Book Review

Someplace Better

The Radius of Us: A NovelThe Radius of Us: A Novel by Marie Marquardt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, St. Martin’s Press, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward. —Steve Maraboli

The Radius of Us is one of the most meaningful and insightful books I’ve read this year. Unlike many YA contemporary novels, this book educates its readers about PTSD, the politics of immigration, as well as the lingering legacy of racism in American society. Essentially, The Radius of Us is anything but a typical love story.

Gretchen and Phoenix were very flawed yet authentic characters, in that they had serious personal issues to overcome. Although they had different problems, both of them struggled to let go of their traumatic experiences. Thankfully, they had loving parents and friends to help them in their respective journeys. Of course, these two lovebirds also had each other.

I do not intend to underestimate the gravity of Gretchen’s situation, but I was more invested in Phoenix’s character arc. As an “illegal” refugee from El Salvador, Phoenix constantly suffered under the threat of deportation. He also had to worry about his younger brother Ali, who was left behind in a juvenile detention center while their petition for asylum was being settled. In totality, Phoenix’s problems were more significant to me, and I was always excited to know if he would be given a happy ending.

Phoenix wasn’t the only colored/diverse character in the novel. His guardians, Amanda and Sally, were a queer couple. Also, Bree, Gretchen’s bff, was an African American. In retrospect, each of these characters were not ashamed of their identity. With that in mind, The Radius of Us is the perfect book for readers who love stories with much diversity.

I would have given this book 5 stars if Phoenix and Gretchen did not fall in love so quickly. I am sorry to say that their relationship is another example of instalove in YA literature. Moreover, Gretchen started to have feelings for Phoenix even though she already had a loyal boyfriend. In other words, I did not like how this book glossed over the consequences of cheating, as “valid” as it might be.

To sum up my thoughts and feels, I enjoyed the Radius of Us because of its relevant story and well-developed characters. I particularly appreciated how the author effectively conveyed her sympathy and support for the victims of gang violence. Setting aside my issues with the romance, this book is definitely worth your time.

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Book Review

The Cost of Curiosity

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

She reminded herself bitterly that this was what curiosity had bought her: fifty keystones for a singer who refused to sing, a friend who wasn’t her friend, some one who was hers and yet would never be hers.

The Winner’s Curse is now one of my favorite books. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since Marie Rutkoski accepted my impulsive friend request. Har-har. And now that I’ve devoured her book, I’m so happy she indulged my audacity. I’m normally a polygamist reader, but I just cannot let any other book get in the way of me continuing this potentially emotional trilogy.

With the exception of its setting, The Winner’s Curse is not fantastical. It actually gave me a lot of YA contemporary feels. However, this is not your typical love story. To be more precise, Kestrel and Arin thankfully did not suffer from instalove. Otherwise, I would have given this book two stars. :p

The best thing I liked about The Winner’s Curse was its emphasis on political drama. In light of their very different backgrounds (i.e. as the colonizer and the colonized), these two characters were forbidden to form any sort of meaningful connection. Throughout the novel, their happiness was dampened by the threat of war, death, and social disgrace. In light of these complications, Kestrel and Arin became very cunning and skeptical, even towards each other. This gave their relationship a competitive aspect, which I definitely enjoyed. Overall, the political intrigue in this book made the plot and characters very compelling.

I cannot write this review without praising the author’s writing style. Personally, I can only describe it as the perfect balance between prose and poetry. I loved the narrative and dialogues because they were written in a musical way that often tugged at my heartstrings. As an aspiring novelist, I would love to be mentored by Marie Rutkoski.

I’m honestly having a hard time pointing out the weak points of this book. I did not give it five stars just because Arin sometimes got on my nerves. I was particularly annoyed every time he said mean things to Kestrel. I sympathized with his oppressed status in society, but I could not help but flinch at his insensitivity.

In conclusion, The Winner’s Curse gave me an emotional and memorable reading experience. I’ve always been a fan of political and worthwhile drama, so I had no trouble getting into the story. I can hardly wait to read the supposedly heart-pounding sequel.

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Book Review

Literary Turkish Delight

The Chronicles of Narnia: Including an Essay on Writing by C.S. LewisThe Chronicles of Narnia: Including an Essay on Writing by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 2005 film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was what made me want to read this thick, heavenly book. Little yet valiant Lucy was very close to my heart, as well as her siblings who occasionally thought she was crazy. I was so enthralled by the movie, and I asked my parents if they could buy me the series for my birthday.

