Book Review

When Power Is Thicker than Blood

Dividing Eden (Dividing Eden, #1)Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

She needed him now. She’d trusted he would be here for her so they could grieve together and so he could help her as she had just helped him. And he had chosen to be with someone else.

As someone who has two brothers, I believe that having siblings can be such a blessing in life. I honestly have a very small circle of friends, but it doesn’t matter because I always have my big bros to keep me company. Yes, we sometimes have disagreements. Still, reconciliation is practically inevitable since we’re family. Brotherly love always subdues anger, resentment, and even pride. Gleaning upon my latter thoughts, this book sadly shows that I can’t speak for everyone.

Dividing Eden is the first book in a fantasy duology about Carys and Andreus, royal twins who supposedly know each other better than they know themselves. Initially, they are as thick as thieves. They watch each other’s backs with a devotion that could rival that between couples. Unfortunately, their relationship is destroyed when the King and Crown Prince are assassinated. The Queen suddenly becomes too crazy to ascend the throne, and the serpentine Elders in court force Carys and Andreus to compete for the crown.

I finished this book a few days ago, but I still feel both sad and indignant. I really did not expect Andreus to be so coldhearted after all the sacrifices Carys made for him. I was so invested in their relationship as siblings to the point that I didn’t even care about their respective love interests.

I yearned for Andreus and Carys to be reconciled, but any hope of that was thwarted by a vile priestess named Imogen. It wouldn’t be enough to say that I disliked her because I FREAKIN LOATHED HER AND WISHED FOR HER DEMISE. I nearly clapped and laughed in hysterics when Carys finally vanquished that insufferable *****!

However, my satisfaction was short-lived. Andreus, in his brainwashed state, tried to kill Carys, and I was like…WHAT THE HECK?!!! I just couldn’t accept that his love (it was more like lust) for Imogen turned him into an despicable anti-hero. I already didn’t like him from the very beginning because of his playboy attitude, so reading about his murderous intentions towards his own flesh and blood pushed me over the edge. Thank God Carys unknowingly used her wind magic to save herself.

Speaking of magic, I was surprised that this book had a magic system at all. I knew that the setting was fantastical, but the characters generally didn’t exhibit any sign of supernatural abilities. Imogen supposedly could see the future, but it was also hinted that she was a fraud. So when Carys suddenly controlled the wind, it felt like something snapped in my brain. I just couldn’t process the revelation that she was set apart from Andreus and the rest of “ordinary” Eden. Come to think of it, Andreus’s strange sickness might be a sign of his own kind of magic.

Obviously (if not logically), Carys was my favorite character. It would be unfair to end this review without giving her an affectionate shout out. She was smart, strong, and loving. I particularly admired her for her unswerving loyalty for Andreus, her traitorous twin. If I were in her shoes (if my brothers wanted me dead), I’m not sure I would handle it as well as she did. Sometimes, forgiving others is easier said than done. I fervently hope that Carys will have a happy ending. I have three wishes for her:

1. I wish that she would be reunited with Andreus (after knocking some sense into him)
2. I wish that she would overcome her drug addiction
3. I wish that she would end up with Errik (the mysterious dignitary aka Trade Master)

Overall, this book has so many secrets. I have so many unanswered questions. Hence, I feel so frustrated. Still, I cannot deny that I enjoyed this book. The author clearly made the antagonists unlikable. Loathsome, even. The good news is, Dividing Eden is only a duology. I look forward to a very enlightening conclusion.

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Book Review

If Barney Wrote a Book

The Crown's Fate (The Crown's Game, #2)The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I love you. You love me. We’re a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too. —Barney

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What the heck did I just read? That ending ruined any positive feelings I had for this book. If you loved The Crown’s Game, you would be better off not reading this “sequel.” It’s literally fan fiction for children. Everything about it seems strange, convenient, and contrived. I’m so pissed right now. I haven’t given a book 1 star in so long. Looking at the “bright” side, at least this book was fast paced. Other than that….UGGGH. God help me.

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Book Review

You Found Me in a Constellation

Eliza and Her MonstersEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, HarperCollins, for giving me an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Like life, what gives a story its meaning is the fact that it ends. Our stories have lives of their own—and it’s up to us to make them mean something. —Olivia Kane

Before I read this book, I was a stranger to Francesca Zappia. I remembered that my previous boss at work told me to check out a book named Made You Up, but I only made the connection recently. If you’re planning to pick up this novel in light of your love for the said book, prepare yourself for moments of deep introspection. Also, I beg you not to read the blurb/summary on Goodreads because it contains a major spoiler. (I’m currently thinking of using my librarian privileges to fix the latter problem.)

Eliza and Her Monsters is essentially a character-driven novel. It is about a girl named Eliza (like..duh!), who is extremely introverted. Ironically, she has a massive presence online. Under the pen name LadyConstellation, Eliza publishes a web comic entitled Monstrous Sea. Her work turns out to be so popular, having more than a million readers. Despite her success as an artist, Eliza’s life is not perfect. Her relationship with her parents and siblings is unfathomably strained, and her social life outside of the Web is…nonexistent. Everything starts to change when she meets Wallace, the most popular writer of Monstrous Sea fanfic.

I honestly had a difficult time deciding how I should rate this book. For me, Eliza and Her Monsters is the epitome of the term “mixed feelings”. Even though I didn’t love it, the thought of giving it three stars made me feel unsettled, regretful, even. The strengths and weaknesses of this book played a game of tug of war in my mind. The beautiful writing and story were on one side, while the annoying characters were on the other. Basically, the struggle was real, people.

I have always been a fan of stories that emphasize familial relationships, so I had no trouble delving into this book. Being a devoted hermit, Eliza spent most of her time at home. Logically, she had plenty of opportunities to interact with her family. I loved that Eliza’s parents and two brothers (Church and Sully) were given a lot of screen time. However, I was annoyed by how she treated them. She always snubbed her parents, as if they were obstructions to her happiness in life. As for her brothers, she avoided them because she sincerely believed that they hated her. To put it mildly, Eliza was not a good daughter and sibling. Looking back, Eliza’s parents were not exactly victims. After all, they were so frustratingly permissive.

In a similar fashion, Wallace’s family was placed under the spotlight. His family was actually very fascinating because he had both step siblings and half siblings. (You have to read the book to understand how that happened.) Unfortunately, Wallace also had problems with his parents, particularly with his father. :l I will never get tired of expressing my disdain for this Bad Father Trope in YA. Can’t we have lovable fathers for a change? :p

Now in regards to Eliza and Wallace as a couple, I liked that their relationship was excellently fleshed out. If my memory serves me right, physical appearance wasn’t even described as a catalyst for their love. There were cheesy moments in the book, but romance really wasn’t the main focus of the story.

In the end, I decided to give this book four stars because of its depiction or exploration of mental illness. Wallace reminded me of Mouse from The Problem with Forever (one of my favorite books) because he was a selective mute. He was such an inspiring character because, like Mouse, he didn’t let his condition prevent him from living life to the fullest. As for Eliza, she didn’t show clear symptoms of paranoia (severe anxiety) until the climax, so I was initially confused by the book’s marketing. I realized that this was actually a good thing because it did not give a sense of “exoticness” to mental illness. Throughout the novel, Eliza seemed like a perfectly “normal” and angsty teenager. In other words, I loved that Eliza’s condition didn’t make her any less…human. I had a lot of issues with Eliza, but I understood that the story would have lost its essence if she weren’t such a problematic character. Her growth at the end of book thankfully eclipsed my negative feelings.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this character-driven novel because it made me reflect on significant things like family, introversion, and mental health. I encourage you to add this to your shelf of meaningful YA contemporaries. Now that I’m aware of the author’s talent for emotional play, I am excited to devour more of her works.

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Book Review

A Love That Is Anything but Twisted

HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

There’s no such thing as living happily ever after—there’s only living. We make the choice to do it happily.

—Meagan Spooner

This was my third buddy read with my admirable friend, Bentley (Book Bastion). I’m still not over the live action film of Beauty and the Beast, so this book was a pleasure to read.

Essentially, Hunted is a super Feminist retelling of BatB. Set in the rich and mythical world of Russia, this book is also reminiscent of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. Most of the plot stays loyal to Disney’s BatB, but Meagan Spooner also made some changes in order to make her story one of the best fairy tale retellings YA has to offer.

For me, the best feature of this book was its lack of instalove. Enraged by the death of her father, Yeva was determined to exact vengeance on the Beast. Consequently, nearly 50% of the book was about Yeva honing her archery skills and plotting to kill the Beast. I admit that this made the plot relatively slow-paced, but it was for the best because Yeva and the Beast’s relationship felt more authentic.

To my surprise, Meagan Spooner also explored Stokholm Syndrome in her novel. Since Yeva was temporarily a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, her sisters were bewildered to discover that she developed romantic feelings for him. However, Yeva clearly stated that her reasons for falling in love were anything but twisted. It is also important to note that Yeva realized her affection for the Beast after she plunged a knife into his throat. In light of her very active agency, it would be ridiculous to describe Yeva as a victim of Stokholm Syndrome.

I enjoyed Yeva’s character arc, but the Beast was actually my favorite character because of his intriguing complexity. He always referred to himself as “we” (because of his dual nature as man and beast), he was very secretive, and he was adorably bookish like Yeva. Furthermore, I savored the poetic voice of his chapters, which unfortunately were only 2 to 3 pages long.

