Review: Gambit by C.L. Denault

Book Review: GAMBIT (C.L. Denault)
book cover Book title Gambit
Series/standalone The Prodigy Chronicles #1
Author C.L. Denault
Pages 556
Year published 2015
Category | Genre Young Adult | Fantasy, Dystopian
Rating 4 star

Official Summary

In Earth’s battle-ridden future, humans have evolved. Those with extraordinary skills rise to power and fame. Those without live in poverty.

Sixteen-year-old Willow Kent believed she was normal. But when a genetically-advanced military officer shows up in her village and questions her identity, long-buried secrets begin to emerge. With remarkable skills and a shocking genetic code the Core and its enemies will do anything to obtain, Willow suddenly finds the freedom she craves slipping through her fingers. Greed, corruption, and genetic tampering threaten every aspect of her existence as she’s thrust, unwilling, into the sophisticated culture of the elite Core city. To ensure peace, she must leave the past behind, marry a man she’s never met, and submit to the authority of a relentless officer with a hidden agenda of his own.

Her life has become a dangerous game. How much will she sacrifice in order to win?

Disclaimer: I received an e-galley from the publisher.

Review

From the premise, Gambit, the debut novel from C.L. Denault, seems to be simple enough. A girl discovered her secret identity and was forced to leave her family and live another life in a place alien for her. That sounds like… every dystopian-light novel out there.

However, judging Gambit from that simple premise will most likely mislead you. It’s a complicated book, exploring things that made me feel conflicted. Let’s get to it.

Characters

At the front and center, we have Willow Kent, a sixteen year old girl who’s hiding a big secret. It was not long before her secret was discovered and she was forced to leave her hometown and everyone she’s familiar with. Willow is a strong character, flawed and stubborn, and there’ll be times you might want to strangle her, but she’s too sympathetic and brave to dislike. Despite her flaws and asides from how you feel about her, one simply cannot deny that she has very strong personality and growth. She started out at a tavern girl who thinks she has it all under control, then she found out that her life was not her own. The entire arc of Gambit focused on it.

There are other characters: the best friend who got left behind, the little sister and two little brothers, the alpha love interest, the parents, etc, but they all don’t seem matter much because this is Willow’s story. I do, however, have to say something about the love interest. I do not approve of him and his actions, but I do understand why Willow fell for him despite everything. He is more complex that he seemed to be when we first met him, but in this matter, my opinion still stands, an apology and a gift don’t make it all go away. I hope Denault did something drastic with him on the second book because the romance might become disturbing otherwise.

Plot and world-building

Did I say this was a debut? Yes, I did. Gambit was surprisingly well-written for a debut. Usually, you can spot a debut author by their willingness to use certain tropes and stay in safe zone by following the check-list. Not Denault. What she did with the plot was beyond the simple “girl with superpower left her hometown and save the world” because she is a special snowflake. Okay, she is kind of a special snowflake :P, but there were many people far more experienced than her to match her strength. Everyone also has their agenda, and the way Denault told her story kept you guessing everybody’s motives and secrets. Because of this, at the end of the book, I’m still not sure where everyone stands. The book used the chess analogy to explain Willow’s position and I think it’s a fitting one.

As for the pace, this one is a very well-paced book, making it an unputdownable read for me. Something is always happening even from the first chapter, so if you’re the type of person who got bored with lengthy description of the world, don’t worry, what world-building you get with Gambit was only the necessary one.

Speaking of world-building, I haven’t talked about one of the more interesting aspect of the book, the dystopian society. What you get with Gambit was a society divided by genetic code. The prodigies are people with mutations in their genetic code that cause them to have some skills. These prodigies live a wealthy life in the Core, with genetic engineering colored their entire life while the normals live in the villages barely scraped by. Gambit is not the first book I read that uses genetics as its core theme. However, it’s the one that felt truly dystopian in the sense that you could totally see the difference in societies. And the normals are not the only ones who got affected by the social politics. Here Denault presented hierarchy and a set of rules even in the prodigies society. Just because you’re a heir of a wealthy family, it doesn’t mean you get to do everything you wanted.

Verdict

Gambit is an exciting read from start to finish. There are things I don’t agree with, but at the end of the day, you might disagree with the protagonists, but you will understand her, what is her motive, and why she did what she did. And I think that’s a great thing to have.

Final Score

4 star

4 stars (out of 5 stars)


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Review: This Savage Song (Victoria Schwab)

Book Review: This Savage Song (Victoria Schwab)
book cover Book title This Savage Song
Series/standalone Monsters of Verity #1
Author Victoria Schwab
Pages 464
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Young Adult | Urban Fantasy, Dystopian
Rating 3.5 star

Official Summary

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Review

Hot on the heels of her adult fantasy book, A Gathering of Shadows, Victoria Schwab (V.E. Schwab) went back to YA with This Savage Song.

