Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge


I feel like I need to explain myself here. So many people I know love this book, and I just didn't. I'm not even sure it was an "It's not you; it's me" situation. The book simply could have been better—namely, it could have been longer, and not YA, and less confusing.

"Longer and not YA" are not typically suggestions I have for books. I am pretty much open to labeling anything as YA, because I love YA without shame, and I'm not sure I've ever complained that a book was too short before. But the simple truth is that Cruel Beauty would have been so much better as an adult book. An extra 10-20k words would have helped enormously with my biggest issue: there was too much going on in too little time. It got overwhelming. I couldn't keep track of which goal Nyx was trying to accomplish at which points—is she trying to save Arcadia or Ignifex? Is she trying to come up with his name or find the four Houses? Why does it keep mentioning this box? If this is a high fantasy, not set in our world, why does it use gods and heroes from our mythology? (That last one threw me off a lot.) Not to mention Nyx's wishy-washy feelings about everything: she hates her sister, she loves her sister; she despises her family, she owes her family; she wants to kill her husband, but wait she loves her husband; she doesn't trust Shade, she defends Shade. Whiplash, thy name is Triskelion.

After putting this book down for a few days short of a year and picking it back up where I left off, it became pretty clear why I couldn't do it all at once: Nyx's narration. It grated on me more than any first-person narration ever has, and I can't really put a finger on why. I think at certain times it felt more like she was listing events and feelings and legends more than telling her own story. "This happened, and I felt this way, and I thought about it for at least two paragraphs, and then I got over it and this happened," etc. etc. It was extremely monotonous.

The fantasy itself was very unique and creative, but once again I feel like it would have been easier to understand (and also more believable) in an adult novel. Adult novels have more room to go into the history and mythology of their fantasy worlds, while this one felt like it was all cramped in because the author only had so many words to work with—though even as a YA book, it could have been longer. The length of Throne of Glass would have been perfect, I think, but instead this one was shorter than a Stephanie Perkins novel. What? Why?

Now, for the one thing I did like: the romance. Was it insta-love-ish? Yes, but I could kind of understand why these two characters (I'm not giving that love triangle the time of day) would fall for each other fairly quickly: they're kind of the same. Nyx made it abundantly clear that she was kind of terrible, and we knew from the beginning that Ignifex would be kind of terrible. I loved their banter with each other, and how they kept each other on their toes. Ignifex was a fascinating character—he reminded me of the Darkling, if the Darkling had redeeming qualities. Ignifex was no hero, but he clearly cared about Nyx and was not trying to use her, which I think is key in a Beauty & the Beast retelling. The Beast cannot have ulterior motives for taking care of the "Beauty," and even though Ignifex started being nice toward Nyx before he really cared about her, it wasn't because there was something wicked going on. It was because there was more to him than she thought. Which, hi, is the actual premise of [the Disney version of] the fairy tale.

Was it achingly romantic? At parts. Was it beautiful? Sometimes. But you had to wade through the muck of Nyx's monotone and the confusing infodumps to get there. This is one of those books that are almost more satisfying to read when you ignore everything but the relationships. I could have loved the world Hodge created, but that's difficult when it feels less "created" than "described."

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Source: galley from Macmillan
Publication: Feb 24 2015, Tor

Kell is one of only two magicians who can travel between four different Londons—parallel Londons, three of which feature magic as a regular part of life. Kell's London is Red London, the only one that has both magic and order. He is a ward of the Red crown, an adoptive brother of sorts to the prince, and secretly, he's also a criminal. Kell has a bad habit of smuggling artifacts between the different Londons because it turns out that people from non-magical London are fascinated by magical things, and people from magical Londons are fascinated by mundane things. On one of his travels to White London, where there are a lot of shadows and two evil monarchs, Kell finds himself in possession of a powerful relic from Black London, and he knows he has to return it to where it came from—except that Black London has been permanently closed off because its magic became too dangerous.
Enter Delilah Bard, thief and aspiring Grey London pirate, who wants nothing more than adventure and renown. After picking Kell's pocket and finding the Black relic, she gets caught up on his situation and insists on coming with him to return it. Cue obstacles and enemies and magic.

The more I think about this book, the more I love it. I don't understand. While I was reading it I liked it just fine for the first half, much more for the second half, but I wasn't prepared to shout my love for it from the rooftops. But now I sit here, having finished the book two days ago, and all I want to do is tell people about it.

Right from the start you can tell that this is going to be a solid novel, because the prose is very sure-footed and consistent. Schwab knew what she was doing when she wrote this book. She explains the world without dumping giant piles of information onto the page; she gives her characters personalities and traits primarily through their actions; and she keeps the plot going while also allowing her characters both reflection and forethought. 

If you like fantasy but struggle to get into those big, sweeping high fantasy worlds, this is the book for you. It's not really set in our world, but our world does play a part in it. You don't have to familiarize yourself with a map or strange names of places that don't exist, and the magic feels entirely organic to the Londons that have it. You won't find yourself flipping back a few pages to recall something that you had already been told, hoping to find an explanation for something else later on. Reading onward becomes a natural state of existence with this one.

If you like quirky, epic, mostly moral characters with penchants for crime, this is also the book for you. Lila Bard owns my soul right now; she's a fully fleshed-out character with a lot of hardness and a little vulnerability and enough spark to start a forest fire (good thing she doesn't live near a forest). You don't really get a sense for Kell until you see him through Lila's eyes—at which point you realize he is kind of a socially inept dork, but somehow he's full of charisma at the same time. And magic. He's really good at magic. Which comes in handy when you deal in dangerous magical artifacts that are wanted by dangerous magical monarchs. What also comes in handy: a thief who trusts no one. These two do so much saving each other.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Two main characters, one male and one female, you see each of them better through the other's eyes... must be a romance, right? WRONG.

Which, of course, is my favorite kind of romance.

You see, there is ostensibly no romance between Kell and Lila, but it is painfully, beautifully clear that there could be. That there should be. The respect and admiration for each other that they develop from enemies to not-quite-friends to okay-sure-we're-friends, all the way to fixed-points-in-each-other's-worlds, are the qualities that I look for in fictional [also real] romantic relationships. I love me a slow burn, and this is the slowest of them all—the kind where you're not even sure anyone sees it but you. But authors do these things on purpose, and trust me, you'll all see it. I know because this is exactly how I felt about Blue and Gansey — right down to the possible alternate-romance Blue/Adam or in this case, Lila/Rhy — and we know how that's going. [Aside: When I tell you a relationship reminds me of Blue/Gansey, you better take note. That is basically the highest compliment I can give.]

The main characters are the life of the party here and they could easily carry the story on their own, but as if they weren't enough, the side characters are interesting as well. I found myself attached to them despite the fact that they don't get nearly as much screen time. Rhy is the perfect foil for Kell: trusting where Kell is not, socially adept where Kell is not, and unsure how to be cynical where Kell is nothing if not cynical. I do declare that this shall be a bromance for the ages. And then there's Holland, Kell's almost-enemy, who I really just wanted to hug even though he's pretty terrifying. We've also got Barron, Lila's father-figure-person who she keeps at arm's length because she's Lila, but he is consistently there anyway, and Parrish and Gen, Rhy's guards who totally did not need to become actual characters but they totally did. Every character is a character, whether they needed to be or not.

The villains were maybe not my favorite thing about the book, but I get the feeling they were not the real villains of this story. Astrid and Athos Dane were evil, no question, but their evil didn't make me shiver. It didn't make me ponder what it means to be human, or give me nightmares—though surely they would be terrifying to look at, what with those black veins and all. All the two of them really did was prepare me for something much, much worse in the next book. Or the book after that (is this a duology or are there going to be more? SOMEONE TELL ME NOW).

And wow, I can't wait to see where Kell and Lila go next time.
Now I'm off to read the rest of Victoria Schwab's books, because strangely this is the first one I've read.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year!
Which is a thing you say when a) It's the holiday season, b) You have that song stuck in your head, and/or c) You are writing a "Favorites of the Year" post.
Which I am doing.

I haven't written a ton of reviews this year, mostly because for the first half of 2014 I was doing a lot of schoolwork and working 25-30 hours a week and when I wasn't doing either of those things, I was reading. I'll try to write more reviews in 2015.
BUT I am still doing this post right now because I love doing these posts, and also I have to tell you somehow what I've been reading this year.

So, I give you: Paige's Favorite Books of 2014*

*That is, 2014-release books that I have read.

I'm starting with the series-enders, because there's no way I could rank them amongst the other books. Also, there were a lot of them:

20. Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan
Fun fact: Unspoken is the easiest YA book in the world to sell to people looking for a book they haven't heard of before. I have proven it to myself by selling 13 copies of it this year — in an independent bookstore with a YA section that does not see a whole lot of action, that's a lot of copies. I have never, ever had a customer reject this book once I have told them about it. Maybe I'm just really good at my job, or maybe this series is magic. I'm betting on magic because Lynburns.
I actually reviewed this one! You know my issues with it, but you also know that it made me cry. Which is basically all that matters, so.

18. Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
I finally read Days of Blood & Starlight, you guys! And this one, too! Man, this book is so good. I read half of it sitting around at my friend's house while she wasn't even there; that's how good it is. I want Laini Taylor's imagination and creativity and also her cats, because look at them.

17. Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi
I reviewed this one too! Perfect book is perfect. Juliette showed us what she was capable of. Kenji was awesome. Adam was awful. Warner was unapologetically Warner. My favorite thing about this series is that the prose had as much of a journey as the characters. It reflected its narrator in a way that you've probably never seen before, and Ignite Me didn't just show us or even tell us how far Juliette has come; it made us feel it.
16. The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
THE RETRIBUTION OF MARA DYER FINALLY CAME OUT!!!! I had a near-death experience when I went to work to get my copy only to find out IT HADN'T COME IN YET, so then I went to [mumbles] and got one and read the whole thing that night because TWO YEARS, PEOPLE. And then I had several more near-death experiences while reading it because dang, this book is full of murder and dying and almost-dying and there's even one part that's like Romeo & Juliet and let me tell you something, I had to re-learn how to breathe. I'm pretty sure.

15. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER FINALLY CAME OUT!!!!! I got it 2 months early and read the whole thing in one night because a) Stephanie Perkins and b) THREE YEARS, PEOPLE. I actually felt guilty about it, because I knew there were people who had been waiting just as long as I had. But to be quite honest, my guilt did not last long — negative emotions never last long when you're reading a Stephanie Perkins book. Isla didn't quite live up to Lola for me, but there was no way I wasn't going to love it anyway. She is such a relatable character (I'm a strange mix of Anna and Isla, I think), I can't help but feel like there are probably legions of girls out there who feel like this book was written for them. [P.S. CRICKET, MY LOVE]

15. Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo
My favorite series-ender of the year, oh man, did I love this book. Haters to the left because Leigh Bardugo knew what she was doing when she wrote this series, even though the majority of her fandom did not. I'm sorry but this is one fandom to whom I am not willing to give ample amounts of credit, because so many people missed the whole point. Alina made choices for herself in this book, she decided what her life was going to look like and who was going to be in it, based on what she wanted. If you ever for one second thought she wanted to be Sankta Alina, you're deluding yourself. So heck yes, I'm happy she got the life she actually wanted with Mal and didn't spend the rest of her life as the Darkling's plaything or being worshipped by a country of people who didn't understand her. The framing of this series is that of a dark fairy tale turned on its head — she had to kill the prince and she didn't want to be a princess or a queen. She was an orphan who just wanted a modest life, wealthy — as my friend Richard Campbell Gansey III would say — in love. A life without sun summoning or ruling is not a life without power; Alina exercised her power by simply choosing.

And now, for the rest:

14. This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
This one technically isn't even out yet, but it does come out in 2014 so here you go. It has more characters than the first book and more sources of tension and a woman of color as the protagonist! And she didn't get whitewashed on the cover! Plus, she's an awesome character, and so is her love interest, and this series is awesome at giving us complicated, well-written, believable characters, so read it.

13. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Morgan Matson is so good at writing my perfect read-in-two-sittings books. They're long enough that you can stretch them into two sittings, but fun enough that you want to keep reading them. Plus, friendship and slow-burning romance and music [aside: I felt so validated by the musical options in this book, because Emily's playlists were like my music from 2-4 years ago, which I still listen to occasionally, and Frank's playlists were what I listen to all the time now. So many of the songs mentioned are actually in my iTunes library, which NEVER HAPPENS for me.]

12. Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
25% of my year was spent in anticipation of the Veronica Mars movie, which was like a superlong, super-epic version of a Veronica Mars episode. Reading this book was like watching an actual, regular episode of Veronica Mars, and I loved it. How many things are better than watching an episode of Veronica Mars? How many things are better than reading a good book? NOT MANY.

11. The Good Sister by Jamie Kain
I think this book has flown under most people's radar. I only found it because I do this thing at work where I stand in the YA section and look for spines I haven't seen before. No, really. Of course, I found this one the week it came out and was like, "Sure, why not," and wow. Wow. This little book blew me away — very emotional, very unique, slightly mysterious. You think you know where it's going, but you don't. Definitely read this one over, say, Belzhar, which I liked but think is a little overhyped when you've got debuts like this one happening.

10. The Young Elites by Marie Lu
I think this was one of the most hyped books of the year, and with good reason. Moral ambiguity for the win.

9. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
I read adult books this year, you guys. This is the only new-release adult book I read this year, and it was the second-most nominated book for the adult Summer IndieNext, and they chose MY REVIEW. That's how you know I think you should read a book: if I force myself to eloquently gush about it.