My uncle in the US was the one who granted my wish. Tee-hee. After buying this collection from Barnes & Noble, he immediately had it shipped all the way to the Philippines. Hence, this book literally traveled to my hands. I was overwhelmed with happiness when it finally arrived. After all, it was the first series I had ever owned. After caressing it for a long time, I tucked myself into bed and got down to business.

Little did I know that this would be the series that would transform me into a devoted booknerd. At the age of 12, I managed to fly through each novel because they were just so beautiful and fantastic. The perfect mix of magic, adventure, and biblical allusions captivated me from start to finish. By the time I read The Last Battle, I was already a hardcore fanboy.

In totality, The Chronicles of Narnia will always have a special place in my heart (and library). Just looking at Aslan’s face on the cover fills me with much happiness and nostalgia. If I were the Ruler of Books, I would require everyone in the planet to read this timeless series.

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Book Review

Seriously, Do Not Get Carried Away

Caraval (Untitled, #1)Caraval by Stephanie Garber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Australia, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

In many ways, loving Tella was a source of constant pain.

The latter quote perfectly describes what Caraval is about: a girl who goes through a lot of suffering because of her sister. In a way, this book is another tribute to Frozen. The plot mainly revolves around Scarlett desperately trying to find Tella, who is kidnapped by the mysterious Caraval Master Legend. With the help of another secretive man named Julian, Scarlett follows the ever winding trail towards her sister. In this magical, carnivalesque world, only three things are for certain: love, deception, and sacrifice.

When I finally finished this book last night, I did not know what to do with myself. I was on the verge of having a book hangover because the story just took my breath away. I am strongly tempted to start a gush fest now, but I shall restrain myself and simply tell you three reasons why I loved Caraval.

1. The Epic Sisterly Love

Scarlett and Tella’s relationship rekindled my ardent desire to have a sister (whom I could turn into a bookworm like me). Although it often seemed that they did not love each other equally, I admired how they strove to protect each other from a particularly diabolic character. Just like Elsa and Anna of Frozen, Scarlett and Tella proved that nothing could sever the bond between sisters.

2. The Beautiful Writing

Although it took me a month to finish Caraval, it introduced me to the satisfying pleasure of speed reading. I was able to read the second half of the book in one sitting because the writing was flowery yet comprehensible. Every scene was vividly described, and the language had this unique, conversational tone that sped up my relatively slow reading pace. It felt like my best friend was telling me a story, and I could not get enough of it. Finally, this might sound irrelevant, but I was also amused by the author’s fondness for “spidery” metaphors.

3. The Phenomenal Plot Twists

When she enters Caraval, Scarlett is warned that she shouldn’t get too carried away by her experiences. After all, everything that happens in Caraval is supposedly just a game. In retrospect, I really should have listened to the warning myself, because the plot twists in this book left me astounded. GAAAAAH! I CANNOT GET OVER THEM UNTIL NOW! I applaud the author for successfully blurring the distinction between literary fantasy and reality. I am usually able to predict plot twists in YA novels, so I loved how Caraval defied all of my suspicions and expectations. With that in mind, this book is perfect for buddy reading because it will surely make you want to share a lot of feels!
*****
My actual rating for Caraval is 4.75 stars. Even though I loved it, I was bothered by how it reinforced the “Bad Parent” trope in YA. Seriously, I’m exasperated whenever I read books featuring parents who are unworthy of their title (and authority). I admit that there are parents in real life who get in the way of their children’s happiness. Nevertheless, I do not appreciate this trope because it can be interpreted as a pessimistic view of parenting or family life.

All things considered, Caraval is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I’m so thankful that it didn’t turn out to be overhyped. In light of its wonderful and breathtaking content, I’m amazed that this is Stephanie Garber’s debut novel.

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Book Review

Better Than a Cursed Child

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original ScreenplayFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Please don’t hurt my creatures—they are not dangerous. —Newt Scamander

I practiced the Book Before Movie Policy in my approach to this beautiful screenplay. Why? Because there’s just something about the feeling of seeing words come to life before your very eyes. Hopefully, I’ll still get to watch the movie before it’s pulled out of cinemas.

I’m so happy that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was tons better than Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This is probably because this screenplay was solely written by Lady Rowling. (No offense to Jack Thorne and Co.)