Schwab herself mentioned that this book is on the higher spectrum of YA (closer to adult than MG) and one could clearly see why from the summary.

Let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t work for me.

Things that worked for me:

  • The world-building. This Savage Song is technically an urban fantasy, although there was some changes to our modern world. It’s sort of dystopian in a sense that this book was set after terrible thing that caused real monsters to be born to this world. (ETA: I kept my original wording here, but Schwab mentioned on twitter that TSS is not a dystopia novel, it’s a book sets in an alternate world). Schwab painted you a picture of a city splits in two, the South is the part of the city led by Henry Flynn and the North is Callum Harker’s. Where in South, people are aware that they’re in danger from monsters, the North people live under the protection of Harker and they’re kept under the illusion that the city is safe. The three type of monsters, Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai are described as human-eating monster, but it was the song that creeps me the most.

    Malchai, Malchai
    sharp and sly
    smile and bite and drink you dry

    Corsai, Corsai
    tooth and claw
    shadow and bone will eat you raw.

    Sunai, Sunai
    eyes like coal
    sing a song and steal your soul.

     

  • The writing. This Savage Song opened with this sentence:

    “The Night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapter, she wasn’t angry or drunk. She was desperate.”

    This was how you begin a book, people!
    It gripped me immediately and didn’t let go until I finish. Although I feel the first half of the book is stronger than the second half, but the pace works well to keep me in the story. There was some sort of infodump that happened in the first one-third of the book, but Schwab flawlessly incorporated it into the story that I didn’t notice I was being infodumped until later.

Thing that didn’t work for me

  • The morally black and white characters. I’m not saying that the characters are not complex. Kate, for once, wanted so bad to please her father she lost herself trying to be worthy successor. Everyone else, however, felt either they’re good or bad, and it has nothing with what species (?) they are. August, for example, was a monster but you could totally say he’s the good guy (monster). I guess all I’m saying is that I came to this book expecting morally ambiguous characters and I just didn’t get that. But I suppose that was on me and my expectation.
  • Frankly speaking, it just didn’t elicit emotional response from me. Again, this probably showed that the problem was more on my expectation than the book itself. However, this is a book about human who wants to be monster and monster who wants to be human so I expected that it’ll break my heart in some way. And believe me, it’s totally possible to break my heart. Also, let’s talk about the inspiration behind the book. Schwab wrote this book to show that violence has consequences. In This Savage Song, that consequences come in the real form of monsters, but I think the whole thing was not given fair amount of time nor description.
    Another problem for me is that I don’t feel anything or anyone I care about is at real stake so I didn’t worry about them.

Verdict

This Savage Song has an interesting premise and is a good start to the Monsters of Verity duology. I expect that the second book will only get better, especially if we get more character development and the stakes are higher.

Final score

3.5 star
3.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


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Review: The Hidden Oracle

Book Review: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
hidden_orc Book title The Hidden Oracle
Series/standalone The Trials of Apollo #1
Author Rick Riordan
Pages 384
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Middle Grade | Fantasy, Mythology
Rating 4 star

Official Summary

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.

But Apollo has many enemies – gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go . . . an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

Review

Characters

Rick Riordan has been criticized for making all of his leading male characters Percy Jackson clones. I love Percy, he’s one of my favorite character ever but I have to agree with the sentiment. I’m really tired of seeing a sarcastic goofy guy with laid back charm trying to save the world and I believe many will agree with me, we’re ready for something different.

I am happy to report that Apollo is the guy (err the god) who finally break Riordan’s nearly perfected checklist of a male lead. The funny thing is Apollo IS sarcastic and he makes everything into a joke. So in a way, he IS Percy. But there’s something really unique about Apollo’s POV and that is his status as ex-god. Percy, Magnus, Carter, Jason all are brave guys but deep down they are all clueless teens trying to discover themselves while trying to save the world (or filling the prophecy and whatnot). Now Apollo, he is OLD. Like thousands of years old. Yes he was being turned into a teenager, but unlike those kids Apollo has experience and in those thousands of years he is guilty of many many things – whether he admitted them or not. He was, after all, a god, who can turn a guy into a snail or destroy a city just by snapping his fingers. He is also super arrogant, in an almost endearing way that make you want to crush hug him (in that order). This is how his POV is unique. And it’s about darn time too!

My son Asclepius had become the god of medicine by the time he was fifteen, and I couldn’t have been happier for him. It left me time for my other interests. Besides, it’s every god’s dream to have a child who grows up to be a doctor.

Then there are the secondary characters, who I totally loved. The new sidekick is a little girl named Meg. She fulfilled all criteria for sidekick, she is a total badass who can take care of herself, she has mysterious past, and secret weapon. Her dynamics with Apollo, however, was a breath of fresh air because for once this was definitely not a romantic relationships. There was a line in a book who described their relationship perfectly, but I cannot quote it here because it’ll reveal major spoiler.

