Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Book: Finnikin of the Rock
Author: Melina Marchetta
Series: Lumatere Chronicles
Publishing Date:  February 9th, 2010
Publisher: Candlewick Press
My rating: 4 Stars

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.

But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere's walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock--to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she'll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin's faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

In a bold departure from her acclaimed contemporary novels, Printz Medalist Melina Marchetta has crafted an epic fantasy of ancient magic, feudal intrigue, romance, and bloodshed that will rivet you from the first page.
"Then I choose to drown," Finnikin said. "In hope. Rather than float into nothing."

A recurring thought while reading this book: I don't know what just happened; all I know is that it was AWESOME.

Melina Marchetta stays true to her title as one of the best YA authors with her spellbinding storytelling and wonderful characters.

I will have to admit that I was bored in the first hundred pages, and that I did get overwhelmed by all the names and titles. Which is why I had trouble keeping up with the plot at times. Although this detracted a bit from my enjoyment of the story, it certainly didn't keep me from becoming engrossed in the plot line.

Things I admired:
-The gruesome past that Marchetta creates. It was a lot gorier and sadder than I thought it would be, and the description of it made the hopelessness and sadness in the kingdom more real and cutting. It was amazing because there's one thing I'm afraid of, and that's when authors make a big deal out of nothing. Which Marchetta definitely did not do.
-World building. Okay, this one is actually debatable because there were tons of times when I'd get thrown for a loop because of extra details and not enough explanation. However, explanations did make the book slow at times. But you have to respect these high fantasy writers. They don't get to bootleg places from real life; they have to create entire worlds out of their own imagination. And the complex world that Finnikin and his friends live in is one that I could completely believe in.
-Theme. Or what I thought was the theme. I thought Finnikin of the Rock spoke miles for the concept of hope, just like I believed Jellicoe Road did when I read it. There was something so uplifting about this destitute kingdom with so many hopeless, memory-burdened people being saved. It made me want to do that fist bump that Judd Nelson does at the end of The Breakfast Club.
-Characters!!! I cannot emphasize enough how much I admire Marchetta's skill in creating so many characters that all seem to have outstanding personalities. We have Finnikin, the sword toting badass, and Evanjalin, who is the antithesis of the damsel in distress. Evanjalin, who I did despise a couple of times for the betrayals she seems to make, is one of the strongest female characters I've read because of her unfaltering determination to support the greater cause. But there's also Trevanion and Beatriss, Froi...I love that they all had their own side stories, but none of them overshadowed the story in general. And, of course, the romance was equally sweet and special.

In conclusion, I liked this book, though there were some shaky moments when I thought I wouldn't. Melina Marchetta has a special voice, one equal parts humorous, humbling, and brilliant. Everything is meaningful, all the dreams and actions and words. Nothing happens without a reason in this story. The biggest way I learned that was through Froi. I had no idea that the nameless street urchin would play such a large part in the story, but he did, and now I very much want to learn how his story ends.
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Friday, June 29, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (1)

Follow Friday is a meme hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. Basically, follow me and say hi in the comments, and I'll follow you back! 
This week's featured blogs: 
Novel Sounds & Fighting Dreamer

Q: Birthday Wishes -- Blow out the candles and imagine what character could pop out of your cake...who is it and what book are they from?
A: You can't ask me about someone jumping out of a birthday cake and expect me not to think of strippers. In celebration of the release of Magic Mike, I'd have to say Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer. And if we're talking fictional characters, then I'd have to say Lucas from Easy by Tammara Webber. Mmmm.

This Week's Cover Reveals

Hello, everyone! Once again, another slew of gorgeous YA covers has hit us, and I'd like to share some of my favorites. Whether the books live up to the covers, however, we'll have to see.

Boundless by Cynthia Hand
Series: Unearthly
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publishing Date: January 22nd, 2013

No blurb yet.
Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
Series: Under the Never Sky
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publishing Date: January 8th, 2013

No blurb yet. 