I had never really cared about the magical creatures in Harry Potter, so I’m glad to say that reading this screenplay made me have a paradigm shift. Although I haven’t seen them on screen, I already have my favorite fantastic beasts: the Niffler, the Swooping Evil, and the Thunderbird. I probably liked the Thunderbird the most because I was sorted (via Pottermore) into its own Ilvermorny House. I’m definitely coming from a Pokemon fan’s POV when I say that I would love to own a Thunderbird in real life. Hmm…it would logically be weak against rock or ice-type beasts. LOL.

In contrast to Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts didn’t have any infuriating characters. I particularly found Newt to be very charming because of his careless, shrewd, and affectionate demeanor. As for Tina, I was quite annoyed with her at the beginning, but she eventually gained my respect. Er, I don’t want to talk about Jacob and Queenie because just thinking about their relationship makes me sad. Rest assured, I did like them a lot.

Plot-wise, Fantastic Beasts was highly refreshing and entertaining. It actually contained two/three plot twists, which made me very happy. The ending was bittersweet, but I loved it nonetheless. It’s a good thing I have four more screenplays to look forward to. I admit that the franchise somehow reeks of capitalism. However, I really don’t care because the Wizarding World never gets old!

Overall, I am very delighted to have read this screenplay. I have nothing but positive things to say about it. Trust me. I ain’t biased. I’m just a satisfied Potterhead. 😉

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Book Review

That Paradox Called Selfish Love

The Edge of EverythingThe Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

If I do not return, it is only because not one but two worlds conspired to stop me. —X

The Edge of Everything was one of the most emotionally shocking novels I’ve read this year. It was like reading Heartless and It Ends with Us all over again. Trust me, booknerds; Please do not let the cute and fluffy cover fool you. I heartily applaud Jeff Giles (and the publisher) for thinking of such a deceptive cover.

I approached this novel thinking that it was going to be a typical YA contemporary, so my expectations were low at worst and realistic at best. Now that I’ve finally finished it, I feel utterly foolish. In contrast to its light and beautiful cover, The Edge of Everything features a very dark, fantastical story. In fact, it could even be described as a thriller because it is one of those books that keep you on the edge of your seat as you constantly worry about the safety of the characters.

From the get-go, I want you to know that The Edge of Everything has a love story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Most of the plot revolves around how Zoe and X desperately struggle to be together. However, their story is actually unique because X happens to be a paranormal bounty hunter, which in this context is tantamount to our modern Grim Reaper. X comes from a hellish place called the Lowlands, and he is tasked to collect the souls of unpunished criminals. For years, X has been resigned to his fate as a “killer,” but everything changes when he falls in love with Zoe. Sadly, the melody of their relationship is anything but perfect because it has a harmony of deadly repercussions. In totality, I enjoyed the plot of this book because it was delightfully suspenseful.

I found The Edge of Everything to be very intriguing because its characters were almost deliberately flawed. For instance, Zoe and X were aware of the dangers of their relationship, but they were too stubborn and selfish to break up. Also, both of them had a distinct distaste for obeying figures of authority. I felt so bad for Zoe’s mother and brother, whose lives were shattered as collateral damage. Gleaning upon this, there were both character development and “character reduction” in this book. Zoe and X’s romance made them braver and compassionate, but it simultaneously made them more apathetic towards the needs of others. Consequently, I did not have any favorite character in this book.

Nevertheless, I must say that I admired Zoe’s relationship with her brother Jonah, who had ADHD. Jonah had a very eccentric, naughty, and clingy personality, and I liked how Zoe was openly affectionate with him. She was usually sensitive to his needs, doing her best to meet them although it required her to go out of her comfort zone. I especially loved how she endearingly called him “bug.” Overall, I am glad that Jeff Giles was able to delicately explore such a unique connection between siblings.

The second issue/problem I had with this book was the instalove. Ugh, I honestly could not fathom the speed of Zoe and X’s relationship. Or better yet, I cannot comprehend the idea of love at first sight. Even though it was eventually explained why Zoe and X fell for each other, I could not help but feel skeptical and disappointed. I lack experience in romance, yet I certainly would not immediately fall in love with someone who saved my life or made me realize my personal worth.

In the end, I assure you that The Edge of Everything is thankfully not overhyped. I’m excited for others to read it next year because I desperately need someone with whom I could share my feels. This book was mildly heartbreaking. I actually expected it to be a stand-alone novel, but the cliffhanger of an ending suggests otherwise. Also, an article on Entertainment Weekly says that Jeff Giles sold his work as a series. Thus, I am a very happy fanboy. ^_^

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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