Plot and narrative

Apollo was punished by his dad and got turned into a 16 year old boy. The series, The Trials of Apollo, is exactly what the title said, Apollo trying to get Zeus to turn him back into his fabulous self, the sun god, the god of music and poetry, the patron god of the oracle, etc. To win Zeus’ favor, he has to undergo a series of trials (bad pun, sorry) and fix his mistake. Along the way, he tried to get some demigods to help him get to the only safe place for Greek gods (or so he thought), the Camp Half Blood. The problem was the camp itself was in trouble. A couple of demigods have gone missing, the communication with outside world was not working. Basically, they were alone and not able to call for help. Being a kind person god that he is, Apollo trying to help solve the problem. Actually no, he was just doing that to get on Zeus’ good side. But that’s okay. What’s important is he’s trying to help.

“I raised my face to the heavens. “Please, Father, I get the point. Please, I can’t do this!”
Zeus did not answer. He was probably too busy recording my humiliation to share on Snapchat.”

Remember when I said that Riordan got criticized for keep writing the same character over and over again? Well, he was also being criticized for reusing the same prophecy-based “let’s go on a quest” storyline, at least for his Greek mythology books. The Hidden Oracle is Riordan proving he could write a great Greek demigod story  without the help of a prophecy. The story itself was quite simple but there were some twists there that caught me by surprise. It was near unputdownable, I had to finish the book in one day. Fortunately, it was not a huge book.

Adding to the awesomeness is the humor and banters. By now, Rick has somewhat become a master of blending jokes and actions, and The Hidden Oracle was Rick Riordan writing at his best.

This book also tries to tackle many issues most MGs shied away from. I won’t mention what they are, but don’t worry they are totally MG-appropriate and being written in the story in a totally inoffensive ways. Riordan is a proponent of diversity and I love how he’s now willing to take more risks of parents or schools possibly not allowing kids to read his books because of it. Some heavier themes that many kids have to deal with are also introduced in the story. And believe it or not, at one point I was nearly in tears. Nearly in tears. From reading a book about a sarcastic god. Who turned into a 16 year old boy with zits. Well, there’s a first for everything.

Verdict

Should you give this book a try?
Fresh storyline + well-written POV  + hilarious banters + support for diversity = YES

I thought I am done with Rick Riordan Greek myth stories, but The Hidden Oracle makes me excited for the sequels. I am way outside this book demographic but I still enjoy it a lot, and the messages it sent were universal.

To understand the story in The Hidden Oracle, you don’t need to have read the Percy Jackson series or the Heroes of Olympus series. However, I must warn you that this book contains many spoilers, including major ones, from the two previous series. So, otherwise you plan to never read those two, I would recommend to read PJO and HOO first.

Final score

4 star
4 stars (out of 5 stars)


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Review: More Happy than Not

Book Review: More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera
more_happy_cover Book title More Happy than Not
Series No
Author Adam Silvera
Pages 293
Year published 2015
Category | Genre Young Adult | Contemporary
Rating 4 stars

Official Summary

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

“Adam Silvera’s More Happy than Not is a realistic portrayal of a teenager’s life with just enough twist to keep you on your toe and huge emphasis of finding yourself in the crowd.”

I read this book because it was #FBCYA March book of the month. Actually, I’ve been planning to read it since forever but me being me it didn’t quite happen until I had the incentive to. I am so glad I read it when I did because the timing couldn’t even be more right. At that time, there was an LGBT issue (which shouldn’t have been an issue at all) that gained a lot of momentum in my country and I lost a little faith in humanity throughout the process. Thankfully reading this book somehow restored it quite a bit, although I believe we still have a long long way to go. SO thank you #FBCYA and Adam Silvera for this book.

This is a non-spoiler review apart from those mentioned in the official summary, but there will be a lot of feels mentioned throughout the review so be ready for that.

Review

Characters

Character-wise, More Happy than Not is a total win. Silvera made his characters flawed and realistic. The teens act like teens, the parents act like the parents, but they all very distinct that even now, a month after I read this book (it took me that long to collect my thought-feel free to judge), I still remember each and every character. And yes even the minor ones were given enough personality to stand out. The point is they felt like real people.

The narrator, Aaron Soto, is a compelling character in the sense he made you actually care about what’s going to happen to him. You will worry about him, you will smile for him, you might sometimes want to yell at him, but most of all you will feel for him.

