Red Queen | Review

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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Think Red Rising meets X-Men and The Last Airbender meets Game of Thrones meets CinderellaRed Queen is the story of Mare Barrow, a Red girl with a secret even she doesn’t know about.

The world of Red Queen is a futuristic one, where there are two types of blood: Red and Silver. Redbloods are the normal people, the ones who toil away in dust and misery, who must find a job or be sent to fight and die in a meaningless war; the Silvers are the elite, the powerful, the Royals. To have Silver blood means to also have an ability: manipulation of specific elements, telepathy, strength, healing, etc.

Mare is a poor pickpocket who is destined for conscription when she unexpectedly meets a dark and handsome stranger who ends up saving her life and offering her a job with the Royals. It is there, by an unfortunate accident, Mare discovers a dormant power hidden inside, meaning she is a cross between a Red and a Silver, and must be RQInsta3akept secret.

Through a coverup scheme, Mare ends up as part of the Royal entourage, and doesn’t know who to trust, who to love, and who to deceive as she struggles to remain a Red in a Silver world.

The writing was easy and fluid in a way that made it easy to follow and picture the events, particularly in the action scenes. Though the first half was slow, the second half built on the suspension and sped up. Plots were built, torn down, and overthrown, with twists and turns throughout. Pay attention to the foreshadowing, because it shows up later, its teeth snarling and wretched.

One really great thing running throughout this novel was the characterization. Mare, though not always right or even charming, stayed true to who she was, even if that was a selfish, manipulative, fish-out-of-water who at times was really awesome and other times self-righteous and short-sighted. Because it’s a Young Adult novel, of course there’s a love triangle (square?), but it’s built in a crafty way, with no real “winner” among the candidates. Both Princes were adorable (until, well… that moment) and lovable and charming in their own ways. The supporting characters, Lucas, Farley, and Julian, were still fleshed out, and the evil brother-sister Samos duo were malicious and conniving and convincing. It makes it hurt that much more.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.01.57 PMOne line in particular called attention to the plague that haunts most YA books, which Red Queen admits but then demolishes: “You want me to pin my entire operation, the entire revolution, on some teenaged love story?” So many YA novels are stricken with the epic teen romance that exists amidst chaos and fire, where protagonists are more concerned with their love than the crumbling world around them, where sometimes entire plots happen because of said romance. Red Queen throws this back in the face of YA in a much-appreciated notion of realization and rebellion.

The problem with this book was the premise of the rebellion. The backstory was never fully fleshed out enough, and Mare doesn’t seem like the right person to be at its front. She weakens at the role of assassin, is too worried about what others think of her, and makes some poor decisions. She’s not intelligent or super-crafty, and the Crown Prince made a lot of really good points against the rebellion that she couldn’t really defend against.

Another thing working against Mare was her quick backpedaling from admiring the Crown Prince to hating him. He did what was expected of him, what he believed to be right, and she turned on him because it didn’t fit in with her wants and beliefs. Obviously they’re going to have different opinions on the state of the rebellion, they come from different backgrounds, so for her to just shun him so quickly is exactly what she’s accusing the Silvers of doing to the Reds.

This isn’t the happy ending story of a perfect rebellion run by teenagers. Things fall apart, plans backfire, and deceit lurks behind every smile.

Just like in Game of Thrones, no one is safe, and actions breed consequences. Not everything goes as planned, and evil is hidden. The ending of the book is not a happy one, but it’s one that breeds a small semblance of hope for the characters and a wanting desire for the next book in the trilogy.

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The Testing | Review

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

In a world post-destruction, a new country emerges from the chaos and enlists the best and brightest to take part in The Testing, a series of – you guessed it – tests, to help determine which students will go on to study at the University and become the future leaders. The Testing, a highly coveted honor, turns out to be more secretive and deadly than the teenagers can imagine, and the final stage sees them out in the wilderness, trekking from point A to point B, fighting to the death. Sound familiar?

The Testing is yet another teen dystopia that jumped on the tails of The Hunger Games and tried to replicate its success and formula… and I was very disappointed in it’s inability to waver from its inspiration.

MINOR SPOILERS BELOW

Cia, a girl from the smallest district colony wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps and be invited into The Testing, but no one from her colony has been selected in years. When she does get selected, her father gives her a dire warning, telling her not to trust anyone and that he has horrible nightmares from his own experience, but cannot remember any specific details.

