Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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2 Stars


“In school, we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands. Some say those are just stories, but I don’t believe that.

The gods rule us still, they have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind.”

Imagine Graceling meets Princess Diaries and you’ll have something like The Red Queen. Mare, the heroine of the story, discovers that she possesses a power she’s not supposed to have. Of course, inevitably, she becomes a key figure in a rebellion against a corrupt and prejudiced system. Basically, in this world, there are two kinds of people: Reds and Silvers. Reds are normal humans bound to serve, while the Silvers are elite humans with special abilities and destined to rule over all. That’s the status quo, has been for centuries, and of course, the rebellion seeks to change that. I won’t say anything more about the plot to avoid spoiling so I’ll just spill my thoughts regarding the substance of the book.

This book had a lot of potential. It started off strong. However, as the world building was set-up, it started to become a little chaotic. First of all, world-building is very important to me. When I read Fantasy, may it be YA or High Fantasy, I expect to be fully immersed and introduced to its world. There has to be consistency and clear visuals in my head. Although the book clearly described Norta, I found a lot of elements to be disjointed and frenzied. Medieval, steampunk and other eras were all mixed in together which made visualizing a clear world a bit difficult.

I also had a problem with Mare. I found her character weak. She didn’t have a very strong conviction. There were times I questioned what she was really fighting for. The love triangle also felt forced and pathetic. I mean, seriously? The characters fell in love with each other without much basis. They barely had any substantial interaction, they barely knew each other, and they’re willing to risk their lives for something so feeble? I’m sorry but just don’t buy it. It felt like a high school infatuation more than anything else. The character development was so weak I didn’t make any connections with any of them. I didn’t feel anything for their suffering, for their deaths, or triumphs. Nothing. It was hard for me to root for Mare because she never showed me enough to make me believe in her.

Overall, this was a very disappointing book. I understand how some people might love it, especially YA readers. But for hardcore Fantasy readers like me, this is way not up to par. I get how some people see similarities between Red Queen and Graceling because of the special powers, but believe me that’s as far as it goes. It’s like comparing freshly brewed Columbian coffee to a hotel’s free 3-in-1 sachet.

Will I read the second book? Probably. But I won’t be running to the bookstore to get it.

 

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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3 Stars

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after.”

It was hard for me to rate this book because I really liked it, a lot. My only beef is that I had a small problem with connecting to the characters, hence the three stars.

When I started reading this book, I immediately thought of how similar it was to Legend; only this one was set in medieval fantasy and had the main characters’ genders reversed. As I read further, I saw more similarities, but I also saw how different they were. I don’t want to compare, so I won’t.

Ember is a strong and intense book. It’s brutal, gritty, but also light for a fantasy novel. It’s not as rich or as dark as say A Song of Ice and Fire or as complex as The Stormlight Archive but it has the right amount of action, blood, foreshadowing and tragedy to create good fantasy. In terms of world-building, Ember doesn’t stray too far away from the main setting which is Blackcliff. Other places were mentioned but not really discussed or introduced thoroughly. The book’s map art showed a vast world so I suppose those will be explored in the following books. It was evident that the setting was strongly inspired by Ancient Rome so the way I visualized it somehow resembled that era.

My main issue with this book is the voice of the main characters: Elias and Laia. It was really hard to connect to them and there were times wherein I was confused as to whose POV I was reading. Their chapters weren’t too distinct. I also had trouble rooting for Laia. She was weak and her lack of resolve annoyed me. I felt like she was just a leaf being dragged around by the current. Ironically, the character I liked the best and empathized with the most was Helene, a non-POV character. I love her (I hope she becomes a POV character in the next book). I also thought Laia’s transition from a wimpy slave-girl to a courageous fighter at the closing chapter was too abrupt and not smoothly executed.

Now to the good bits. I love the grit and raw violence in this book. It wasn’t afraid to shed blood and to depict the brutalities of war. My favorite scene in the entire book was the battle at the amphitheater. Although I already expected it to happen, it was still difficult to read through. That was the moment I connected to Elias the most. Not just him but to all the Masks. What the Augurs made them do was brutal, not bloody-brutal but really heart-wrenching brutal. A true test of character. That was an incredible scene.