Plot and narrative

More Happy than Not is about journey to find happiness, among others. We follow Aaron’s quest to get back on track and find happiness after a traumatic incident. He had the most amazing girlfriend, his friends whom he could hang out with, and his family. In short, he seemed to be just your regular teenager. The thing was, there is no such thing as being a regular teenager, isn’t there? Everyone has their own issues, and Aaron’s came in the form of Thomas, the boy from the neighborhood who made Aaron questions things about himself. Thomas made him happier, but the feelings he discovered about the new boy was mostly unwelcome considering his circumstances.

There are a lot of issues touched on in More Happy than Not, issues of sexuality, mental health, friendship, racial, and many others. So many that More Happy than Not should have felt overly cramped with messages, but thankfully it didn’t.

There are a lot of things happening in the book, and some very nice surprises I didn’t know will be there. Then there are the twists. You think you figured them out, but then Silvera threw another one at you. Some books are only as good as their twists, but More Happy than Not is that good, it’ll still work without them. However, the twists were added bonus because they did evoke very strong emotional responses from the readers.

Verdict

At its core, More Happy than Not is a book about being human. It worked wonderfully well because the masterful execution made you truly care about the characters. So, make sure to prepare a box of tissues prior to reading this book. Oh, and try not to read it in public if you can.

Final score

4 stars
4 stars (out of 5 stars)


Let me know, have you read More Happy than Not or is it on your TBR? If you have read it, what do you think about the book?


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Review: Tell the Wind and Fire

Book Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
book cover Book title Tell the Wind and Fire
Series/standalone Standalone
Author Sarah Rees Brennan
Pages 386
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Young Adult | Urban Fantasy
Rating 2.5star

Gorgeous cover, competent writing, boring characters.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

First of all, a disclaimer. This was my #1 most anticipated release of 2016. I mean, there’s no way it’s not going to work, right? I mean, that cover! That promising synopsis! That preview chapter that gives off The Demon’s Lexicon (the author’s debut novel which I LOVE) vibe! They all promised me something extraordinarily enjoyable… and it just wasn’t.

Official Summary

In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised. Lucie alone knows the young men’s deadly connection, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

Review

Setting & World-building

Tell the Wind & Fire is a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, a book I haven’t read so I couldn’t tell you how similar they are. What I can tell you is that TTWAF was set on alternate New York City. This version of New York was split into two parts, the Light city and the Dark city. The Light magicians ruled the whole city, condemning the Dark magicians to live in a separate, terrible part of the city. It was set in the middle of a revolution to overthrow the city’s rulers, led by a group called sans-merci.

The world-building was okay, it wasn’t extraordinary. TTWAF was sort of an urban fantasy, but in alternate city so I was hoping to see more differences between our world and this alternate world, but everything, other than the separation into two cities and the existence of magic, exudes a similar vibe to our modern world. Even the magic wasn’t really ‘there’ in the sense of it didn’t affect the people and their way of living that much. I mean you don’t need to make teleportation as a default mode of transportation or make people live in the cloud just because there’s magic, but I was expecting something less… normal.

Characters

I don’t get them. Lucie, the main character, was boring. Her love interest was even more plain and there’s the doppelganger who was just not interesting. Even the promise of diversity by adding a character wearing a hijab felt like an afterthought. There’s very little character development throughout the story, basically just Lucie feeling tired of being bullied to act like a good girl.

I was hoping the doppelganger would offer some much needed humor, but nope. He was not even that witty.

It’s really disappointing for me because I knew what Rees Brennan capable of. This is the author who made me laugh and cry within the same pages in her two previous series. Seriously, I quoted The Demon’s Lexicon and the Lynburn’s Legacy all the time. I even have an Alan Ryves t-shirt.

Plot & narrative

If there’s one thing going for TTWAF, it is its pace. The book never linger too long at one single scene. It didn’t waste time telling you things most people wouldn’t care about. It just kept going. Some people might think it’s too fast-paced, but honestly there were times when the pace was the only thing that made me keep reading.

At the beginning, the story was not that interesting. You got Lucie, a girl who just wanted to keep her loved ones safe and doesn’t really care about saving the world. You also got an infodump through Lucie’s monologue. Nothing really new. It picks up in the last third of the book when the twists revealed and the revolution reached its peak. Unfortunately, at that point, it was a little too late to prevent some people from DNF’ing this book.

The ending was alright. I still have some unanswered questions about characters motive, but the story was wrapped up neat enough as sort-of open ending.

Verdict

I was promised a beautiful heartbreaking story. It might be heartbreaking if only I care about the characters. The problem is I didn’t.

The most heartbreaking part about reading this book is the ‘after’ part, when I have to rate it on goodreads and write a review and confess that although Sarah Rees Brennan is my hero and I believe her intention is good, Tell the Wind and Fire doesn’t work for me.