So she goes (if she doesn’t it’s considered treason anyway), along with Peeta Tomas, and two other kids from her year. They are escorted by Cinna Michal, who takes a special interest in Cia and shares secrets with her. Cia discovers they are being recorded (surprise surprise) and tries to follow her father’s warning about trust, but has a hard time. Especially when it comes to Tomas, who apparently is in love with her (duh, though I’m not sure why).

9104339And they test. The first round is written tests, after which people are eliminated (what happens to them?). Then they have hands-on tests that are apparently super dangerous if you get them wrong. Next come teamwork tests, and finally the survival test where killing isn’t against the rules, but it’s not a fight to the last person either… the University will take twenty students, which they will determine from the final round of interviews after the wilderness test. But naturally some people are cruel and determined and cutthroat and want to weed out their competition, so naturally, killing ensues. Because of course.

Apparently not everyone is super happy with the government, and there’s a whole conspiracy against the Testing and the colonies and yawn.

Throughout the whole thing, Cia realizes she’s playing for the “audience” and has to keep her real thoughts back home to protect her family, and of course she and Tomas declare their love for one another (ugh, in the middle of a survival test?). Not to mention there are even human muttations mutations and traps set by the Testers. So… yep. More Hunger Games ripping off.

I won’t lie, I got sucked into the book, and read it in two days, but you can bet I was rolling my eyes and writing down snarky comments the entire time. I love reading dystopians, and I was intrigued with the basic concept of this book (I was thinking more like Hunger Games meets Harry Potter), but I was upset with the blatant similarities. For awhile I even toyed with the idea that this was fanfiction, the characters and events were so similar.

That being said, I’ll read the following two just to find out what happens, though I don’t know if I really care all that much.

I did love The Hunger Games, so it makes sense I’d like this as well, but I only give it two stars because it didn’t even try to be different from its inspiration, and it failed in comparison.

Station Eleven | Review

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Can I just say that I loved this book? Post-apocalyptic WITHOUT zombies. Intersecting narratives that all connect. Beautiful descriptions. A portrait of Hollywood. A comparison to a space-themed graphic novel. Character growth.

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Station Eleven hooked me. It starts in Toronto, where an actor has a heart attack onstage during King Lear. A young man rushes up to save him but cannot while a young girl looks on. Meanwhile, a pandemic is beginning to spread, and most of the people in the theater will be dead within weeks, if not hours. The narrative weaves in and out of the past and the future, alternating between characters that are all somehow connected, but not all of the connections are yet apparent.

I really enjoyed the slow unraveling of the backstories of the different characters, and the world building of the post-apocalyptic world. I watch The Walking Dead, so I’m used to characters roaming around from place to place, scavenging for survival, but this world didn’t have the added threat of zombies, so for a character to go twenty years without killing another person seems reasonable, though still surprising. I also really loved the idea of the Traveling Symphony (and theater group), who wandered from town to town, playing Beethoven and Bach and other music in a world without, while the actors put on Shakespeare plays, a nod to the mirrored and ragged worlds they and Shakespeare lived in, pre- and post- technology.

Station Eleven LogoJuxtaposed with the current world, where people “kept getting trapped behind iPhone zombies, people… who wandered in a dream with their eyes fixed on their screens,” and lived lives like ghosts and sleepwalkers, unhappy but not realizing so; the post-apocalyptic world, for some, was an improvement. Life had a purpose once more, if only to survive the day. Yet others are constantly searching for traces of the former world, exploring lost buildings and houses, holding on to scraps from gossip magazines and the world from whence they came, building a Museum of Civilization, before it becomes lost forever.

The world built seemed real, the characters’ reactions seemed real, and the “bad guy” was just a poor kid who dealt with PTSD in a way he found comforting (if, albeit, it turned creepy). I found the details realistic and appropriate (the south is dangerous because of all the guns, for instance), and the characters were just trying to cope and survive and remember. I loved reading about how all the characters reacted to the pandemic, to the failing news, to the loss of electricity and technology and cars.

The ending is slightly bittersweet, with a hint that the world may be improving, and the characters adjusted to their current lives. I was really hoping the final character would somehow intersect the others, but in a world where states and countries and lines don’t exist, and traveling requires walking or on horseback, it seemed unlikely they ever would, and that’s okay, because sometimes that’s just how life is, and the catalyst for the story, the fateful King Lear production all those years ago, is part of a completely different world.

1396625421069And throughout the book is the graphic novel, Station Eleven, from whence the book got its name. Drawn by one of the characters, its limited release of 100 copies of two issues becomes so important to many of the characters within the novel, and yet also acts as a mirror to the story unfolding. I thought the idea was brilliant, and it was yet another way to bring characters together through time, and I’d really like to see an actual Station Eleven graphic novel made.

