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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.

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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.

My First Book Depository Experience

One of every bookworm’s worst nightmares is not finding a certain book in your area, or worse–in your country. And sometimes, e-books just aren’t enough. This was exactly what happened to me, so I turned to Book Depository. I’ve known about it for ages but I’ve never really bothered availing its services. For one, I just can’t wait that long to get a book, second, most of the books I want are available in Fully Booked (a local bookstore)–until one wasn’t. For some reason, Fully Booked didn’t have Joe Abercrombie’s Half A King. And by “didn’t” I meant they never had it and probably never will. Which in my opinion is absurd because, hello, it’s Joe Abercrombie! I desperately wanted a copy because I wanted to gift it to someone for his birthday (he’s been looking for it for ages), so I finally gave in and tried Book Depository.

Half a King

I’ll admit, the experience wasn’t perfect. The original 7-10 business days shipping (as stated in their site) didn’t push through and I was on a deadline. I had to get the book before my friend’s birthday. Three days after I sent my order (the book was available according to their site), it still hasn’t been dispatched. So, finally, I decided to contact them for help–and I have to say, their customer support system is beyond commendable. Their customer advisor, May Sherif, was very attentive and they don’t send “template” replies. They really answered my every mail. When my order still didn’t arrive after a week, they decided to dispatch another copy for me!

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After a few days, my book finally arrived. It was in pristine condition and came with a bookmark. In the end, my first Book Depository experience turned out to be a very pleasant one. I’d definitely buy from them again!

 

 

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

3 Stars

“People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.”

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I should, but I didn’t. The Night Circus had a very good story, a solid concept, it sang a distinct sound. I get why some people saw some splashes of Gaiman in this novel. This book is incredibly descriptive and visual, the settings are always described in a way that make them very easy to imagine. I believe this book is a treat for imaginative minds. At first, I truly felt like a kid being thrust into a candy shop for the first time—but too much sugar can harm your teeth—and I think that’s what happened to me here.

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

This is probably one of the most visual books I’ve read, and therein lies its greatest strength and weakness. The introduction to the circus was marvelous. In fact, I personally think the Prologue was the strongest chapter in the entire book. The first encounter with the Circus was enchanting. I could smell the caramel, popcorn, warm cider and candied applies in my head. It seemed as if I was literally there at the circus! But as the book went on, it felt forced and redundant. There were moments wherein I felt like the narrator was trying to push how great, grand and magical the circus was every chance he could get, raining the reader with a barrage of adjectives. It became too wordy. It felt like I was being forced to believe it—forced to smell the deliciousness and sweetness of the liquid caramel whose scent wafted through the air as it was drizzled in a slow pour, like maple syrup on a hot plate of pancake, on top of the warm and freshly-popped popcorn with melted buttermilk butter, held inside a fantastic bucket of black and white stripes with a sprinkled print of glittering stars. See what I did there? Too much of a good thing is not always good, and I think that’s why I found it difficult to truly love this book.

The characters were interesting, so varied, and likable in their own right but they felt so far away. Do you get what I mean? I liked them but I never got to invest myself in them. It never became personal, never intimate. At the end of the book, I knew I read a good story but I didn’t feel anything—except perhaps a slight craving for caramel-drizzled popcorn.

Calling all schmucks and cranks, the new Maze Runner trailer is out!

When I first finished the series back then, I said to myself, “Man this would make an awesome movie.” So when I heard about 20th Century Fox making one, I was ecstatic! I didn’t even care about the casting. I knew it would take a lot of effort to make a bad movie out of this series and I was thrilled! When the first trailer came out, it looked very promising… and now this! Ahhh, I’m so excited to see this movie!

Calling my fellow schmucks and cranks, the maze is open… get ready to run.

 

WICKED IS GOOD.