Iron's Prophecy (Novella) by Julie Kagawa
Series: Iron Fey
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publishing Date: September 1st, 2012

Meghan Chase is finally getting used to being the Iron Queen, ruler of the Iron Fey. Her life may be strange, but with former Winter prince Ash by her side at last, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

But when they travel to the Summer and Winter courts’ gathering for Elysium, the oracle from Meghan’s past returns with a dire prophecy: “What you carry will either unite the courts, or it will destroy them.” Now Meghan faces a devastating choice that may determine the future of all fey—and her and Ash’s unborn child…

Sever by Lauren DeStefano
Series: Fever
Publisher: Simon & Schuster's Children
Publishing Date: February 12th, 2013 

What if you knew exactly when you would die? In the not-too-distant future, genetic engineering has turned every newborn into a ticking time bomb — males only live to age 25 and females only live to age 20.
In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out. When 16-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by "the Gatherers" to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Rhine has only one purpose after she has been married to her new husband, Linden: to escape and find her twin brother.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant to whom she is dangerously attracted, Rhine is desperate to learn the truth and protect those closest to her. But, as her sister wife Cecily keeps insisting, her role may be much bigger than that.
In the first two books of the Chemical Garden trilogy, Wither and Fever, Rhine struggles to escape the mansion and then to navigate the brutal world outside. Now in Sever, the third and final book, Rhine uncovers some shattering truths about the past that her parents never had the chance to tell her and the alarming implications regarding her own genes. She may be the one who can save the human race.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park

Flat-Out LoveBook: Flat-Out Love
Author: Jessica Park
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: 400
My rating: 3 Stars
Goodreads Summary:
Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it.

When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.
Flat-Out Love comes complete with emails, Facebook status updates, and instant messages.
There is no denying that Flat-Out Love is a very well-done book. That despite Jessica Park's little team-up with Jamie McGuire, this book will make you feel. Even though she's not acting cordially through her her support of McGuire in attacks against reviewers, I do not regret reading this book. The behavior of an author does make my opinion of him/her fall considerably, but it doesn't stop me from reading a book that promises to be good.

The revelation at the end was mind-blowing. I had no idea it was coming until a couple pages before (probably because I was up at 3 AM finishing up). Park duped me, and I feel simultaneously gratified and offended.

The cast of characters...I loved the characters in this book. Celeste, Matt, Erin, Finn...Ha. The dialogue was quick and witty, and I couldn't put the book down. I read it, in fact, for 5 straight hours. It's beautiful. This messed up, dysfunctional family, was beautiful. Julie was plenty amazing, too, with the way she deals with the situation and her attempts to help. Even though it was hard to like her at first for her rejection of the quirks of the Watkins family, her behavior towards Celeste and Flat Finn was enough to redeem her in the end.

I need to reread all of the messages with Finn after this. Damn it, that was brilliant.

I decided to be diplomatic and rate it a fair 3 stars, because even though I gave my honest opinion in this review, I still can't completely forget Park's past behavior.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (1)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that allows us to appropriately squeal over upcoming releases.

Ironskin by Tina Connolly 
Publishing Date: October 2nd, 2012 

Publisher: Tor Books
Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin.

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a "delicate situation"—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio...and come out as beautiful as the fey.

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.
Let's all just take a moment to appreciate that beautiful cover. I love the metallic blue color gradient, and I really like this smoky thing that they're doing for books nowadays. I have to confess I've never finished Jane Eyre, but I'm planning on it soon. Ironskin sounds like it has great potential, and I'm eagerly awaiting its release!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio RacesBook:  The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Inc
Publishing Date: October 18th, 2011
Pages: 409
My rating: 3.5 Stars

Goodreads Summary:
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
My AP U.S. History teacher used to joke that he'd given us fun projects for the final couple months of the year because they always erased the bad memories we had of the grueling tests and homework packets we had to do for the majority of the year.

And that's what the last fifty pages of The Scorpio Races have done. They were so intense, they basically obliterated the mind-numbing monotony of the other 350 pages. I would've given this book 5 stars for the last 30 pages alone. But nope. Stiefvater had to attach the other 300+, and so I am aggrieved that I can't give it a very high rating because of them.

When I say monotonous, I mean bored-out-of-mind monotonous. I was praying for something to happen, and I skimmed a lot of the paragraphs about Thisby or the details of the island and races because there were so many of them. Don't get me wrong, Stiefvater does have a gift with words, but it got a bit grating to keep learning about the sea and the horses over and over. Then again, if she hadn't focused on the world-building, the world of The Scorpio Races might not have come as alive as it did. That's the crux of the matter. Also, the book actually got pretty creepy and gory. I liked that.

I was practically begging for Sean and Puck to just do it in a patch of cliff grass or something. I mean, Sean and Puck don't even meet until 100 pages in, and their relationship progresses at the rate a snail takes to go uphill. Which is not bad at all, but took a lot of the excitement out of the book. And what is it with all the parents missing? That's just...weird and coincidental. I would've liked to know more about them, since Sean didn't seem to feel all that bad about his father being eaten up. Maybe I skipped more paragraphs than I should have?

I liked the characters (George Holly. What a badass. Oh, and Benjamin Halvern and his butter tea. I sort of want to try it), though, and the sweet romance once it started going. Sean was quite different from all the guys I've been reading about, with his sharp demeanor and quiet devotion. However, I'd have to say my favorite part was the relationship between Sean and Corr. It's just one of those friendships between animal and human that's stronger than you could ever expect. They're totally my OTP now. All in all, I'm satisfied with this book despite the utter boredom I went through, and I'm definitely encouraged to read Shiver now.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: Easy by Tammara Webber

EasyBook: Easy
Author: Tammara Webber
Publisher: Self-Published
Publishing Date: May 25th, 2012
My rating: 4 stars

Goodreads Summary:
When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she’s single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, stalked by her ex’s frat brother, and failing a class for the first time in her life.

Her econ professor gives her an email address for Landon, the class tutor, who shows her that she’s still the same intelligent girl she’s always been. As Jacqueline becomes interested in more from her tutor than a better grade, his teasing responses make the feeling seem mutual. There’s just one problem—their only interactions are through email.

Meanwhile, a guy in her econ class proves his worth the first night she meets him. Nothing like her popular ex or her brainy tutor, Lucas sits on the back row, sketching in a notebook and staring at her. At a downtown club, he disappears after several dances that leave her on fire. When he asks if he can sketch her, alone in her room, she agrees—hoping for more.

Then Jacqueline discovers a withheld connection between her supportive tutor and her seductive classmate, her ex comes back into the picture, and her stalker escalates his attention by spreading rumors that they’ve hooked up. Suddenly appearances are everything, and knowing who to trust is anything but easy.
I'm considering whether or not to create a new shelf titled swooning-like-a-schoolgirl, but I already have a similar one, which makes it redundant. This book should come up with a warning about fanning yourself and internal combustion. It made me want to go make out with my boyfriend (but I don't have one right now. boo.).

I honestly did not think that Lucas would be as sexy as he ended up being because I don't go for the tattooed, pierced type. It's just never been my thing. But Lucas blew all my petty annoyances out of the water. He was sensitive, smart, possessive (maybe overly so), and oh-so-sexy. If you read the blurb, you sort of expect a mildly stalkerish introvert. Which I suppose Lucas is, but Webber manages to portray him as a good, decent human being despite his bad boy appearance, and I loved him regardless. His gruesome past comes as a pretty big shocker, and I liked that this was emphasized in a realistic way, instead of through those big dramatic moments and hand-to-mouth gasps. And his complete devotion towards Jacqueline, as well as his lack of caring when she caught him staring at her? I was about to burst into flames from all the sexual tension, holy cannoli.

This book can't be argued as completely unique or outstanding, but Webber explores the topic of rape in a way that isn't overly preachy and that emphasizes the power that women have. When the sorority president gave her speech, I wanted to applaud. It was beautiful.

Jacqueline is a very likable character. She has her own regrets and bad decisions, but she comes to terms with them in a way that's reasonable. I also have to give Webber kudos for the side characters like Erin, Benji, and even Kennedy. They had developed personalities, and I never felt that they submitted to any specific cliche. I especially liked Erin, probably because of her obsession with groin-hitting. Heh.

That said, I love this cover. It has some understated elegance, I suppose. It doesn't hurt that I happen to love the shades of blue they've used.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

The Selection (The Selection, #1)Book:  The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Series: The Selection
Pages: 327
Publishing Date: April 24th, 2012
Publisher: Harper Teen
My rating: 1 Star

Goodreads Summary:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

May I present to everyone The Hunger Games...Girlified!
Disclaimer: Despite the fact that I am drawing comparisons between the two, there is no way that this sad little novel (if it can even be called that) will ever match up to The Hunger Games.

