Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

20560137.jpgTitle: An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1)

Author : Sabaa Tahir

Publisher : Razorbill

Release date : April 28th, 2015

Rating : 3.4/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

⚜ Review :

An Ember in the Ashes was waaaay too over-hyped. Reviews from people I follow, headlines assuring us “it’s the next Game of Thrones”, comments from authors I know and respect. Everything indicated towards the absolute genius of this novel, and I was absolutely excited to get my hands on it.

When I saw the map at the beginning, I was like “oh boy, I’m in for a ride!”, because I LOVE maps, and it usually foretells a pretty amazing, adventurous and fantastical story for the readers. You know it, I know it: there are always new cities and groundbreaking discoveries and new cultures and candies for the imagination. And here is my first (the biggest) disappointment: An Ember’s world-building is mediocre. The Empire is supposed to be a vast expanse of wealth and power, and yet, what the map shows is that it’s actually Blackcliff and wasteland. We know nothing of this Empire, except for the contradicting authority of an all-powerful yet easily killed Emperor, the sparse history bits of how society turned on its head, the brutal way in which the elite student soldiers are being treated, the investment they represent in the way they’re being trained and, ultimately, the waste it operates by killing off most of them by the end of their training. Oh, did I forget to mention the Trials? The Trials are a series of tests, from which the new Emperor will rise. Basically, they are four giant bloodbaths, which disregard anything related to diplomacy, money management, land management and, really, anything to do with being a political leader. Is that it? That is it. I feel completely underwhelmed by the lack of information, of anything else, that could actually have contributed to a “world-building”.

The Augurs, mysterious beings with some sort of magic, can see the future. And what a future they’ve seen for our male protagonist! Elias’ story revolves around a prophecy they saw. At the beginning, Elias had a goal and some ways to achieve it, but the revelation that he’s destined for something greater makes him question everything, and that’s what keeps him moving in Ember. I liked Elias. No love, no admiration, just like. He’s one of the top students at Blackcliff, but he doesn’t agree with its values and how it modeled him. He’s very smart and strong and talented, skilled with weapons and quick on his feet. He’s a pretty picture of a protagonist, and that’s why I can’t not like him. But, as you can tell, my interest is merely superficial.

Laia, on the other hand… I would’ve liked her as a normal person, but she couldn’t handle the situation she’s in. Laia is not a warrior or a seasoned spy. Her family was betrayed by their own, and she lives in constant fear of being sold as a slave. Her brother, the only family she has left, was taken from her, so she’s desperate to find him. She goes to immense lengths to form alliances that could help her out, but selflessness and naivety aren’t a great mix. For a person living in those circumstances, one would expect them to toughen up a little, to be guarded and wary. But holy hell, she’s not. She can’t even stand up for herself, and falls in the trope of the damsel in distress, waiting for a hero to save her. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t tell you why, but keep in mind that she lacks common sense in what is probably the most dangerous period of her life. However, I like her liveliness, and her determination. Her chapters weren’t dull, at least.

As for the secondary characters, my feelings are mixed. My favorite character in the whole book is Helena, Elias’ best friend. She’s feminine and badass, two traits we rarely see in one character. She’s pretty well fleshed-out, having her own pages from time to time. She has her own ideals, and doubts, and doesn’t follow Elias around like a good puppy but really stands up to him. But, I guess, in order to create a balance with an amazing secondary character, Tahir had to create an amazingly flat one. The Commandant is just pure evil. That kind of unalloyed sadism doesn’t have its place in a book with a proficiency with character nuances. She has all the power she needs, BUT isn’t it fun to mutilate the truly helpless just for fun?? Please recycle her.

Something I really liked was the romance. I use the word “romance” lightly here, as I wouldn’t label it as romance or love, but more like attraction. Elias and Laia, the main protagonists, didn’t fall in love, as I expected. What I mostly felt between them was attraction, because they’re both in bad situations. But what really got my attention is how Tahir handled the making of a love triangle. It was much more reasonable and interesting than most YA love triangles I’ve read so far. In most YA novels, the girl (because, sadly, it’s usually a girl) can’t decide who to choose between a swoony-perfect-kind boy and a swoony-misunderstood-bad boy. OR, to make things even LESS interesting, who to choose between two EQUALLY swoony-perfect-kind boys. But what I realized in Ember, is that this triangle isn’t about which one is cuter, but rather about whose personality would actually complement the other’s. It’s about what path choosing one over the other would lead to, and about choosing and prioritizing what matters. I have my own personal ship, but I fear it may not be the best one for the person in the middle of this triangle. So I’m probably in for some heartbreak.

The writing in itself was fairly good. Tahir didn’t shy away from creating a dark and miserable world, where rape is abundant (too often mentioned, even) and slavery is common. Although we don’t see an explicit rape scene, Tahir manages to make us feel its threat strongly enough that she doesn’t need to include any scenes of sexual assault. There are, however, loads of bloody violence. There is nothing juvenile about Ember, and I believe adults will enjoy it just as much as teens.

Overall, some things didn’t click with me, and those flaws pop out too clearly to my eyes. I wasn’t as excited as I expected to be, but An Ember in the Ashes is, nevertheless, a very strong debut YA fantasy novel.

 

ARC Review: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

34514721Title: Defy the Stars

Author : Claudia Gray

Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release date : April 4th, 2017

Rating : 3.7/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

⚜ Review :

I had high expectations for Defy the Stars, among other things because Claudia Gray’s Firebird series was such a hit. In spite of the fact that it checked off some of my expectations, I still feel it fell a bit flat. But let’s start with the positive!

First of all, as the summary suggests, romance is one of the centerpieces of this novel. As a reader who’s been through too many failed romance plots, I was cautious and prepared for the worst. However, I was soooo pleasantly surprised when I realized that… hey, it develops at a slow, realistic and romantic way! The romance wasn’t rushed, nor did I find any trace of insta-love. On the contrary, Abel and Noemi didn’t like each other at first. Considering they’re on opposite sides, it’s understandable that they completely distrust each other, even when it is clear that Abel’s programming forces him to obey the “highest authority on the ship”. One of the highlights of the romance was, ironically, the subtlety of it. There was a good buildup to the romance, but it never takes too much space, nor does it ask for 15 minutes of fame. One of my friends told me once that he thought too many authors are unable to properly include romance without slowing down the entire storyline. Therefore, Gray did a pretty good job with Defy the Stars in terms of a love story. Which was actually adorable, by the way.

But the romance is Noemi’s and Abel’s dynamic as a duo. Unfortunately, as individuals, I wasn’t very invested. Don’t get me wrong; they aren’t annoying, or anything. They both have honorable qualities, and their banter is often enjoyable, but they just didn’t stimulate me enough. I had close to no reaction whatsoever about them.

Noemi is a good-hearted, selfless person. Her reputation is one of a bad-tempered and unpleasant young woman, but as a reader, I learnt that she’s quite bright and loyal. She’s also an incredibly brave and strong person, especially after what happens at the beginning of the book.

Abel, for his part, is an AI. But I thought his mind wasn’t robotic enough? I’m not saying that’s a character flaw, more like a writing flaw. To indicate he’s, after all, a robot, Gray adds in big numbers and calculations, and conscious thoughts about his difference to humans. Yet, the flow of his thoughts, the cadence and the rhythm are too human. The summary suggests he may be more than just a robot, but I guess I assumed this information would only affect the content of his thoughts, not the way they circulate. Be that as it may, as my reading progressed, I did get the sense that he became more human than before. I just wish I could have noticed a bigger development, instead of his being too human from the beginning.

The pace is good, and the plot didn’t leave room for dull moments. But I’m disappointed at the lack of “awe” I got from Gray’s world. Considering that it’s set in space, where possibilities abound, I expected more of a Wow Factor. We’re talking about whole new worlds, here! But maybe it was the goal, who knows? To showcase the Loop’s misery and desperation to find other planets to colonize. Still, I wonder what kind of research did Gray do? It seems like she touches a lot of subjects, from medicine to mechanics. She also included a lot of diversity (as we’re talking about Earthlings in general). Noemi herself has Chilean ancestry.

Throughout the story, there’s the recurrent theme of what it means to be human. I often see this theme, but I think it’s particularly relevant in Abel’s case, as his humanity and his “robocity” (?) are questioned. And it was amazingly well-handled, because I’m thoroughly convinced. There are other important themes, such as the environment and protecting our world, patriotism and following one’s path. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable story; it was blander than I expected from an intergalactic novel. But I admire the moral dilemmas highlighted in this book, and although the characters don’t always have the same values, they still help each other based on individuality.

Although my rating isn’t very good, I’m still looking forward to reading the sequel because the plot, in general, is interesting, and I want to follow the development, as it is still crucially relevant to our days.

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

20821111Title: The Young Elites

Author : Marie Lu

Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Release date : October 7th, 2014

Rating : 4/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

⚜ Review :

The Young Elites is definitely good and entertaining, but it didn’t compare to Lu’s other trilogy, Legend. It disappointed me, and I think my disappointment kicked 0.5 star out of my rating.

Don’t get me wrong: the writing is very good. Marie Lu is skilled with the pen (or the computer, however she writes), and her words flow well. It’s pretty, but not embellished; Lu doesn’t bother with too much flourish and poetry, she shows instead of tells. It’s straightforward, fitting for a story about an army of young elites, fighting for their rights and survival. If she does use a bit of extravagance, it’s to further highlight her characters’ misery.

The hours run together, an endless train of nothingness, filled with different slants of light and the shiver of cold, wet stone, the pieces of my sanity, the disjointed whispers of my thoughts.

I don’t think my preferred writing style, which I would describe as more… refined, would have been good for this story, so Marie Lu was perfect. Like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed Legend, which is one of my favorite series. The writing is engrossing and fast-paced, full of action and twists and turns, and it keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Her skill at writing characters is still very good. I really liked Adelina, although the negativity sometimes brought me down, which isn’t always the best way to make me like someone. But I somehow got over it, and appreciated some aspects of her. Although I do think she was too negative and somewhat overdramatic, I was pleasantly taken aback by the sheer darkness of her character, the insatiable thirst for revenge against the world, who has treated her horribly all her life. Through Lu’s incredible writing, we could feel the bitterness and rage in Adelina’s heart. Because of her miserable past, it awakens in her some ugly desires and ambitions that, despite everything, I totally understand. When have I read about a main character that has such a dark personality? She’s YA-typical in some sense, but definitely not in the sense of a “selfless bravery”. The other characters were cool as well, although there aren’t much character development. I read somewhere an expression that encompasses these kinds of characters, “static characters”. I don’t remember where, exactly, but if you know who started this term, please let me know!

What I enjoyed the most about the characters, though, is the relationship between Adelina and Raffaele. Raffaele is a consort… a courtesan. Um, you know what I mean? And according to the book, he’s… pretty darn gorgeous. Everything about him is crazingly attractive. But, but, but… he has a completely platonic relationship with our protagonist!! How refreshing! And how refreshing also, that the romance was light and not dominant like the usual YA we read.

I wasn’t impressed by the plot, per se, but I was impressed with the introduction of the Young Elites. Actually, it was positively the best part of the story. The Young Elites gave me an X-Men-esque feeling, and since I absolutely adore the X-Men, I was thrilled when we were introduced to the Elites, one by one. Going from Enzo to Raffaele, I often had the thought: “Wow, you seem so normal when you speak, but I know you could kill me in a second with a flick of your wrist!”. I’m not new to reading/watching this kind of story, so it wasn’t anything special, but I was entertained by the special abilities, and the Renaissance-inspired setting gave me a different vibe to an otherwise familiar story.

Bref, if you’re looking for a dark fantasy, without the commitment a full-on Fantasy usually requires, The Young Elites would be a good choice!

