The 52ND | Review

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The 52ND by Dela

I received a copy of The 52ND from the author for an honest review.

After disastrous events in the days of the Aztecs and Mayans, the gods and the beings of the underworld came to a truce: Every 52 years, 52 humans would be sacrificed to the underworld, and a family of Watchers would be there to ensure this happened as it should. But there’s also a prophecy that states one of the sacrifices, a 52nd, will end this once and for all.

Lucas Castillo and his family are the Watchers: immortal beings from the time of the curse, designated to spend their years protecting the balance between the gods and the underworld.

Zara is a typical college freshman, but ever since she met the Castillo family at the bowling alley where she worked, things haven’t been the same.

Basically, The 52ND is Twilight but with Aztec immortals rather than vampires.

Lucas and Zara have this tug of war relationship, constantly going back and forth from love to hate. One moment they can’t stand one another and rush to be rid of them, the next they can’t fathom life without them. Yawn.

Not only that, but there are other striking similarities to a certain sparkly vampire: Lucas is super fast with incredible hearing, has never been in love despite being 500 years old (though he HAS at least had sex), he’s incredibly attractive and can glamour people into falling in love with him,  and he’s overprotective and has stalker tendencies. Not creepy I’m-going-to-watch-you-while-you-sleep stalker, but pretty darn close.

In his defense, only part of that was his uncontrollable desire for her; the rest was because of PLOT!

The major plot of the story is that Zara is being hunted by the Executioners – the slaves of the Underworld – who want to kill her, the final sacrifice. Lucas, however, believes she is the “chosen one” and wants to save her because of the Cosmos.

Things I liked:

the-historic-ruins-of-the-ancient-mayan-city-of-tulum-mexico1The culture and history were very exciting and completely different from anything else I’ve read. I loved reading about the Aztecs and Mayans and their traditions and myths, and only wished there’d been more of that in the book. This heritage and diversity was probably my absolute favorite thing about The 52ND.

I also really liked the Castillos. Much like I loved the Cullens in Twilight, the Castillos were pretty awesome. Lucas is moody and overprotective, but he’s got a fight in him that Edward didn’t, which I appreciated. Dylan, Gabriella, Valentina, and Andres were what I needed out of this immortal family though: tough, funny, and tight knit.

Zara is your typical YA female protagonist. She’s well-liked but “hard to crack” emotionally (i.e. all the boys are in love with her but she doesn’t know it/they’re too scared to admit it), and she’s a bit wishy-washy, but she’s strong-willed and able, for the most part, to take care of herself (except that time she got super needy and was afraid to drive).

Things that need work:

My biggest problem with the plot was just that while it appeared pretty early on, it disappeared for 200 pages in the middle. Seriously. This book is 463 pages, and a good majority of it is Zara going to school, figuring out how she feels about Lucas, and then there’s some weird training sequence that’s kind of cool but then abruptly ends. I didn’t feel the threat of the Executioners enough – they showed up maybe twice in three months and both times it didn’t seem that difficult for her to get away. It just felt like the author was biding her time until the “magic day” when everything was supposed to happen, and I felt the long stretch of those months.

The plot showed back up toward the end, with a racing section, but for all that build up, I would’ve liked to see that stretched out longer.

There’s also the matter of Zara’s virginity being crucial to the plot of the Underworld, yet no one ever thinks to just get rid of that problem? Even if it’s something Zara’s not willing to do, it at least needs to be addressed.

As for the writing… it needs work. There are sloppy transitions all over the place, missing information, and weird sentence structure. There are times when it feels like there were sentences taken out in editing, but the surrounding sentences didn’t change to accommodate that missing line. Sometimes Lucas seems to know things without Zara telling him, or he’ll react to something she didn’t say, and there are inconsistencies and weird quirks regarding Zara and her maturity. She’s supposed to be in college, yet school sounds awfully like high school, and she doesn’t act like she has the independence a college student – regardless of whether they’re living at home or not – should have.  There are also split perspectives but only rarely do we leave Zara’s. And the dialogue feels stilted and unnatural.

My last complaint is the forced love triangle at the end, setting up a potential sequel. It felt forced and out of nowhere between two characters I never really felt the chemistry between. Not every teen romance needs a love triangle.

I really loved the concept and the exciting rushes of the plot, and think that Dela has a lot of potential as an author if she cleans up her writing and embraces her unique ideas rather than just catering to the overused tropes so prevalent in YA.

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A Gathering of Shadows | Review

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A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by VE Schwab

Minor Spoilers Below

The second installment picks up a few months after A Darker Shade of Magic left off, with Lila fulfilling her pirate dreams and Kell and Rhy experiencing some new setbacks in their relationship. Their lives magically tied together, they can feel each other’s pain and emotions, and it’s starting to take its toll on the boys.