It’s clear that there’s a bigger picture and a bigger war at hand. One that involved not only the Empire but also the other races: The djinn, the fey, the ifrits, the ghuls. I have a theory, and please do not read any further if you want to avoid spoilers. It’s clear that the Nightbringer is the main antagonist in this story and the Commandant is just one of his pawns. It was mentioned that the djinns were betrayed by the early men which caused their downfall and triggered the Nightbringer’s vengeance . My theory is that the Augurs, who said that they were guilty, were either one of the first men who possessed the learned magic hence their immortality and magical abilities, or they were the fey who gave men the knowledge that caused the djinn’s defeat and they were now trying to make amends by making things right. I’m really curious about this bit of the story. It kinda reminded me of Kingkiller and its Lanre mythology.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to the next one. This is a good divergence from the usual young adult dystopian novels that plague the shelves these days. If you like books like Legend and are into fantasy that doesn’t heavily rely on magic then this is the book for you.

Blind Date with a Book: Bookends by Jane Green

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3 Stars

Ever since I can remember I have loved books. Not just loved, but been passionate about. I regularly spend hours at a time browsing in bookshops, losing track of time, losing myself in another world.

My colleagues and I at work decided to organize a Blind Date with a Book event. This was the book that I got. If you’re curious, the teaser that got me was “How I met Your Mother meets Mean Girls”. I’ve been on a high fantasy reading streak and I figured it would be nice to read some chic lit as a break and I loved both HIMYM and Mean Girls!

Bookends is about a group of late twenty-somethings trying to figure out their lives. As the teaser promised, it did remind me of Friends and HIMYM. There isn’t that much fuss to the story. It’s chic lit and it’s supposed to be a light read, and it was. What I liked the best about the story was the Bookends bit. In the book, Bookends is a bookshop cafe that a couple of the main characters put up. The truth is, one of my dreams in life is to be able to put up my own book café—a place where I can share my love for books and food at the same time. Until now, it’s still a dream. Reading about the characters’ journey in their business venture was bittersweet. A part of me was so happy because they were doing what I’ve been dreaming of doing ever since—and another half of me was jealous because they are actually doing it, even if they are just fictional people.

One day, I tell myself, I will do it. I will fulfill that dream. It’s just that I’m not sure when.

I saw a lot of myself in Cath—too much, even. Somehow the story was more personal because I saw a lot of myself in her. This was a fictional girl living a part of my dream, and it was both sad and sweet. If only real life was easier.

Because isn’t that the thing with fantasies? Fantasies are absolutely safe, as long as you never try to make them a reality. Whether you’re fantasizing about wife-swapping, or café/bookshops, it’s still a truism that they will always be safer when they are kept locked in your head.

I picked this book blindly not knowing what story I was about to get myself into, and it turned out to be more personal than I ever intended it to be. I finish this review still wondering if I’ll ever have the courage to do what Cath did—and it scares me.

Also, thanks to Ann for lending me this, it was a good Blind Date!

Legend (Legend #1) by Marie Lu

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4 Stars

I’ve been on a reader’s block for quite a while, and I didn’t know if I still had it in me to be able to read at the same pace like I used to—but it turns out I only needed one good book to wake me up from my reading slumber. I’ve had Legend for a long time now but never really bothered to start it. This afternoon I had an insane attack of boredom so I decided to flip a few pages—only, I wasn’t able to stop. I literally couldn’t stop reading from the moment I started (I was even scolded by my dad to put down the book because I was reading during dinner). It’s been a while since I’ve read a good dystopian book. I mean, there are just so many out there nowadays. The last series that I really liked were Chaos Walking and Partials and both of those have been ages ago. I picked up this trilogy because of the hype, and hype comes with expectations. Fortunately, Legend delivered.

“Each day means a new twenty-four hours. Each day means everything’s possible again. You live in the moment, you die in the moment, you take it all one day at a time. You try to walk in the light.”

Like most books of this genre, Legend has the dystopian staples: A perfect society that’s not so perfect, rebel groups, secrets, and teenage protagonists who are too capable for their age (seriously). The story flows through the POVs of two characters: June and Day. One’s from the system, the other is the rebel—and of course (no-brainer here) they fall in love. What I liked about this book is that even though it follows some YA cliches, it managed to have its own voice and it didn’t feel like I was just reading a rehashed version of Lord of the Flies or 1984. The characters were well-written and likable. The pacing was neither too fast nor too slow and it gave just enough information each chapter to keep you reading. Although, I was able to guess who the “killer” was way too early—blame my history with mystery and thriller novels. Legend uses a “plague” plot device, similar to Matched trilogy—the only difference is that Matched had no direction whatsoever, Legend does. At least, I hope so. I’ve only read the first book but so far so good. I’m looking forward to reading Prodigy and if it’s anything as good as this then I think my reading appetite will be happily satisfied.