ARC Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor


28449207Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author : Laini Taylor

Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release date : March 28th, 2017

Rating : 5.3/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

⚜ Review :

I cannot begin to express my admiration towards this work of art, simply because there are no words to properly convey the absolute awe I felt during my reading. The story is so so so unique, like, how did someone even come up with this idea?! Strange the Dreamer is an ode to dreamers, and readers, and underdogs, to those who follow their dreams despite the odds, to those who dream differently than what they already have, and to so many more that I can’t possibly name them all.

Strange is the first book I’ve read of Laini Taylor, but from the reviews I read of her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, I already knew her writing was beautiful. But I didn’t know at what extent. Strange is uncommon and strange and dense and rich, and it’s definitely not for anyone. There are some hard scenes, very hard and horrifying, things you discover about what happened to Weep that will make you weep in turn. It was actually so difficult to read about those, but also so vital to the comprehension, that I had to stop reading and imagine what it could entail.

“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.”

(ARC, p. 115)

Beautiful and full of monsters; a dreamer belittled and put aside because of his improbable dreams, who is given the opportunity to follow them, to a mysterious and mythical city once ruled by terrible beings, who have done horrendous deeds. But even my own summary pales in comparison to what the story is really about, because it’s so much more than just Lazlo and Weep. These two are the ones who hooked me to the story. The mystery was intriguing and so intense, I just had to know what happened to Weep, and what its real name is. I was as invested in its riddle than Lazlo was.

And this just attests to the magnificence of the world Taylor created. Not only the world, but also the inhabitants: people with two hearts, pumping not only blood but also spirit. How awesome is that?? They live in a world exquisitely built by its author, from the hierarchy, to the mythology, to the geography. But despite all those details, I still feel there’s an immense potential to all the things we could still learn from Lazlo’s world. Laini Taylor is a master at unfolding her world with her writing and her timing.

I know some people think the beginning was slow. I admit that it was, but I’m one of the people who were captivated from the very beginning. And although it’s nearly two hundred pages into the story when Lazlo reaches Weep, I say they are two hundred necessary pages. It’s essential to understand Lazlo and the importance of his dreams, and to know the rest of the world apart from Weep, and although the beginning is slow, it is engrossing and it prepares you for the rest of the plot.

And how the words flow on her pages, ohhh… The way Taylor uses words is lyrical, evocative, lovely… The imagery is stunningly vivid, some passages are so dreamy you wish you could cocoon yourself in them. Some scenes feel so surreal, but so beautifully relevant at the same time. The sentences are so perfect, in fact, that sometimes they seem too perfect, but it fits perfectly with the dreamy and magical aspects of the story. When I said, above, that it is an ode, I meant it: Taylor’s words caress us just like a poem would. I was struck from the beginning by the elegance of her flow.

That was the year Zosma sank to its knees and bled great gouts of men into a war about nothing.

(ARC, p. 5)

Lazlo and Sarai were great characters as well, though I wouldn’t say they are YA-typical. I absolutely loved Lazlo and his absolute love of Weep. Being in his head while discovering things was a joy. But Lazlo, independently of Weep, is not the typical hero you would imagine. He’s unimpressive in almost all aspects, he isn’t swoony, isn’t flamboyantly brave. But he is very attractive in other ways, he is quiet and unselfish, has always been so. He loves books, and stories, and he is desperately loyal to his dreams. He’s thoughtful and kind and bright. In the summary, Sarai is the blue-skinned goddess, a mystery to all of Weep. Therefore, I won’t spend much time on her, except to say that she is just as good as Lazlo, and haunted by her own demons and inner conflicts, yet still retains her innocence. The cast of secondary characters are no less great. They are all so very complex and fleshed out, and I don’t think the story would have stood up so well without them. The banter and wittiness were incredible, and their interactions with each other helped to showcase the very best of Lazlo’s personality.

I think the romance verged a bit in insta-love, or “insta-fascination”. But it is so sweet, and well done, and I loved BOTH characters so much, and I think that is why I feel great with this insta-love. Because we already know them apart, each in their own individuality, their doubts and their hopes, and so when their stories finally merged, it felt as if it was completely natural that they feel an attraction to each other because of their personal stories.

All in all, Strange the Dreamer was a fantastic book, from top to bottom, in all aspects of literature, and it definitely is part of my Favorites list. I would recommend it to everyone who loves rich, intricate and beautiful stories.

**Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing me with this book!

Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

17927395Title: A Court of Mist and Fury

Author : Sarah J. Maas

Publisher : Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Release date : May 3rd, 2016

Rating : 5/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

⚜ Review :

When has a sequel ever been better than the first book? Seriously, WHEN?!

ACOMAF blew my mind away in a way I never would’ve guessed… Utterly, and completely. This book is GOLD.

The writing is so, so good. Among all the YA novels I’ve read, I can easily say Sarah J. Maas has one of the most impeccable writing styles. She pens down all the right intonations, has great timing in her prose, and successfully conveys everything she wants to, thanks to her way to manipulate the language. The author knows just what to say to convey the importance of something, whether it be a fact or an event. Therefore, the reader immediately understands what she wants them to understand: feelings, thoughts, mental conflicts.

The journeys to other Courts are magical! My biggest wish throughout my reading was to go visit those places, and see them with my own eyes because wow. Instead, I made another post where I show you how I see them. The imagery is really evocative and I think Maas really used her own fantasies to create such dream-like settings. We also encounter all kinds of creatures, and the story never stalls, as adventures or relevant scenes are abundant in this sequel.

For a YA fantasy book writer, Maas isn’t afraid to go deep into her characters, as it is shown in her very realistic portrayal of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you’ve been following my reviews, you would know that I always highlight mental disorders in my readings. It’s a subject to which I’m sensitive, because I’m interested in how the mind works. In my (very amateur-ish) opinion, I believe Maas did a great job at describing PTSD and depression (not in their full spectrum, but at least some symptoms of it), and thus how Feyre felt after her ordeal with Amarantha. I felt really bad for her, I sympathized a lot, and I understand her mistrust and repulsion at certain things. However, I was a bit disappointed: I thought Feyre would have been stronger, maybe? I would’ve thought a girl like her would have taken more to break, but oh well. Once I got far enough in my reading, I got over it and just chose to sympathize with her.

A new thing that completely amazed me, and that I seriously consider adding to my criteria for books, is that Maas literally fixes every issue I could find in the book. As soon as I found a problem, an inconsistency or a doubt, she would patch things up, offer something to fix that problem, explain the why’s and the how’s. Like… WOW. That was seriously awesome. Although it’s not an issue, exactly, I still found that the timeframe is a bit short. If I’m correct, Feyre has been in Prythian for around a year? So I think, with all the events and twists and turns, it does seem a bit nonsensical?… Also, some things were just too convenient. I really thought that Maas pushed it a bit too much on some occasions. But these are not big minuses, as I still adored the book, so… meh!

In ACOMAF, we meet again Feyre, Tamlin, Rhysand & Co. And here there will be a few (kinda) spoilers. Continue reading

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany & Co.

29069989Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author : John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling

Publisher : Arthur A. Levine Books

Release date : July 31st, 2016

Rating : 4/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

⚜ Review :

I’m super duper biased right now, so of course I enjoyed it immensely and gave it a good rating. I mean, HARRY POTTER and the Cursed Child is a sequel and it’s CANON since Rowling co-wrote it. It was a joy to see familiar characters, to dive back in HP’s world, to be welcomed at Hogwarts once again.

Um… but I’ll try bringing more reasoned arguments on the table.

The writing is definitely not Rowling, despite her co-writing it. It lacks the quirkiness and the dry humor that I’m used to. Maybe it’s because it’s all dialogues, or maybe they had to adapt our characters to adulthood. Actually, it’s probably one of those two reasons, but I missed the giddy feeling I had while reading HP. But since it’s theater, I think they put all the quirkiness they could into the characters.

And I do love the characters. My favorite one, unsurprisingly, is Scorpius. Such a sweet and considerate guy, so different from his family’s heritage. He’s supportive and through their mistakes, he doesn’t waver and he’s genuinely caring and determined. When you think about it, he’s also the embodiment of Draco Malfoy’s job as a father. I’m proud, on behalf of Draco, of his son. His friendship with Albus was mesmerizing. And that’s all I can really say about Albus. I was pretty indifferent to him through it all; even when he acted up, I was only waiting for Scorpius to reappear.

The book was cheesy, I admit. But my biggest problem is that they didn’t stay true to the characters that we know and love. Some arcs were believable, and actually realistic. Harry is struggling with his role as a father, and I totally get it. He says things and does stuff that I wish he hadn’t and that I can’t reconcile with the HARRY we know. But he’s an adult now, and life happens, and in 19 years, I guess some things changed. Hermione lost her sass, but she’s still bossy and smart. Ron was… well, I had hoped he would become “cooler”, but he’s… a disappointment to me, unfortunately.

But the story was fun, funny and light, full of twists and magic! It gave me a great lasting impression. I felt as if it was more about the relationships and conflict between characters, than about the actual plotline. And I was totally okay with that, because Harry doesn’t need another story. Harry doesn’t need any addition. Harry doesn’t need a bow on top. But along the way, Harry got a companion. Harry got a friend. A cute and nostalgic one, and I fell in love.

 

ARC Review: Bang by Barry Lyga

31420736Title: Bang

Author : Barry Lyga

Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release date : April 18th, 2017

Rating : 3.8/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one–not even Sebastian himself–can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.
Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend–Aneesa–to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past.

It took a gun to get him into this.
Now he needs a gun to get out.

⚜ Review :

I realize I don’t have the same enthusiasm towards this one than most people.

Maybe I watch too many Hollywood movies, but I was expecting more “bang” from Bang, you know what I mean? However, it was a great read, thoughtful-wise (I think I just invented a word, English not being my first language, woopsieeee).

I was very impressed with the subject Lyga tackled, and the message it delivered. We hear too often about gun violence, victims, guilty and how to properly handle such an issue. In the political realm, that’s great, right? It MUST be fixed. But here we have another part of the story: the aftermath. What happens to the family left behind? What happens with the killer? But more shockingly, what if the killer is part of your own family, and you have to live with it? With such a plot, I was immediately attracted to it.

BANG met my storyline, characters and depth expectations. No, honestly, it SURPASSED those expectations. Really, it deserves a standing ovation!

Let me start with the characters: Sebastian is the one who killed his baby sister (nop, not a spoiler). His desire to die is well-structured, he’s very reasonable about it. Although he’s not the most fun and engaging MC I’ve ever read about, his character development was masterfully done. It was believable. It wasn’t white to black in a second. There was no epiphany, there were no life-changing, tearful arguments. And it all contributes to the fact that he’s quite complex, as a character. Lyga managed to capture his state of mind and his shifting thoughts in a well-paced and well-structured way.

But the real joy was Aneesa. Personally, I felt as if the spotlight was on her, as I liked her very much and she was the only sunshine in this rainy novel. Aneesa’s the new girl in the very-white neighborhood. Why is that relevant? Because she’s a Muslim who wears a hijab in a very-white neighborhood. I particularly enjoyed and appreciated the theme of islamophobia, as she often referred to it to talk about her worries of living in America, and the very real discrimination against Muslims. Apart from this awareness, she is so sweet, and funny, and smart and creative. Fiercely proud and supportive till the end, she’s the kind of friend you’d like to have.

What makes Bang truly remarkable, however, isn’t the characters. What made it soar beyond my expectations was the realness and unflinching honesty of the aftermath’s depiction. We see the difficulty of reconciling a terrible mistake Sebastian did as a 4 y/o with who he is now. Not only is he trapped in this ordeal, but he’s also painfully aware of how others see him, his reputation as a sister-killer, and it taints every relationship he has. While I was reading through it, I had to have several times this thought :”Wow…” (in a good way!). I don’t have enough English vocabulary to describe how I felt, or how it is. It was just so… realistic.

I highly recommend this book for… well, everyone. Awareness of this kind of mental and social issues is to be spread like a virus because it’s too easy to blame, to judge, without taking into consideration all the details. But I’d advise not to dive in with expectations of excitement. Often, I found it very dull. But that’s just a matter of opinion.

** I’d like to thank NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an e-ARC of this novel!

 

Book Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

25494343Title: Lady Midnight

Author : Cassandra Clare

Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire

Release date : March 8th, 2016

Rating : 4.8/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?

⚜ Review :

I read this one a while ago now, and I’m so sorry I didn’t post my review earlier! But let me just say that it was “A” TO THE “MAZING”.

While reading Lady Midnight, I constantly forgot to write down my thoughts when they arose (like I usually do when I read). It’s maybe because I felt that, despite the different plot and characters and settings, it was like a perfect continuation of The Mortal Instruments series.

We already know Emma, Julian, the rest of the Blackthorn family, etc. Unlike TMI’s main character, Clary, Emma deserved my love and respect. She is a confident, cool girl; the kind  you’d admire from afar in your high school and wish you were. She’s totally awesome and funny, determined and brave. Bref, the kind of protagonist you’d definitely picture in an action-packed book/movie!! On the downside, she resembles Clary a little bit, in the sense of her recklessness and her annoying I-do-whatever-I-want-and-things-better-go-my-way aspect. Since this is only the first book, I can get over it, mainly because she’s strong and badass!

However, I’d hate to see the Clary-ish side of her take over in the next books. Emma’s kind of action-teen typical, easy to like, but it would be Clare’s mistake to forge, yet again, a golden path for her main character.

Julian, for his part, isn’t the swoon-worthy type, but I admit I had my fangirl moments with him! Basically, all characters are designed to be liked by the readers, and I did like them, even the “bad ones”. They all have redeeming qualities. We meet a new High Warlock, Malcolm, who’s not at all like Magnus, who even seems too incompetent to be a High Warlock. Maybe I missed a part, but are powerful abilities the only requirement to be High Warlock?! His quirkiness was pleasant, though, so as a character, I liked him (hahaha).

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is very good for a Young Adult book, as expected. It flows like water, very easy to read and understand. Point of views alternate, so we get in depth insight into different characters and events. Los Angeles could have been better described, because I feel as if Clare only knows about the sea and the pop culture? It was definitely not in a local, personal way. Clare didn’t do her homework correctly, because I didn’t get the feeling Emma’s lived her whole life in LA, although that’s her backstory.

One of the most important themes of this book is, according to me, family. Whether it’s blood family, or life family, it’s such an important aspect of everything they do, everything they fight for. I could also sense that Clare wanted to breach certain social issues, such as sexual orientation, but it was too vague and stored in the background. It is, however, a start to Clare’s literary awareness.

ARC Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

30095464Title: The Bone Witch

Author : Rin Chupeco

Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire

Release date : March 7th, 2017

Rating : 3.8/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

⚜ Review :

As a lasting impression, the book really wasn’t that bad!

The biggest disappointment would be caused by the lack of “exciting” events, if I may say so. One would say it was too boring. Indeed, when reading the summary, or just solely based on how fantasy YA books usually work, one would expect a profusion of “exciting” events. And The Bone Witch didn’t offer much in that department. There was no sense of real danger, no fear about those ominous “dark forces”.

BUT, luckily for me, I came in without much expectation because… I’d forgotten what the synopsis was. I just opened the ebook and started reading, because I was attracted to the cover *woops*. But it saved me quite a few sighs (disappointment) and burnt up neurons (anger). I’ve got to say, though, that the writing wasn’t exceptional. If the book was any less good, I wouldn’t have survived the entirety of it.

So how did my no-expectation attitude get me to be okay with The Bone Witch? As I didn’t know what to expect, I just gulped down every plot line Chupeco offered. As I read on, I came to understand that it was an intricate tapestry of the asha’s world. I’m the kind of person who loves to learn new things, and in this case, I was learning about a new culture, down to the tiniest details… And I greatly appreciated that. I think Chupeco’s main focus with her first-in-a-trilogy was to set the pieces on the board before making us dive into the next books. Therefore, she teaches us about asha’s mores and traditions, and how their social roles and reputation built their way of living. Asha have a strong resemblance to geisha, in the sense that they are professional entertainers, but in addition to that, they are also trained fighters. So, for an informative book, I think there was enough action.

However, at the beginning, I was confused a few times because there were many new words, so there were a few parts that lost me. Also, Chupeco could have taught us more about the other kingdoms, instead of just mentioning them.

If you think real (too?) hard, you could see a hint of love triangle, but by no means an actual one. I know many people will consider it as such, though, but in my opinion, there was ever only one cute, little crush in the works.

Another aspect I thoroughly enjoyed was the alternating chapters between the past and the present, the still-innocent Tea (Tay-uh, 12-15 years old) and her now bitter, older self (17 years old). It’s very interesting to witness how much she changed because of her new life. We spend more time with the young Tea, who didn’t know anything about her abilities before resurrecting her brother Fox. In her ignorance, she is vulnerable, at a disadvantage and therefore, shy. But despite these circumstances, she tries very hard to learn, she is persistent. And the more she learns, the more she strengthens and asserts herself. I agree she’s a special snowflake, but at least she’s intelligent and capable (most of the time).

Some other characters could have been more developed, some others were purposefully mysterious, but I still believe Chupeco could have done a better job at exploiting her characters. She equally often tried to breach certain social issues, such as discrimination and various ethnicities, but she never lingered much on them, so they all passed under the radar rather easily. The only socially relevant subject she actually succeeded in bringing up was the gender expectations/stereotypes, as in the acceptable social roles of women and men.

 Then perhaps we should carve a world one day where the strength lies in who you are, rather than in what they expect you to be.

**I’d like to thank NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Fire for providing me with this ebook, in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Title: When The Moon Was Ours

Author : Anna-Marie McLemore

Publisher : Thomas Dunne

Release date : October 4th, 2016

Rating : 5/5

☯ Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

⚜ Review :

When The Moon Was Ours was one of the most enchanting books I’ve ever read. ❤

I didn’t know the term for this genre before, but now I do : magical realism. And it’s possibly one of my favorite genres ever. McLemore’s writing is impeccable, and it contributed to give her novel its own brand of magic. I honestly think her prose is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. It’s light as a feather, soft as a breeze. The way she describes places makes me want to live in her world; her imagery is evocative and dream-like, tickling our understanding with metaphors and imaginative comparisons.

I’m not sure what else could I say to highlight the sheer beauty of McLemore’s writing, without using the same words : dreamy, soft, beautiful, magical. The author invites our senses to the reading, evoking them when describing a place or introducing characters:

Aracely had hair as gold as late afternoon, her eyes the deep brown of a wet, fertile field. Miel’s hair was dark as a starless autumn, a night made brown by fall leaves, and her eyes matched the gold of low twin moons. 

Because of the genre itself, it was at times confusing distinguishing between reality and metaphor, but it is an easy obstacle to surmount as the story progresses, and you realize that yes, roses do grow out of a girl’s wrist, and love sickness can be thrown out the window.

All these curiosities abound in the town in which live Miel and Sam. Though at first these two characters seem pretty bland, their worth starts unraveling as the reader is guided through their experiences, their feelings and their numerous struggles. The relationship between the two is amazing and as solid as rock. The certainty of their bond is felt even when they are apart, or even when it is strained by the heartbreaking secrets of their past and those of their close ones.

As much as the protagonists are interesting, the secondary characters deserve as much praise. Everyone has a rich backstory and an equally great plot line, which unravels their nuanced personalities and makes room for both sympathy and resentment.

But what makes the story itself unforgettable is the diversity and the respect of cultures. Here we have a Latina girl, and a half Pakistani boy, Spanish legends, a wide spectrum of gender identities, and everything that comes with it. Questions of body, of name, of how to support someone you love, are all well-handled. I can’t say with certainty that it was perfectly dealt with, as I have never been in this situation, but I think it was a close-to-perfect LGBT novel that everyone should read.

As I came near the ending, I realized that not many non-contemporary books tackle social issues with such sensitivity. Therefore, I thank McLemore for her awareness and generosity. How lucky we are to have such a talented author take the time to address those subjects!

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book, and to Anna-Marie for writing it.