Final score

25star
2.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


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Review: Kindred Spirits (Rainbow Rowell)

Book Review: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
kindred spirits Book title Kindred Spirits
Format Short Story
Author Rainbow Rowell
Pages 96
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Young Adult | Contemporary
Rating 3.5 stars

Official Summary

‘Everybody likes everything these days. The whole world is a nerd.’
‘Are you mad because other people like Star Wars? Are you mad because people like me like Star Wars?’
‘Maybe.’

If you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she’s expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she’s not expecting is to be last in a line of only three people; to have to pee into a collectible Star Wars soda cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels. Kindred Spirits is an engaging short story by Rainbow Rowell, author of the bestselling Eleanor & Park, Fangirl and Carry On, and is part of a handful of selected short reads specially produced for World Book Day.

Kindred Spirits captured the spirits perfectly, but ended before it gets truly great.

Kindred Spirits was a short story released as part of World Book Day celebration in UK. However, it was also sold internationally in physical as well as ebook format. I bought this book accidentally when I browsed a certain ebook store with the evil one-click-purchase button. It was a very short read, as suggested by the format. From the synopsis, one could see that this book was mainly targeted to Star Wars fans, but will it work for non-fans?

Review

In Kindred Spirits, Rainbow introduced us to Elena, a petite Vietnamese girl who looks way too young for her age. I AM ELENA, ladies and gents. I still got carded when I was 28. *high fives* This Elena, she’s a huge Star Wars fan and so she decided to wait in line and camp out for Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening night. Here she met other Star Wars fans and was put into multiple emergency and hilarious situations.

At a glimpse, one would think that people who don’t care about Star Wars would not get this story. I disagree. While it is true that you won’t get the Star Wars references, there are many things you could get from Kindred Spirits. One of them is the feeling of being in a fandom. Basically, if you ever was part of a fandom, you could relate to this story.

“She says you can buy your movie ticket online.”
“That’s not the point.”
“It’s just that –. Elena, I think this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in your life.”
“That’s a good thing, Mom. Think about how much worse it could be.”

The other message Rowell managed to deliver was how ‘exclusive’ a fandom could sometimes be. As you can read in the premise, Elena was asking if they’re mad that a semipopular girl like her dared to love Star Wars. I honestly think it is an issue today, not just in Star Wars but in almost every fandom. In Kindred Spirits, Rowell managed to smoothly blend this issue with another big-if not even bigger-issue, bullying. Elena’s back and forth banter with her companies made for amusing reading, but it offered much more than that.

My issue with Kindred Spirits was that it was too short. I didn’t ask for a full length book, but a novella would be nice. There were too many things she threw at us, but didn’t explore. In hindsight, this might be a conscious choice she made, still I cannot help but feeling disappointed upon realizing that the next page on my e-book was an extract from another book.

Final score

3.5 stars
3.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


Let me know, have you read Kindred Spirits or do you plan to read it? If you have read it, what do you think about it? Are you part of any fandom and did you ever have a memorable experience (be it good or bad) in the fandom?


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Review: A Gathering of Shadows

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows cover Book title A Gathering of Shadows
Series Shades of Magic #2
Author V.E. Schwab
Pages 512
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Adult | High Fantasy, Parallel Universes
Rating 4.5 stars

SPOILER WARNING FOR A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC!

Official Summary

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

“A magical kick-ass sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic”

Frequent visitors of this blog would have noticed my slightly unhealthy obsession with A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s no wonder that A Gathering of Shadows was one of my most anticipated 2016 releases. I read it the moment my preorder was delivered to my ebook reader. Was AGOS the sequel I was hoping it to be? Nope, not at all. It completely went the other direction from what I thought I wanted. I had hoped for answers and explanation about what happened, but what AGOS is, it’s all about the future and consequences. And somehow I think I like it better this way.

Review

In A Gathering of Shadows, Red London is preparing to host a magic competition called Essen Tasch, with magicians from its neighboring countries, Faro and Vesk, also taking part. The result is what one would expect: even more magic, (slightly) more politics, and tons of fun(?) interactions.

Characters

Not gonna lie, I’ve grown attached to these characters. Kell and Lila still take the center stage in A Gathering of Shadows, but a myriad of new characters were introduced, most notably is a pirate captain named Alucard Emery. There are others too, mostly magicians came to compete in Essen Tasch and the ship crews captained by Emery. Character development is totally on point, especially when it came to the crown prince, Rhy Maresh. We get to see a lot more Rhy in A Gathering of Shadows, and I’m definitely not complaining. Where in A Darker Shade of Magic, we only saw Rhy’s charming exterior, in this sequel Schwab gave us a glimpse into his head, and that made him even more relatable. His banters with Kell are part of what A Gathering of Shadows so precious. (Yes, I just used the word precious to describe a book).
If there’s a downside of introducing so many characters is that it’s so hard to keep track of them all. I’ll be honest with you, I gave up trying to remember which ship crew did what halfway through the book. But then again, maybe it’s because I didn’t pay enough attention to them earlier?

Worldbuilding

In A Darker Shade of Magic, we learned about the four Londons and the travels were mostly done between worlds. In A Gathering of Shadows, Schwab showed us that her world was not limited to London by introducing Red London’s neighboring countries, Faro and Vesk. Due to the circumstances in the book, however, we didn’t learn much about the actual countries, rather Schwab brought us the people, royals and magicians, into Red London. This, unavoidably, led to party and political interaction between the royals. However, if you wish for more politics and court drama, you’re a little out of luck. There aren’t much court drama in A Gathering of Shadows, saved for a certain princess. Perhaps, we will see more of these Lords and Princes in book three since I cannot imagine Schwab introducing them without any agenda.
Overall, I did wish to learn a bit more about the Faroan and the Veskan magicians and royals, but I appreciate Schwab’s effort to expand her world.

On magical side, there’s also an expansion. Where A Darker Shade of Magic focused on blood magic, A Gathering of Shadows is all about elemental magic. Earth, air, water, fire, each magician could control at least one of them, and some even two or three. They fight by manipulating these elements. And boy wasn’t that fun?!

Plot and narrative

It’s easy to complain that the Essen Tasch felt a little rushed, especially at the end. And maybe that’s true. The way I see it, however, was that Schwab used the competition to advance her story and characters growth. The actual ‘winning the competition’ itself is not essential like in Hunger Games (or Red Rising, if you will). It was not about life and death, and in a way, I found it refreshing that Schwab didn’t succumb to the temptation of giving the magical one-on-one combat a larger proportion than it merits. Sure, I admitted before, it was a lot of fun seeing the magical tricks and scheming done by each magician, but I found the less magical interactions between the characters to be at least as interesting and somehow more essential to the plot. Feel free to disagree with me, though.

The book itself started out well-paced, balancing between friendly banters and actions. In the last third or so, however, it really took off, like REALLY running REALLY fast. If you’re like me, and I don’t wish the feeling I had to anyone, you’ll be flipping the last few pages super fast and then stared at the acknowledgements with disbelief look upon your face.

Do I like that ending? HAHAHAHA.

Verdict

A Gathering of Shadows offers a magical experience and it was highly enjoyable. I got a new book to obsess on for sure.
As for the ending, it is great if you enjoy the sensation of dangling in the air in a chairlift when the ride stops moving and you start to laugh hysterically because what else is there to do?

Final score

4.5 stars
4.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


Let me know, have you read A Gathering of Shadows or do you plan to read it? If you have read it, what do you think about the book? Do you like it better than A Darker Shade of Magic? Feel free to agree and disagree with my thoughts about it.


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Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Book Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
book cover Book title Charm & Strange
Series No
Author Stephanie Kuehn
Pages 216
Year published 2013
Category | Genre Young Adult | Contemporary, Mental Health
Rating 4 stars

I somehow feel that I have to start this review by admitting that this is my third attempt on reviewing Charm & Strange. What is it about this book that make it so hard to review?

There are a couple of things, mainly:

  • the way it was structured. Kuehn told her story from 1st person point of view but from two different timeline: his current life and flashbacks of him as a kid. Both timelines build up to the climax—which is too spoilery to mention here
  • the best parts of it are the parts I cannot mention without spoiling you of the story itself.

With those challenges in mind, I decided to go back to free-form rather than forcing myself to write a structured review I cannot get through with. This will also be very short review.

Charm & Strange started like a psychological mystery. The MC was standing near the woods staring at the new girl in school, there was a person found dead near that place, and then one of their friends was missing. Charm & Strange is indeed a mystery story (among others), but it might not be the mystery you thought it was at the first glance.

The book told the story of a boy, Win and his past self, Drew. Win was a very clever student, a star athlete, and according to himself not a very nice person. He also believes he’s a monster. Throughout the book, Kuehn weaved us these interconnected stories on what happened to him during his Drew time that he became Win.

Reading Charm & Strange is like watching dreadful events unfolding, knowing it’ll tear your heart, but you just cannot look away. It was a strange book for sure, but it was also awfully compelling, I found myself reading this book while standing in the bus, one hand on the grab handle, one hand flipping the pages on my phone. One just had to know.

The relationships between people in this book are what made Charm & Strange for me. Both the bad and the good ones. I liked that in this book, even though Win was struggling to cope with his reality and the monster he believe he was, he still made time to try to be kind and helpful. I liked that Kuehn made him resilient even though he believed he was weak. Kuehn didn’t make her characters black and white and I appreciate C&S more because of this. It’s not to say that there aren’t characters you want to punch in the face though.

One thing I read about Stephanie Kuehn is that she tried to avoid the trope that romantic affection can transcend emotional pain. Reading Charm & Strange, you could tell she uphold her principle. There’s very little romance in this book and what romance there is never became the main focus of the story.

If there’s one thing I found a little annoying—and most likely it’s the case of it’s not you it’s me—is that at times, I found it a little too dramatic. It didn’t grandiose mental illness or anything of that sort, but there are times when I felt the author low-key waving her hands at me ‘LOOK HERE, THIS IS GOING TO SURPRISE YOU.’

I didn’t include a summary in this review because I’ve only just now read it while writing this review and it surprised me how spoilery it was. The best way to read Charm & Strange in my opinion is to go jump straight into the book without reading any synopsis or even review. However if you’d like to read a summary, you could go to the goodreads page here.

I personally prefer Stephanie’s description of the book:

“It’s the story of a boy who believes that he is a monster. And it’s about understanding why.”

Final score

4 stars
4 stars (out of 5 stars)


Let me know, have you read Charm & Strange or do you plan to read it? If you have read it, what do you think about the book? Feel free to agree and disagree with my thoughts about it.


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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
uprooted_cover Book title Uprooted
Series No
Author Naomi Novik
Pages 435
Year published 2015
Category | Genre Adult | High fantasy
Rating 4.5 stars

Official Summary

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

“A spellbinding fantasy inspired by Polish folklore meets fairytale.”

Uprooted is one of those rare books that fifty pages in, I know this’ll be getting at least 4-star rating. Novik had a way to weave a story with that perfect pace that kept you on your toe. It has the perfect amount of spooky and gore without being gratuitously violent.

Novik, a first-generation American, borrowed the folklore from her mother’s hometown, Poland, mixed it with fairytale – Beauty & the Beast style, and added her own twist to create a fantastic blend.

Review

Characters

The main character, Agnieszka (Ag-Nyesh-kah), is a klutz. She cannot keep her clothes clean, and forever getting her hair messy. She also has a little of that special snowflake syndrome. Yet, I cannot help but root for Nieshka, as her BFF—Kasia—called her (pun sort of intended). She is selfless to the point of nearly suicidal and she suffered so much throughout the story, one cannot help but want her to survive and win her prince charming. The rest of the characters are quite predictable. The grumpy magician, the hot-blooded prince and his wise older brother, the cunning wizard—all of them are here and they behave just the way you expect them to. I found this to be quite alarming because everyone turned out to be exactly the kind of person the MC thought they are.

The chemistry, however, was real. I really like the strong bond between Nieshka and Kasia. It’s refreshing to see two friends who are jealous of each other, but don’t let it ruined their friendship. As for the romance, there aren’t many romantic scenes in Uprooted but what there are were put into really good use. Just saying…

World-building

The MC lived in a small village near the Wood, which was said to be the house of scary mysterious creatures. You know that book that promised to be creepy but never delivered? Uprooted is not one of them. The author succeeded in creating a spooky atmosphere in the Wood. So spooky it was that if there’s a wood near my house, I would avoid walking through it anytime soon. Fortunately, there’s not any.

Her description about the village, the Tower, and especially the Wood was not poetic but it was vivid. I also like how she described magic and casting a spell as more than speaking some gibberish in weird language, but rather something that incorporates feeling and intonation.

Plot and narrative

The narrative was perfectly paced. In this regard, I was convinced that Novik is a witch. I don’t know how she could put just the right amount of buildup and action to that point of perfect balance that kept me reading without ever feeling overwhelmed. The fact that I finished Uprooted within 24 hours of purchasing it speaks volumes.

However, there’s a problem with trying to pack so many things into 400+ pages book. At times, the plot felt ‘jumpy’. I opened a chapter to find they’re about to battle and thought, “Wait… When did this happen?” There were also some strange occurrences that were indicated to be important, but never explained.

Verdict

At this point, you might be questioning my rating. Why the 4.5 if I have so many complaints?

See, the truth is I truly enjoy this book. My complaints about jumpy plot, predictable characters, etc. seem trivial when compared to my enjoyment of reading this book. Uprooted has plenty of flaws, but at the end of the day, it depends on whether or not you like the writing. If, like me, you find it delightful, then all those flaws seem highly insignificant, but if you don’t, they will likely annoy you.

Final score

4.5 stars
4.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


Let me know, have you read Uprooted or is it on your TBR? If you have read it, do you like the book?


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REVIEW: The Rithmatist

Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
the_rithmatist Book title The Rithmatist
Series Rithmatist #1
Author Brandon Sanderson
Pages 384
Year published 2013
Rating 4.5 star

Official Summary

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

My 8th Sanderson book turned out to be an unusual combination of steampunk, detective story, and magic system.

Have you ever doodle with chalk and think to yourself, man, those two-dimensionals monsters I just drew look scary and murderous. They would make a great villain.

Well, Brandon Sanderson did.