Eight Minutes by Lori Reisenbichler

3 Stars

The publisher has given me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What happens when we die?
Where do our souls go?

Does afterlife exist?

These questions may have different answers for everyone. We all have different beliefs, some are skeptics, and some are believers. These are questions that have prodded my mind since I was little—which is why I’ve always been fascinated by real-life stories about near-death experiences and astral projections.

On the night that Shelly Buckner finally became a mother, she very nearly became a widow. Her husband, Eric, seriously injured in a car accident on the way to the hospital, was dead for a full eight minutes before being revived—all while Shelly was in labor. Those eight minutes changed everything Shelly thought was possible.

Three years later, their son, Toby, brings home an imaginary friend. But he’s no ordinary playmate—John Robberson is a fighter pilot and Vietnam vet. As Toby provides unlikely details about John’s life—and Toby’s tantrums increase—Shelly becomes convinced that John was real and now wants something from Toby. But her husband has his doubts, and as Shelly becomes involved, even obsessed, with finding out the truth, their marriage begins to disintegrate. Torn between protecting her child and keeping the peace with her husband, Shelly desperately searches for a way to finally put John Robberson out of their lives.

It’s hard to discuss the book without spoiling too much of the story so I’ll be very vague. The story’s focus is on Shelly and I liked how the author built up her character. You’ll really sympathize with her and feel for her even if she can get a bit crazy at times. All the characters, not just her, were very well-written (although, I didn’t like Eric very much). Personally, I liked how realistic the book portrayed relationships and the impacts one aspect of your life could have to you and the people around you. I was able to put myself in Shelly’s shoes—what if my boyfriend or someone close to me suddenly changes like that? I honestly don’t know how I would deal.

The story can be a little creepy at times but that’s part of its charm. I actually thought this could easily have been a horror story, but don’t worry, it isn’t. I just wish the pacing was a bit faster but overall it was a really good story. If you’re into books like If I Stay or Lovely Bones then you would love this book.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

3 Stars

“I am a myth, a very special kind of myth that creates itself. The best lies about me are the ones I told.”

I read this book early last year and forgot to write a review until it was too late, so I took advantage of the long vacation to read it once again—thus, here I am writing this while feelings and emotions are still fresh.

It took me ages to finish this book the first time I read it and although I finished it a lot quicker the second time around, it still took me longer than how I usually peruse fantasy novels. The reason for this was the pacing of the frame story. See, Name of the Wind covers two timelines: The present, wherein Kvothe tells of his life story; and the past, the story being told. Truthfully speaking, I found the frame story a bit slow, too slow to my liking, that it took me ages to get past the opening chapters. I remember giving up reading the book multiple times because of it. However, once the real story began, the book became very difficult to put down.

“I would pass over the whole of that evening, in fact. I would spare you the burden of any of it if one piece were not necessary to the story. It is vital. It is the hinge upon which the story pivots like an opening door. In some ways, this is where the story begins.”

Name of the Wind’s magic was one of the things I loved most about it. Of course, there is “knowing one’s true name”—a concept that has been used in fantasy literature throughout history, but more importantly, I was fascinated by Sympathy. It was interesting how the author used concepts and laws borrowed from real Science and built a magic system around it—it can give you quite a headache too if you tried too hard to understand it. The school setting reminded me of Hogwarts, but not quite. Familiar but foreign. I get why people say the book has similarities with Harry Potter but seriously speaking I think that’s as far as it goes. Name of the Wind has its distinct charm that cannot be found elsewhere.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The stories within stories were fascinating and absorbing. The world was carefully built, and although it took me awhile to be submerged in it, the dive was worth it. Rothfuss is a great storyteller. He has a way with words—his prose dances and flirts with you like music, and I think this element shines through the brightest whenever Kvothe speaks of Denna. You’ll understand what I mean once you’ve read it. For now, I’m eager to read Day two.

2015 Amends

I’ve been a very, very bad book blogger lately. Not only as a book blogger but also as a bookworm in general. I’ve been under a reader’s block, partially because this great evil called videogames lured me into a dark, dark place. But alas, I am back! I apologize for my long absence and lack of reviews. Thankfully, the dawn of the new year brought me back to the light and I’m back to my old reading ways, so expect more reviews and more activity from me starting today.

Now, if you may excuse me… I have books to devour.