Review: Front Lines (Michael Grant)

Book Review: Front Lines (Michael Grant)
book cover Book title Front Lines
Series/standalone Soldier Girl #1
Author Michael Grant
Pages 480
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Young Adult | Historical Fiction
Rating 4 star

Official Summary

1942. World War II. The most terrible war in human history. Millions are dead; millions more are still to die. The Nazis rampage across Europe and eye far-off America.

The green, untested American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled—the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

But something has changed. A court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. So in this World War II, women and girls fight, too.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering. Not one expects to see actual combat. Not one expects to be on the front lines.

Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. They will fear and they will rage; they will suffer and they will inflict suffering; they will hate and they will love. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant has created a masterful alternate history of World War II in Front Lines, the first volume in a groundbreaking series.

Review

She is going on a date.
And also, going to war.

I have a complicated history with Michael Grant books. Some I was obsessed with, others I didn’t enjoy as much. This is why I approach Front Lines with dread, hoping that this will be more like Gone than Messenger of Fear. I’m glad to report my expectation came true.

Let me draw you a parallel. If you’ve ever read Gone, either the book, the whole series, or just the synopsis, you might remember the premise. It was about a world without adults. What will happen if all the adults in your world suddenly disappear while you and the other kids are trapped with limited resources. In Front Lines, Grant trying to explore another question. What if we let females to be drafted and to enlist to fight on the front lines during WW2? Through 480 pages, Grant showed us his alternate version of WW2 while otherwise trying to stay true to history. The question he’s trying to explore was not only “will females make a difference in the outcome of WW2 has they were let to fight on front lines?” but also “what will happen to the dynamics and what issues will arise if said things happened?”

Before I begin the review, I have to point out that there are in fact tenth of thousands of females enlisted in US military during WW2. They did not fight on the front lines, but their contribution is certainly not to be dismissed. I just feel I need to say it because when I had just finished the book, I thought there wasn’t any women in the US military during WW2. Perhaps it’s because I am not familiar with US history, but either way I don’t want other readers to jump to the same conclusion as me. I hope they won’t, but I do wish that Grant pointed this out in a prologue or thank you page or something. Erasure could be hurtful, even though it’s accidental or unintentional.

With that, let’s begin the review.

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REVIEW: Saint Anything (Sarah Dessen)

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Book Review: Saint Anything (Sarah Dessen)
book cover Book title Saint Anything
Series/standalone Stand-alone
Author Sarah Dessen
Pages 417
Year published 2015
Category | Genre Young Adult | Contemporary
Rating 3.5 star

Official Summary

Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Saint Anything was one of my pick for ReadThemAllThon. I failed the read-a-thon as expected, but I decided to read the book anyway. I have read most of Dessen books in the past, opted to binge-read them because they were so easy to read. Looking back, however, I regret my binge-reading decision because after 3 books I started to mix them all together. I cannot tell you who is the MC in The Truth About Forever or the plot of What Happened to Goodbye. So when Sarah released The Moon and More and Saint Anything, I didn’t rush to read the books. Now seems a good time to catch up on my Sarah Dessen reading, started with Saint Anything.

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Review: The Wrath & the Dawn (Renee Ahdieh)

Book Review: The Wrath & the Dawn (Renee Ahdieh)
book cover Book title The Wrath & the Dawn
Series/standalone The Wrath & the Dawn #1
Author Renee Ahdieh
Pages 388
Year published 2015
Category | Genre Young Adult | Fantasy, Retelling
Rating 3.5 star

Official Summary

One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

Review

First and foremost, we got Shahrzad, a brave and headstrong young girl volunteered to marry a murderer to avenge her best friend. Then there’s Khalid, the murderous boy-king. Shazi is a strong heroine, one that could gain sympathies from readers… once they got over their disbelief of her impulsively rushing to meet her end. There, that’s my biggest gripe with The Wrath & the Dawn, that this brave and smart girl who was supposedly cunning enough that she believed she could kill her husband, the king, would rush wildly toward death without any concrete planning. The only signs Ahdieh shows us of Shazi’s plan to kill her husband were when she showed off her archery skill and that one time she thought to kill him but couldn’t make up her mind.

Then there’s the fact that the Khalid married her without any background check. Like… wouldn’t someone find out that Shazi has a best friend who was murdered right there in the palace. But noo, they all rushed in to get the two to wed.

But I digress. Let’s go back to Khalid. For a murderous boy-king, he is not at all a monster – as one would already find out by reading the synopsis. I like Khalid. He was a tortured soul trying to do what’s best for his people while sacrificing himself a bit at a time. As a matter of fact, I like them both. Khalid and Shahrzad were both characters with their own agenda and for once I actually liked the romance in the book. It was not cheesy, you could totally see they’re both trying to stay true to their course, trying not to fall in love, and I cannot help but rooting for them.

On the other hand, there was the jealous boyfriend, who for me was just unnecessary. Not to mention his relationship with Shazi were not shown on-screen making it hard for me to sympathize with his cause. Similar thing could be said of Shiva’s friendship with Shazi. Of course, the best friend is dead by the time the story started, but if only I was given more than a glimpse of how close the two girls were I could probably understand Shazi’s impulsive behavior.

Okay, enough with the negativity. Let’s get to the good stuff. As I mentioned before, the romance is well-balance and complement the story nicely. Shazi’s anger was balanced by her feelings and compassion for other human beings, and so did Khalid’s despair with his feeling for Shazi. Despina was another character worth mentioning. Her interaction with Shazi showed us another side of the latter, and I adored their friendship.

The writing was another highlight of the book. I’m trying to be objective here, so bear with me. Ahdieh’s writing was beautiful, but at times she’s getting way close to flowery prose. For some people, this might be the book undoing. For me, though, it’s exactly what the book needs. It made the book atmospheric, and Ahdieh’s writing was vivid enough to transport the readers to Khorasan. The magic, one of the thing I expected to find in the book was non-existent for the large portion of the book, but that’s okay as there’ll be time for that in the second book. I hope.

Verdict

The Wrath & the Dawn made me feel conflicted, but it certainly worth reading for the diverse cast, the well-balance romance, the atmospheric setting, and the great writing.

Final Score

35st
3.5 stars (out of 5 stars)


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Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Book Review: The Serpent King (Jeff Zentner)
book cover Book title The Serpent King
Series/standalone stand-alone
Author Jeff Zentner
Pages 384
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Young Adult | Contemporary
Rating 4 star

Official Summary

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

I read this book in May. MAY! That is how long it take for me to write this review. In retrospect, I’m glad I took my time off from the book before writing this review because when I finished it I was quite taken emotionally and cannot see some things I’ve now noticed.

Characters

Zentner has a knack of writing characters. We have three narrators in The Serpent King, Dillard (Dill), Lydia, and Travis. Out of the three, I especially connected with Travis, who loved fantasy books and liked to spend his time talking about fictional characters in online forum. However, I also saw myself in Lydia, she’s confident, selfish at times, but she’s also a dreamer. She believes one can do anything if they would just put an effort to it. Dill is arguably the main character of the three, and I couldn’t quite figure him out. I appreciate his voice and I think he added many values to the story, I just didn’t quite connect with him. Having said that, these three together formed a formidable friendship a person would envy to have during their high school days, and to some readers it might bring the nostalgic feeling of “us against the world.” They each told their story albeit in different portions, Dillard got the biggest, Lydia second, and Travis was the smallest, but each rang true and never once you’ll become confused which one was narrating the story. The secondary characters are also as strong as the primary ones. The parents especially play crucial role in the book, which was refreshing because in many YA books they seemed to be in the background or nonexistent.

Plot and narrative

There are many things happened in the 384 pages I read, but they all focused on one thing, finding yourself. There are a lot of talk about religion in this book, but I never felt it was stiring the focus away from the main story. The themes of abuse and bullying also got major focus in the book and I applaud Zentner’s effort. He didn’t sugarcoat it to make it seems better than it was.

The writing was excellent to the point that makes you reading it even when you know you shouldn’t (heads up: do not read The Serpent King in public places or at work). I sympathized with their stories and felt all those feels, anger, sadness, happiness, but there was this one little thing that nagged at me. The eureka moments – for lack of better words. In the book, we encounter many of these things. The character sat down to think when he/she was facing some huge problem then they suddenly have this solution that will make everything okayPerhaps, I’m too jaded or whatever, but these moments of sudden bliss and “everything is alright in the world” made the book felt a bit like fairy tale. I’m not saying that dreams don’t come true, but there were times when I think this cannot be real, this is too easy. I don’t know about this, but when was the last time you’re able to fix a 5-years worth of mess just by having an idea. I am not saying they’re living the dreams either. I know these kids, especially Dill and Travis, were having so much trouble back home. You felt for them, but you don’t make it all go away by having one idea.

Verdict

The Serpent King is a worthy coming-of-age story interwoven with many stuff that teenagers are facing, dealing with child abuse and living with people who have different perspective with you. The bond of friendship between the three main characters is also a major selling point of The Serpent King as does the genuine voice of teenager that emerged from each of the MC.

Final Score

4 star

4 stars (out of 5 stars)


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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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