is plotting to take the Fifteen Realms for himself, and armies of the dead threaten to overwhelm Prince Ryne's forces. As virtually the last healer in the realms, Avry is needed now more than ever. Torn between love and loyalty, Avry must choose her path carefully, or the kingdom will crumble under darkness.

I mentioned earlier that I found "Taste of Darkness" slow. And, unfortunately, I meant it. The plot of the final book in the "Healer" series is frustratingly plodding, even to the point where I ended up skimming over a good portion of the book. There really isn't much that happens in the story. In fact, it seemed as if Ms. Snyder was just using the last installment of the trilogy to wrap things up and give her readers a nice, clean ending. Having said this, wrapping things up doesn't have to be in such a lackluster manner! It's strange because I don't recall feeling this way whatsoever with the previous books in the series, yet with this last book, I was just bored out of my mind. I never got the feeling that something was at stake. Sure, I got that the Fifteen Realms would fall under the Skeleton King or Tohon's rule, but I never really felt that tension. In fact, I think one of the major problems in the storyline is that there really isn't a clearcut antagonist. It's basically Avry and her friends against the Skeleton King, Cellina and Tohon, and, because there are so many enemies, their respective threats diminished greatly. It's just such a huge disappointment, because there's some awesome potential with the series, and it had to end this way!

Another thing I noticed while reading the novel was that the writing style was a little awkward and pretty clumsy. Again, I don't know if it's always been like this and I just hadn't noticed, or if it suddenly got clumsier (chances are it's the former). For example, there were lots of sentences that could've flowed a lot more smoothly had there been a comma or two in them, since they ended up sounding like run-on sentences. Another thing is that the words and phrases used seemed a little...immature. I mean, Avry's already twenty one-years old, but her narrative voice gave me the impression that she could easily be fifteen. The same can be said about the other characters. I get that there's meant to be humourous banter, especially between the monkeys and within their group of friends, but it doesn't have to be lame. The characters weren't exactly witty, and the slightly awkward writing didn't help with that either.

I know I sound like I'm seriously bashing on this book, but I just have to say one more thing about the characters. I've always admired Ms. Snyder's heroines, because they're indubitably kickass and stubborn and compassionate and all that jazz. In "Taste of Darkness," I found that, yes, Avry was still a strong protagonist who has a good head on her shoulders, but she became pretty flat and static as a character. There wasn't any change within her, no more development that would've made her a dynamic and truly interesting main character to read about. This also ties in with the flat storyline, since there weren't many things that challenged her and pressed her to question herself and change into a stronger, better person.

Overall, "Taste of Darkness" is a rather disappointing finale to what could've been a fun fantasy series. Things just fell flat: the plot, the writing, and the characters. I'd probably give this one a miss--but I definitely recommend checking out Ms. Snyder's "Study" series! It's what had me thinking I'd found my new favourite author (though maybe not so much anymore).

Rating: 1/5

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January '14 Releases

Happy new year!! It's crazy how quickly the last year whizzed by--it's already 2014! I've always felt like starting a new year is like reaching the top of a mountain. You're at the very tip of the cliff, with a crazy, huge climb behind you and teetering on the edge to jump into a whole new adventure. There's something undeniably exhilarating and exciting about a fresh start, ripe with possibilities and opportunities to grab hold of. Of course, along with a new year, we have new book releases--the very first of 2014! Hold onto your tighty whities everyone, it's going to be one heck of a ride.

"Unhinged" (Splintered #2) by A.G. Howard
Release date: Jan. 7

"The Impossible Knife of Memory" by Laurie Halse Anderson
Release date: Jan. 7

"Hollow City" (Miss Peregrine #2) by Ransom Riggs
Release date: Jan. 14

"Evertrue" (Everneath #3) by Brodi Ashton
Release date: Jan. 21

"Avalon" (Avalon #1) by Mindee Arnett
Release date: Jan. 21

"Into the Still Blue" (Under the Never Sky #3) by Veronica Rossi
Release date: Jan. 28

"Cruel Beauty" by Rosamund Hodge
Release date: Jan. 28

"Her Dark Curiosity" (The Madman's Daughter #2) by Megan Shepherd
Release date: Jan. 28

"Infinite" (Newsoul #3) by Jodi Meadows
Release date: Jan. 28

And just a quick note of thanks to my friends and followers for reading my babbling on stories I've read--The Ink Gobbler may not be the most viral book blog out there in the blogosphere, but it's really been made that much better because of you! (: