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BOOK REVIEW: The Young Elites Trilogy by Marie Lu

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
– John Acton

5 Stars

I started Young Elites expecting a usual no-nonsense Young Adult novel—apparently I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I ended up finishing the entire trilogy in a span of two and a half days.

Finally, something different.

This review covers the entire trilogy so heads-up: Heavy spoilers ahead.

For the first time, the star is not a hero—but an antihero. Adelina stands out among today’s crop of YA heroines because she is exactly what they are not. We’ve seen it a hundred times: A seemingly ordinary girl who eventually becomes the key to the world’s survival or something like that. It’s a tale as told as time, and frankly I’ve grown tired of it. Young Elites is none of that. This is a story of the rise and fall of a villain—and her eventual redemption. In this series, I saw a mirror of our reality: how nations are born, how they are conquered… how one dictator falls only to be replaced by another. It showed problems our society faces constantly each day: How hate begets hate, how it becomes a cycle that gets nurtured until it peaks. It’s dark, it’s mature, and amidst all the powers and monsters: there is truth.

Young Elites started with Adelina as a weak little girl, not knowing her place in the world and how to use her power. I journeyed with her through her torments until she found the first group of people that accepted her. I saw how she fell in love and how she got betrayed over and over. I watched how the bitterness of life slowly took its toll on her. I knew what was happening: How the darkness in her slowly brewed, cultivated by her sufferings and the people who hurt her. I stood witness as her power heightened and slowly corrupted her—how her ambitions and cruelty grew stronger each page. I knew she was no hero—yet I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. Because I knew her story. Nobody here was pure. Each character had darkness in them—even sweet Violetta. In a way, I rooted for the villain. I think that’s what the author wanted. Because in reality, we all have darkness in us. We all want to succeed, to become powerful, to be on top. Adelina was our personal darkness personified.

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Honestly, I think the series could’ve stopped at book two and succeeded. I thought that final sentence at the end of Rose Society was perfect on its own. The beginning of Midnight Star felt a little out of place. I found myself doubting the author, “Where is she going with this?” The first two books were so strong and I didn’t want to be disappointed with a weak conclusion. The third book started off weak, yes, but the final chapters were what saved it. That part where Adelina was bargaining for her sister’s life and was contemplating what she has, would, and could become was beautifully written. My heart broke as she pictured her future with Magiano—a future that she’ll never have. It felt like it was also being wrenched away from me. I wanted them to have more time—I wanted them to have a life. The voice in me wanted her to stay. Who cares about Violetta? She’s had an easy life! It was as if I’ve become the dark whispers in Adelina’s delusions. I wanted her to be selfish. I wanted ­her, not Violetta. But then as she wrestled with her thoughts, so did I. She was right. And it was devastating because I knew it was the right choice—the only choice. Still, my heart broke for Magiano. I finished the book with a little hatred for Violetta. Why did she get everything Adelina worked so hard for?Her life has always been easy—and in the end Adelina’s life work was just handed to her on a silver platter. It’s not fair! But then again, life is never fair. I guess, like Magiano, I’ll just have to live with what we are dealt with.

Would I recommend this? Yes. It’s a breath of fresh air among redundant girl-saves-the-world plots in today’s bookshelves. If you liked Mistborn and Graceling then I think you’ll like this. If you’ve read this and liked it, then try those titles I mentioned.

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Edition Review: American Gods x Anansi Boys (B&N Collectible Edition 2016)

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The moment I saw this beautiful edition online, I knew I just had to have it. I’m a big Gaiman fan so imagine my excitement when I learned that it’ll be available in my country.

The cover art was designed by Jim Tierney. I love the silver and blue theme. The typography design really stood out against the black leather base. It’s a truly gorgeous piece.

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The exterior theme extends to the inner jacket. The page trims are also coated with silver.

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The paper is smooth and thin, kinda like The Bible. The book also has a ribbon marker, so no need for bookmarks.

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The book is a bit heavy so I don’t recommend it for casual reading. I bought this book with the intent of displaying it so I don’t really mind the weight. Overall, this is a beautiful edition that any Gaiman fan would love. Definitely worth every penny!

Audiobook Review: Secondhand Smoke (Jake Brand, PI #2) by M. Louis

3 Stars

This audiobook was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, it’s been a long while since my last blog post and although I’ve been reading books here and there I haven’t really been able to update my site for a while due to my work schedule… so I’ve decided to get my blogging groove back as my New Year’s Resolution!

It’s been decades since my last mystery read. I think my last one was Dan Brown’s Inferno (which was ages ago) so I welcomed this audiobook with open arms.

First and foremost, I haven’t read “Angel’s Devil”, the first book of this series, so I was worried I might have a hard time understanding the plot since this was a sequel. Thankfully, the book was written in a way that it could stand alone. My first reaction while listening to the first few chapters was “This Jake guy has a really unique sense of humor”, lol. I like how the tone wasn’t too serious like most mystery novels. It’s serious, but not too serious. I think the narrator, Colin McCarthy, did a good job with balancing the tone of the audiobook as well. The story started off nicely and gradually picked up as the novel progressed. There were times wherein I had to stay a few minutes longer in the car just to finish a chapter. There were some really intense moments where I questioned if Jake’s crew would make it. Another factor I really liked was the time spent on Jake’s mundane PI moments. It’s nice to see what he normally does as a PI when not getting himself in trouble (kidding).

Overall, I enjoyed this audiobook. I think the gem of this novel was really Jake’s (sometimes awkward) sense of humor, which made him very likable. I might read Angel’s Devil too and see what Jake got himself into there. I think this book would probably make an enjoyable movie due to the numerous action-packed scenes.

P.S. This book made me wanna visit Portland!


See my goodreads review here.
Credit for the graphics: http://mlouisbooks.com/

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.

 

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.

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.