Similarity #1: A "cutthroat" competition in which only one winner will be left standing.
Why It's Girlified: Instead of engaging in bloody struggles to the death, the girls instead compete by wearing prettier dresses, better makeup, and having etiquette. The closest they get to violence is when one bitch-slaps the other.

Similarity #2: A poor heroine who seems like an unfeeling douche in the beginning but somehow manages to endear herself to the public with her antics.
Why It's Girlified: America Singer (this name. I can't even.) is the most self-centered, weepy little twit I've ever read about. She does multiple things that would be considered horrible if others had done them, such as badmouthing the prince, throwing tantrums, but somehow the prince loves her and wants to be her best friend (because he's as stupid as she is, probably), and the public adores her.
This quote basically sum up her dazzling personality:

His black T-shirt was worn to threads in several places, just like the shabby pair of jeans he wore almost every day. If only I could sit and patch them up for him. That was my great ambition.

First selling off virginity, then this. This book is doing leaps and bounds for femininity, let me tell ya.

Similarity #3: The love triangle between the boy back home and the new boy whose personality the MC comes to know and adore.
Why It's Girlified: I can't make a decision between Aspen and Maxon. Why? Because I would rather make no decision at all. Neither of them have desirable qualities besides their broad shoulders and strong fingers. Cass needs to learn that just because the guys are hot doesn't mean they won't act like sticks of wood.

We have Aspen:
He ripped back my blankets in a move both graceful and violent.

I was internally screaming RAPE at this part. Love of my life or no, I don't want him ripping my sheets off me after I hesitated over answering whether or not I loved someone else.

We have Maxon:
He had his own smell, a mix of chemicals that burned out from him.

Do any of you find the fact that Maxon is toxic attractive? Because I don't.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this book has obvious aspects that come from The Hunger Games. However, it is also so girlified, teenybopperified, and altogether stupidified that these features have become almost unrecognizable. The writing is clumsy. It goes sort of like this:

Yesterday I brushed my teeth. I looked out my window and saw my boyfriend with his arms around another girl. Tears welled in my eyes. I smiled. I smiled again. I whisper-yelled at him. It took a while for me to rest, since I was so tired.

It's so painfully elementary that I wanted to slam my head against a tile.

Anyway. Please don't be like me, in that others' countless negative reviews weren't enough to convince you this book is utter crap. Because it is. Even the ending is crap. I might have been a bit more lenient if Cass hadn't finished what she'd started this book for. I don't even get what the conflict was. And there was no anticlimactic finale. There was no climax AT ALL. The plot is just a straight, boring line to nowhere. There were some iffy mentions of rebels and America's doubts about Illéa (doesn't make any sense to me why that makes this a dystopian, but whatever), but that's all overshadowed by the pressing concern of getting the attentions of some prince who doesn't know jack about his own country but still manages to make spur-of-the-moment, groundbreaking decisions. Oh, and he claims to know nothing about girls and to be afraid of their crying, but he manages to say all the right things and bring them all into giggly puddles of goo? This is disgusting and unflattering. I'm sure I speak for most women when I say that not all of us are reduced into pathetic tear-streaked damsels because of some guy.

I tried to read this like a chick lit. I did. But I doubt even my swoony, easily convinced self would've liked this.

My computer erased my previous review, which was already 3/4 written, which makes me hate this book even more.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

BittersweetBook: Bittersweet
Author: Sarah Ockler
Publishing Date: January 3rd, 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
My rating: 4 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances... a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life... and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last...

One thing is for sure: Bittersweet is definitely better than Twenty Boy Summer. That book was just...blech.

So, I really like this cover. I think it's very fitting, and it gives off that quaint wintry feel that I got from the entire setting of Watonka (is that a real place? The name is so...whimsical. I like.). I really liked Ockler's writing in this novel, and I remember it was pretty good in That Other Book, too. This is how Hudson describes the place in the end:

All the little quirks that make even the most barren, frigid places beautiful, that make a tiny gray dot on the map the one place you'll always call home, no matter where your glamorous, boring, adventurous, average, ridiculous, impossible, epic, romantic, bacon-infused life leads you.

It's not the best quote in there, but it was one that struck a chord with me. As someone who yearns to leave my dumpy little town for the big city, this book was a good reminder that it's the people that make a place special, and to be alone while reaching for your dreams is sometimes worse than having support in your failures. Also, I loved the cupcake descriptions. If I weren't on a diet, I'd go snarf a couple vanilla wafers from my pantry right now. I mean, dark chocolate espresso cupcakes topped with cinnamon café au lait icing, white chocolate chips, and chocolate-covered espresso beans? Come into my mouth, please!

This is a sweet book, packed with delicious desserts and likable people. Bug was the cutest one of them all. I think Bug added a star to this review. He thought maraschino cherries were martian cherries. I wish my sister were that cute.

However, I can't say as much for the main character, Hudson. Strangely enough, I liked what Ockler did with her side characters like Trick, Bug, and even Dani. But it was hard for me to like Hudson. That's not to say that I couldn't understand her conflicts or her sudden alienation of everyone important in her life. She just didn't do things that were very endearing and made it difficult to sympathize; namely, when she kept cutting off Frankie when she was trying to tell her about Will. I thought it was obtuse of her, especially after she'd already learned that Frankie was right the first time. It bothered me that she wouldn't learn. Josh was your average, cute boy who shares music and all that cute stuff. But he didn't have much of a defining aspect, besides his sister Abby (and who hasn't seen the girlfriend-is-actually-sister thing before?). In fact, I felt that Will had much more charisma and personality than Josh. So I think Ockler should have worked a bit more on her main characters, who pale in comparison to the other less important people.

That said, I enjoyed this book way more than That Other Book, and the characters and plot were way more fun to read about, too. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go stare at cupcake pictures on Tumblr.
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Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Book: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling
Release Date: October 1st, 2008
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 472
My rating: 3.5 Stars

Goodreads Summary:

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.

Graceling reminds me of an evolutionary theory we were taught in Biology called punctuated equilibrium. For those of you who were smart enough not to take biology, punctuated equilibrium is defined as periods of slow change followed by rapid spurts of events. The reason I compare the two is that Graceling has its own formula of punctuated equilibrium, in that it has long periods of boring description, followed by random spurts of activity. The good thing is that the spurts always took me by surprise. The bad thing is that I was bored in between them.

Many reviews I've seen describe Graceling as a wholly feminist novel, and I can see how it could be construed that way, through Katsa's resistance to anything remotely feminine. However, unlike some readers, I didn't find her annoying or too preachy. It's true that most of the male characters pale in comparison to Katsa's perfection in fighting, and that Katsa's character may be a little bit overdone. Nevertheless, I found it easy to like her, considering her position as the king's royal bully and her struggle to have control in an unstable kingdom.

The world-building is quite fascinating in this book. I don't read much high fantasy, but I liked the setting of the Seven Kingdoms. One thing I think is very well done is the concept of Graces that Cashore incorporates. It's an original idea, and the revelation of Katsa's Grace was surprising and intriguing. Also, I liked her relationship with Po, which developed slowly and reasonably. The realization that Katsa has with her feelings toward Po brings me back to the punctuated equilibrium theory in that it was dropped like a bomb and ruined all the slow development that had occurred in the beginning. Po was much more appealing than I gave him credit for, and what happens to him in the end tugged at my heartstrings, even though I'd already anticipated it.

What bothered me most with this book is that some scenes are intense, which is great, but they also happen so randomly and suddenly that they almost have a dreamlike quality. The resolution at the climax took all of a couple sentences and left me disappointed. But I don't regret reading this, given that Cashore is not a bad writer, and some of the scenes were pretty awesome (mountain lions!).

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

WanderloveBook:  Wanderlove
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Release Date: March 13th, 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Pages: 338
My rating: 5 Stars

Goodreads Summary:
It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

Kirsten Hubbard lends her artistry to this ultimate backpacker novel, weaving her drawings into the text. Her career as a travel writer and her experiences as a real-life vagabond backpacking Central America are deeply seeded in this inspiring story

There needs to be a destination, even if it's way off in the haze of my unlived life. And in that life, I'd like to be an artist.

I have a headache from reading this book. I think this is one of the few times where I'm pleased, despite the pounding in my head.

I honestly didn't expect the impact this story would leave on me. Maybe a few iguanas, some rain forest talk, barracudas...But Hubbard managed to make this into something profound. She brought the eternal problem of discovering yourself to South America, and in the process, she made something beautiful.

To begin with, the main character, Bria, has incredible character development. Over the course of her stay in various places of the wilderness, she develops her own independence and confidence in fighting for what she loves. Of course, she is pretty pitiful in the beginning, but I found it adorable instead of irritating. She has a voice that's completely sincere. As a teenager, I can completely sympathize with the way she feels: torn between places. Her connection to her art reminded me of how much I love my own writing and the possessiveness that comes with our own personal creations. Also, I loved the little pieces that Hubbard would slip in that made Bria so much more believable. For example, there's this one part when she's trying to put on her summer dress in front of Rowan and two other girls and gets stuck before she can get it all the way on. It's stuff like that that makes me believe that the author really has gotten into the mindset of the characters she's writing and knows that it's not just pretty words that makes a story: it's voice. And I'm happy to say that Bria's is an especially enjoyable one to read.

Onto Rowan. Damn, does he sound like a delicious piece of man meat. Despite his ponytail. Ha. I loved that he had his own problems, and that his bad boy past hadn't turned him into some dark poetry-reciting maniac (It has happened in other books. I would know.). Throughout the story, he comes off as someone truly likable and sweet, with a big heart and secrets of his own that he won't share unless the right person comes along. I loved tracking how he changes and opens himself to Bria throughout the novel, and I'm thankful that Hubbard never made their love story easy. Caution: whenever Rowan and Bria seem to be getting along better, don't get your hopes up. Something, be it Scandinavian giants or seasickness, will probably mess it up. Those who've read this book know what I'm talking about. But it all comes down to the issue of trusting someone else, not just with your safety, but with who you really are. That's why those who are sick of insta-love and unrealistic characters should read this book. There are real discoveries of what it means to exist in this world, and what it takes to step out of the comfort zone and pursue dreams that are actually worthwhile.

Not only do we have a hilarious, lovable, and begrudging travel couple, we have the beautiful backdrop of South America and the Caribbean. After all this, I have a hankering to visit there. Although I would never backpack. It sounds brutal, and I like comfortable hotels. Yup. Anyway, the way Hubbard describes the seas and brilliant sunsets are so vivid, it makes me yearn to be able to experience it once in my life, too. The drawings that were included were a lovely addition, especially the last couple ones, which let me visualize what kinds of people Starling, Rowan, and Bria are. I'm actually considering buying this book, which is big, since I'm pretty stingy in buying books because I think I won't ever read them again.

In truth, I don't think any review I write can do this book justice. You'd have to read it to know why I love it so much. Just like Bria observes that people can't understand the beauty of travel unless they've done it themselves.

So...yeah. READ THIS BOOK. If you don't like it (which is doubtful), at the very least you won't have felt like you lost brain cells in the end.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend (Legend, #1)Book: Legend
Series: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Release Date: November 29th, 2011
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Source: Library
Pages: 305 Rating: 3 Stars

Goodreads Summary: What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets. Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.
"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." He looks toward the railway car's open door, where streaks of dark water blanket the world. "You try to walk in the light."

While Legend is one of the better books of the YA dystopian market, it doesn't really introduce anything new to the genre. Sure, it has intense action sequences and two kickass main characters. But they're lacking something. I felt removed from the book as I was reading it, probably because everything seemed too simple. The characters, Day and June, were pretty two-dimensional, driven by the same old impulses to protect family. Not that I'm saying dystopian characters should ditch their families and shoot up on drugs in the streets, but as someone who likes reading so many books, things get old pretty fast. However, props to Lu for writing some awesome action. There are oodles of punching, shooting, slapping around with gun handles, and even some biting(!!!). The plot is relatively simplistic, and you can guess a lot of what will happen.

This is going to sound extremely weird, but I respect Lu's integration of death in her book. She manages to make the deaths in the book meaningful, and I'm so glad she doesn't engineer a bloodbath in the end. Despite the detachment I felt from Day and June, I did develop an affection for their family members.

Regarding the "love" in this book, I honestly feel that it happened way too fast. One minute June and Day are distrusting each other, and the next they're kissing each other. It just felt extremely unrealistic, given that Day was supposed to have street smarts. I would have expected him to be a little slow about trusting June, but he was remarkably naive about it. Legend, I think, is more a setup for the next two books. I learned about the world that June and Day live in, met some of the characters, got to see some blood fly. But in the end, I didn't take much from it. There's no great message, and the book never really engaged me completely. Otherwise, it's decent. I'll definitely be reading Prodigy.

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Blogspiration #1

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by both GrowingUp YA and Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers and writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation or just a little SOMETHING.

I have such a headache from messing around with my blog, and it still needs so much improvement! But I get to start joining in on some of the fun stuff now, so that's quite exciting!

I'm going to start off with one of my favorite quotes from my favorite author, Oscar Wilde. It's from his poem, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol."

It's so hopeful and vivid. And desperate, too. This is probably one of the poems that have captured my heart the most because of the mixture of blood and beauty. I just love what I've seen of Wilde's writing, even though I haven't even gotten through much of it.


Review: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Test (Goddess Test, #1)Book: The Goddess Test
Series: Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
Release Date: April 19th, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin
Source: Owned
Pages: 293
My Rating: 2 Stars
Goodreads Summary:


It's always been just Kate and her mom--and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear that her mother won't live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld--and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he's crazy--until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she suceeds, she'll become Henry's future bride and a goddess.


When I was in seventh grade, we had a project where we had to choose some facet of history and do a speech on it. Being the morbid little middle schooler I was, I was totally gunning for the Black Plague. I mean, festering sores and blood tainted pus? Who wouldn't want to jump on that? Alas, it was not meant to be. A twerp of a kid named Ryan took the topic, and I was stuck with castles. Which are cool, but not as cool as the Bubonic Plague.

Come speech day, I waited on tenterhooks for Ryan's speech because despite the fact that I didn't get the Black Plague, it was an awesome topic, so of course the speech would be equally awesome. Ryan began to speak, and I waited to be overwhelmed by awesomeness. And waited. It shouldn't have been possible to make the plague that decimated half of Europe's population boring, but that day, Ryan accomplished the impossible. He made the Black Plague boring. When I gave my speech, people actually stayed awake. I was very angry. Angry because I could have done the Plague justice, unlike Ryan, who completely turned something amazing into utter sleep-inducing crap.

This is what The Goddess Test reminded me of. You have the fascinating premise of a girl passing a test in order to gain immortality, along the way falling for the god of the dead. Who isn't a sucker for Greek mythology? Yet Carter somehow manages to compress it into some run-of-the-mill young adult romance. Basically, like Ryan's lame presentation, it failed to live up to its potential.

We have Kate, our Mary-Sue heroine who relies on goodness of heart and blah, blah, blah, and her whole world comes crashing down because after a month of knowing some guy, there's the possibility he might not love her (but he does, obviously). The entire time, Carter gave me the distinct impression that she had bitten off way more than she could chew. The plot in the first half seemed completely different from the second half, and wholly unrealistic. How does Ava go from hating Kate with a burning passion to being her best friend? And how does Henry, who seems to be completely in love with Persephone, go to loving Kate in such a short amount of time?

I get that the mythology aspect and setting might not be realistic, but the relationships between the characters should be. And they are not. The tests are boring, lame, and unoriginal. The plot is a mess and pointless. I disliked Ava a lot (this begs repeating). I had no idea why Kate seemed to love her so much, besides the fact that the way she dies in the beginning is completely pathetic. I liked the risk and implied consequences of Kate's mother dying, but Carter managed to ruin that for me too. I thought Henry had loads of potential. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing sexier than a dude who rules over the dead, except Henry does nothing of that sort. He's just there to look pretty and make out with Kate. Honestly. He did nothing fitting his role as ruler of the Underworld besides speaking archaically--which was awkward, since all of the others had no problem using contractions--and for some weird reason he could bring Ava back alive but couldn't bring her back a second time but then he did and this is really confusing, okay? Nobody dies in this book, despite the fact that it revolves around the dead. Which is annoying and a total copout.

Overall, a tasteless book that could have been so much better. Just like Ryan's presentation (not that I'm bitter or anything).

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