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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!

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

5 Stars

Before Eleanor and Park, there was Juli and Bryce.

I remember the first time I read this book, I think I was around eleven. I was at the sweet age of butterflies and puppy love. This book left an impact because at that time I was only starting to understand what the fuss was all about. Few days ago, I decided to read this book again, wondering how different my perception would be from my eleven year-old self. The funny thing is, I think it still has the same effect as it did many years ago.

“One’s character is set at an early age, son. The choices you make now will affect you for the rest of your life.”

At this point in my life, there are very few books that can make me feel like a little kid again. Flipped is one of them. It’s amazing how this short book is able to bring me back to my childhood, to the time of first loves and first heartaches, no matter how long it’s been. The story’s strength lies on its simplicity and, ironically, therein lies its complexity. Through my second reading, I saw things I think I might’ve missed many years ago. Back then, all I saw was a story of innocent love, of how Bryce reminded me of my crush, but now I know there’s more to this book than meets the eye.

“Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss. But every once in a while you find someone who’s iridescent, and when you do, nothing will ever compare.”

Materialism, false pretenses, prejudice, superficiality—these are things my eleven year-old self has yet to comprehend. But now I see the big picture. I love how the author was able to create two societies through two families. In a way, they are foils of each other.

“Get beyond his eyes and his smile and the sheen of his hair—look at what’s really there.”

Today, people care too much about appearances that we forget about substance. I think more adults should read and re-read Flipped. It not only brings back the tenderness of childhood but it also reminds us something that we’ve forgotten—something that we should always remember. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (Delirium #2)

3 Stars

Live free or die.

Note: Finished this book last July 2012

I remember loving Delirium, the first book of the series, and how refreshed I was on the simplicity of its plot being just a Dystopian love story. Well, somehow Pandemonium negated all of the things I loved from the first novel. Pandemonium totally jumped into the typical Dystopian formula. The simplicity of the first book was eradicated and the story now focused on the greater scope of the world, the life outside, the Invalids, the Resistance… basically the complex reality beyond Lena’s Portland hometown.

I was hoping for a simpler sequel but I suppose it’s inevitable for a Dystopian novel to just remain as a simple love story. Eventually, we’ll have to go further and delve into the politics and all that.

In this book we learn that there are different types of Invalids: The Resistance, Scavengers, and the people who dwell underground. Rejects who were driven to hiding to keep the surface “perfect”.

If you want something, if you take it for your own, you’ll always be taking it from someone else. That’s a rule too. And something must die so that others can live.

Continue reading Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (Delirium #2)

Review: Eleanor & Park

4 Stars

“Tell us, why has Romeo and Juliet survived four hundred years?”
“Because,” he said quietly, looking at his desk, “because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?”

Young love. It’s something we’ve all experienced and got a taste of, something most of us have forgotten… a distant memory, a whisper, a soft melody from the past. Reading Eleanor & Park was like going back to that childhood, when everything was so simple yet important, and when love was just… love.

Continue reading Review: Eleanor & Park

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Maze Runner #1)

4 Stars

“If you ain’t scared… you ain’t human.”

It’s been such a long time since I read this so I’m just copying my old review from Goodreads, with little additions.

There are a lot of books that feature dystopian societies, anarchy, war and science gone wrong today but most are just pale reflections of old greats and have failed to bring anything new and exciting to the table, but Maze Runner definitely made a mark on me. It’s far darker, more raw, more brutal yet more human than most modern dystopian novels out there. Great concept, excellent world-building, nice storytelling. Overall a good execution that led to a very good story.

Continue reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Maze Runner #1)

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

4 Stars

“And I think every once in a while someone comes along who is a little more primitive than the rest of us, a little closer to our beginnings, a little more in touch with the stuff we’re made of.”

Conformity.

It’s a sin we’re all guilty of. This short and incredibly light novel contains more substance than most young adult books out there. It tackles two of the most important problems of today’s society: Freedom and Individuality.

Stargirl, the titular character, might seem hard to understand. In fact, it might even be impossible to fully comprehend her. To an outsider, she’s goofy, weird and she’s as different as a person could be. But the core of this book focuses on how individuality can sometimes be mistaken for strangeness. We might not realize it, but conformity and fear of rejection are the greatest hindrances to true freedom.

Why was Stargirl so different from the rest of Mica High? She wasn’t. She was just too free and too sure of herself to care about what other people thought of her. She personified what we were all afraid to be: ourselves.

Continue reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli