August 20, 2016

Short & Sweet: The Bone Season (Adult)

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

17199504It took a few tries to get into this one, and I wasn't really hooked until about halfway through, but once I became immersed in the world and more familiar with the characters, I was riveted to the page! The world-building is confusing (seriously, there are so many different types of clairvoyants) and it was hard to keep track of who was on what side (especially because there are tons of characters and I kept forgetting who was who — a character list would have been helpful), but I really enjoyed the main characters of Warden and Paige, and the progression of their relationship dynamic. The pacing was slow to start with, but then picked up and really didn't drop off for the 2nd half of the book. Looking forward to continuing with the second in the series.

Oh, and I just discovered a glossary at the back of the book for all of the slang terms. Huh, well, that would have been good to know while I was reading it, lol.

July 28, 2016

If You Find Me: A Panoramic Review

15793231 "There are some things you can’t leave behind… A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down." (from Goodreads)

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch 

My reaction: I can't say I liked this book, because it's not an enjoyable one. The mother in If You Find Me is without a doubt one of the most disgusting, deplorable parents I've ever read about. She is absolutely despicable. I can't think of enough awful adjectives to describe her. It's unbelievable what she puts her daughters through, especially Carey (spoiler, highlight to read: forcing her to be sexually abused for money, to pay for the mom's drug addiction). It's the most pathetic, morally devoid thing for her to do.

Spoilers about the end: I actually would have been interested to know how the mom turned out. But I guess that's realistic, that they probably didn't hear from the mom again...I wouldn't be surprised if she went back to her problems.

I wasn't crazy about Carey's voice, but it is very distinctive. She uses a lot of metaphors to life in the woods and nature (everything that's familiar to her). I liked this at first, since it was different, and then I got tired of it partway through, until when I encountered one I'd be thinking, 'oh no, not another metaphor!' But Carey's a likeable narrator — emotionally tough, extremely loyal to her sister (she has a really strong bond with Jenessa and puts her sister first and foremost above everything, which is admirable and really wonderful to see), and very resourceful. She's totally awkward and has trouble trusting people, but that is understandable. Now, there is some crucial information that Carey does not share with the reader until the very end, but since she obviously has psychological issues, I can more or less let this slide (normally I am not a fan of narrators keeping things from the reader).

Best aspect: The first part of the book was really interesting, when they're living in the woods as well as right after they're found, and how Carey's whole life changes and she has to adapt. She misses aspects of life in the woods, which I thought gave her character and the story more depth and complexity, because obviously not everything about the woods was terrible, and not everything about her new life is fantastic.

I also found the end riveting, because Carey finally goes through her whole memory of what happened during the "white-star night" (on a sidenote, I found it annoying how she kept referring to the "white-star night" which was obviously an event in her past that was a big secret, and yet it took the entire book to reveal what it was), and she and her dad have a heart-to-heart talk. I thought their conversation was done quite realistically; it was pretty pitch-perfect in the authenticity of the dialogue, not heading into sappy sweet or melodramatic territory. Spoilers: I thought it was very interesting that she confides all this in her dad; this is sexual abuse, so it might have been something she would have preferred to confide to a woman, like Melissa (a good maternal role model). But her dad is the one that she needs to repair her relationship with, the one she doesn't entirely trust and has been told bad things aboutso of course it's really important that they have it out and understand each other better. It was very rewarding as a reader to see that. 
If I could change something... I would liven up the middle section, as it felt kind of pointless. For me, it plodded and was boring compared to the rest, dealing with themes/storylines you'd find in a typical YA contemporary read. There was a subplot involving Carey adapting to high school, including tension with stepsister Delaney and a "cool girl bullies" storyline, and there was a romantic interest as well. The romantic relationship read like a teen girl's fantasy, just too good to be true. Their interactions just didn't seem that believable, especially his dialogue. 

Although there's an incident with him that really drives home the impact that her life in the woods has had on her concept of relationships (spoilers: where she tries to get him to touch her in a sexual way, and it's just horrible that because of the way she's been brought up, this is her instinctual move to get a guy to like her.)

If you haven't read it: be warned, this is a depressing book. It's really horrifying what both of the girls go through. There are parts of it that are lighter and less serious, but unfortunately a lot of the "happy" plot points felt a bit unrealistic in the context of the dark, gritty stuff that felt so believable.

If you have read it: what age group would you recommend it for? The protagonist is 14 years old, and the writing style felt to me as though it were MG/young YA-ish. But the maturity of the content and the way it is presented is more suitable for an older audience. And yet I feel like older readers would find some of the storylines (such as the romance) not sophisticated enough, and might get bored in the middle as I did. Since Carey's voice comes off as young sometimes and much older other times, the book seems to be a sort of awkward fit for either age group.

Just one more thing I wanted to mention: I wish we'd had more resolution in the storyline involving Carey's sister. We didn't get to see Jenessa's thoughts/emotions about what she went through. I also wish the plot involving Delaney had been resolved — we never find out what happened!

Final verdict: 3 shooting stars. 

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Note: There is some mature (sexual and violent) content in this book.

June 11, 2016

Short & Sweet: Uprooted (Adult)

Back with another "short & sweet" review!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

225447644.5 stars. I really got into this one — it reminded me a lot of the kinds of fantasy books I'd read as a teen. In particular I liked the characters of Agnieszka and the Dragon; Agnieszka was one of those relatable, sometimes self-deprecating protagonists who comes into her own as the story progresses, and the Dragon reminded me of Howl from Howl's Moving Castle and North from Brightly Woven — a crotchety wizard who doesn't like anyone to know how he really feels.