He also thought that a piece of chalk is a valid choice of weapon.

Let me give you a teaser. A climax battle scene in The Rithmatist is of two people kneeling on the ground furiously drawing with their chalks. And it was fun as hell.

The Rithmatist is the first book in the Rithmatist series, one of his two YA series.

I’ll be honest with you. I had low expectation prior to reading this book. Well, as low as I can get considering it’s Brandon Sanderson’s book (it’s still pretty high as far as expectation goes). I planned to read Steelheart first, because that was the more popular one. But I had bought The Rithmatist ebook when it was offered at bargain price (because I’m thrifty) and I thought to myself whatever, I will read ALL of his books anyway.

Well. I finished it in two days. I could have finished it in one day but I have a blog to maintain. Lol.

The Rithmatist offers all of these and more: a solid magic system, a whodunnit plot, an unusual choice of monsters (“chalklings”), and a protagonist with no superpower.

Let’s talk about them.

Magic system

Brandon Sanderson is always dependable when it comes to writing a consistent intricate magic system. He also has crazy imagination and finds inspiration for them from all sort of things. The magic system in this book is called rithmatics. With rithmatics, chosen people with special ability (the rithmatists) could bring their chalk drawings to life. There are 4 basic rithmatic drawing: line of forbiddance, line of warding, line of vigor, and line of making. The strength of their magic depends on the accuracy of their drawing. For example, if you draw a circle as a line of warding, its strength will depend on the symmetry and accuracy of the circle. The more perfect it is, the more strength it has. Line of making (chalkling) is even more fun. You can draw a dragon and it’ll come alive, assuming you’re a rithmatist. It’ll remain two-dimensional though, so your dragon will crawl on the floor instead of flying at your enemy—which I really appreciate because it’s consistent. Chalk drawing is 2D so your little monsters are also 2D. Perhaps if they used 3D printer…

Part of the fun of The Rithmatist—and I gather it’s not as exciting for everyone—is the focus on battle strategy. You’ll find illustration of various defense system and you get to think which defense is the best for you if, for example, your enemy using Easton defense. It was really fun. I LOVE STRATEGY GAME.

Plot

The Rithmatist reads like a detective story. Our protagonist, Joel, went to school with other normal kids and the rithmatists. Then, the rithmatist students outside campus started to disappear one by one and the only evidence left was some blood and chalk drawings. Our protagonist helped the professor and the police to uncover the mystery behind the unique chalk drawing to find out who was behind all of these kidnappings (murders?).

You know what genre I love beside fantasy? Thrillers! Legal thrillers! Detective story! So YES to this plot.

Having said that, I have to (grudgingly) admit that Brandon Sanderson is not the best mystery writer. The mystery is there, sure, but it doesn’t force you to keep reading to find out whodunnit. I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t spend the night tossing and twisting on my bed thinking who was the kidnapper. It was not as engrossing as it’s supposed to be. It was still good, more than good even, just not spectacular. Like I said, I had too high of a baseline for Sanderson.

The Monsters

Back in the intro, I’ve briefly mentioned the monsters in this book. They’re called chalklings, as in they were brought to life through chalk drawing. I have also mentioned that they’re 2D. But that doesn’t make them any less horrifying. Imagine a drawing of a snake crawling up your skin, eating your skin and killing you layer by layer, literally peeling you off. Isn’t that scary?

Protagonist

Joel is the hero of this book. He is a normal student with no rithmatic ability, but Joel is fascinated by rithmatic. He knew more about the defense system than the regular rithmatist student. He could draw a nearly perfect circle but cannot bring it to life. Let’s just say he has the brain, but not the muscle.

It’s an interesting choice made by Sanderson, and I am sure he has his reasons. It shows how regular person could do something special without having to turn him into a mutant or a superhero.

Joel himself is nothing special as a character. He was presumptuous, and at times could be *gasp* a jerk. I found this quite surprising because usually Brandon Sanderson’s biggest strength besides world-building is characterization. But it seems he forgot to inject Joel with likeability formula. :/ Joel was not despicable though. I found his eagerness to learn and to help to be his redeeming quality, but he was not memorable enough to merit him a spot in the already crowded space of my favorite Sanderson characters.

Verdict

Brandon Sanderson fans will enjoy this book as it has his signature world-building and imagination, but it’s unique in the way that it’s the first steampunk book he’s ever published.

I also recommend this book to people who like fantasy, steampunk (gearpunk), detective story, and battle strategy. All of you Warcraft fans, come read this book.

Of note, this is one of Brandon Sanderson’s shorter and lighter (literally and figuratively) book. So, if you have been standing there on the fence of Sandersonites camp, wondering if he is as good as we claimed, you might want to consider giving The Rithmatist a try.

Final Score

4.5 star

4.5 stars