I knew I loved the book because after I put it aside for the night, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the world of the book. I thought about what I would do, what book(s) I would bring for the end of the world (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Anne of Green Gables, maybe? Or The Night Circus, or maybe even Pride and Prejudice), and where I would go. My other half and I have discussed this before (his mom’s house to meet up with everyone, then maybe my dad’s because he’s in the country and has guns), but would I survive in Station Eleven? Who knows. But I still loved it anyway.

5 stars.

Year of Gaiman

This year, I decided to embark on some reading challenges. Not only did I start a BookTube channel, which forces encourages me to read more books at a faster pace, but I also decided to take on the PopSugar challenge, and my most recent decision: The Year of Gaiman.

WD4B9920_webBasically, it all started something like five years ago, when my friend Cricket told me to read Neverwhere because it was one of her favorite books and I hadn’t heard of it. Four and a half years later, I finally did, and while I won’t say I LOVED it, I did REALLY ENJOY it.

My venture into BookTubing has left me with the realization that there are a lot of fantastic Gaiman books out there, that numerous people recommend to me… the most popular being American Gods and Stardust, of course.

So what did I decide to do? Tackle them all, in one year. My YEAR OF GAIMAN, if you will. What’s going to happen is I’m going to read one Gaiman novel each month for the rest of the year, discounting July because I’d already planned to do my Harry Potter reread, and I didn’t want to interfere with that. There are eleven novels total, but since I’ve already read Neverwhere, I only have ten books I have to read, over the course of eleven months. I’m not including any of his children’s books, short stories, graphic novels, etc. in this project, just the novels. The schedule is as follows:

February: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
March: Stardust
April: InterWorld
May: The Silver Dream
June: Eternity’s Wheel (release date May 19)
July: NONE (though if you’d like to participate, you can insert Neverwhere here if needed)
August: American Gods
September: Good Omens
October: Coraline
November: Anansi Boys
December: The Graveyard Book

If you’d like to join me, let me know in the comments, and we can have a Gaiman readalong!

For more details, see my post on my channel below! (P.S. Gaiman retweeted this video!)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane | Review

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A man, in town for a funeral, revisits his childhood home and awakens forgotten memories of magic, adventure, and otherworldly power.

Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception. A beautiful novel about childhood and growing up to forget, it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy and magical realism of this novel.

Gaiman does an exquisite job of creating a world within a world, where things are not as they appear to be, and in turn creating a new fairytale where adults are bound by limits which children are not, and a bit of the everyday can be the catalyst for so much more.

tumblr_mtl408ldo51qdo62to1_500The narrator, who is reminiscing on his childhood, particularly at age seven, is able to experience something most of us are not: the ability to remember with detail the events of childhood, but also reflect on them as an adult. He remarks about his selfishness and immortality at that age, but isn’t afraid to show his fears and weaknesses as well. He is a child, and the novel paints that innocence and arrogance with a fine brush.

The details of the locations, the smells, the tastes, make it easy for the reader to dive into the world of the book, to see the orangey sky and the ocean-pond, to taste the burnt toast with peanut butter and feel the cool grass in the fairy circle.

To aid in the fantastical elements of the novel, Gaiman has the narrator remind Lettie that the fairy circle and the ocean are just pretend, but the twinkle in her eye hint to both the reader and the narrator that all is not as it seems.

Also, the wordplay and creativity of this novel were fun to read… particularly when it comes to wormholes, which I thought was brilliant.

While the reader is never explicitly told where Lettie and the other Hempstocks come from, the idea that they are from everywhere and nowhere, that they are part of creation, is an interesting one, and invites the reader to explore the world (both real and that in the novel) in a different way, which is exciting and inspiring.

A book which shows there are no ages limits when it comes to stories, to emotions, and to life, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a wonderful read.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry | Review

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The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a book about a bookseller on a remote island, and how books affect his life and the life of those surrounding him.

AJ Fikry is a snobby bookseller with very particular tastes and a dismal, alcohol-steeped attitude on life. His wife, whom he started the bookshop with, has recently passed away in a tragic accident, leaving AJ depressed and ready to hang it all up. When his prized possession, the possession that will allow his early retirement, is stolen, and he finds a mysterious gift left in his bookshop, his life turns around.

IMG_4597-copyThe book is told in present tense, which I didn’t love but didn’t hate, and the story follows AJ’s life from right before the item was stolen up until his death. Each chapter starts out with a short story recommendation and a letter written by AJ (to whom the reader discovers later), and the chapter relates in some way to that short story or letter. I’m not a big fan of life-spanning stories, which act as more of vignettes in the characters’ lives rather than an actual eventful story. And yes, this is the STORIED LIFE of AJ, but I wanted more story than just life.

The book acts more as a picture of the effect of the mysterious gift on AJ and the people in the remote island town, as well as the bookstore, but there isn’t that much that actually happens besides just life. It is mostly empty of typical melodrama, but I wasn’t a fan of the ending, and I didn’t feel like it was the best way to end the novel (or AJ’s life). If it had to be that way, I would’ve liked to see more of the internal dilemma he went through rather than the quick gloss over the reader gets.

As far as the characters, I found some of the supporting characters (Ismay and Lambiase, in particular) to be more compelling and fleshed-out characters than some of the so-called important characters of Amy and even, at times, AJ and Maya.

That being said, I did enjoy the novel. It was a quick and easy read (if somewhat flat because of the simple and almost-stinted writing style), and I found the characters likable enough, even if I didn’t find myself totally invested in them.

As a connoisseur and lover of literature and reading, I also enjoyed the literary elements of the book, the references to books and writing and the world of publishing, and the effects of books on these characters (particularly Lambiase).

Golden Son | Review

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Golden Son by Pierce Brown

The sequel to last year’s Red Rising opens a year after Darrow has left the Institute, a full-fledged member of the Augustus household, and rather than spend an exorbitant amount of time on his exploits at the Academy, it opens with him in the final battle. From the beginning, it takes risks, and doesn’t just succumb to the same tricks that made the first book so great. There is growth, loss, and a lot of politics. Not to mention, Darrow gets taken down a peg or two, and his actions have consequences.

Overall, I really enjoyed Golden Son. Darrow’s matured, and his split between living as a Red and a Gold starts to take its toll on him. The book is very political, and it’s difficult to predict what is going to happen next (try as I might!), which is something I really enjoyed about Red Rising as well. There is a lot of backstabbing and deceit among the characters, and, much like A Song of Ice and Fire, no one is safe.

While I’m not the biggest fan of space battles, which made some scenes hard to visualize, I enjoyed the dynamics of the plot and the growth of the characters. Not to mention, there are moments that are jaw dropping, which kept me on the edge of my seat throughout reading. ca

I really like the world Brown has created, and the backstory behind it is intriguing. The color system is interesting, mostly because of the physical manifestations of those differences.

SLIGHT SPOILERS BELOW

The rebellion that Darrow is part of continues to slowly build throughout the novel, and the reader even discovers the identity of the mysterious terrorist leader, Ares. I love that imagessome of the other colored characters gain prevalence, and you can really see how the rebellion may work, after all. One of the most shocking and heartbreaking scenes is when Darrow returns to his home, to his mother, and begins to grapple with just how much he’s changed, how Gold is starting to become stronger in him than Red.

And then there’s the ending. Holy mother of all things, the ending. In typical Part II of a trilogy fashion, the reader is left on a mind-numbing cliffhanger that leaves everything up in the air.

Brown has weaved an intricate web of a second act, and with the cliffhanger ending, I can only stare at the third book’s cover (Morning Star) in anticipation, counting down the unreleased days until it’s release.

See my full rant (WARNING: SPOILERS) below:

Atlantia | Review

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Atlantia by Ally Condie

I read the Matched trilogy and while it wasn’t the best YA dystopia I’ve read, I enjoyed it enough to finish the series and invest in the characters. So when I saw author Ally Condie had a new YA dystopia out, which takes place underwater, I had to give it a shot.

I didn’t love it. I tolerated it.

Atlantia is the story of twin sisters Rio and Bay (and their deceased Mom, Oceana… whoa with the water-based names), who live in the underwater city of Atlantia. In the past, there was a time called the Divide, where the poor air quality of the Earth forced half of its inhabitants to live Below, and the other Above. Those who lived Above were said to have shorter lives, and to live their lives in service to those Below. When residents turn sixteen, they can choose whether they want to live Above or remain Below (hmmm… sounds familiar… Matched? Divergent?) When Bay makes a startling choice, Rio is left alone to answer unsolved questions.

It sounded interesting. I wanted to know more about the Divide and life in an underwater bubble, but what I got was a longwinded book about feeling left out.

SPOILERS BELOW Continue reading Atlantia | Review