Kell is frustrated and can’t seem to expel the energy he has pent up inside, and Rhy is conflicted over feeling grateful he’s alive but wishing he’d had a choice in the matter.

Meanwhile, Red London is gearing up for the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament between the three neighboring kingdoms (a la Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) which pits twelve magicians from each kingdom against one another in four rounds of fighting.

While this is happening in Red London, White London is mending itself, and the darkness from the first book is slowly creeping its way back into control. A Gathering of Shadows, indeed.

The characters are what made me love the first book so much, and they continue to astound me and captivate me here, as does the newcomer, Alucard Emery, who is contesting to be my new favorite. He’s charming, magical, has secrets, and he’s a Captain, what’s not to like?

tumblr_nw8mfvX7nT1qaryrmo1_500I also really like the relationships between this cast of characters, and how they’re all varying and intricate. Not to mention, the romantic relationships that start blooming set my ships asail. My favorite ship from the first book totally sunk, but was replaced with one I may even like better. Also, yay! gay/bi characters! and Schwab’s light touch on the romance aspect. This is a fantasy, after all, NOT a romance. There’s some light kissing, but that’s about the extent of it.

The pace was about on par as the first book for me, which is to say, it’s a bit slower, but I attribute that to the rich writing and detail and my desire to savor the moment rather than rush it. Also, Schwab’s writing never feels very rushed or particularly fast-paced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting.

The Essen Tasch itself was really cool. I liked seeing how the magicians used magic as a weapon and learning more about the magic system itself. My only complaint is that I wish there’d been MORE! I do love tournaments and games though, which is why Goblet of Fire is my favorite of the Harry Potter books.

I also kept thinking more was going to happen with the neighboring kingdoms that were visiting. There were some subtle, throwaway lines about that, so my mind kept predicting massive slaughters and backstabbing during the Games. The ending is “catastrophic,” (it’s the name of the chapter), but not in that way. The book overall kind of feels like too much of a setup for the next book, as not a lot of major plot happens, but there’s some cool stuff and development along the way.

That catastrophic ending was close to what I’d predicted it would be, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting for the third (and final?) book next year.

4.5/5 stars

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August | Review

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

As Harry dies, he is reborn as himself, in the exact same place, time, and circumstances, as if he’d never lived before. Except he remembers everything.

This book explores time, life, science, memory, and humanity. How do you spend your life if it’s your only one, then what happens when you realize it isn’t? How does living change, how does your perception of time, events, people, and memory change?

To live the same life over and over, to watch the same disastrous things happen, life after life, it can get tedious, depressing, and may encourage one to start to change.

Harry is not the only ouroboran (person who dies then lives again), and in one of his early lives, he’s introduced to the Cronus Club, a group of his peers who are set on making sure history stays the same. Disastrous things can happen when you mess with time, after all, and the Cronus Club regulates that. In addition, the Cronus Club makes life easier for those who are fated to live their lives a thousand times. When their memories return as early as two, they begin making connections and escape plans, where their hundred-year-old minds aren’t as trapped by their young bodies.

Imagine going through puberty dozens of times. Ugh.

Harry-August-PrizesHarry was born in the 20s in England, and he spends most of his lives in and around England, fighting in the war, studying various degrees, and traveling the world to help himself understand his predicament. In one Cambridge stay, he befriends a young man named Victor, with whom he has philosophical and scientific discussions on the theory of time. When Victor suspects Harry is a member of the Cronus Club, he punches him and disappears.

Years later, a young girl comes to his deathbed with a message from the future: the world is ending faster and faster, and they can’t figure out how to stop it.

Harry’s fifteen lives are a mixture of boring and interesting, with the storytelling interweaving between the lives and connecting similar moments. Some lives were definitely more interesting than others (I wasn’t a fan of the time he spent in a mental institution, though I suspect he wasn’t either), and some of the slower lives could drag the story down at times.

That being said, it wasn’t enough to deter me from the complexity of this story.

I love time travel, even though it makes my brain hurt when I think about it too often. In the beginning, I wrote down several questions and theories I had regarding this story and its usage of time, and as the novel progressed, many of those questions were answered for me.

Harry himself is kind of a boring character with a boring life, but in the second half, he starts to become more interesting, more deceptive, more creative, which made him more likeable in turn. His dabbles with “evil” in Russia help pick up the plot, and the centuries-long deception is intricate and incredible.

I loved the mix of science and history and I thought the concept was really, really cool.

4.5/5 stars