In addition to Yeva and the Beast, Hunted also featured a memorable cast of side characters. Among them, Solmir was the one who piqued my interest the most. He was basically a new version of BatB’s Gaston, so I immediately expected him to be a charming villain. Surprisingly, I found myself shipping him with Yeva because of his generous and respectful attitude. Overall, I liked him because he had a talent of defying my negative expectations.

With all that said, I genuinely enjoyed Hunted. The only weakness I found was its relatively slow pacing; some of the chapters made me sleepy because they were uneventful. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read it because it is unquestionably an outstanding retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I will never forget its confusing yet utterly beautiful ending.

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Book Review

The Mark of Controversy

Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark, #1)Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a person did when they were in pain said a lot about them. —Akos

Yey, I finally finished reading this controversial book. Before I even picked it up, I did some extensive research just because so many people were ranting about it. I watched reviews on YouTube, which were rarely positive in tone. Heck, I even saw a video wherein the BookTuber burst into tears because of all the stress this book had been giving her. Of course, I was quite moved by all of the drama surrounding the release of Carve the Mark. Still, I wanted to remain as objective as possible, so I also perused the Web for Veronica Roth’s written and recorded responses. After reading her blog post (which addressed the issues of racism and ableism), I eventually mustered enough courage to read this book. To my surprise, it was a month-long journey.

Carve the Mark is a thousand miles away from the Divergent Trilogy. The novel is set in a fantastical universe where a literally flowing entity called the Current surrounds nine unique planets. If you’ve read Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, you can imagine the Current as the aurora-borealis-like Aether. Personally, the Current reminded me of the Lifestream in Final Fantasy VII. 😀 Anyways, like the Aether in UTNS, the Current in CTM gives humans supernatural abilities. However, in the case of Cyra Noavek, her gift is more like a curse because it racks her body (and others) with constant pain. The story kicks off when she meets Akos Kereseth, a supposed enemy who can nullify the Current and thereby ease her pain. (Trigger warning for Feminists xD)

From the get go, I want you to know that I wasn’t so hurt or bothered by this book. Thankfully, it did not overwhelm me with angst, hatred, or sadness. If anything, the worst feeling it evoked in me was boredom. The first hundred pages were especially info-dumpy, and I found myself struggling to stay awake. It didn’t help that there were so many side characters with ridiculous names. With that in mind, reading this book required a lot of effort and patience.

My reading experience became somewhat better when I became familiar with the complex world and the author’s quite different writing style (i.e. Cyra’s chapters are in first person, while Akos’s are in third person). I was specifically intrigued by Cyra’s interactions with her villainous brother, Ryzek. In spite of their filial connection, it was clear that they did not love each other at all. As for the romance between Cyra and Akos, I thought that it was reminiscent to that of Divergent‘s Tris and Four. How so? It also happened because of multiple training sessions. Ha-ha. Looking at the bright side, at least what they had was not instalove.

Among the many characters in this book, Cyra was strangely my favorite. I found her very entertaining because she exhibited what I like to call Tris Syndrome. Like Tris, Cyra wasn’t aware of the fine line between bravery and stupidity. Also, she could be selfless to a fault. Basically, Cyra’s uncanny similarity to Tris gave me a feeling of nostalgia, as well as a cynical kind of pleasure. :p

As a final note, I can confirm that this might trigger readers who have suffered from self-harm; There are scenes where the protagonists use heated knives to scar their arms. As for the racism issue, I actually did not detect any kind of discrimination against people of color; not all Shotet are dark-skinned “barbarians,” and not all Thuvesits are pale-skinned “hippies.”

Overall, I am glad that I gave Veronica Roth the benefit of the doubt. Still, I cannot say that this is her finest work. Otherwise, this book wouldn’t have been so controversial.

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

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Author Interview

Q & A with Christina June

Hi, booknerds! Dessa and I recently read an ARC of It Started with Goodbye by debut author Christina June.

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We genuinely enjoyed this contemporary retelling of Cinderella (both of us gave it 5 out of 5 stars), and we can hardly wait for the rest of the YA community to read it. If you want to know more about ISWG, feel free to check out our review. We hope that this written interview will encourage you to pick up ISWG when it comes out on May 9, 2017. Happy reading!

1. The title of your book is open to interpretation, so what does it mean to you personally?

The original title of the book was VALEDICTIONS, which is just the long word for saying goodbye, usually at the closing of a letter.  My publishing team came up with something a little more catchy, but the definition of a valediction will appear on the back of the finished copy–both what the dictionary says and Tatum’s more snarky explanation.  I’m glad it survived!  At the beginning of the novel, there are many goodbyes–Tatum to her father, Tatum to her best friend, Tatum to her summer of fun–that turn into new beginnings and opportunities, so I think the title fits well.”