8. Panic by Lauren Oliver
I told you guys last year that this would be on the list in 2014. I read it so long ago that I don't remember a whole lot other than thinking it was really unique and obviously Lauren Oliver is ridiculously talented, but I will definitely be reading it again sometime.

7. Atlantia by Ally Condie
An atmospheric utopia with elements of politics and mythology? Sign me up. I've found that this is another easy one to sell because it's so different from other "dystopias" (utopias) out there, and it's a standalone! Which tells you right there that this book is never going to do what you expect — and it doesn't. If you want a book that never falls into cliche-traps, you want Atlantia. Honestly, it's made of awesome.

6. Cress by Marissa Meyer
I am so late to this series, I know. The first two books should have been on my lists for the last two years. I live in shame. Do I really even need to say why this book is awesome? Space Adventure Squad, fairytales, Cinder's sass, Kai's general excellence, Cress's adorable optimism, Thorne, Scarlet, Wolf, I could go on...

I reviewed this! So good. So important. I will probably read this book so many times.

4. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I am ashamed that I never wrote a review of this because there is so much to talk about. Cady is a perfectly flawed protagonist (I hesitate to call her "heroine" because of reasons), you get so far inside her head in this book that you forget to look for the way out until it hits you in the face. Man, I read this book in one sitting with other people in the room and I guarantee if I had been alone I would have required a drainage system in my room so that I didn't drown in my own tears.

3. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
This is the kind of book that's better to go into without expectations, so you can let it completely blow you away. Of course, I can't put this at number 3 for the year and expect you to not develop expectations, so here's what I loved about it: political intrigue (I love me some political intrigue), a solid frenemyship-turned-romance, NO MAGIC. A high fantasy with no magic, have mercy on my soul, this is what I've always wanted. Bless you, Marie Rutkoski, for this world and these endlessly clever and frustrating characters. (Also, I read the Winner's Crime a few months ago and just... wow. PUT THIS SERIES ON YOUR TBR RIGHT NOW.)




I don't know

My favorite two books of the year, ALPHABETICALLY BY AUTHOR, are I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. I cannot betray one by picking the other as my favorite, though of course they are both perfect books and would probably be all gracious and say that the other one deserved it more anyway, but SHUT UP YOU NOBLE BOOKS I WILL NOT CHOOSE.

Possibly I need to go to bed.

Let me tell you about I'll Give You the Sun. This book is like reading a work of art. Somehow it has bursts of color on every page; it captures the passion of an artist and the relationship of two characters whose lives inspire and defeat them; it is an accurate representation of what it is to be twins. Twins are like other siblings, but not. Nobody who's not a twin quite gets it, and that's not because of """twin telepathy""" or from being so much alike or any of those things; it's from having a built-in best friend from the moment you're born (you could say before, but let's not get carried away). There's resentment and competition, but there's also loyalty and an odd closeness and the ability to say things to each other that you wouldn't say to anyone else because they would probably look at you funny. It's knowing that a rift between you would alter your entire life. This book shows all of that and more, and it's just flawless. I'm going to own so many copies of this, my friends.

Now, you all expected Blue Lily, Lily Blue to be on my list. You expected it to be #1. None of you are shocked right now. What can I say about this book that I didn't already say about The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves? Honestly I've had a hard time finding sufficient words for how subtly different and surprising and somehow still consistent this installment of the series is, which is why I haven't really attempted a review. It definitely parallels TRB more than it does TDT, but it keeps the general excitement and adventure that TDT has as well. The magic, the new characters, the cave spelunking (I just really liked the symbolism of them all being tied to each other in the darkness of the cave — that Stiefvater and her metaphors). The relationships — ugh, the relationships, words, where are my words? It's almost 2am. Adam Parrish, he's gonna save my baby because his character development was through the roof in this book; Blue Sargent, she's gonna have some stuff to deal with and I can't wait to see her deal with it; Gansey, my baby, he's gonna be more human than king and he's gonna figure it all out and let his people save him and he's gonna survive; Ronan is gonna keep surprising us and being the fierce knight we all know he is; Noah is gonna find peace, one way or another. These are the things I want because I care about these characters so, so much. I don't know what I'll do if any of them don't get the ending they deserve — oh god, why does it have to end? Now I'm sad. 2015, please take your time because I'm not ready.

I need to sleep.

But, you know.
GOOD BOOKS, 2014. *pats 2014 on the head*

It's slightly unfortunate that only one male author made it onto my list, but I've already got a couple for next year and also the male authors I read this year were not new releases, so they didn't qualify. Sigh. I really honestly don't even pay attention to the author's gender when I'm picking which books to read.