Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha Trilogy #1
Publisher: Henry Hold and Co.
Publishing Date: June 5th, 2012
Pages: 368
Summary: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Rating: 3.5 stars

So, this started out really well. Really, I liked it... until I didn't.

Shadow and Bone is about Ravka, a country at war. There's a mysterious "fold" that threatens to engulf everyone in endless darkness, magical powers, soldiers, kings, intrigues and a heroine in the middle of it all who's supposed to save the world.

I think the fantasy aspect was well done, if not particularly original. The Grisha is one of the King's armies, composed of people with magical ability. You have people who can throw fire, people who can manipulate water, some can reshape glass and so on. I found the Shadow Fold passages to be very confusing, though, but maybe that's just me. It wasn't described properly and I couldn't visualize what Alina was talking about so I'm still confused as to how the whole thing works.

Alina is a strong narrator who, despite her short comings, doesn't spend her time drowning in a pit of despair and self-deprecation, and I found that refreshing. She's likable, and her voice is honest and touching and makes you feel her loneliness, her homesickness and her yearning to belong.

I also found Mal to be a remarkably realistic protagonist. None of the usual embellished, love-sick puppy with a side of whiny. He's a boy. He doesn't talk about his feelings or how (this isn't really a spoiler, but just in case you don't want to know anything about potential love interests, it's tagged as such)

All in all, this was a nice read, and the whole make-over/new home/new powers aspect was pretty fun, if a bit cliché (especially Alina's relationships with other Grisha females. They were either shallow or evil. Come on now). But to me, the main issue was... Depth, I guess? As I've said, it's nice and fun, but doesn't really make you think, make you ache, it lacks a more sophisticated quality you can find in Melina Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock or Laini Taylor's Lips Touch. After a while I started waiting for this little something extra, that little je ne sais quoi that turns an average fantasy book into a good one. But it never came.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

Series: Curse Workers #1
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publishing Date: Jan 1st, 2010
Pages: 310
Summary: The first in a trilogy, this gritty, fast-paced fantasy is rife with the unexpected. Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas—and a plan to con the conmen.

Rating: 4 stars

My first impression upon finishing this was "Well. That was interesting."

Some rambling thoughts:

I liked the writing. It fits the genre and the story and is, for me, a welcome change in Black's usual writing style. So if you didn't like her previous novels and are thinking of skipping this one because of it, think again. You'll be surprised.

I also now get why everyone cites this series as an example of well-written male POV. It is good. That's probably why I didn't completely identify with the narrator on an emotional level. I never do when it's a well-written male POV. And I guess I'm not supposed to, because why would I think the way he does? He's a guy. Duh.

Plot-wise, the novel is solid. It's intriguing, it's exciting, it makes sense and I want to find out more. It's basically everything you can ask from a book, to be honest. And it flows really well, too. Like sometimes you'll see Cassel noticing random things and it doesn't really serve any purpose in the story, but I find that refreshing because when everything is relevant in a narration, the plots gets way too predictable.

Something interesting happened, though, despite my lack of falling in love with Cassel: I started to "adopt" his way of thinking. When confronted to a situation that would have been perfectly normal for a regular person, I was screaming in my head "nooooo Cassel don't do the normal thing! It's baaad! You should never trust anyone, ever, trusting is wrong!"... Which is not how I feel in real life. And for me, that's proof of a consistent, immersive and well-done characterization, one that pulls you in despite yourself.

If you still need a reason to open this book, I'll give you one: Black does subtle but in-depth world building. Example: She mentions the odds of being a curse worker is one in a thousand. BUT then how is Cassel's entire family gifted? WELL SHE EXPLAINS IT. You heard that right. I know I'm way too excited about this, but so many authors leave gaping plot holes that have to be later explained in an interview. And she didn't! Yay world building!

I still feel like there was a little something missing, though, but I'm not sure what. It might just be the male POV messing with my brain.

Oh, and after reading book 2 and 3, I can definitely tell you that if you feel hesitant about Cassel after book 1, you definitely won't after book 2. Promise.

White Cat (Curse Workers, #1)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dystopia 101: How to write a book that follows the current publishing trend in YA literature

1) Begin your summary with "In the future, people are separated by [insert unfair and intriguing criteria]".

2) Create different parts in this futuristic society and give them funky names. If they don't sound quite serious enough to actually exist, don't worry. Just capitalize the first letter and everything shall be fine.

3) Try to create some kind of age-related deadline/inevitable milestone for the characters to go through. 18 is the best age, considering the target audience, but it can be anything if you can make it work. It is better if there is a fancy government-sponsored ceremony attached to the event.

4) Go on a little bit about the new big brother-like society and then insert [character 1, most likely the narrator or part-time narrator, who has been raised *this way* and who is confused/passive/naive].