I also enjoyed the use of magic in this one — it was confusing at times, but creative, and I thought it was rather funny how ticked off the Dragon got that Agnieszka had such a different, and more intuitive, approach to magic than he did. Their connection was a very slow-burn, and to be honest, I could have used a little more of the romantic side of things (since the Dragon was SO prickly and unwilling to reveal his emotions).

I did find portions of the plot repetitive, and for a while there it seemed like they just kept fighting problem after problem and never catching a break (and I kept thinking, okay this is the climax, and then it wasn't, because something even bigger was happening).

May 22, 2016

The Winner's Curse: A Rambling Review

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
I've been on a great reading kick lately! I tried this one about a year ago, and DNFed as I just wasn't getting into it. Finally I picked it up again, still had a little bit of a tough time connecting at the start, but soon enough I was quite absorbed in it. I was reminded of The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley, and to a lesser extent Archangel by Sharon Shinn.

I really like how it was plotted; I won't spoil, but there's an event that occurs around the halfway point that completely turns the tables, and the juxtaposition between the first and second halves is interesting. There's also an unexpected turn of events towards the end, setting things up for book 2 (it requires some suspension of disbelief, but it does complicate matters!).

Their positions in society makes Kestrel and Arin's relationship one of push-and-pull, unpredictable and messy, and certainly one of the highlights of the book. I liked that Kestrel was at best average, perhaps even mediocre, at fighting (rather than being one of those 'kick-butt' female characters we so frequently see in YA fantasy who are somehow naturally fantastic at combat), but excelled at strategizing. She and Arin were well-matched in that respect. It was also interesting to have as a protagonist someone who owned slaves, and who, despite treating them fairly well, was not desperately fighting to change the status quo. I was not convinced, at least for most of the book, that Kestrel was particularly bothered by the fact that the Valorians enslaved the Herrani. As the general's daughter she seems to have been raised to accept that this is the way things are; that you must be stronger than your opposition so that you are the victor rather than the dominated. I think there is a shift in Kestrel's viewpoint towards the end of the book, but it certainly takes a while to happen.

Arin was more of a mystery to me. I didn't really feel like the reader was let into his head as much as with Kestrel. There's still a fair bit of backstory there that I think could be explored (and perhaps will be in later books?)

One quibble I had generally is that I could have used some more description, particularly of the characters. I had the hardest time picturing what Arin looked like! A map also would have been a huge help. Any discussion of military strategy makes so much more sense to me when there is a map to refer to.
Final verdict: 4 shooting stars.

May 14, 2016

Station Eleven: A Rambling Review (Adult)

Why yes, here I am, sporadically posting another blog post after about 2 months of silence! *waves*

This isn't in one of my regular review formats — it's just my thoughts that I wrote up on Goodreads,  more of a reaction than a formal review. (I don't really feel like re-writing it to fit a certain format, lol.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Okay, so that just sort of...ended. I feel like I missed the point of this book. Or, was there a point? It seemed to be trying to be "deep" but in the end didn't come to any important conclusions. There also really wasn't much of a storyline, beyond the one involving the creepy cult. Everyone not involved in that storyline just sorta wandered around contemplating life before and after the apocalypse.

I will say, this is undoubtedly one of the most realistic depictions of a post-apocalyptic world I've read. It's bleak and lawless and yet still contains remnants of social rules. I wish we'd seen more of the actual 'end of the world' itself so that we knew how we got to the world as it is post-apocalypse. (You do still have to suspend your disbelief somewhat for how things unfold, as is usually the case with apocalyptic fiction.) I really enjoyed the intense feeling at the beginning of the novel as the flu breaks out and everything spirals out of control, but it was so short! And then most of the rest of it was people walking here and there trying to stay alive in the post-apocalyptic world, or flashbacks to their lives pre-apocalypse.

And sadly, I never cared all that much about any particular character, I think in part because it kept jumping to another character every one or two chapters. We're introduced to Jeevan initially, and I actually liked what we saw of him (I could relate to his anxiety issues) but then we switch to Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony 20 years later, and we don't get to see Jeevan again for the longest time! I also connected with Miranda, and found her an interesting character (at least when she was younger, in the flashbacks), and yet we don't spend much time with her either (despite the fact that she is, after all, the author of the Station Eleven graphic novels that the book is titled after). Kirsten probably gets the most page time, and unfortunately I never particularly connected with or related to her; I didn't think she had a very distinctive personality.

The author did do well with linking all of the characters' stories together, even in small ways (such as one character ending up with an item that another character had had at one point). I always appreciate when authors make use of details like that. Another point in the book's favour was that the quality of the writing was undeniably solid.

Overall, though, I'm just not too sure what I'm supposed to take away from this book. Life without modern technology, thrown into anarchy, living off the land, would basically suck? The ending leaves some room for hope, so I guess that's something. Still, it left me very unsatisfied. I spent the whole book waiting for *something* to happen; apart from a little suspense and action with the whole cult/prophet storyline, it didn't happen. I realize this is intended as one of those quieter, thought-provoking post-apocalyptic books, rather than action-packed, but still.

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