2. What version of Cinderella do you like more, the Grimm version or the Disney version?

I grew up on the Disney version, and Disney-like versions in the fairy tale anthologies my mom would read from at bedtime.  I like that it has a hopeful ending and that Cinderella gets away from her unfortunate home.  But, I do enjoy the Grimm’s version as well.  I like the step-family getting a little justice.  I used an awesome website out of the University of Pittsburgh when I was doing research that lists the Cinderella trope in all the cultures where it occurs.  It’s fascinating how the same story cropped up, just different details, all over the world.”

3. Romance is a minor theme in your novel. Was this done intentionally, and would you describe Tatum and SK’s relationship as true love?

I would certainly say Tatum and SK are a great match and could definitely fall in love down the line.  While romance is pretty central to the original Cinderella story, I purposely made sure all the relationships in Tatum’s life–family and friends–were examined as well.  Not every teen falls in love, or is hoping to, but I believe we all need a strong support network.”

4. Tatum and her stepmother had a really tough relationship. What is your message to those who are in the same situation?

I would hope that readers would feel empowered to stand up for the things that are important to them.  Just because someone you love has a different idea of what happiness or success looks like doesn’t make your dream less valid.”

5. What is the story behind Tatum’s name? (It inevitably reminded us of Channing Tatum) xD

Honestly, it’s just a name I like and not one that I’ve seen much in YA.  It does make me think of Channing Tatum, though, and that’s never a bad thing.”

6. ISWG deals with family and friend issues. Is the book somehow inspired by a significant part of your life?

No, nothing specific from my own life informed this story, but universal emotions certainly did.  I observe a lot of teens struggling with the moment they discover their parents, or other important adults in their lives, come with their own baggage.  It can be a hard pill to swallow, but as we see from Tatum’s story, having that context can be really eye-opening.”

7. What did you like about the process of writing a fairy tale retelling?

I love that fairy tales are easily recognizable and make for a good starting place with a brand new story.  It was really fun taking the classic elements and turning them into something new.  A lot of retellings, especially in YA, are fantasy or science fiction, so I wanted to do a contemporary story with no magic.  It was important to me that Tatum feel like an “everygirl” and not a damsel in distress.”

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About the author:

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and daughter.

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Book Review

It Started with a Fairy Tale

It Started With GoodbyeIt Started With Goodbye by Christina June

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Nothing this summer had gone the way I imagined. But maybe it was supposed to be that way so I could turn the page and move onto a new, clean chapter in my story.

—Tatum

This contemporary retelling of Cinderella is nothing short of literary perfection. I even liked it more than the original fairy tale. It was a quick read for me, but I thought that its content was surprisingly hefty.

It Started with Goodbye features elements inspired by its predecessor. Essentially, it is about a teenage girl who finds herself unhappy in her own home, particularly because of her mean stepmother. The doting father archetype is also present, as well as the beloved fairy godmother and the infamous stepsister. Finally, let’s not forget Prince Charming, although he is relatively negligible in this book.

When I come to think of it, It Started with Goodbye is not a love story. One of the reasons why I loved it is that it focused on Tatum’s relationship with her family and friends. In fact, one of the main conflicts in the story is the strained connection between Tatum and her best friend, Ashlyn. The identity of Tatum’s very own Prince Charming isn’t even revealed until (whisper whisper). 😉 It is a truth widely accepted that YA contemporary books generally put a premium on romantic themes. Hence, in light of its sober content, I really found this book to be very refreshing. Surprisingly, the lack of romance (combined with the simplistic writing) even made the novel fast-paced. I could have read it in one day, but I restrained myself because I wanted to savor each intriguing chapter.

I also loved this book because of its well-developed and down to earth characters. I especially liked Tatum because her inner monologues made me feel a variety of emotions. It was also hilarious how she tended to overthink the valedictions of her letters. To my delight, I even managed to like Tatum’s stepmother and stepsister because they were suspiciously more than what they seemed. Reading about them made me understand why retellings of fairy tale villains became so popular nowadays. This might sound strange, but the only character I disliked was Tatum’s loving but naive father.

I may have given this book 5 stars, but I did encounter one minor problem: Tatum’s relationship with her mysterious Prince Charming was reminiscent of a certain overhyped novel written by Nicola Yoon. Haha. I shall leave it at that. If you’re curious, please go ahead and read this book!

In the end, It Started with Goodbye is a new addition to my shelf of favorite books in 2017. Even though this book is a retelling of Cinderella, the feelings it evoked in me were beautifully authentic. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a short yet meaningful book.

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

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