5) Insert now [character 2, future love interest of character 1, who has been raised in exactly *the opposite way*].

6) Arrange for them to meet and somehow be unable to avoid each other despite a less than ideal start.

7) Skip the boring relationship building. No time for that.

8) Also skip the world building and pesky little details like consistency or "now, why would society ever do that?" explanations. No one will pay attention.

9) First option: If you want an introspective book: painfully slow but steady evolution of the plot towards a rebellion against the narrator's overbearing and totalitarian society, rebellion born from their loving relationship
    Other option: fast paced, engaging plot with twists and turns that will make the reader forget about everything that's wrong with the world building and the insta-love relationship.

Bonus: get some kind of [childhood best friend/new love interest/narrator] love triangle in there, and you're set for a trilogy.

Of course, this is an exaggeration.
Of course, not every YA dystopian novel is like this. But you have to admit, it fits for most of the popular ones, and I think this is my recurrent problem with YA distopia right now: it works, on a very shallow level. It looks intriguing, but once you start actually thinking about it? It falls apart.

Case in point with a few popular dystopian YA books: 

In Matched by Allie Condie, the pacing was the main problem for me. I know it worked for some people, but it completely fizzled out the narration and plot, and the pairing and love interest seemed to jump out of nowhere. It's not even that Cassia started having all these feelings and I was wondering where they were coming from. No. I couldn't even see the feelings in question.

In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, a novel with a fascinating premise, I would have loved to have more details and context about why people suddenly started thinking love was a bad idea. I know it's explained a little bit, but I need to be convinced. I can't just accept that something this huge could have happened and not have details. It's up to the author to figure out how to give them.

Another example: Divergent by Veronica Roth. Now, I actually liked that one. But the world building? No. Come on. People can't be rendered to being one single thing. The mere notion is preposterous. People don't have a "dominant trait" or whatever you want to call it. It's much more complex that that, and I feel like, again, we weren't really given any details about the thought process behind it.

I would be more than happy for you guys to let me know about any counter-examples you may have encountered, especially the ones for points 7 and 8. I'm begging for an in-depth dystopian YA novel, but haven't managed to find one yet.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Eating ARCs (3)

Hey everyone!

Here we go again.

Have you ever been on NetGalley and stared at aaaaaall the galleys, thinking "oh my god, I don't want to go through 30 pages to have something to read"? Have you ever gotten your Galley Grab newsletter and stared at the adult fiction galleys, and went "ummmm. I'll look at this later"?

Well, this is where I come in. Once a month, I'll be sharing a list of e-ARCs that have peaked picked piqued my interest, that are from popular authors or that I've seen recommended all around Goodreads/the blogosphere.

Lots of HarperCollins galleys this month, and some pretty awesome Harlequin Teen books as well (I was told Saving June would be on NetGalley in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes open.)

You know what to do!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. If you want participate, just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
   “Very clever,” Puck said, smirking. “But then, you were always the strategist, weren’t you? What do you want, Ash?” 
   “Your head,” Ash answered softly. “On a pike. But what I want doesn’t matter this time.”

                             - The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Graffiti Moon
Series: Stand-alone
PublisherPan Macmillan Australia
Publishing date: August 1st, 2010
Pages: 244
Summary: "Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

Rating: 5 stars

ATTN READING MANIACS AND BOOK LOVERS: To all of you who have regular reading slumps, READ THIS. I can guarantee this book will get you out of it. 

So, I finished this book 4 days ago and I'm still trying to gather my thoughts into coherent sentences. 
The writing was so beautiful that I kept stopping to stare at the words. I wanted to crawl across the page and come up to the words and snuggle them. And also hug the characters. 
This is the kind of book that puts a huge smile on your face. The kind of book that makes your day better. Hell, it makes your day, period. 
The storyline was realistic and lovely, the characters had depth and personalities, the banter was perfect and I just wish I could take a swim in this novel and never come out. And hug the characters. Always hug the characters.

I do hope the author will make some kind of companion novel to Graffiti Moon. She has more than enough talent to pull it off, and honestly, I'm not ready to say goodbye to these folks quite yet. I'd even want to read the parents' story (they're actually multi-dimensional! And interesting!) I don't care. JUST WRITE MORE.

I would recommend this book to anyone, anybody who loves good writing and lovable characters. It's right up there with Saving Francesca (review here) and the likes. And if you don't trust me, trust the judging panel of this year's Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Graffiti Moon won the first prize in the "Young adult fiction" category. Yup. Go read now.

Graffiti Moon

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. If you want participate, just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
"Just because she tried to eat us doesn't mean she was wrong."

                  - Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen
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